There is no better way to see the sights of Manhattan than by a bus tour and you’ll likely not find a more thorough tour company with funny, personable and knowledgeable tour guides that at the Big Bus Tour. If you are a frequent traveler, you might be familiar with the Big Bus concept seeing as this company has locations in other touristy American cities such as San Francisco, Miami, Las Vegas, and Washington D.C., to name but a few. There are even European versions in London, Rome, Vienna, and Barcelona, Spain, among others, as well as some in the Middle East, including Istanbul and Dubai.
For the New York City franchise, their welcome centre is easily located in the heart of Times Square at 712 7th Ave (conveniently near M&M World and Hershey’s Chocolate World) where you can purchase a ticket and the staff is available to answer any questions you may have. The best, and most convenient, feature of the Big Bus Tour is the ability to hop on and hop off at any of the stops throughout the tour, whenever the mood strikes. The ticket is good for the entire day – until the same time of purchase the following day, allowing for a full 24 hours of city exploration. Some packages are also good for multiple days and include local attractions such as access to the Empire State Building, ferry rides to Liberty Island, entry to the Met Museum and the 9/11 Memorial Museum and more. There are even night tours as well. For the tour that best suits your needs, check the website for further information.
During our trip to New York City, my review partner and I opted for the classic one-day tour that took us around the downtown core of Manhattan and included views of the Empire State Building, Central Park, 5th Avenue, and the Statue of Liberty on the horizon. Clearly designated signs plus information on the Big Bus Tours app helped to indicate where the bus stops were located, which made accessing the bus an easy endeavour. Essentially, the Big Bus is a double-decker bus which allows for two seating options – the lower level is fully enclosed so you needn’t worry about the weather; however, sightlines are limited as to what you see out the windows. The upper level is open-air with some of the seating only partially enclosed. Though at that level you are exposed to the elements, riders are granted an unobstructed view.
If you are traveling to New York City within the early months of the New Year, I highly suggest bundling up warmly for your Big Bus tour, especially if you opt for sitting in the open. By far, it’s a much more enjoyable way of experiencing the tour and you’ll likely end up with better photos. Personally, I was caught off guard by the chill that swept through the skyscrapers and ended up shivering for the better part of the tour – so please take my advice and go prepared.
When you first board the Big Bus, be sure to pick up a set of complimentary headphones, or use your own, and plug into their closed audio system to hear the commentary from the tour guide. By switching channels on the audio system pad located on the seat in front of you, you can access pre-recorded commentary in ten different languages including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Korean, and Russian.
The tour guides offer insightful and interesting information on the history of the different Manhattan neighborhoods, the architecture, the landmarks, and even pop culture, including the local areas where stars like Jay Z, Beyoncé, and Leonardo DiCaprio like to frequent.
A common bit of recurring commentary heard throughout the tour was the affordability of Manhattan real estate, or more accurately the lack of reasonably priced housing. Clearly, New York City is not an economical place to live and the tour guides were never shy about mentioning just how much rent had skyrocketed in certain areas. Ouch!
Indeed it was fun seeing the different forms of architecture and the different communities and ethnicities that made up the various NYC neighborhoods. An overall impression I received was the stereotypical American adage of ‘go big or go home’ – numerous buildings, like the Empire State Building, have held the record for being the world’s tallest only to be outshined a short time later. Home to over 6000 skyscrapers, currently the tallest is One World Trade Center. Another aspect I admired was the murals that adorned a number of building facades – simply incredible artwork.
While the guide for the first leg of our tour was incredibly insightful and knowledgeable about the city he very clearly adored, it became clear he held personal – and sometimes uncomfortable – biases on certain communities. We decided to stop in Chinatown/Little Italy for a touch of shopping (where I could solve my lack of hat and scarf issue) and a spot of lunch.
Refueled and now properly bundled, we resumed our tour, this time with a new tour guide and a different approach as he seemed to stick to the script throughout his commentary. The rest of the tour that would loop back into Times Square included wonderful views of Battery Park at dusk, the Freedom Tower which stands at the site of the original World Trade Center, the ferry harbor with Liberty Island, and Lady Liberty herself, in the distance, aglow by the setting sun. It was simply breathtaking.
The great thing about the Big Bus tour is that it can be as extensive as you want it to be, and with buses arriving at each stop frequently throughout the day, you can hop on and hop off as often as you like. With a 24-hour minimum ticket, you can explore the city to your heart’s content. Adult prices start at $44 and children start at $36, which makes taking the tour a reasonable investment in your New York City trip.
Review and Photos by Samantha Wu