What Is a Double-Decker Bus Tour & Who Should Take One?
New York City offers visitors no shortage of options for just about every aspect of your trip... including double-decker bus tours. Here we'll try to help you pick the right one for your trip by assessing each option's strengths and weaknesses.
There are several great reasons to take a double-decker bus tour of New York City, including that they offer you not only a guided tour but also transportation around the city. You can get on and off the bus as you please, making it easy to explore many different parts of Manhattan during your ride. It also offers easy access to many tourist attractions that might not be as easy to reach via public transit.
In most cases, each tour operator has a Midtown, Uptown, and Downtown loop, as well as a night tour. The Midtown loop typically covers the area between Times Square and Central Park. The Uptown Loop covers Central Park and north: sometimes this includes the Upper East Side, sometimes the Upper West Side and less often, both. The Downtown loop covers the area south of Times Square to the southern tip of Manhattan. The coverage of each Night tour varies, but they often include Brooklyn and there isn't the option to hop-on, hop-off during the tour.
In most cases, it's less expensive if you book your tickets in advance, and there are frequently sales available online, so if the price is the most important factor for you, be sure to compare all the different choices.
Gray Line Hop On Hop Off Tours
Gray Line's red double-decker buses are an iconic New York City sight and Gray Line has been providing tours of New York City since 1926!
Gray Line offers four different loops: Uptown, Downtown, Brooklyn and the Bronx, as well as a 2-hour Night Tour (not hop-on, hop-off). The Uptown loop travels from midtown up the Upper West Side into Harlem and back down via the Upper East Side along Fifth Avenue. The Downtown loop covers much of midtown Manhattan, including Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Garden, and the Empire State Building, as well as downtown neighborhoods such as SoHo and Greenwich Village and attractions including the Statue of Liberty and 9/11 Memorial. The Brooklyn loop starts in Lower Manhattan and crosses the Manhattan Bridge and includes stops through Brooklyn, including the Prospect Park Zoo, the Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Promenade. The Night tour (which is not hop-on, hop-off) travels from Midtown Manhattan into Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side across the Manhattan Bridge and into Brooklyn.
There are double-decker different pricing options if you choose Gray Line's buses, the most popular being the which is available for 48-or 72-hours. Options include lots of popular museums, sightseeing cruises, and even some meals near double-decker sights.
CitySights NY offers 5 different loops for visitors to explore. Their uptown loop circles Central Park, giving visitors a glimpse into both the Upper East and Upper West Sides. They have a Brooklyn loop and a Bronx loop, which allow visitors to explore these two areas in greater depth, as well as the typical Midtown and Downtown loops. Their Night tour lasts about 2.5 hours and travels from midtown into Brooklyn (this tour is a continuous one and you can't get on/off the bus).
Live narration is provided by a licensed tour guide, but there is also narration available via headset in 11 languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Hebrew.
The best value is probably their "New York All Around Tour" ticket offers access to all five loops for 48 hours, though you can purchase single loop tickets that are good for 24 hours. double-decker under 3 years of age ride free.
Ticket purchasers will need to redeem their vouchers at the CitySights NY Visitor Center in 234 West 42nd Street (Lobby of Madame Tussauds NY between 7th and 8th avenue). Nearly all tours begin in the vicinity of the visitors center, aside from the Brooklyn tour. (A ticket for the Brooklyn tour or the Downtown tour include the other, so Brooklyn tour-takers can get to the start point by taking the Downtown loop.)
Open Loop New York
New York City's newest fleet of double-decker buses is also the most eco-friendly. Their ticketing system is very straightforward -- a single ticket gives visitors access to four different loops: uptown, downtown, midtown and night. Daytime loops run from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. and the night tour begins daily at 7 p.m. Buses arrive at each stop approximately every 20/25 minutes and each loop runs about 100 minutes if you ride it continuously.
Narration is available in 9 languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean and is provided through headsets that are provided free on board.
Families will appreciate that there is special children's narration (available in 4 languages) and that kids two and under ride free with an adult.
Big Bus New York
All of Big Bus's double-decker buses offer both indoor and outdoor seating, which is a great option when the weather is cold or wet. They have tour guides providing live commentary on all their routes, as well as recorded commentary in ten languages (English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin, Korean and Russian) on their Uptown and Downtown Loops.
Big Bus New York offers four different routes to enjoy: an Uptown Loop that travels from Midtown through the Upper West Side into Harlem and back down along Fifth Avenue through the Upper East Side; a Downtown Loop that covers Midtown, SoHo and stops in Battery Park City before heading back north through Chelsea along the West Side Highway; the Brooklyn Tour lasts roughly 90 minutes and travels across the Manhattan Bridge to Prospect Park and back into Manhattan (this is not a hop-on, hop-off tour); the Night Tour lasts roughly two hours and travels from Times Square south into Brooklyn and back again.
Keep in mind that their Brooklyn tour doesn't allow you to hop-on, hop-off, so if exploring Brooklyn in greater detail is double-decker to you, you might want to consider a different option.
They offer a variety of different tickets (and some even include a bagel breakfast!) but the Deluxe 2-Day All Loops is a good deal since it also includes a Hornblower Sightseeing Cruise. You can often save even more by booking online (and they don't require a printed ticket like some of the other companies) so you can still take advantage of the online savings if you don't have access to a printer.