By Jay Lloyd

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There  is no better way to learn a city layout than to buy a ticket on a bus or boat sightseeing tour. Most big cities are criss-crossed by open air double-decker buses with narrations highlighting popular neighborhood destinations. In cities laced with canals or a main river, tour boats and barges are the way to go. An upper deck vantage point let’s you spot unique stops you’d otherwise miss. Look for buses and boats that allow you to get off and on at key locales. If you find a neighborhood, cafe, museum or attraction where you’ll return, learn the local bus route that gets you back. Try it first right here at home in.


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(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Philadelphia Sightseeing Tours and Big Bus Philadelphia take you to the most visited attractions from Penn’s Landing to Eastern Penitentiary. Convenient “Hop-On-Hop-Off” stops let you sample the vittles at Reading Terminal Market, Browse the Barnes and shop at Liberty Place. You’ll spot unique restaurants and tempting outdoor cafes from an upper deck perch. All day adult fares are $32. It’s a great way to learn your own city, even if you’re not a tourist.


(credit: Jay Lloyd)

As a kid in New York I remember the thrill of riding to the Macy’s Parade on a green, open top, double-deck bus down Fifth Avenue. They were the regular service buses. Today New York is awash in red double-decker sightseeing buses that patrol specific neighborhoods. Choose the Theater District, Lower Manhattan or Chelsea. Learn the layout of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy. The Gray Line was around when I was riding that 5th Avenue bus. It’s double-deckers today are all over the city, carrying sightseers on tours throughout Manhattan with trips to Bronx and Brooklyn attractions. “Hop-On-Hop-Off” 2-day tickets are advertised at $69, but discount coupon are available at hotels and by Gray Line sidewalk hawkers. If you pick up a New York City Bus Map and know where you want to go, do it yourself with public transit. All of Manhattan is accessible by bus. Subway is faster. But a bus gives you an eye full.


(credit: Jay Lloyd)

London is home to those iconic red double-deck buses. If you’re traveling abroad this summer, most big city destination offer combinations of bus and boat city tours. But London provides a feeling of historic immersion. A popular bus tour is simply called, “The Original Tour”. The double-deckers offer on and off stops at virtually all the key London attractions from the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye to Knightsbridge and Harrods. Fourty-eight hour tickets go for about $42 (depending on the exchange rate), but discounts are available at hotels. On our last visit, we opted for the a “Hop-On-Hop-Off” Cruise in the Thames with City Cruises. Our destination was the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. The $13 dollar cruise gave us a chance to stop off at the London Eye on the way back.


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(credit; Jay Lloyd)

This historic Dutch city by the sea was built on a network of canals that acted as a highway system. The Anne Frank House and the famous Rijksmuseum, home of Rembrandts and Van Goghs are on the banks of canals. So is a casino. Naturally, the best way to see this remarkable town, where I once worked is by canal barge. Amsterdam Canal Cruises provides on and off exploration with stops at key locations. If you spot an interesting looking canalside cafe, simply get off at the next stop and walk back. The all-day fare is about $23 (depending on exchange rates).


(credit: Jay Lloyd)

The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Le Marais, Musee d’ Orsay, the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower are all near or on the banks of the Seine. So, our choice in Paris for a first day orientation tour was by Batobus, the boat bus. It allows you to get on and off at key stops on both banks of the river, day and evening. You can just cruise all day, learning how to access points of interest and stroll the neighborhoods to find favorite spots for a return visit. On the Left Bank we found a Jazz club and a Belgian Mussel restaurant that was a perfect combination for one night, and then a local family eatery for an incredible Beef Burgundy in Le Marais for another evening out. And, a rare treat is cruising past the Eiffel Tower when it blazes with light at nightfall. One day adult passes are about $18.50, two-day passes go for $21 and change.


(credit: Jay Lloyd)

On Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast, Barcelona is truly an international city with one of Europe’s best public transportation systems. But for that first day outing, a 24 hour tour bus ticket lets you sample the incredible diversity in preserved historic and modern neighborhoods. The tours with multi language narrations take visitors from a cathedral that began life as a 9th century Roman fort to the heights of Montjuic and its panoramic view of the city, seaport and the not too distant Pyrenees Mountains. Then, armed with a city transit map you can return to the most tempting locations, amazing public markets, art centers and tapas restaurants that you discovered during the tour. You can again rise to the Montjuic heights by aerial gondola, funicular or bus. Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tours covers all the major sights and neighborhoods and a day pass checks out at $30.

You’ll find similar tours in most major cities. We’ve enjoyed them and really discovered neighborhoods, restaurants, cafes and bars that were well worth return visits in Dublin and in Florence. We also found that it pays to take notes that include street names and intersections. Then use paper maps for planning at the hotel and mobile apps for the street.

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