By Jay Lloyd

Stranger in a big city? Staring at a map or GPS? Here’s another way of finding your way around the main attractions, enticing activities – even unique bars and restaurants that can be spotted from the street. Take a tour bus that offers on and off stops. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist. Just take advantage of the narrated tour to spot places you want to visit and then get off and explore. Jump back on when you’re ready to move on. Let’s start right here at home — Jay Lloyd

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

PHILADELPHIA

Start your exploration near the Independence Visitors Center. You’ve seen those big red double-decker buses cruising around town. It’s Philly Tours. The starting point is next to the Bourse Building on 5th street. Big Bus Tours start 1/2 block away at the corner of 5th and Market. From there you’ll ride throughout the historic district and range all the way into Fairmount Park and it’s attractions. Jump off at a stop near something that catches the eye. Have lunch or shop. Then pop back on to continue the journey. Basic adult fees are about $30 for a day, children are charged about $10. After a day on the tour bus, you’ll return to favorite stops on your own, using SEPTA or taking a walk.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

NEW YORK CITY

They’re all over the Big Apple, looking like buses straight out of London lore. But New York’s red bus tours of the city hot spots will get you oriented to the most bustling town in the nation, real fast. Gray Line Tours have been operating in New York since the time of Moses – that’s Robert Moses – the city planner behind most of New York. Gray offers double-decker bus tours of Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn. You’ll find their hawkers and buses near most major hotels and attractions. It’s a solid way of getting oriented before you take off on your own, using city buses and subways. It’s simple. “New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town. The Bronx is up and the Battery’s Down.” The basic Gray Line bus tour clocks in at $49, children: $39. Ask at your hotel about discount offers.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

CAPE MAY

It’s called a “Trolley Tour”. And it’s thoroughly enjoyable, informative and eye-filling. Mary and I recently took the Cape May Architecture Tour. The narrator knew her buildings and her history as the trolley wove through the historic area and then the present day beachfront section that displays a unique coexistence between Victorian past and present day leisure. It became clear that Cape May was a second home and getaway stop for Washington and Philadelphia movers and shakers including Abraham Lincoln. Other tours range as far as the lighthouse on Cape May Point by night and in keeping with the season, a ghost tour that highlights the city hauntings. The basic tours run by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts and Humanities are priced at $15 for adults, $10 for children. The tour and tickets can be picked up at the information booth on Ocean Street at the Washington Street Mall.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

HERSHEY PARK

hersheytrolleyworks.com/

If you really want to get the lowdown on the town synonymous with chocolate treats, find your way to the green trolleys that cruise the world of Hershey. You get to see and hear about the vision of Milton Hershey, the buildings and land where it all became a reality and you’ll be transported back to a time when a Hershey bar actually cost two-cents. The trolleys and their riveting narrators will drop you art points of interest to pick up a later ride when you’re ready. The tours start and end at Chocolate World. Adults pay $15, children: $11.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

VALLEY FORGE PARK

nps.gov/vafo/planyourvisit/trolleytours.htm

You can drive it or enjoy a long stroll to cover George Washington’s storied encampment at Valley Forge. No. This was not the site of a Revolutionary War battle. It was a place for Washington to winter his weary troops before returning to the fray. A comfortable way to cover the expansive grounds, the soldiers huts and Washington’s Headquarters is the hour-and-a-half trolley tour that starts at the Visitor Center and costs $16.50 for adults and $8.50 for children.

Note: The open top deck of double-decker city tour buses are available for seating, even in chilly weather. In New York, it was a tradition for many families to ride the open air deck of city buses to the Thanksgiving Parade, no matter what the temperature. Just dress for it.

Enjoy!