The world's finest bus routes for sightseeing
New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Kyoto, London, Paris, Venice and Lisbon,
Fed up with paying $26-$30 for a half-day city tour by escorted motor coach? Tired of those inane anecdotes by the tour guide? Those historically inaccurate fables? The need, in some cities, to translate the commentary into four languages? Take a public bus instead! In nearly every major city of the world, public buses, trolleys, or boats traverse the very same sights for a tenth of the cost. And you enjoy your sightseeing in the company of local residents, not your fellow tourists. For example:
Available at 3,500 locations around the city, including the New York City Visitors Center and major newsstands (call 212/638-7622 for a complete list), a $4 "Fun Pass" lets you ride subways and buses all day, getting on and off as often as you like. Stick to the buses; the subway's faster but hardly scenic. One particularly useful route is the M4, which travels north from East 32nd Street along Madison Avenue all the way up to the Cloisters (a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to medieval Europe) at the northern tip of Manhattan. Along the way, you pass landmarks such as Columbia University. Heading back south, the bus takes Fifth Avenue, passing the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At 42nd Street, you can transfer to the M42; head east for the United Nations or west for the Circle Line harbor cruises. Or walk over to Broadway and catch the M6 south to the World Trade Center and Battery Park City, where at no extra charge you can board the Staten Island Ferry for terrific views of lower Manhattan (as well as, for an extra charge, ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island). You're also within walking distance of South Street Seaport and Wall Street.
Perhaps the most unique form of public transportation in the United States, San Francisco's $2-a-ride cable cars (buy tickets from machines at terminal points or from a conductor on board) provide scenic tours for visitors as well as transportation for residents. Of the three cable car lines still in use, the Powell-Hyde Street line, which takes in Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and Lombard Street (the world's most crooked), and provides views of distant Alcatraz, is arguably the most interesting for visitors. Since these National Historic Landmarks run at a little over nine miles per hour, you'll have plenty of time to see the sights. Tip: Board the cars a few stops away from the end of the line, where the boarding lines can be long; you pay the conductor. Another worthwhile public transit line runs along Market Street, from downtown to the Castro, using historic trolley cars. You can buy a one-day Muni Passport (purchase it at the Visitor Information Center at Powell and Hallidie Plaza, among other places), good for cable cars, buses, and trams, for $6.
Although it's a bit more touristy than, say, New York's M1, Amsterdam's Circle Tram (line 20) is the ideal example of convenient, cheap city touring. The trams are the same used on other lines, except that you can buy guidebooks and souvenirs on-board and a conductor sells tickets. This line, as its name suggests, travels in a circle around Amsterdam, taking in most of the city's principal sites, including the Van Gogh Museum and the Anne Frank House. It makes 31 stops in all, and you can hop on and off all day for about $5. Trams run every ten minutes from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week.
Bangkok Bangkok is best viewed from the water. Not only is it much more pleasant, but you also avoid often maddeningly slow street traffic. The Chao Phraya Express Boat Company operates open-air ferries along the turgid Chao Phraya River from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Take a ferry from the Shangri-La Hotel and cruise the river for a refreshing water-level view of this mesmerizing city. Along the way, as your whims dictate, alight to visit Wat Arun, the Grand Palace, the National Museum, and other cultural and commercial sights. There's no day ticket, but fares are extremely cheap-four to 16 baht (about 10 to 40 cents).
Trams have operated in Hong Kong since 1904, and because they're double-deckers, sitting up top yields great views of the passing scene, including Central Hong Kong's brilliant neon signs at night. For HK$2 (exact change, about 26 cents, payable each time you get on) you can take the tram from Kennedy Town in the western reaches of Hong Kong Island to Shau Kei Wan at the eastern end, passing through the Western, Central, and Wan Chai districts, Causeway Bay, North Point, and Quarry Bay-about 19 miles in all. A good place to pick up the tram in Central is along Queensway. Two other forms of public transport that show this beautiful city to its best advantage are the Peak Tram round-trip for HK$28 (US$3.59), which scales Victoria Peak with its panoramic views, and the Star Ferries that ply Victoria Harbour between Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula and the Central District on Hong Kong Island for HK$2.20 (US28[cents]) if you ride on the top deck.
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