|The Barcelona Tours bus arriving|
Barcelona Bus Tours or "Hop on and hop off sightseeing tourist buses", as they are colloquially known, are a popular way to view Barcelona city. As a first-time tour-bus traveller and perhaps a cynic, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. I have always tended to write off the concept of a tourist bus tour as only for those who have no interest in truly understanding a city. However, what the tour provided me, a Barcelona resident, was the exact opposite. From the tour I managed to obtain a better understanding of the layout of my city and what it has to offer than I have ever enjoyed previously.
For this review I tried out Barcelona Tours tourist bus operated by Pullmantur however there are other operators of similar services in the city.
The bus tours can be utilised in two different and distinct ways. You may wish to use the Barcelona Tours bus as a novel means of getting around the city. You can hop on and off at whatever destinations you have chosen to reach and can rest assured that the bus will take you to all of the must-see tourist hot spots. Alternatively, you may just choose to experience the full tour in one go, gaining an overview of what the city has to offer and taking note of particular places of interest to return to.
|La Sagrada Familia from the top deck|
Barcelona Tours bus tour makes both options possible and convenient. There are some hitches in the service - bus stops are not always clear, at times the commentary can be difficult to hear and waiting times between buses vary. However, overall I enjoyed the tour of the city on this service. It provides a great way to see the city, at a height that allows travellers to take in their surroundings easily and covers a comprehensive route of Barcelona - without any planning involved!
It is possible to buy tickets for children (between 4 and 12 years) and adults. All of those travelling under the age of 4 can travel for free. Tickets are purchased for either a one or two-day period.
The Barcelona Tours tourist bus company do not have ticket booths anywhere in Barcelona. Therefore your only options for purchasing the tickets are via the internet on the link given above or on one of the buses.
1 Day - €27.00
2 Day - €35.00
1 Day - €16.00
2 Day - €20.00
If you are in Barcelona for more than one day it is worth considering purchasing the ticket for a two-day period as this will only cost a few euros more. The minimal extra cost may justify using the bus simply as your mode of transport for a second day in Barcelona.
The Barcelona Tour Buses run all year round from 09:00 and 09:30 (when they leave from Ronda Universitat, Plaza Catalunya, Montjuïc and Colon) until 19:00 (winter) and 20:00 (summer). The only days of the year when they do not run are 25 December and 01 January. Times may also vary on 24 December, 31 December and 05 January.
The Barcelona Tours company state that buses run every five to twenty minutes. This may be subject to change (please see below for more details). There are no timetables at the stops. Therefore, it is simply a case of arriving at the bus stop and waiting for the next bus to arrive.
The bus provides a ramp at their back door and an area on the ground floor for wheelchair users. However, the top deck of the bus would be inaccessible to wheelchair users. Similar to a standard bus, it has a narrow, winding staircase to the open deck area.
Families with Children
As mentioned above, there are special ticket prices for children. People with prams will find themselves in a similar position to wheelchair users - the stairs to the open deck area of the bus are narrow and winding. However, there is one area in the downstairs section of the bus that is reserved for wheelchair users and those with prams.
This may be a very helpful way for elderly people to see Barcelona. It allows many of the city's major sights to be viewed from the comfort of a warm and seated bus. The staircase to the upper deck is steep and narrow, however the downstairs indoor option is always available. This may be a more convenient option than Barcelona's Metro system, where changes between lines often involves long walks and / or stairs.
On boarding the bus, you are provided with a small set of disposable headphones. These are the type that are inserted into the ear. Those who prefer a different style of headphone should consider bringing their own - a standard 3.5mm headphone jack is necessary.
Next to each pair of seats there is a small system into which two sets of headphones can be inserted. It is a wall-mounted unit with a small screen indicating the channel number, which can be changed by pressing the buttons with up and down arrows on them - this controls what language you will hear the commentary in. It has another set of buttons to adjust the volume. A small chart on the seat in front shows what channel number should be used depending on what language you require. The commentary is available in 10 different languages - Catalan, Spanish, French, English, Italian, Russian, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese. It may be necessary to try a few different systems before finding one that works properly.
Those who do not wish to have commentary during their journey can choose not to wear the headphones - there is no commentary on loud speakers.
Commentary is provided by way of a lady's recorded voice. The information is sporadic and interspersed with classical music. On one of the buses that I boarded there were numerous occasions when the commentary was out of synch with the area that the bus was travelling through - this normally occurred when the bus was stuck in traffic and had not yet reached the destination being discussed. This was usually rectified within approximately five minutes. The bus staff interrupt the recorded commentary when each new stop is reached. The information provided is very factual - with lots of dates and names. This may suit true fact finders and history fans, however, I would have favoured the odd anecdote or a touch of humour. However, all of this said, the lady providing the commentary did have a lovely voice!
The commentary is not particularly child-friendly. Details provided are very fact and date-heavy and are unlikely to hold the attention of children.
In general, I found the commentary, even at top volume, quite crackly and hard to hear. This was the case on two different buses. This may not suit those who are hard of hearing.
|The map & headphones|
On first entering the bus, you are provided with a paper map to accompany your journey. This is very basic and in no way accompanies the commentary. It is useful for its map that shows the bus's route and allows travellers to figure out what there is of interest in the vicinity of each bus stop. It is a large, paper map, which makes it quite hard to use on the top deck when it's windy.
|Barcelona Tours bus stop at Colón|
In general, Barcelona Tours provide a good service. The bus route is comprehensive and covers most of the important tourist attraction areas of Barcelona. The staff consists of the driver and a host. The host collects the internet voucher tickets or payment, if you purchase your ticket on the bus. The host also provides the leaflet and headphones and answers your questions. The hosts are multilingual and very friendly - they definitely speak Spanish and English. It is, perhaps, a shame that they do not provide more of the commentary - adding their own personal touch to the tour experience.
|Barcelona Tours bus stop at Passeig de Gràcia|
The bus stops are not particularly easy to find. However, this is only really a problem when first boarding the bus. After this, you will always know to wait for the bus at the same point where you alighted. Please see our Guide to Barcelona Tours Routes and Attractions for advice on how to find the stops.
|The Barcelona Tours bus leaving|
The buses stop for random amounts of time at each stop. On my journey, most stops involved a mere few seconds pause. However, at other stops there were waits of between 5 and 20 minutes. This was not a problem, apart from at the stop where we were informed that we would have a 5-minute wait that turned into 20 minutes.
On the top deck of the bus, there is only one bell, next to the stairs, to inform the driver that you wish to alight. This could prove to be a problem at the stops where the bus hardly pauses. It is necessary to remain alert to ensure that the bus does not continue to its next destination before you get off.
The Hop on hop off Barcelona Bus tour operated by Pullmantur provide a convenient and comprehensive way to view Barcelona's most important tourist attractions. Whether used as a conventional tour to gain an overview of the city, or more as a hop-on, hop-off mode of transport, you will find this service useful. A great introduction to a relatively small city where there is so much to see.