The city bus tour

How to find short city sightseeing tours by bus in Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, and other major Italian cities

A hop-on/hop-off city sightseeing bus passing St. Peter's and the Vatican in Rome
A hop-on/hop-off city sightseeing bus passing St. Peter's and the Vatican in Rome.
Short city bus tours of an hour or four are great for city orientation, especially in larger destinations like Rome, Milan, or Florence (being a city of canals, Venice can't, obviously, offer bus tours, but it does do boat and walking tours).

They're also useful for crossing the major architectural sights off your sightseeing list, and cruising past things you want to see but don't really have the time (or, sometimes, the interest) to carve an extra hour out of your already tight schedule to make a special trip.

Almost every city in Italy offers bus tours—either city-run tours or private tours. They may last from a 45 minute quickie to a full day of touring and sightseeing, but usually they average 60 to 90 minutes of tooling past the major sights and monuments of the historic center of town.

Most buses have either a live guide, or recorded commentary available in a dozen languages. There are three main flavors of city sightseeing bus tour:

  • The roundabout bus that trundles you past everything in one big loop and you never really get off the bus. These tend to last an hour or two.
  • The hop-on, hop-off bus that makes a long circuit (or several overlapping circuits) of all the major city sights. These are hugely useful, as you can jump off the bus whenever you feel like visiting a museum or whatever, then board any later bus when it swings by—buses usually come along every 20 to 60 minutes. In other words, it's sort of a cross between a bus tour and a super-cheap group taxi designed specifically for sightseers. Your ticket is usually good for a full day; sometimes you can get multiple-day tickets.
  • The mini guided tour, where everyone gets off the bus at certain key stops and you’re lead by a guide quickly through churches, museums, and other sights. These tend to last at least half a day (3–5 hours).

You can find brochures about these bus tours in any city tourist office, or you might book ahead via one of our partners:

Bus tours in major Italian destinations

» More tours in Rome

» More tours in Florence

» More tours in Venice

» More tours in Milan

» More tours in the Naples Bay area

» More tours in Pisa

» More tours in Bologna

» More tours in Turin

» More tours in Italy

Figuring out your own budget tour

With a map showing bus routes and a bit of imagination, you can put together your own budget tour for the price of a standard public bus ticket. Most major cities have a commuter bus line that, either by design or default, happens to pass by many of the tourist highlights (like Rome's no. 64—and its express cousin no. 40—from the train station straight through the historic center to the Vatican area, or Rome's teensy electric buses no. 116, 117, and 119, each of which trundles a different path around the twisting streets of the historic center).

You have to provide your own commentary, of course, by being quick with a map and cross-referencing it to a guidebook (though if you have Internet access with a cell/palmtop, you can always following along using a map, available in each major city section), and you'll end up missing out on most of the quirky anecdotes and hidden history. On the other hand, it's really, really cheap.

Each city section of this site will point you to the most useful public buses that make the rounds of the major tourist sights.

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