Firstly let me get one thing out of the way – there is only one hop-on, hop-off service in Sydney that I know about. It is marketed under three banners City Explorer (the original name for the service), City Sightseeing and now (2017), Big Bus Sydney. Don’t be confused into thinking that there might be competition here, there isn’t.
When I consider hop-on, hop-off services I take into a account a number of factors to try and justify the cost, which in Sydney’s case is (November 2017) A$50 for a one day pass and A$70 for a 2 day pass. A 2 day deluxe pass is also available for A$99 which includes access to Sydney Tower and a one hour harbour cruise.
The company operates two bus routes – one through the city – stopping at sights which in the main, though there are a few outliers, can be relatively easily walked around by an able person in not much greater time, if you take into account time spent waiting on buses – and a route to Bondi and a number of bays on the Harbour – which is certainly not walkable. You ticket covers both routes.
It’s a case of what works for you though I proffer an opinion below.
In favour of the service
You are in Sydney for one or a maximum of two days and want to get an overview of the city and thus not delve into anything too deeply then go for it, especially the Bondi & Bays route which lets you admire some wonderful scenery.
You have an aversion to taking public transport, be that due to incapacity, fear of getting lost, you are a snob, etc, etc.
You seek a commentary on the sights you pass by – though anecdotal evidence tells me that the quality of the commentary is poor, headphones are often not provided and it typically is not correctly synchronised with what you are looking at.
A quick glance at the stops listed indicates that they are all at quality locations of genuine interest to visitors.
The service is reasonably frequent (15mins or so for the City route and 30mins or so for the Bondi & Bays option) and starts early (8.30am City and 9.30am Bondi) with a last tour finish time of 7.30pm. If doing both loops in one day I recommend you do the City one in the morning and the Bondi & Bays route in the afternoon/evening – noting that city museums and the like do not open till around 10am. The latter said if you are in Sydney for just a short time I would hope that you would explore the outdoors and not spend too much time inside. Much as I like museums, Sydney is first and foremost an outdoors city.
Great views from an open deck double decker bus.
Against using the service
You can have access to the full Sydney public transport system which also covers the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley, Newcastle and more for a maximum of $60 (daily cap $15 for lesser periods) for a full week if your timing is correct – indeed it can even cost a lot less than this – see my OPAL Card Review. Importantly the public transport system gives you access to getting out onto the Harbour – an absolute must do.
Other reviews I have read (yes this is second hand information) complain about the quality of the buses and drivers, staff rudeness and tacky out of sync commentary.
Should you have more time and wish to actually properly visit, as opposed to pass by, places along the way you will only have time to see a few things and the Explorer bus thus becomes an expensive means of getting between places.
My overall impression
Not for me.
I have taken City-Sightseeing’s hop-on, hop-off service in Cape Town and found it to be fantastic. The decision to do that was based on a lack of alternative and regular public transport when I was there and a concern over the safety of some of the public transport that did exist. Neither of these factors apply to Sydney or, as yet, to any other destination I have visited where a hop-on hop off option is available. Add to this my desire to have sufficient time at a place to enjoy it properly (rather than tick things of a list) and you may understand why this option is generally not for me.
Should it be for you
Tickets can be purchased online or at the start points for each route – Circular Quay for the City Route and Central Station (Eddy Avenue) for the Bondi & Bays Route. Ensure that you apply sun screen and wear a hat no matter what time of year you are travelling as the Australia sun burns more than most!
The times that I have taken note of the buses in passing they could not be described as over crowded – my attached photo being a case in point where the bus is passing Town Hall in the centre of the city – granted this photograph was take in May – so not high season. Unless they are offering a discount for online purchases I would buy on arrival, that way if it does rain (which it does at times) you can reconsider.
Address: Circular Quay and Central Station
Directions: These are the start locations for the City and Bondi & Bays tours respectively