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Transportation costs add up quickly when you are traveling with a wheelchair, and it's important to save money wherever you can. Including services like SuperShuttle, Greyhound and Megabus in my travel strategy has allowed me to save thousands of dollars over the years. For tourists, taking a taxi from attraction-to-attraction will empty your wallet quickly, which is why I recommend using a combination of public transportation and Hop-On Hop-Off sightseeing tour bus services in major cities around the world.
The two leaders in this arena are Big Bus Tours and City-Sightseeing, with accessible buses serving wheelchair travelers in more than 50 cities across 6 continents. While not every city has a 100% accessible fleet, most buses do have a wheelchair accessible ramp and dedicated space onboard for parking the chair. Accessibility is better in some cities than others, but I've almost always had a positive experience with the companies listed above.
In this article, I'd like to share 13 of my favorite tourist attractions, each from a different city where I have used a Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus to get around at least part of the time. Due to the diversity in bus routes and schedules, it can be valuable to pair the tour bus with public transportation, so that you can make the best use of your time and see more of the city that you are visiting.
Traveling in the United States or Canada? Complement your Big Bus ticket with a CityPASS, which can save you up to 50% on admission to the most popular tourist attractions!
The following list is arranged in alphabetical order by city name, and is not a ranking of my preference or the level of accessibility in each city.
Berlin, Germany — Charlottenburg Palace
Built in the 17th century, Schloss Charlottenburg was home to seven Prussian kings of the Hohenzollern Dynasty. The palace is the largest in Berlin, and is accessible to wheelchair users on the ground floor.
Despite the limited interior accessibility, you'll have a fantastic time exploring the sprawling gardens, which extend all the way to the Spree River. On a beautiful summer day, there is no better place to be in all of Berlin!
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by City-Sightseeing Berlin. For more information on the city, consult the Berlin wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Berlin.
Cape Town, South Africa — Table Mountain
The City of Cape Town, located at the southern tip of the Africam continent, rests beneath the iconic Table Mountain. As part of the Cape Floral Region, the flat-topped mountain is a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Travelers hoping to reach its summit at 3,558 feet will take the cable car with a rotating floor on a 4-5 minute ride to the top. Accessibility is quite good, with paved walkways spread across the mountaintop.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by City-Sightseeing Cape Town. The wine tour route is not wheelchair accessible.
Chicago, USA — Willis Tower/Skydeck
The Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, held the title of world's tallest building for 25 years, from 1973 to 1998. The skyscraper stands 1,451 feet tall and has 108 floors.
On the 103rd floor, tourists can visit Skydeck Chicago, an observation level with panoramic views of the city. There are wheelchair accessible telescopes for magnified viewing of the skyline. Daring visitors can roll out onto The Ledge, a series of glass boxes which extend four feet from the side of the building. Look down, and you'll see the street below!
Be sure to save money on admission to the Willis Tower Skydeck and other Chicago attractions with the Chicago CityPASS.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours Chicago. Because not all buses are accessible, wheelchair users are asked to call 48 hours in advance to be accommodated. For more information on the city, consult the Chicago wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Chicago.
Copenhagen, Denmark — Freetown Christiania
One of the most peculiar communities in all of Europe, Freetown Christiania was formed in 1971 on the grounds of an abandoned World War II munitions depot. Throughout its history, Christiania has attracted anarchists, free spirits and pot-smokers. Now recognized by the Danish government, it forms an integral part of Copenhagen's cultural landscape.
Visitors will find that the colony is very much an "anything goes" type of place, and pretty easy to get around in a wheelchair. There are souvenir stands, restaurants and bars throughout.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by City-Sightseeing Copenhagen.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Old Souk
I am obsessed with tall buildings and towers, but the Burj Khalifa was not my favorite experience in Dubai. I had a much better time eating, drinking, shopping and enjoying shisha at the Old Souk, which is located right alongside Dubai Creek in the oldest part of town.
After finishing up at the Old Souk, I recommend that you take the a sightseeing tour along the coastline aboard the wheelchair accessible Dubai Ferry. The Al Ghubaiba Marine Station is only steps away from the souk, and the one-way trip to the Dubai Marina takes about 90 minutes.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours Dubai. Not all, but the majority of buses are wheelchair accessible. For more information on the city, consult the Dubai wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Dubai.
Hong Kong, China — Star Ferry
Sure, you could hop on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but why not take a ride on the Star Ferry across the beautiful Victoria Harbour? Ferries cross the harbour at regular intervals throughout the day, connecting Central pier on Hong Kong Island with Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui with Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island. All routes to Hung Hom on the peninsula have been discontinued.
The boats used on the Star Ferry service aren't luxurious, but there is plenty of room for wheelchairs on the lower deck. During the ride, you'll have fantastic views of the Hong Kong skyline. And, best of all - the cost of each crossing is less than $0.50 USD!
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours Hong Kong. 100% of buses are wheelchair accessible. For more information on the city, consult the Hong Kong wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Hong Kong.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Petronas Towers
You can't travel to Kuala Lumpur without taking a tour of the Petronas Twin Towers, two of the most iconic buildings in the world. Standing at a height of 1,483 feet, it was these towers that took the title of world's tallest building from Chicago's Willis Tower in 1998. The title changed hands again in 2004, but the Petronas Towers continue to dominate the KL skyline.
When you hop-off the sightseeing tour bus at the Petronas Towers, you'll also be within walking distance of several other attractions. Ride a travelator through the underwater, glass-enclosed tunnel at the Aquaria KLCC aquarium. Take a leisurely stroll through the perfectly-manicured City Center, then follow that up with drinks and a view at the Traders Hotel rooftop bar, the perfect place to see the towers light-up at night.
Tour bus service is provided by KL Hop-On/Hop-Off in Kuala Lumpur. 100% of the buses are wheelchair accessible. For more information on the city, consult the Kuala Lumpur wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
Las Vegas, USA — The Strip
There is more to Sin City than drinking and gambling. Las Vegas Boulevard, known as the Las Vegas Strip, is lined with resorts, restaurant and entertainment venues, in addition to the bars, night clubs and casinos.
Each hotel and resort complex offers something different, and you'll want to see as many as you can. The Strip is a lengthy distance, but you'll be able to hop-on and hop-off at multiple points. The tour bus will also take you to off-strip attractions, like the Mob Museum, the pawn shop made famous in Pawn Stars and the Fremont Street Experience, which boasts a wheelchair accessible zip line.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours Las Vegas. Because not all buses are accessible, wheelchair users are asked to call 48 hours in advance to be accommodated. For more information on the city, consult the Las Vegas wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Las Vegas.
Madrid, Spain — Royal Palace
King Philip V ordered construction of the Royal Palace of Madrid after its predecessor was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve, 1734. The palace now serves as the official residence of King Felipe VI, but is open to the public for tours most days throughout the year.
Made accessible via a series of ramps and elevators, wheelchair users have the opportunity to come face-to-face with almost 300 years of Spanish monarchical history.
Some of the royal family's most interesting (and recent) history is on display in the Throne Room. There, visitors will find the signed abdication letter of King Juan Carlos I, who relinquished the crown in favor of his son on June 18, 2014. He is reported to have said, "I don't want my son to grow old waiting like Prince Charles [of Britain]."
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Madrid City Tour.
Moscow, Russia — The Kremlin & Red Square
During the Soviet Era, a Russian official steadfastly proclaimed, "There are no invalids in the U.S.S.R.!" In truth, people with disabilities have always lived in Russia, but they've been unable to access the country's built environment. With recent advancements brought on by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, that is starting to change.
Wheelchair users can now get inside Red Square, and also within The Kremlin itself. While many of the buildings have still not been made accessible, you'll be able to see iconic structures like St. Basil's Cathedral.
During my recent visit to Moscow, very few of the structures within the Kremlin and Red Square had barrier-free entry, but it is my hope that the investments being made in other parts of the city will soon be made in this historic place. Even though the cathedral is not accessible, no trip to Russia is complete without a photo of its bold exterior.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by City-Sightseeing Moscow. For more information on the city, consult the Moscow wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Moscow.
New York City, USA —One World Observatory
After the tragic events of September 11th, the American spirit sprung forward and New Yorkers began the process of rebuilding their city. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, One World Trade Center emerged and became the crown jewel of Manhattan. Standing 1,776 feet tall on hallowed ground, it is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the sixth tallest in the world.
The One World Observatory, located on floors 100, 101 and 102, offers guest the opportunity to "See Forever" across the New York skyline.
The entire observatory experience is wheelchair accessible, but the space can be crowded at peak times. Before or after your tour of the observatory, I recommend that you visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. The 9/11 memorial is included in the New York CityPASS, which will save you a significant amount on money on attractions like a trip to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building and more.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours New York. 100% of buses are wheelchair accessible.
Stockholm, Sweden — Vasa Museum
In 1956, Swedish archaeologist Anders Franzén located the Vasa, a wooden gunship which sank more than 300 years earlier, in 1628. Commissioned by King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the ship sank because it was too top-heavy. After the Vasa was rediscovered, a massive effort was assembled to salvage the ship.
Raised from the ocean in 1961, the ship was displayed to the public in a makeshift facility. In 1990, the Vasa Museum was opened, allowing visitors to see the ship from every angle. Guided tours of the Vasa are available, but they are unfortunately not wheelchair accessible. Still, visitors will have an opportunity to learn about the history of 17th century Swedish naval forces, see photographs and diagrams from the ship's recovery, and examine a ship up close that is nearly 400 years old.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by City-Sightseeing Stockholm. Not all, but the majority of buses are wheelchair accessible.
Washington, D.C., USA — National Mall
The National Mall in Washington, D.C. spans 1.9 miles, from the steps of the United States Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The mall is a national treasure, and is lined with monuments and museums which honor and preserve American history. Best of all - each and every one of the national monuments and museums are free to access.
You could spend days along the National Mall itself, particularly in the Smithsonian museums, National Gallery of Art, Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Museum of the American Indian and the National Archives. The Big Bus will get you to all of these sights and more, including Arlington National Cemetery, Georgetown, Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Ford's Theatre, Martin Luther King Memorial, Dupont Circle, Pentagon City and the National Zoo, just to name a few.
Hop-On Hop-Off bus service is provided by Big Bus Tours Washington, D.C. Because not all buses are accessible, wheelchair users are asked to call 48 hours in advance to be accommodated. For more information on the city, consult the wheelchair travel guide and the list of wheelchair accessible things to do in Washington, DC.