I always like to try out new attractions in Jerusalem. So, when I saw the red Hop-On Hop-Off bus driving up one of the main streets in the city, I immediately added it to my Wishlist. This attraction exists in many central cities around the world, and I’ve tried it out several times. Last week, I finally had the chance to take the ride in Jerusalem. In this post, I’ll share my experience riding the Jerusalem Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, run by Red Bus City Tours. The ride takes about 1.5 hours and is available in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, German, Russian, Dutch, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Hindi, and many more languages.
Recommended read >> My full guide to travel in Jerusalem.
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My experience from the Jerusalem Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
Boarding the bus
I had some free time in the morning, so I thought it could be an excellent opportunity to try out the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. I walked to the starting point at 14 Agron Street. It’s in a small parking lot next to the buildings of the US Embassy in the city center. A friendly and smiling ticket seller greeted me there, saying that I just missed the bus and would need to wait another hour for the next one. That was okay for me.
When the bus arrived, the ticket seller started selling tickets with a credit card reader. The driver greeted everyone with a smile and joked around. But to get earphones for the audio guide, I had to ask for them. They don’t hand it out by default.
I boarded the top deck, which was clean and comfortable, plugged the earphones, and tuned the audio to English. It started talking at 11 AM, telling a very short sentence about the US Embassy. Then, we started driving.
Driving through the city
From the US Embassy, the bus drives on Agron Street down to the Mamilla Mall entrance, then turns left and makes its way towards the City Hall. The audio guide wasn’t functioning properly in this area. Actually, it wasn’t talking at all. Instead, the driver told us what we were seeing in Hebrew and in English. But he only gave orientational details and didn’t really explain about the sites.
We got on Shivtei Israel Street, drove past the Museum of the Underground Prisoners, then turned left on Ha-Nevi’im Street. Soon after, we got stuck in a traffic jam. A man walking on the street called out to the driver: “You’re taking them on a tour to see traffic jams? You should take them to Agripas, too. There’s a lot of traffic there!” People on the bus who understood Hebrew burst into laughter. But he was right. It felt as if most of the tour was to experience the traffic jams of Jerusalem. According to the OECD, Israel has the worst traffic in the Western countries, so it’s no wonder Jerusalem, the country’s capital, is totally jammed.
Maybe the fact that we were so slow helped the audio guide understand where we were, and after some time that it was talking about sites we’ve already passed, it finally started referring to the sites we were seeing in real-time. I think it got on track when we passed by the Bikur Cholim Hospital, one of the oldest hospitals in Israel, which was turned into a branch of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center at the beginning of the 21st century.
We passed the Davidka Square, drove through the Machane Yehuda Market, and stopped to pick up a group of women. They all climbed up to the upper deck but didn’t get the audio guide earphones. So, they just sat the entire ride and listened to the loud music that was playing in between the sites and the driver, who interrupted the music once in a while to tell us where we were driving. They weren’t happy about it.
From there, the bus continued to the governmental area, passed by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, and the Israel Museum. The audio guide gave some interesting information about the Givat Ram Stadium, the American Jewish Joint Organization building, and the Angel Bakery in the industrial area of Givat Shaul. Those are lesser-known sites in Jerusalem, so it was nice that the audio guide mentioned them on the way.
We saw the beautiful view of the Jerusalem Forest and passed by the Mount Herzl Cemetery, where IDF soldiers are buried a few steps away from Israel’s prime ministers. Then, we made our way to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. The bus entered the Yad Vashem compound with cheerful music playing in the speakers, which made me and some other passengers uneasy. One of the passengers slammed her hand on the side of the bus, trying to signal the driver to turn off the music. “A bit of respect!” she cried out. The driver did turn off the music, but he didn’t understand why. “Does someone want to hop off?” he asked through the microphone, “Someone is slamming on the bus. What do you want?”
After a few awkward moments, the bus continued on its way. The ticket seller climbed upstairs to check what the commotion was about, and the passenger explained.
We returned to the city center, passing next to Sacher Park and the Nachlaot Neighborhood. The driver stopped near the Machane Yehuda Market to drop off the group of women, so I took the opportunity to hop off, too. I was already hungry for lunch, and overall, didn’t have the best experience. So, I missed a few more sites, but it felt enough.
Here’s a 1-minute Short showing the overall experience:
Possible stops on the way
The frequency of the buses is very low. The bus leaves the starting point every two hours and only runs between 10 AM to 4 PM. So, you should choose stops where you can spend a long time while waiting for the next bus. Also, with this frequency, I think you can fit only one or two stops in one day. If you plan to hop off and hop on again later, inform the driver or another staff member so they will remember to pick you up later.
Here are some possible stops during the ride:
- Machane Yehuda Market – It’s a good place to stop for lunch. But I’m not sure you can fill two hours here until the next bus arrives.
- Israel Museum – This is one of the best museums in Israel, with the most comprehensive exhibitions of Biblical archeology in the world. It also includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed, and the Model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. You can definitely spend two hours here, and even more. Read more about the highlights of the Israel Museum.
- Yad Vashem – This museum tells you the story of the Holocaust in chronological order. It shows you original items and testimonies of survivors. You can easily spend two hours here, and even more. Entrance is free of charge, but prior reservation is necessary. Reserve your visit here.
- First Station – This is actually the final station in the bus’s route. It was once the first train terminal in Jerusalem that connected the city to Jaffa at the end of the 19th century. Today, it is a lively center with restaurants, shops, and recreational activities. It’s a good place to hop off at the end of the ride.
Is it worth taking the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus in Jerusalem?
I’m not sure about it. On the one hand, the audio guide does offer some interesting information about the sites on the way, but on the other hand, the experience itself is not so smooth and not always pleasant. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of riding the bus:
- It shows you lesser-known places. Most tourists will go to very specific places, like the Old City, the Israel Museum, Yad Vashem, and the Machane Yehuda Market, and will not start walking around the side streets. On the bus, you have a chance to ride through some less popular streets and glimpse into some local neighborhoods. The audio guide also explains a bit about lesser-known sites along the way. So, it could be a nice attraction if you want to get a broader overview of the city.
- It’s more comfortable than walking. If you want to see a lot of the city but don’t have the energy to start walking it all, riding the bus is a great solution. There’s air conditioning and a great breeze on the top deck.
- It gets stuck in traffic. Jerusalem is a great big traffic jam. It felt like we were stuck in traffic most of the time, which felt like a time-waster.
- The frequency is too low. Unlike what they write in their publications, the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus doesn’t run every hour. It runs every 2 hours and only between 10 AM and 4 PM. So, this leaves a very limited time to do the actual Hop-On Hop-Off and quite misses the point of the bus. They even asked me in advance if I was planning to hop off on the way, maybe because most people don’t really do that.
- The commentary doesn’t always match what you see. The audio guide, at least at the beginning of the tour, is totally off-course. It started talking minutes after we’d passed by the relevant site. It got on track at some point, but until then, I was sure I would not be learning anything on this ride. The driver did point out some sites on the way, but wasn’t informative at all.
- There’s loud music in between sites. If you’re less into loud and rhythmic music, this ride might not be for you.
Riding the Jerusalem Hop-On Hop-Off Bus could offer a nice overview of the city and its different neighborhoods. If you want to discover places that are beyond the main attractions, this could be a good option. Money-wise, it will definitely be cheaper if you use public transportation, especially if you’re a couple or a small family. But I think the whole point of taking the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus is to learn about sites on the way by listening to the audio guide.
Like many things in Israel, the experience itself is not smooth. There are annoying traffic jams and low bus frequency, and the audio isn’t always compatible with what you’re seeing. But if you’re prepared for all that, I guess you’ll be able to enjoy the better part of it – the commentary.
I would recommend buying a 24-hour ticket. I don’t think you’ll need more than that.
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