My Hop On Hop Off Bus Lisbon Experience: Testing the Cityrama App

If you think that a hop on hop off bus Lisbon experience is only meant for a certain “type” of tourists, I’m about to tell you a different story. I also believe locals should be a tourist in their own town once in a while (I know I’ve become one since I started the blog). If you see your city from the perspective of first-timers, there’s a chance you’ll discover something you didn’t know or reconnect with a place you haven’t thought of in a while. Like Skift’s Colin Nagy said in a recent piece, “it is time to reclaim the word tourist, and recalibrate it to mean something good. Tourists can see the world with fresh eyes, unencumbered with the daily accumulations of local life.”

Hopping on a Gray Line Tours bus for three tours was my way to reconnect with the city while testing the Cityrama app (and keeping an eye on the privileged view from the top of a double-decker bus, of course).

It’s also not a coincidence that we agreed to publish this post on the World Tourism Day 2018. The theme for this year? Tourism and the digital transformation. Ever since attending the Web Summit events and talking to entrepreneurs trying to improve the tourism industry through technology, I know that technology, when used right, is a powerful tool to develop and ensure sustainable tourism.

Ditching the Paper Map, Gladly

Granted, not all tourists are tech savvy, and for them, a paper hop on hop off Lisbon map is part (if not the very start) of their bus tour experience. I find them impractical, difficult to fold back neatly, and a waste of paper. In fact, every time I toured a city on a hop on hop off bus, I never took the paper map.

So when Cityrama told me about their mobile app and invited me to take it for a test drive (pun intended), I was intrigued. My first thought and that would have been the easiest solution and one I’ve seen too many times, was that the Cityrama app would be just a mobile version of the map, with a few interactive options, but a surrogate of its paper counterpart nevertheless. So, of course, before accepting the invitation I downloaded the app.

The paper map might be useful before the tour, but it becomes obsolete once you hop on the bus (especially if, like me, you have no intention to hop off). The mobile app, on the other hand, is easy to consult when needed, it’s entertaining (more on that when I talk about my favorite features), and tracks your exact location (a major plus if you happen to find a point of interest that you haven’t thought of visiting but fits your preferences, and you decide to hop off the bus after all).

Which Lines to Choose?

While similar companies offer two hop on hop off bus circuits (or lines, if you will), with maybe an extra boat tour thrown in, Gray Line Portugal has four bus circuits and one boat circuit in Lisbon. You can then combine the tours you want to take in one free pass ticket, valid for 48 hours.

After much consideration, I did the Boat Hop On Hop Off + Belém and Oriente for the following reasons:

  • Belém is not my favorite part of the city but it’s a classic must-see, and I wanted to test the challenge features on the app (not yet available on all lines);
  • The Oriente route takes you on a completely different tour of the city, one that most tourists miss out (and the reason why all my fellow passengers that day chose Cityrama over other hop on hop off bus companies, by the way);
  • The boat because, apart from the daily commutes, I never really saw Lisbon from the river (the number of photos and videos on my phone are proof that one must see Lisbon from the river. Keep an eye on my Instagram for stories and photos).

I had my eye on the Cascais line as well, but I didn’t have time to include it in my itinerary. I definitely want to do it in the future.

If you’d ask me which line to skip, I’d probably tell you to leave the Castle one out. Buses on this line are smaller, and the area is easily covered on foot if you have enough time to explore. If you’re in the city for a short time (say, a layover or a weekend trip), then consider including this one in your itinerary.

My Favorite Cityrama App Features

I like apps with a clean, straightforward design and the Cityrama app has it. The maps were easy to read (yes, even if you don’t know the city) and having visual representations of some of the must-see landmarks along the route really helps to identify them.

Although I always hopped on the buses on the first stop (all buses leave from Marquês de Pombal), simply because it was easier for me, I tested the “next bus stop” for accuracy, and it didn’t fail me.

Finding information on points of interest along the routes was a simple click away, with short and sweet descriptions, if you need to skip the audio guide (for now, it’s only available in Portuguese and English). I’m partially deaf, so I find the audio guides on the hop on and hop off buses extremely uncomfortable — the volume is never balanced, and it strains my right ear that needs to overcompensate. Just start the app when you start the route and follow along on the map. If you rely on mobile data only, you may think the app is draining your phone’s battery, but that’s not an app problem. To avoid that, and if you don’t have the habit of traveling with a power bank, use the buses’ and boats’ free onboard Wi-Fi.

Saving the best for last here, from the moment I downloaded the app I was curious to test the challenges feature. Keep in mind that most of these activities are for when you hop off the bus, considering they’re meant to be done on foot. However, I did manage to complete two challenges while on the bus because the app immediately notified me there was one coming up. So, yes, the app is not just a mobile version of the paper map. I wish to apologize for the spoilers ahead, but the screen grab of the challenge does give away the right answers…

Tips for Using the Cityrama App

The Cityrama app is reasonably intuitive and easy to use, but I still want to share with you some tips to make the best of it.

Once you’ve selected the line you want, the app will show you a sum up of useful information like schedules (for summer and winter), duration, frequency, which stops are out of service, and what times are the first and last departures. Users still on browsing mode, deciding which line suits them best, would benefit from a back button on this screen or any other option to go back to the route list to search for another option. For now, to change lines after you’ve selected a route, you must click the “Let’s go” button to fire up the map and then click the option “routes” on the bottom left (see the video below).

If you find some of the iconography unclear (I confess the walking challenge icon wasn’t clear to me at first), tap on the “More” option on the bottom right corner below the map. This is only visible after you’ve selected the line you want and pressed the “Let’s go” button. Also, pay attention to the yellow Top icons that indicate Cityrama’s partners, often with discounts associated with your ticket.

The Cityrama app is free and is available for iOS and Android. It’s a work in progress, so expect upgrades and new features in a near future.

Disclosure: Since its beginning in 2014, Tripper has partnered with brands and businesses that align with the blog’s mission and values. Gray Line Portugal is one of them. The author, Sandra Henriques Gajjar, has full editorial control of all blog content. That means all opinions are her own and, unfortunately, all (hilarious?) puns too. For more details on how and why Tripper works with brands, read the Work With Me page.