(Sponsored) My hop-on hop-off bus Lisbon experience with Cityrama
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 tourists 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.
Hopping on a Gray Line Tours bus for 3 hours was my way to reconnect with the city while testing the Cityrama app.
Ditching the paper map, gladly
Granted, not all tourists are tech-savvy, and for them, a paper Lisbon map is part (if not the very start) of their bus tour experience.
I find them useless, 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 complimentary paper map.
When Cityrama told me about their mobile app and invited me to take it for a test drive, I was intrigued. My first thought, which 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 substitute of its paper equivalent 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).
On the other hand, the mobile app is easy to consult when needed. It’s entertaining (more on that when I talk about my favorite features) and tracks your exact location. That last one is a major plus if you happen to find a point of interest that you haven’t thought of visiting and you decide to hop off the bus after all.
Which lines to choose?
While similar companies offer two hop-on hop-off bus lines, with maybe an extra boat tour thrown in, Gray Line Portugal has four bus lines and one boat line 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 companies, by the way);
- The boat because I had never really seen Lisbon from the river apart from the daily commutes.
I had my eye on the Cascais line, 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 in Lisbon), 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). 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), 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 click away, with short and sweet descriptions. In case you need to skip the audio guide (for now, it’s only available in Portuguese and English).
I have a hearing impairment, so I find the audio guides on these 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’ll drain your phone battery fast. 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 screengrab of the challenge does give away the right answers…
Tips for using the Cityrama app
The Cityrama app is intuitive and easy to use, but I still want to share some tips to make the best of it.
Once you’ve selected the line you want, the app will show you a summary of useful information. That includes schedules (for summer and winter), duration, frequency, which stops are out of service, and what times are the first and last departures.
Users still 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 one.
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 icons 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.
That 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.