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Look Into Alternate Ways of Seeing the Sights : Tours: Although coach trips may be your best bet if your time is limited, car rentals, taxis, public transportation and walking are also good ways to go.

If you have a limited amount of time in a city or just want a quick feeling for what a city has to offer, a coach tour can be your best bet.

When booking such a tour, however, find out from the tour company how many stops the coach makes and if participants are allowed off the coach to view attractions.

On some tours, sights are pointed out by the tour guide, and tourists never get to leave the coach. A brochure won’t tell you about that.

Once, when visiting Leningrad, I took a sightseeing tour that included a visit to St. Isaac’s Cathedral. When the coach stopped, we were told we couldn’t go inside the church and were only allowed about five minutes to take pictures of the exterior. It was a big disappointment.

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“Tourists should always make sure they know what their tour really covers,” Barbara Higgs of the Austrian National Tourist Office. “We have a city tour in Vienna that’s an hour and 15 minutes for people really short of time. You stay on the coach virtually all the time, with perhaps just a few short stops to take pictures.”

A longer three-hour trip includes a guided tour to Schoenbrunn Castle. Another stop is at Belvedere Palace, where there isn’t a guided tour but there is time for tourists to look around on their own.

Also, in addition to finding out how much time you will have at each stop, ask whether an English-speaking guide will lead you.

In any case, there are advantages to taking group bus tours. They are speedy, efficient and generally comfortable. Also, admission to attractions may cost less than if you go independently. And often such group tours receive preferential treatment at crowded attractions, sometimes without a wait in line.

Car rentals may make sense if your destination is outside the city. Information on car rentals, maps and driving customs, and perhaps even discount coupons for gas, may be available from the tourist office in the city you visit.

If you plan to drive, find out rush hour times. Avoid those hours, as well as the crowded places where to park and to eat.

Another good way to explore a city is by foot.

If only a few key sites in a city interest you and several are within walking distance of your hotel, take the journey to them by foot.

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Before venturing out from your hotel, however, get the exact number of blocks you need to walk and find out if the neighborhood is safe. Local tourist offices can provide maps of self-guided walking tours that you can be taken at your own pace. Many are well organized and simple to follow.

When not walking, try traveling by taxi or public transportation. Get an idea of what the price of a taxi should be in advance. And before using public transportation, find out how much it costs and if you need perfect change. Other details on the correct departure stop and how far it is from your destination would be nice to have, too.


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