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Manchester Open-Top Bus Tours - New, Improved, Live

Jonathan Schofield on how the city's tourist experience is boosted by the open-top bus tour re-launch

Written by . Published on February 20th 2012.

Manchester Open-Top Bus Tours - New, Improved, Live

WE need cheesy tourism. We need high-culture tourism. We need all the tourism in-between because it means money, it means jobs. 

"Tour guides can interact with people on the tour, bring the city to life in a way a recorded commentary simply can't. They give a fuller picture of the city, can digress to explain detail, add colour and inject humour."

Manchester, as a big city with a big-boned history, can play the field. Think York and think heritage, think Blackpool and think seaside, think Keswick and think people with brightly coloured anoraks and a steely determination to make it up Skiddaw before the rain sets in.

Manchester though should accommodate the rough with the smooth, the shallow with the profound. 

A walk through weekend Manchester recently swished past the Bridgewater Hall with the Hallé Orchestra performing Beethoven's 6th, encountered hen and stag parties staggering down Portland Street, skirted past a poster advertising odd performance art in Islington Mill, and finished up on Quay Street with a choice of Zach Braff at The Opera House and 2-4-1 deals in Walkabout. 

All good. Variety is the spice of life.

Yet compared to even Liverpool, we lack some essential tourist experiences alongside all the gigs, shows, drinks, events and frequent markets.

We don't really do way-finding in the city centre, there are next to no history boards, no kids playgrounds and the waterways are under-exploited.

We don't even have an open-top bus tour. 

Fortunately this defect is about to be remedied by Jason Earl of Earl's Limousines

The last open-top bus tour in the city collapsed three years ago beneath the weight of its own mediocrity.

As a tourist experience the tour was poor featuring a God-awful taped commentary that was frequently out of sync with the sights being passed. The tour also went to the Trafford Centre, across miles of trading estate desolation, seemingly to ensure that visitors might appreciate the glory of the large out-of-town shopping centre. 

Earl, in association with Manchester Guided Tours, is upping the open-top bus game. 

"We're working with Manchester Tour Guides," Earl says, "to make the experience much better by using live guides who can respond to the people on the tour and the situations they pass. At the same time we'll be improving the route to include all the key places in the city."

Excellent news, but where did he acquire an open-top bus in the first place?

"We bought it from the company that had done the tours previously," says Earl. "Initially I thought I'd use it just for events and special occasions and it's done a lot of those. But it always seemed a shame that it wasn't being used for what it had been built for."

"So from Good Friday, 6 April," continues Earl, "we'll be starting regular weekend tours, and if these work out we'll boost the number of excursions."

The tours will pick up on Chorlton Street, between Yates Wine Lodge and the Britannia Hotel and just down the road from the Manchester Visitor Information Centre on Portland Street. 

The tour will take approximately two hours and cover most of the main city sights from MediaCity and Old Trafford in the west to Sportcity and the Etihad Stadium in the east. Prices will be £15 for adults, £8.50 for kids and £12.50 for pensioners.

There will be an official launch on March 14 with the Lord Mayor in attendance. 

Views From The Quays Back To The City Centre In February 2012Views From The Quays Back To The City Centre In February 2012

"We've even got a deal with Manchester United," says Earl. "There'll be the regular bus tour but also one-offs stopping at Old Trafford. On these excursions, which will also take in most of the main city locations, we'll give people a twenty minute taster tour of the stadium for a fiver."

This could be a winner.

Many partners of dedicated United fans find the full stadium tour at around ninety minutes overfacing. Let's hope a similar deal can be struck with City.

Back to the live tour guide commentary.

Sibby from Manchester Tour Guides and a qualified Green Badge Guide (like Morrissey she only has the one name), explains the benefits: "Tour guides can interact with people on the tour and bring the city to life in a way a recorded commentary simply can't. Guides give a fuller picture of the city, can digress to explain detail, add colour, inject humour and respond to situations as they occur."

Of course the tours will only be a success if they can attract enough audience. 

But as an introduction to the city for guests who are unable to take part in a walking tour, or want to gain a more comprehensive geographical view of the city from east to west, then the tours are a very welcome addition to Manchester's tourism infrastructure.

After all they are part of that package of typical tourist activity visitors expect to find in cities. 

"We feel we can fill a gap here, and boost what the city offers," says Earl.

There are some more pictures of the bus at a Linford Christie Street Athletics event in Albert Square in 2011 here.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Manchester Town HallManchester Town Hall

Inside John Rylands LibraryInside John Rylands Library

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32 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousFebruary 20th 2012.

are they supplying umbrellas for upstairs?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Alistair MackayFebruary 20th 2012.

Yeah that thing needs a temporary roof or something

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2012.

The front top section is covered - see pic's on the website.

Captain DryFebruary 20th 2012.

Honestly Anon, yawnissimo

JS3February 20th 2012.

It'd spend most of the time stuck on Deansgate in one of the lovely new straight on only lanes. Well done MCC.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousFebruary 20th 2012.

Straight on only with a right turn allowable a la Hilton Deansgate? So all the straight on traffic gets stuck behind the bus wanting to turn right. Toddlers could have come up with better traffic management plans.

AnonymousFebruary 21st 2012.

no good moaning on here. If you live in the area covered by the Council send a message to Contact@manchester.gov.uk with a photo if poss. We have a new city Centre officer who controls service in the CC

JS3February 21st 2012.

We weren't consulted about it in the first place, what chance have we of having any say now? Love my city, hate the council.

ChorltongalFebruary 20th 2012.

£15 is a bit steep. I went on a lovely tour in Bath and it was only £8. Taped commentary only mind you...

1 Response: Reply To This...
Anon personFebruary 20th 2012.

It really isn't the same having a taped commentry

CKRISGFebruary 20th 2012.

Visit Old Trafford, Etihad and the Media City, what joy

3 Responses: Reply To This...
CheesmanFebruary 20th 2012.


Alistair MackayFebruary 20th 2012.

You're joking but I think that would be quite good!

CKRISGFebruary 20th 2012.

Cheesman, if you dislike a comment then make a positive statement, don't be a keyboard warrior

JasonFebruary 20th 2012.

Hi i am the operator of http://manchesteropentopbustours.co.uk and i think £15 is a fair price for a 2 hour tour with live commentary,if we can expand the business so we can run more open top buses,we would be albe to reduce the price as we could then offer a hop on/hop off service like more of the cities do.So if manchester tourists get behind the tours prices will get cheaper.

Regards Jason

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Liana IrelandFebruary 20th 2012.

Hi Jason
I have lived in the Manchester area all my life & am ashamed that I do not know all the wonderful buildings in & around the city itself. I would prefer a tour of our wonderfrul sights omitting the Traff Ctre/ football grounds but would certainly give it a go. Manchester is referred to as the 2nd capital - yet we don't have anything like this for the tourists - or evem Mancs like me who want to appreciate what is on our own doorstep. Good luck with this & does the bus have facilities for disabled to get on board too as it would be a great way for this group to see the sights? Liana

AnonymousFebruary 20th 2012.

The leaflets are already in the Tourist Info Centre. The tour goes all over the city centre to the main sights, as well as to the football grounds.

JasonFebruary 21st 2012.

Hi Liana

Unfortunately the bus I have is a fully restored 30 year old bus and does not have facilities for disabled.This is something I would look at if we could expand the business and we bought more open top buses.

Julie JohnsonMarch 13th 2012.

Jason, I think this is great. A city with the heritage and cultural significance of Manchester deserves a bus tour.

It's an indicator that we Mancunians think enough of our city that we want to show it off, and hopefully it will give potential tourists that impression.

I'm hoping to sign up for a trip ASAP. I would point out a couple of anomalies on your website map - the Town Hall seems to have moved since I last looked, and you've spelled "science" wrong, but otherwise all the best with the endeavour, and fair play for coming on here and engaging with people.

Janie1509February 20th 2012.

I can't for the life of me understand why people berate an idea before they've even tried it! It's a bit like saying you don't like certain food that you've never tasted. Have the experience when it's up and running and then pass comment. Jesus, I hate this negativity thing we Brits seem to relish and thrive on!!!!

TimmachineFebruary 20th 2012.

I enjoyed a walking tour of the centre recently. But a word to CAPTAIN DRY, it did pour down the whole time and I was glad I had a brolly.

JohnthebriefFebruary 20th 2012.

Great idea, whenever I visit a new city, I do the open top bus tour if they have one.

Silver DaveFebruary 20th 2012.

Trafford Centre LOL must have got desperate. Best of luck to this new service but please knock it on the head to save our collective embarrassment if ever considering that as a destination to draw some punters! It could be really good, executed well. Perhaps if people can get on and off as they like, all day, that would help?

anneiaFebruary 20th 2012.

I have been to dublin on their tour buses and spain. they only have a running commentry free ear pieces and not in sync with the places.
They do have the jump on and off services which is great as you get off look around then find the stop can be dodgy. soyou can carry on.

Dublin cost e16.00 each regardless and spain e15. so we are not the dearest.

if you get humour as the Mancs can do really well then i think it will be a hit, but only if we see it as an extra for manachester people positve. When the council start getting gready and put prices up because its proving its worth thats when we will loose custom and it will go down the pan as with other projects.

1 Response: Reply To This...
JasonFebruary 21st 2012.

Hi can I just mention the council have nothing to do with the operation of the open top bus tours , I am a private company offering this service, and will not be putting the prices up, as I said in as earlier post these will come down if we can expand the business.

Regards jason

AnonymousFebruary 21st 2012.

Actually Jason (it shows my age) we did have an open top bus tour before but it did not succeed. I hope you have better luck. Is not Manchester Marketing involved?

Calum McGFebruary 21st 2012.

This is a great idea, but it's simply far too expensive and for that reason I would not try it. I'd pay up to £8. Sorry!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
JasonFebruary 21st 2012.

This is the reason why city sight seeing tours pulled out , as the volume of people that would use open top buses in manchester ,they could not make it pay charging £8.I could if i operated more buses but the demand is not as great as say liverpool that has over a million people a year coming just for the beatles.i think people will happily pay it just to get the £5 mini tour of old trafford which is exclusive to us at manchester bus tours, i am looking to secure more deals so you do get value for money even though i think you do already but i am biased.

Regards Jason

Calum McGFebruary 22nd 2012.

I do genuinely wish you luck but I don't think the financials add up, especially when you can get a detailed walking tour for only £6.

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2012.

It costs more than £8 for the pre-recorded commentary 1 hr tours in most other cities AliG!

You think £2 more than a walking tour would cover all the extra overheads of this? Driver, insurance, guide, diesel, vehicle maintenance, etc.

Other leisure comparisons (for less time and with no people directly involved) Odeon cinema £9, bowling for an hour £10.

In London it costs over £20 for a live bus tour.

Anne BeswickFebruary 21st 2012.

I think it's a great idea, but then I'm one of the guides! We do often get asked about bus tours as they do cover a lot of ground easily. You don't have to be a purist footie fan either. We can tell you about how Man City was founded by a woman or Man U moved to Old Trafford because the station was already there for the cricket, so some historical stuff too.
Also, if you'd like a walking tour of the city centre with a guide, they're every Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday from the Information Centre Piccadilly. Only £6

MancAdam85February 25th 2012.

I think it's a great idea. I really think this article is right in that we don't exploit tourism enough in this city. Bumping into tourists always feels odd.

When you think about what we have to offer, howebver, and our history as well as our present, we should be a tourist location. Any venture - especially a private one - which may help with this gets my approval!

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