Public transport affords good views

The #2 Tram in Budapest glides by the Museum of Ethnography. Pho
The No. 2 Tram in Budapest glides by the Museum of Ethnography. MICHAEL MILNE

Last month, we wrote about taking rides on commuter ferries to get a view of places from the water. One of the benefits is that a regular ferry ride offers a much better value than a tourist-oriented, expensive boat ride. This same theory holds true for land transportation.

Most big cities offer an expensive bus ride that takes in the major sights, often with an endless narration, but you can often see the same things on a much cheaper tram ride, with no need to listen to a recorded guide.

We particularly like cities that offer trolley and tram rides - often, routes that pass the most historic sights use vintage tram cars, as well, offering a bit of a "history within history" experience. Before your visit, take a look at the website of the local transportation authority and review trolley and tram maps if they are available.

The century-old transit system in Hong Kong is well-known for its double-decker trams (known as the "Ding-Ding" for the bell it rings upon arrival and departure) that trundle through the city. Make sure to take a seat in the front row on the upper deck for the best view. Don't worry about getting lost. Although Hong Kong is incredibly bustling, trams run only east-west on the small island.

What's more romantic than a cruise along the Danube River? Perhaps an old-fashioned tram that glides along the river. The No. 2 Tram in Budapest spends the day riding along the river, offering spectacular views of the medieval ramparts of Buda Castle and the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge before breaking away for just a bit as it circles the flamboyant neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament Building.

In Lisbon, you'll ride canary yellow, circa-1930s trams up a steep serpentine route to São Jorge Castle. The ride can be a bit stop-and-go, but your reward for reaching the top is a sweeping view of the city below.

The granddaddy of all scenic rides in America is provided by San Francisco's cable cars. Although you'll feel like an extra from a Rice-A-Roni advertisement while riding one, nothing beats the thrill of plunging down one of the city's famed steep hills while gazing off in the distance at fog-shrouded Alcatraz. If you're a roller coaster fan, snag a spot in front of the Powell/Hyde line for its dizzying descent.

Seeking out regular commuter lines provides a value-oriented alternative to tourist rides and provides the visitor with a more authentic local travel experience.

Larissa and Michael Milne are the authors of "Philadelphia Liberty Trail," a guidebook to the city's historic district.