To buy or not to buy?
City pass cards are a great way for travelers to save money on entrance fees to museums & historical sites, obtain free public transportation, and receive restaurant/retail discounts for a specific amount of time [24, 48, 72 & (sometimes) 96 consecutive hours] from the time the card is activated. Occasionally, you can score a 10% savings on the purchase price by pre-ordering your pass before your arrival in town. There are a few companies that offer the cards and lately variations of the discount cards are now offered–in the Netherlands, residents can buy an annual museum card for unlimited free or discounted entry to just about every museum. Depending on your length of stay and your interests determine if the card is worth your money.
I never really thought too much about them until I stumbled upon them in my trip prep research for Paris. I’ll go through some of the cities where I found it useful and I’ll mention the cities I didn’t find it worth its price.
Before you go: In my research, I first look to see what field-trips I may want to book and I note the dates and cost. Then I research the city pass to see if my beloved hop on/hop off sight-seeing bus is offered for a discount price as well of other museums and attractions. I research the entrance price for all of the planned activities and once I hit the cost of the card in savings–then I know it’s worth the price. Then I determine around the field-trip how long of a pass I want to purchase. The key is visiting the high ticket price items within the card’s activation period–so pre-planning your itinerary is helpful.
Paris was the first trip I accessed a Paris Pass. There are two reasons that made it worth the price: free entrance to the Louvre and Versailles. The Louvre museum has an insane waiting line (it averages about 4 hours through the main entrance in the large pyramid)–however a travel writer mentioned that the Paris Pass allows a fast track entry to the Louvre through the Passage Richelieu entrance (Rue de Rivoli across from the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre métro station). I made sure to get there at about 8:45ish and within 15 minutes I was through security and ready to get my free ticket (€12 savings). It was a madhouse in the museum–the general, no advance ticket or pass ticket line was already snaked around the main entrance. You have to go through another level of security to gain access to subsequent galleries so I planned on the specific artworks I wanted to see and went from there. In short, point one for the Paris Pass–otherwise I would have wasted half my day just waiting to get to the first level of security.
The second attraction that made my Paris Pass worth it? Free entrance to Versailles Palace (a €20 savings) which is about 14 miles outside of Paris. Now I knew I wanted one of my field-trips to be a visit to the Versailles palace, but every tour was charging at least €60 for transportation, entrance fees, and tour guide. But if I was going to get the most bang from my buck–I should use my Paris Pass for free entry (which includes the audio guide). I stumbled upon a frequent traveler’s blog about how to visit Versailles on the cheap. My cost for a day at Versailles? A measly €6 for my round trip train ticket from Paris to Versailles and I walked two blocks to the palace from the train station. I waited on line (again fast tracked) for about 20-30 minutes (most of which was because I arrived just before opening hours) to pick up my free ticket.
Amsterdam has world class museums that have ridiculously long lines (hello–Anne Frank House and Van Gogh musuem). The Anne Frank House is not included in the iamsterdam card or Holland Pass. You can pre-purchase tickets which guarantees a fast track entry during a specific date and time. I was unlucky as I was never able to score an online ticket for my time in Amsterdam so I had to wait on the regular Joe line (some people wait five + hours) to gain entrance as the museum staggers the number tickets they release each hour. The Van Gogh museum had fast track entry and free entrance (€17 savings). Well worth the cost. The free 48 hour public transportation card was not really needed for me as Amsterdam’s city center is compact and walk-able. I stumbled upon some interesting museums I probably would have overlooked if not for the Holland Pass–the Rembrandt House (I loved it) is one of his last residences and it was refurbished with period decor. The satellite Hermitage museum (as in the Hermitage Palace museum in Russia) was interesting–I expected something else in its exhibits. A free canal cruise was also included–I managed to get another one when I visited the Heineken Brewery experience. The redemption process for the card is less straightforward than just present the card and get the discount. There are gold and silver coupons so you really have to plan which museums will give you the most for your money. The iamsterdam card is another discount card and truthfully, I don’t remember why I chose Holland Pass over the iamsterdam card–probably because of the discounts on the major sites I wanted to see.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit London 7 times. My first three trips were with three different people and we went to the old standbys each time. Then once I started traveling solo, I slowly visited other attractions I was interested in seeing. I would still visit my favorite spots, but I also made sure that I saw a few new sites. So that was the long way of saying the London Pass might not be worth it for me, when I last visited London I was with my mother. I bought us each a pass as a way to control costs and keep us on budget. For someone who has never traveled through London before the pass is a great savings, but for us it was a bust. We had a short timeline to begin with and I probably planned too many other things as well (day in Paris and Wicked at the Victoria Apollo Theater) to really get the most from the pass.
So for newbies to the London scene–Buy it.
For more seasoned London visitors, look through the discounts to really confirm that its a good buy for you.
I’m glad that I picked up the Oslo Pass. I never would have visited some of my favorite attractions in Oslo without trying to get the most out of pass. I loved the Vigeland Park and museum. I’m not as excited by sculpture as paintings but I truly loved it and I really took my time to enjoy the sculpture. The Viking Museum was awesome–9th century boats–if only artifacts could tell us the stories of their adventures from long ago. I’ll admit that I barely came ahead in savings versus the purchase price, but I really loved the sights I did see. I admit I was not as interested in some of the free/discounted tickets to museums that would have made this a better buy.
Buy it after creating an itinerary to make sure you will come out ahead.
Copenhagen was the last stop of a whirlwind self-directed tour of Scandinavia. I admit that I failed to be a savvy traveler and make the most of the savings through the Copenhagen Card. My mistake was activating my card at the airport where I purchased it to use it for the train to get into the city center. A better value of the card would have been to wait until the next day to activate and my card would have been valid when I could actually use it. My last day was a field trip to Kronberg in Helsingor–my card should not have worked (it has chip technology), but it did and I received the discount. I felt giddy that I got away with something.
Buy it. (But use it more wisely than I have)
I have not purchased a city discount pass in every city I visited. I plan on researching if the two official discount cards (OMNIA & Rome Card: http://www.romeandvaticanpass.com/) will be worth it for me on my upcoming trip to Rome. I suspect they will be as invaluable as the Paris Pass proved to be not only in money saved but time NOT wasted standing on line to major attractions.
Other cities that I used the city discount pass: