Does a city pass or tourist card offer value for money?

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Visit almost any city in the world these days and you’ll have the option of buying a card that grants you free or discounted access to the city’s major attractions. Public transport is often included too and most offer savings at selected restaurants and shops. So is it wise to take advantage of these deals or are they just a sneaky way for the local tourism businesses to make you spend more money?

How Much?

Here are just a selection of cards – I’ve chosen these pretty much at random but they do show the huge difference in price from one city to the next. All prices listed are for a 48 hour adult pass (most have 24 and 72 hour options too) that includes public transport unless stated.

London Pass – £79  (£61 without public transport option)

Berlin Pass – £55

New York Pass  – £84 (does not include public transport)

Innsbruck Card – £31

Lisboa card -£25

Krakow Tourist card – £12

See Sydney Attractions Pass – £122

Budapest card – £28

What makes a good deal?

I should say from the outset that I’ve never actually bought any of these cards, although I have used three of them (Krakow, Lisbon and Innsbruck) courtesy of the local or national tourist offices.

Whether a city pass constitutes good value for money depends of course on how you plan to visit each city. Would you for example willingly spend over $130 per head visiting various attractions in New York over a couple of days? I know I wouldn’t – I would much rather wander the streets of the city and enjoy the atmosphere, take in the views and perhaps indulge in one or two attractions per day. But then I would think very differently about entering a £2 museum in Poland to visiting a £30 one in Sydney.

Good and bad city passes

In most cases the cards are only worth buying if you are determined to cram in as many museums and attractions as you possibly can during the card’s validity. If your itinerary in a city involves moving rapidly from one museum to the next then perhaps a city pass will be worth buying. But those who tend to walk a lot, admire the architecture, enjoy the parks or just leave their plans open for surprising discoveries will rarely get value from a tourist card.

The Innsbruck Card is a notable exception, with almost the entire cost of a 24 hour card covered if you take a ride on the Nordkettenbahnen cable railway. Similarly in Krakow it’s quiet easy to rack up 60zl (£12) worth of admission fees over a couple of days, even though entrance charges are generally very cheap.

Some cards appear to be a good deal but actually offer only discounted admission to many places rather than free. The Budapest card is a case in point,  with relatively few free attractions included in the card but plenty of discounts instead. I found this one to be particularly poor value for money.

Surprise discoveries

One surprising benefit of a city pass is that once you have one you’ll probably feel obliged to get your money’s worth out of it. As a result you’ll pop briefly into museums that you probably wouldn’t dream of visiting otherwise. So while you might look at your guidebook, work out where you want to go and decide a card isn’t a good deal, the very fact that you have a card might trigger you into visiting some oddball museums that no-one’s heard of but that prove to be one of your unexpected highlights.

What cards have you found to be good value, and which offer the worst value for money?



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12 Responses to “Does a city pass or tourist card offer value for money?”

  1. Like you, I’d rather spend more time out on the streets than in museums and although I’ve looked into buying these cards in the past, they’ve never really seemed worthwhile.

    The last one I looked at was the Lisbon card because my husband and I were taking two kids there and planning to visit the oceanarium and a few other attractions. I was quite disappointed by the relatively small discount offered on the entrance fees and decided not to bother with the card.

    The shops and reastaurants that offer discounts with the card are often overpriced to begin with or out of my budget range even with the discount. And who has the time to shop when trying to fit in all the attractions and museums?!

    September 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm
    • Thanks Julie – we had the same experience in Lisbon. The card covered a few places that didn’t cost much anyway, but the biggest attraction (Oceanarium) only gave a small discount. The Lisbon card was not great value…

      September 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm
  2. Not sure which NYC pass you’re looking at Andy, but I took my dad to New York last year and invested in 2 x CityPasses which were $79 each – just under fifty quid. (I see they’ve gone up to $89 now). I’d never used any kind of pass before, but it was his first time in the city and we only had 2.5 days to see everything. The passes saved so much time in terms of not having to queue, esp at Statue of Liberty and Empire State.

    Also, we went to all six of the included attractions so we did in fact save a ton of money. And they were the very same attractions we would have chosen to go to anyway. Granted we got up VERY early to fit everything in, but we still had plenty of time to absorb everything. So I thought it was really worth it on this occasion. But overall I think they’re probably best for first time visitors pushed for time – and only if they offer genuine savings.

    September 3, 2012 at 9:41 pm
    • It appears that there are two passes Maxine – a New York City Pass (which you describe) and a New York Pass (which I listed). Yours looks like a better deal for sure!

      September 3, 2012 at 11:08 pm
  3. I’ve only ever used the Paris Museum Pass, but one advantage it did provide when I used it, in addition to letting you avoid the lines, was the ability to go back without having to pay an additional entrance fee (although I know other passes in other places are just one visit per museum). A few years ago, my family and I were in Paris for just over two weeks and bought the 6-day pass. We went to the Louvre, Rodin Museum, and a couple other places more than once. Multiple entry to museums definitely made it worthwhile.

    September 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm
  4. Lee #

    I think that a city pass that gives you discounts on attractions is a bit of rip off unless they give you a hefty discount. However i think a pass that lets you get into attractions fro free is most certainly worth it

    September 6, 2012 at 11:32 am
  5. I’ve only ever bought one city pass and that was in San Francisco. I actually wrote a blog post about it because I thought it was great value for money. I was very busy and visited some places I may not have thought of going eg the Asian Art Museum
    It was good for me because it rained most of the time I was there so I was able to enjoy the dry inside the museums and galleries. I would consider buying a pass again.

    September 10, 2012 at 10:10 pm
  6. I’m a fan of the Paris Museum Pass. In addition to being able to skip the lines (a HUGE benefit if you only have limited time), the diversity of what was offered made it easy to shell out he money for it.

    I liked that I could go into a museum for a short period of time (to see one particular exhibit, for example), because I wouldn’t have done so if it wasn’t part of a covered benefit. It’s not what I’d do on every visit, but was well worth it when I have.

    September 10, 2012 at 10:13 pm
  7. We visited Berlin last Decemeber and upon arriving at the central station we went to the tourist office to find out what our options were, as we were staying a little out of the city and knew we needed a rail pass for the few days we were there. The prices funnily enough for the Berlin pass was about the same as it would cost us to buy just the rail pass – we took the 72 hour card and it started the moment we bought it, that allowed us to catch the train back to the station on the 3rd day without buying another train ticket. We didn’t use too many of the museum vouchers, just east berlin museum and checkpoint charlie museum, but we did also use other vouchers that were included like free coffees and meals. Overall I think you should compare prices between the welcome cards and public transport tickets, and see if the museum discounts are for places you had planned on seeing – they can be very useful

    September 14, 2012 at 9:00 am
  8. I haven’t bought typical city passes before – but I have bought museum passes. The ‘7 museum pass’ in Barcelona was particularly good value since it covered some of the best museums in Barcelona (including a lot of Gaudi stuff).

    I also got a museum pass in Amsterdam, which I broke even during the trip (thanks to Van Gogh Museum), but couldn’t make full use of it – even though the pass is valid for a year.

    I do agree with the point that, when you do have such passes, you often end up visiting places you wouldn’t have otherwise and which turn out to be great discoveries!

    September 16, 2012 at 6:52 pm
  9. I tend to think the tourist passes are not good value for money – even though they appear to be worth it on the surface, the limited time you are given to use them usually mean that you are rushed to see as many sights/go to as many places as possible, instead of really taking the time to soak in each experience.

    I have bought the Berlin pass before though – which worked out well as I was planning to visit three museums in a day, and all three were included in the pass.

    You really have to have an idea of what areas/sights you want to go to and weigh up the pros and cons of each individual pass. To each, their own travel style.

    October 2, 2012 at 7:17 am
  10. No surprise that Sydney is the most expensive. Being based in Sydney and having lived here for a while I can tell you that this place really is one of the top 3 most expensive cities to live in. As for the pass, I think one would better off giving it a miss — your pretty much paying $150 for a few discounted entries and transport!

    October 27, 2012 at 5:16 am