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Buying a City Pass: Is it Worth It?

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Buying a City Pass: Is It Worth It?
Photo Credit: By rainii via Flickr and Creative Commons

London: Tower of London £22. Globe Theater Tour £13.50. Westminster Abbey £18.

Edinburgh: The Edinburgh Dungeon £16.20. Literary Pub Tour £14. Edinburgh Zoo £15.50.

Sightseeing is expensive. But if you’ve gone through all the trouble to get to these cities, how are you going to pass it up? Or decide which places to pass up? Without a plan, the admission fees to city hot spots can really add up. I’ve found that City Passes are often the way to go. They let you see more and compromise less. What I love is it let’s you budget ahead for exactly what you’ll spend sightseeing while saving you a good chunk of change.

What’s a City Pass? It’s a card with a set fee that offers you admission to a collection of popular sites. Sometimes it offers you admission to a number of different sights. Other times, it offers you a large list of things that you can do in a given amount of time.

Two that I recommend to every traveler are the London Pass and the Edinburgh Pass.

London Pass

I first used the London Pass back in the dark ages of 2005. I’d just graduated from college and spent a few weeks in England with two of my friends. We were on a super tight budget but still wanted to make sure we saw as many highlights as possible.

The London Pass bases their price scale on days, so we opted to pick up the 6 day pass with travel (London Pass has a cool feature where you can combine your London Pass with an unlimited Underground card – which you’ll want to take advantage of). The more days you select for your pass, the bigger your savings.

The London Pass came with a little booklet that was shipped over to us in America, and we made sure to base all of our sightseeing plans off it for those six days. From that we made “itineraries” for each day that featured 2 to 3 of the must see spots, but we noted the other things we thought were cool nearby. Because the London Pass also lets you skip lines, we saved even more time and were able to see nearly everything on the second string list too.

Edinburgh Pass

Edinburgh is another city that has set up their Pass really well. Edinburgh offers the option of 1-3 day passes. Like London, they must be used on consecutive days once activated, but 3 days is pretty much the perfect amount of time to explore Edinburgh.

One of the highlights of Edinburgh is that much of the “big” stuff to see is right off the Royal Mile. The Edinburgh Pass takes advantage of that offering entrance to a large number of the sights and tours that are on the Mile.

When I went a few years ago, the only thing we paid extra for was admission to the Edinburgh Castle. Every other thing we saw was covered by the Pass. It even covered our transportation to and from the airport. It also featured several coupons for local dining that we took advantage of each evening. Additionally, we were able to use a coupon in our Pass for a 20% discount when we scheduled a tour to the Highlands for a later day in Scotland. (Sadly, we did not find the Loch Ness monster.)

I amsterdam City Card

Despite all my gushing about the benefits of city passes above, let me point out, not all city passes are created equal. My most disappointing experience was with the I amsterdam Card for, you guessed it, Amsterdam.

I was so enamored with my previous city pass experiences that I barely glanced over the website before picking up a card for that trip. Unfortunately, the card just wasn’t for us. If your main goal in visiting Amsterdam is to check out museums, it’s worth a look. However, compared to other cities, this one just wasn’t worth it.

It did provide us several discounts to attractions that we wanted to go to, but those discounts were nowhere near enough to recoup the cost of the card. We wound up seeing several things off the beaten path to try to get some use out of it, but all of those things were a disappointment. For instance, we went to a houseboat museum that was just a houseboat. I still think it was just some dude’s home. Not that houseboats aren’t cool, but really, Amsterdam? You would’ve tried to charge me €10 to see that without the pass?

We got the best use out of the card when we headed out of the city center and to the suburbs to check out the windmills, but overall, we definitely lost money with it. Although I usually encourage buying a city pass, I’d advise skipping the I amsterdam card.

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