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City Passes: Are They Worth It?

City Passes: Are They Worth It?

on Aug 14, 2013 in Blog, Travel Tips

It seems that nearly every city (and some countries) offer some type of “explorer” pass—a pass you purchase that allows entry into a specific set of sites and attractions over a set number of days. Some passes even include local public transportation. Our debate on whether or not to purchase a city pass is always based upon:

  • which of our “must see” sites (and transportation costs) are covered by the pass AND
  • the cost differential between the pass and the sum of the entry fees for our must see sites.

If we purchase a pass, we then enter into a personal quest to squeeze every ounce of value from it. The planner in me takes over to try and figure out how we can cover the most number of “now free” sights and thus obtain the most cost savings.

To date, we have elected to purchase a city pass in Oslo and a country pass in Scotland. Both met our criteria and seemed like a sound investment. However, we chose to forego the pass in Stockholm for the simple fact that we did not think we could recoup our investment.

We learned about the Scotland Explorer Pass a few days into our trip and after evaluating the cost benefit, we decided to purchase the seven day pass (valid for any seven days within a two week period). At each site, they stamp your passport with a custom designed stamp. This provided additional incentive to see how many stamps we could collect and how much money could we save.

It seems childish, but stamps did provide extra incentive to visit some of the sites.

It seems childish, but stamps did provide extra incentive to visit some of the sites.

Within the seven days, we visited a total of 17 sites—castles, abbeys, cathedrals and forts—all covered by the pass. Unfortunately, we did not learn about the pass until a few days into our trip, so we didn’t use it for the pricey entrance to the Edinburgh Castle. Grr! Had we paid for admission to each site, we would have spent about two and a half times more than what we paid for the pass. I am oozing with satisfaction at our savings, but it would have been even more if we would have purchased prior to our visit to the Edinburgh Castle.

In both Oslo and Scotland we were happy with our purchase. Not only did we believe that it was a good value, but we also found a few other benefits.

Shortcut To An Itinerary

Most passes come with some sort of brochure. We found that this literature includes descriptions of all sites and a map. We utilized this as a “shortcut” to help us define an itinerary and create an outline of routing to maximize our time. I am sure we may have missed some other fantastic sites that were not covered by the pass in these places, but c’est la vie.

Uncover Hidden Gems

We never would have taken the time (or money) to visit many of the sites had the entrance not been included with the pass. Some were gems and others were duds but we feel like we got to see a lot of history and intersecting story lines that we would have skipped otherwise. There were some fantastic and worthwhile sites off the beaten path and the pass is a great way to discover them.

Guiltless Visits

There are many occasions where we have elected to visit a location just because it is free and in the vicinity of other sites. And believe me there have been some, that were not aligned with our interests, and thus not a good use of our time and money. We have found that if we are not interested in a particular location that we can also skip out and not feel guilty!

For us, it has definitely been worth a little research to see if a city (or country) has a pass available and whether or not it might be a good fit for our travel plans. As we learned in Scotland, it is good to know the options in advance, especially if trying to get the biggest bang for your buck!

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