Home / Europe / Passes for city attractions and rail trips save you a ton of money

Passes for city attractions and rail trips save you a ton of money

“Why on Earth are you visiting Mulhouse?” the man in the window seat asked when he detected my American accent. I said I planned to visit two of the French city’s best museums devoted to transportation: Cite du Train and Cite de l’Automobile.

Clearly unimpressed, he returned to his reading. I didn’t bother explaining that I planned to see these attractions and a few others, with my Mulhouse City Pass, which includes, for 18 euros (about $20), free admission to one attraction or museum of your choice, discounts to nine others, and unlimited transit on the city buses and trams.

Two dozen French cities, including Aix, Avignon, Nancy, Metz, Paris and Strasbourg, sell similar passes in 24-, 48- or 72-hour versions that cost between 15 and 74 euros (about $17 to $82). The most famous and most expensive of these is the Paris Museum Pass, sold in two-, four- and six-day versions; it allows unlimited visits to the city’s museums and monuments (see “Mona Lisa” as often as you like) for 48 ($53), 62 ($68) or 74 ($82) euros.

France isn’t the only place that does this. You’ll find passes in many major cities in the U.S. and Europe, as well as in Asia and Australia. They save money compared with buying separate admissions, and most passes allow you to skip ticket lines.

Some passes are what I’ll call “officially issued,” meaning they’re created and sponsored by the cities’ tourism organizations. Several private companies sell their own branded passes to destinations around the globe, sometimes alongside those sponsored by a local authority.

Who sells what

Prices vary depending on when you go and where, when you buy and how long you wish to stay, and they are subject to change and occasional sales. As with any pass purchase, figure out what you want to see and do and compare individual admission costs with the price of the pass.

Among the passes:

Citypass.com: Atlanta; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Houston; New York City; Orlando, Fla.; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Seattle; Southern California; Tampa, Fla.; and Toronto. All non-official.

CityPasses.eu: Official and non-official passes to Amsterdam; Antwerp, Belgium; Athens; Barcelona, Spain; Berlin; Brussels; Budapest, Hungary; Cape Town, South Africa; Copenhagen; Dubai; Dublin, Ireland; Florence, Italy; Jerusalem; Lisbon; London; Madrid; Milan, Italy; New York; Paris; Porto, Portugal; Prague, Czech Republic; Rome; Salzburg, Austria; Seville and Valencia, Spain; Venice, Italy; and Vienna.

SightseeingPass.com: New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Nashville, London; Los Angeles, New Orleans; Málaga, Spain; Miami, Key West and Orlando, Fla.; Puerto Rico; Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee; Washington, D.C. A USA pass allows entry to 13 U.S. destinations. All non-official.

iVenturecard.com: Athens; Barcelona; Cape Town; Dubai; Gold Coast of Australia; Hong Kong/Macau; London; Los Angeles; Madrid; Melbourne, Australia; San Francisco; Singapore; Stockholm; Sydney and Tasmania, Australia; Thailand. All non-official.

Leisurepassgroup.com: Non-official for Barcelona; Berlin; Boston; Cancún, Mexico; Chicago; Dublin; Dubai; Hong Kong; Las Vegas; London; Los Angeles; Miami; New York; Oahu, Hawaii; Orlando; Paris; Philadelphia; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; Shanghai; Sydney; Washington. It also sells official passes issued by Aarhus, Denmark; Amsterdam; Antwerp; Blackpool, England; Copenhagen; Gothenburg, Sweden; Helsinki; Lyon, France; Oslo; Stockholm; and Vienna.

Turbopass.com: Athens; Barcelona; Berlin; Dubai; Florence; Hamburg, Germany; London; Mallorca, Spain; Munich, Germany; New York; Paris; Rome; and Venice; both official and non-official.

If Japan is in your travel plans, the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass includes free or discounted admission to 95 museums, zoos, gardens and other attractions for 2,200 yen, about $21.

Rail passes

Eurail, which may be the best-known rail pass, underwent some changes for 2019, which the company says are the most significant in its 60 years. The Global Pass covers 31 countries including, for the first time, Britain. Macedonia and Lithuania also have been added. There is now a 10% senior discount, a youth discount of up to 23%, and a second-class option that costs 25% less than the traditional first-class passes. Eurail also sells passes for individual countries. Global Passes for an adult begin at $254 for travel on any three days within a month and climb to $1,049 for three months of unlimited travel.

Switzerland offers its own Swiss Travel Pass with unlimited free or discounted train, bus and boat travel as well as free admission to more than 500 museums and other cultural attractions. A three-consecutive-day pass for second-class travel costs $245 with a 15% discount for those 16 to 25. The most expensive version is a first-class 15-day pass for $853. Children younger than 16 travel free with an accompanying adult.

Britain’s country-wide passes

Britain’s National Trust Touring Pass lets you visit more than 300 historic houses and gardens in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland over seven consecutive days for $43 or 14 days for $49.50, with discounts for couples and families.

The English Heritage Overseas Visitors Pass, valid for nine or 16 consecutive days for $45.50 or $55, admits holders to more than 100 venues, including Stonehenge and Dover Castle.

The Historic Scotland Explorer Pass includes free admission to more than 70 attractions (40 in winter) with fast-track entry where offered. A five-day pass for those 16 to 59 costs $44 and a 14-day pass, $56.50, with discounts for seniors and families.

Announced in July, the Inspirato Pass bills itself as “endless stays in luxury vacation homes, hotels, and resorts” for $2,500 a month. The initial purchase is for six months. Stays range from two to 60 days, and pass holders can book their next stay the day they check out from the previous one.