How to Save Time and Money on Your Next City Escape: Tourism Passes

Shakespeare's Globe theater
Shakespeare's Globe theater

This week in Zagreb, Croatia, I saved 20% on tickets to the ballet. In Paris, I got in free to all the best museums. In London, I skipped the line at Shakespeare's Globe theater. And whether you're traveling to Boston or Berlin, you can do it, too.

Although the name and specifics may vary by destination, most cities offer a tourism pass. Some can be customized to your particular interests (sports? museums? restaurants? check) and others offer unlimited access to the best the city has to offer for a particular time period.

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The Zagreb Card, for instance, offers discounts of 10% to 50% on museums, galleries, restaurants, city tours, and shopping, with unlimited rides on public transportation (including the city's ultra-convenient tram) for 24 or 72 hours.

The Paris Pass offers free admission to more than 60 museums, from the most famous (the Louvre, Musee d'Orsay) to lesser-known ones that you might skip were it not for a complimentary guidebook and free admission (Museum of 3D Relief Maps, anyone?) The Berlin WelcomeCard includes theaters and shows. Go San Francisco includes rides on the cable car. The New York City Pass includes admission to the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and other attractions.

Step Right Up

Another benefit to many of these cards is convenience. If you've ever stood in line while counting out foreign currency, or waited while someone else did, you'll appreciate the swipe-and-go feature many of these cards offer. If you're traveling with children, this feature can more than pay for itself in terms of expediency.

Many of these passes come with guidebooks, maps, and companion apps to make finding the participating locations a snap. If you purchase a pass, keep an eye out around town, as many establishments will have a sign in their windows advertising that they participate in the pass program. When in doubt, ask, especially before dining.

All This for the Price of Admission

The price for the card varies by city, but generally is based on number of days and attractions. If you're someone who wants to spend an entire day in the Louvre (and you could spend it all on line for the Mona Lisa), then the museum's 14 euro admission fee might be a better bargain than the two-day adult pass price of 105 euros (one of the more heftier price tags as passes go). But if you're in Boston and want to go to Fenway and then on a whale watch, the GoBoston card will pay for itself, with plenty of extras to spare.

%Gallery-158097%In New York, the card ranges from $80 for a one-day adult pass to $210 for a seven-day. In San Francisco, a one-day adult pass will set you back $55, or $165 for seven days. In Berlin, 17 euros will get you 48 hours; get five days for 30.90 euros.

A city pass can save you time and money, if you make the most of it. Know your style. If you're someone who wants to spend one or two days going as deeply into one museum collection as possible, or who will rent a bicycle and tour on your own steam, such a pass might not offer any great savings, and could cost you more than it's worth. But if you want to explore as much of your vacation destination as possible, including some of the lesser-known places, at steep discounts, it could be just the ticket.

Molly McCluskey does not own positions in any companies that sell tourism passes. Follow her travel and finance tweets on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey.