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Sightsee Like a VIP

Cumulative tickets, city cards, and museum passes across Europe

Picture this: You sashay up to the front of that hour-long line outside the Musée d'Orsay in Paris...and just walk right in. You spend a day exploring a Viking ship, screaming at the art of Edvard Munch, and cruising the fjords of Oslo without even opening your wallet to buy a ticket.

This is the VIP world of European museum cards and city passes, which may cost anywhere from $6 to $50 and can get you into the lion's share of a city's sights (usually after four or five biggies, the pass pays for itself and all the rest of the sights you visit are effecively free), sometimes unlimited use of public transportation, often discounts on shopping, dining, and nightlife, and occasionally that rarest of benefits: the right to bypass the often ludicrous lines waiting to enter to top sights.

Another, unwritten benefit of city passes is that most such cards allow unlimited visits to sights, so you can split up something massive like, say, the Louvre into several shorter, more manageable trips.

Most cities also offer cheaper versions of their pass for kiddies, though the maximum age varies from 10 to 18. Most cards come in versions good for one, two, or three days or weekly.

Personal experience has taught me that, unless you're lumping together into one day the attractions with the highest admission charges, or are sightseeing at a dead run, the one-day passes rarely pay for themselves. It's better to go with a three-day version and take your time.

A few caveats: Rarely will a pass cover guided tours, renting an audio tour-those wands or portable CD players you can carry around the museum-or special exhibits, and may be invalid during special events.

Keep in mind there are all sort of alternatives to full-fledged city cards, such as cumulative tickets that count at a few civic museums, or passes good just on the public transport but not for sights.

There's no way to list all of those available, but going to each city's tourism web site is a good start. One good general resource is (—though note that it only lists cards off of which it can make a commission on the sale, therefore it is missing some biggies, like the Paris Museums Card.

Another useful site (especially domestically) is


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in August 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.