What are City Cards?
City Cards are printed coupons sold by the government or private entities which allows the holder of the card to use public transport, visit few sightseeing places, a lot many museums, tied-up food chains, and discounts on shopping.
The whole reason why City Cards came into existence is that they were able to sell the whole package at a lesser price than you would have paid individually. For example: Suppose the price you would pay individually for all the things covered by the City Card in Rome is 50 Euros, with the City card, you will get the same at around 38-40 Euros.
The discount might seem non-debatable but what we should debate about is, will we spend those 38-40 Euros or are we better off otherwise?
What are the things covered under a City Card?
The City Cards cover many things but not everything. Some City Cards cover the irrelevant or the least visited places. Some City Cards don’t cover the major places which, for sure, you are going to spend on. Example: Paris Pass doesn’t cover Eiffel tower (what a pity!). So even if you buy those cards, you will have to spend 11 Euros to cover the Eiffel tower.
The City Cards usually cover the public transport of the city. This, though, comes with a caveat, the caveat is that airport transfers are usually not included with the city card. You can take the metro or shuttle to reach your destination (if under a budget) or take a taxi if you can spend a good enough amount.
Is the City Card worth buying or are we better off not buying it?
To answer this question, let us take an
Example of Rome city
and understand how to see if we are better off or not. We will evaluate three city cards which are available for Rome and we will discuss as to whether we should buy the same or not.
The three city cards we are going to evaluate are:
1) Rome City Pass
2) Omnia Vatican and Rome Pass and
3) Roma Pass.
Out of the three, Roma Pass is sponsored by the Government of Italy.
The Rome City Pass comes in three variants with their prices written in brackets.: two days (89.9 Euros), three days (99.9 Euros), and six days (159.9 Euros).
We will also try to understand the difference between two days and three days pass i.e. 10 Euros and also the difference in price between three days and six days pass i.e. 60 Euros.
The Omnia Vatican and Rome Pass has only one variant and comes with a 72 hours pass which is worth 101.70 Euros after the current 10% discount on 113 Euros.
The Roma pass comes in two variants i.e. 48 hours and 72 hours. 48 hours pass costs 28 Euros and 72 Hours pass costs 38.5 Euros.
Now, let us evaluate the expenditure we will be incurring in Rome.
Do we need to purchase a transport card?
Public transport in Rome allows you to travel through all the Metro, buses, and trams but does not include the airport. 24 hours of travelling through public transport costs 7 Euros and one Metro ride or 100 minutes on Bus costs 1.5 Euros. Now, let us see how the attractions in Rome are situated:
From the above picture, we can see that all the attractions are situated near to each other. One can cover places 1 to 10 in one day and cover 11-16 on the other day. We believe you will be staying near the center or in the city, near some of the attractions. If you are, we believe you will not need to buy the pass on one of the days and on the other day, you can buy a one-way ticket costing 1.5 Euros and reach the start destination. Cover the whole area and then while coming back buy one more one-way ticket costing 1.5 Euros. And so, all in all, you will be making an expenditure of 3 Euros and save 4 Euros which you would have spent unnecessarily.
If you stay away from the attractions, you can buy a one-way ticket each time and save money which you would have wasted otherwise. So, all in all, we will be buying the one-way tickets 4-6 times. Two tickets to come and to go to the bus or train station, two tickets to go and come from the Vatican, and two tickets in case you need to travel some or the other place. The costs will come to 6-9 Euros.
Do you need to buy Hop-on and Hop-off Bus tour?
With attractions being so close to each other, there seems to be not one good reason to spend around 27 Euros on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus. Rome is usually very crowded with a lot of people walking down the streets, looking at the historical aspect of the city, sinking in the vibe and finding some or the other interesting thing to do and so, hop-on-hop-off bus tour, just doesn’t make sense.
Buy tickets for Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and St. Peter’s Basilica?
These are three famous places where you would want to buy tickets in case you visit Rome. The ticket for Colosseum would cost you 12 Euros. Tickets to Roman Forum and Palatine are free with the Colosseum ticket. The card sellers show this separately which is just a marketing strategy.
Vatican Museums would cost you 16 Euros and entry to St. Peter’s Basilica is free but if you want to go to the top of Basilica, you would have to shell out 8 Euros (by lift) or 6 Euros (by stairs). There is a direct entrance from Vatican Museums to St. Peter’ Basilica and it can help you avoid the queue to the Basilica.
Few cards sell skip in line tickets which is basically that you don’t have to be in line and can directly enter the sightseeing place. The card sellers show the Skip-the-line as a huge sell point but if you are wise enough to book the tickets online, you can reserve the time slot by paying few extra Euros, 2 Euros in case of Colosseum and 4 Euros in case of Sistine Chapel, and can then directly enter the place.
So, taking together you would be paying, 12+16+8=36 Euros, reservation fee of 2+4=6 Euros and 6-9 Euros for transport taking the total expenditure to 48-51 Euros.
Let us now calculate the trade-off of each card.
Rome City Pass: Rome City Pass provides you free entrance to Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums, Colosseum, Hop on Hop off, City Travel Card, Castel St. Angelo, and many more sightseeing places. The 2-day pass costs 89.9 Euros compared to 48-51 Euros you would shell otherwise.
Omnia Rome and Vatican Pass: The Omnia pass provides the same thing as Rome city Pass and costs 113 Euros, discounted to 101.7 Euros which is way above our calculated 48-51 Euros.
Roma Pass: The Roma Pass is a bit complicated pass. It offers free transport and also provides you with one museum ticket on two days pass and two museums ticket on three days pass. After the two museums are covered, they offer discounts on the other museums. The complication is in knowing which museums are covered and which are not and what does the museum cover and how far can you skip the line. The pass doesn’t cover the Vatican Museums. It covers Colosseum, Castle St. Angelo, and other Museums or Archaeological sites. And the direct entry is restricted only to the security checkpoint on the first museum or second museum as per the pass you purchase. Castel St. Angelo costs you 10.5 Euros. The two days pass with one free Museum will cost you 28 Euros compared to our 20-23 Euros and three days pass with two free Museums will cost you 38.5 compared to our 30-33 Euros (including Castel St. Angelo, Colosseum and tickets).
Offers and discounts offered by the cards?
The cards offer various offers and discounts on dining and shopping. Once you go through the same, you will realize that most of the offers and discounts are given for mid to high-end restaurants, which to a budget traveller would be costly enough to not use. If you think that you are going to use the offer and discounts offered, you should calculate the trade-off and buy the card.
We took just one city’s example to help you understand how the city cards work. If you have bought the card, one of the things that happen is that you will have to visit the places. We have seen many people, who didn’t visit the Colosseum or the Vatican. Time sometimes does not permit you to visit those places, or you might not feel like going to some of the places. So, we request you to go through the card in-depth before thinking of buying the same. The trade-off in some of the cards is just too huge to never buy them and in some, seems fine to buy. If you are staying in the centre, the whole cost of transport can be saved and the trade-off will always increase in that case.