The options can be bewildering, so start this early. 

Don’t decide until you have done your homework about options (see below) AND planned your days at least roughly. 

For most cities, if you Google “[city name] transit pass” you’ll probably find something good. Or go to the city’s main tourist site and look for the usually-garish ads.   Check for the real ones, offered by the transit people or the tourist office. 

For a big city, go to its Trip Advisor page, where you might find (usually on the right side) a specific article on how to get around. This is the best way to make sure you are aware of ALL the options. 

Shop carefully (this may take some time)

  • You will usually find at least an attractions-plus-transit pass and a transit-only. In general, the transit-only is a better deal unless you’re seeing a LOT of sights
  • You may find some specific deals, such as a three-museum deal 
  • Remember to look for something that combines travel to and from the airport with local transport. Sometimes you can get a terrific bargain this way.

If you can come CLOSE to justifying a pass for transit, get it; it’s SO much easier when you can just hop on and tap whenever you want. You can get an unlimited card for a certain number of days, or you can load a card with a fixed amount, and if you’re staying a while you can set it up for auto-topup via your credit card. Take the time to estimate how many transit trips you might take, THEN decide which card to get.   

In some cities there are multiple transit systems, e.g. Tokyo, and not every card covers all of them. But some systems rarely serve tourists and you may not need them. Again, look in the Trip Advisor forum.

Many cities’ transit cards are refundable when you leave. You’ll get back your unused balance and maybe your deposit. You just have to find out where and how, from their website. 

Whatever you choose, make sure you know how to pay with that option. You don’t want to hold up a rush-hour crowd in Tokyo!

This might be easy in some cities; others offer a baffling array of options of discount books and packages. 

Discount passes

This might be easy in some cities; others offer a baffling array of options of discount books and packages. 

In most cases decide this after you’ve decided what you are going to try to see. We’ve often decided not to buy the great-looking deal because it covered a lot of places we wouldn’t be going to. 

But note that in some places, certain passes will get you past lineups for popular attractions. We had such cards in Paris and Rome, and they were worth every penny. 

COMPLICATION : See also In-city transport, because most cities offer passes that include transportation.  (This is why we do multi-level planning)

Picking up your pass

As you narrow down your options for a pass or tickets, make sure you have looked into where you will collect whatever you chose. 

  • Try to pick an option that you can nail down right on arrival. We have almost always been able to do this at the arrival airport or station, and that’s the easiest way. 
  • It’s probably best to buy from the official provider, but note that sometimes a tourist office IS the official provider, and may be owned by the government anyway.
  • We’ve never felt the need to get a pass delivered to our home before leaving. It’s just one more thing that might not arrive in time or might end up on the dresser as you leave. 


COMPLICATION: many of the passes offer some form of access to sightseeing highlights. See below.

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