Budapest or Prague – which is the best Central European Capital?

Budapest or Prague? When planning a trip to central Europe, this is a question that many people face and it’s a difficult one to answer. Mostly because you are trying to choose the best of two great things, but also because they are as good as different and cater to different people.

Here you will explore which are the positive and negative aspects of both Prague and Budapest and we will compare them on these topics:

  • General Beauty;
  • Things to see and do;
  • Unique attractions;
  • City Vibe;
  • Getting around;
  • The people;
  • Accommodation;
  • Nightlife;
  • Food scene;
  • Weather;
  • Safety;
  • Costs;
  • Tourists and crowds;

Budapest vs Prague Showdown

General Beauty – Prague vs Budapest

Honestly, both cities are very pretty, with beautiful buildings, wonderful riversides, stunning architecture and so on… We could make it a tie, but I believe that Prague wins this one.

In Prague, the old town is just picture perfect and the main square looks like it was created for Instagram with the cute, colorful, old houses, the cobbled streets filled, and Gothic and baroque architecture. The Castle district is also wonderful, and the Charles bridge connecting the castle with the old town is simply marvelous. The fact that the whole area is rather small and easily walkable makes everything cozier and more comfortable.

Which Is The Best Central European Capital?
Charles Bridge Prague

Budapest, on the other hand, is much more spread out and with some big attractions quite far from each other. However, the city as a whole is also beautiful, with the kind of grand architecture that one expects from the imperial cities. Although in a worse state of conservation, Budapest sometimes rivals with Paris and Wien.

In a hindsight, I would suggest that Budapest is pretty but Prague is just cuter and that’s why it wins this one.

Budapest or Prague?
Budapest Parlement

Things to See and Do in Budapest and Prague

As you might expect from two major tourist hubs in the world, there is a lot to do and see in both Prague and Budapest. We will list some of the best things to do and then compare them.

Prague’s historic center is rather small but it’s completely filled with attractions, in fact, the whole town center is a UNESCO Heritage site… Some of the best things to do and see in Prague are:

Where to go Budapest or Prague?
Prague Castle
  • Prague Castle – Considered the biggest castle in the world, but it isn’t only big, it’s very interesting.
  • Old Town square – the heart and center of the town, with beautiful, colorful, lined buildings which are now restaurants, bars, and hotels.
  • Medieval Astronomical clock – located in the old city hall in the old town square. It’s interesting, but it’s also been considered one of the most overrated attractions in Europe several times.
  • Charles Bridge – the most famous and beautiful bridge in Prague. You get has some serious views there.
  • Jewish Quarter – home to some of the most beautiful houses in Prague and with a mindblowing history. Don’t miss the Jewish cemetery.
  • Lenon Wall – Probably one of the most photographed sites in Prague, this famous wall is filled with peace and love messages.

Prague’s main attractions are impressive, right? Let’s see what Budapest has for you to do and see…

Budapest vs Prague
Budapest Parlement
  • Budapest Parliament – The most iconic building in Budapest, and easily one of the most beautiful parliaments in the world. Both the architecture and the location are just perfect.
  • Thermal Baths – The thermal baths in Budapest are a real tourist attraction. It’s both pleasing and beautiful. There are two main baths, either of them is really cool!
  • Chain Bridge – the most impressive and famous bridge in Budapest. It’s a pleasure to cross it enjoying the views to banks of the Danube.
  • Buda Castle – Imposing castle which now features the National Gallery. It’s a very impressive sight looking from the Pest side.
  • Margaret Island – perfect to relax for a few hours or maybe to do some exercise.
  • Fisherman’s Bastion – Fortification built on Buda’s side which now held probably the most beautiful views in the whole town.
  • Matthias Church and St. Stephen’s Basilica – both beautiful churches, one in Buda the other in Pest.
  • Budapest has three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the banks of the Danube, Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.

This is a very close call, so close that we should give it a tie. Though we don’t really like to have ties! It’s very underwhelming… 🙂

So, Prague wins this one if you have one or two days to visit the city, as the main attractions are very close to each other and you can easily do them in two days without using transports.

Budapest wins this one if you have more time…Budapest has much more than main attractions listed above, and they are much more spread out, you’ll need much more time to feel that you know Budapest!

Unique attractions

One of the best things about traveling is the possibility of visiting places that don’t exist anywhere else or doing things that aren’t available in our home country. So, in this Budapest vs Prague debate, who has the most unique attractions?

Budapest has to win this one, because of its baths. Obviously, there are Thermal Baths elsewhere, but in Budapest, they are an institution and both locals and tourists really enjoy them. Széchenyi thermal baths are probably the most famous and they are really worth it, but the Gellért Thermal Baths are a very close contender.

Prague doesn’t really have a strong contender here… The Castle is impressive, but it’s far from unique and the Medieval Astronomical Clock is very underwhelming…

Budapest vs Prague
Gellért Thermal Baths

City Vibe

This is a very subjective item and it really depends on each person, what one’s expectations were and they felt in the days they visited. For us, we felt Budapest much more than Prague.

Don’t get us wrong, Prague is vibrant, beautiful, with things happening everywhere, people all around, plenty of things to do and everything you may expect from it. Yet, in Budapest we feel good, we feel at home. It has the right amount of culture, beauty, history, and quirkiness.

So, for us, Budapest wins this one.

Getting around Prague and Budapest

Prague wins here, but this one is almost unfair, as you can walk around Prague so easily that you don’t really need public transportation. You can’t really beat the ability to just walking everywhere. Now that I think of this, I don’t think we ever used public transports within Prague…

Budapest, on the other hand, has a few attractions that cluster (the castle district for example) and you can do them together, but then others are much further away. The good news is that the public transports in Budapest are simply great! They are very very cheap and you can hop on very quickly and easily.

Budapest loses this one, but honestly, it’s one of the best cities to travel around and it would win against almost every other city in the world.

Best Central European Capital?
Old Town square in Prague

Prague or Budapest Debate – The people

The locals in a travel destination can make a trip much better, or much worse! They are the ones living there and the ones who know everything about it and being able to have a nice talk can really improve the whole experience.

Our experience tells us that the Czechs are much more reserved and cold than the Hungarians. In Budapest, we were almost always greeted with smiles, people were helpful and seemed pleased to have you around, which is always nice. In Prague, the locals seem to be more indifferent to us. In general, they weren’t rude but weren’t very friendly either. This is probably a side effect of having more tourists for a longer time.

We really need to mention one other thing about the locals of both towns, but particularly from Budapest… They are very easy on the eyes! Both boys and girls are seriously good looking.

Moving on ( 🙂 ), Budapest has to win this one.

Accommodation

On this heading, we usually discuss which town has better hotels, the variety, and range of accommodations. However, both towns have an incredible range of offers, from great hotels to cheaps hostels and AirBnBs.

In spite of this, you should really book in advance because these are two of the most popular towns in Europe and in peak season the best options get sold out quickly. When visiting either of the cities we usually reserve our accommodations through booking.

This is a tie.

The nightlife of Prague vs Budapest

Both Prague and Budapest are well-known for its nightlife and having plenty of famous things to do after dawn. Though we aren’t really wild party people believe that you’ll be happy with what either town has to offer in this regard.

Budapest, in particular, has its famous ruins bars, which are one of the trademarks of the city. These are old warehouses and factories turned in to hip bars. While Prague is famous for the really wild and even naughty parties.

We really need to mention that Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in the world at night. Everything lights up perfectly creating a dreamy and even romantic environment. Prague is nice, beautiful, and vibrant, but it’s not as memorable.

For us, Budapest wins this one, but it really really depends on what you are looking for. If you want to party hard, then Prague is the better option.

best city Budapest or Prague
Old Budapest tram

Prague or Budapest: The Food debate

This is an important one… at least for us, we are a bit of foodie and whenever we travel we need to try everything new we see, and what we saw in Budapest was much more tempting than in Prague.

Prague has a huge variety of restaurants which should cater to your needs, but we felt that it misses on signature dishes, things you need to eat in Prague or meals that you’ll remember for a long time. Actually, the only thing that came to the top of my head was the chimney cake which is sold literally everywhere in Prague. The other things weren’t really that memorable. Goulash is also linked to Prague, but we never tried it there, and for us, goulash is a synonym of Budapest.

In Budapest, the variety and quality of the food are simply better. Some of the things you should eat in Budapest are:

  • Chicken Paprika – one of the most famous dishes in Hungary which includes tender chicken and lots of paprika.
  • Beef Goulash – a soup or stew (depending on who you ask) with slow-cooked meat and lots of paprika.
  • Langos – a deep-fried dough that’s the Hungarian take on street food. It’s as delicious as unhealthy, but we really recommend you to try it.
  • Dobos Tarte – chocolate buttercream with thin layers of sponge cake
  • Chimney cake – similar to the one in Prague.

For all these reasons, Budapest has to win this one.

Which is the best Budapest or Prague?
Street food in Budapest – Langos

Budapest vs Prague Climate

You may be wondering how is the climate is each city and if it can affect your trip… You should know that the climate in Budapest and in Prague are very similar. Both have hot summers and cold winters and rainfalls are spread through the year with the rainiest season being summer (particularly June). Also, during Summers the days are much longer than in Winters and can reach 16 hours of daylight.

So this is a tie and it really isn’t a factor when choosing between Budapest and Prague, but it may be important to have a look at the expected weather if you are still deciding when to go to Prague or Budapest!

Which is safer? Prague or Budapest?

Both Prague and Budapest are relatively safe cities. In fact, the statistics suggest that a tourist would need to be very unlucky to be involved in a crime, particularly a violent one.

The biggest risk in either city is pickpocketing and scams. These are relatively common in the most touristy areas and the more people a place has the more you need to be sharp.

During our trips to both capitals, we have never felt unsafe and we tend to walk around everywhere, both during the day and the night. Looking at the statistics, Prague is a bit safer than Budapest and therefore wins this one.

Budapest or Prague
Chain Bridge in Budapest

Which is more expensive? Budapest or Prague?

While both towns are inexpensive when compared to other European capitals like Paris, London or Berlin, Prague is definitely more expensive than Budapest. In fact, Prague’s prices have been steadily increasing in the last years, both due to tourism and the economic growth of Czechia.

When comparing prices in Budapest and Prague it’s fairly clear that Budapest is cheaper in almost every aspect. Plus, if we look at the backpacker index, Budapest is the 42nd cheapest city with a cost of 33 USD per person per day, while Prague is only the 69th with a cost of 47 USD per person per day.

Many of the tourist attractions in both Budapest and Prague are free or very very cheap, though some must do things like the thermal baths in Budapest and the Prague Castle are obviously not free. In our experience, it’s still possible to find very cheap meals and hotels in Budapest, while in Prague hotels are becoming more expensive but meals are still affordable, outside the restaurants in the tourist areas.

So, Budapest wins this one easily, but you should note that Prague is also affordable.

Which is more crowded? Prague or Budapest

Prague, clearly. During the peak season in the Summer, Prague is very crowded. In fact, I would strongly suggest you don’t go to Prague in the summer. The town center of Prague is quite small, and the tourists tend to gather together in the same places, the old square, Charles Bridge and Prague’s Castle which only makes things worse…

Budapest, on the other hand, is also having more and more tourists but it’s still far from Prague’s crowds. It’s also a much wider town where people spread through many more locations. Last time we went to Budapest, we already felt that some places, like the Market, were way too crowded and had become a tourist trap, but as a whole, the city is still lovely, even in peak season.

So, Budapest clearly wins this one. Plus, the timing of your visit is a crucial factor for choosing if you are visiting Prague or Budapest. If you have to travel in Summer, choose Budapest, If you are traveling during the low season, you should be OK with both Budapest and Prague.

Prague or Budapest
Medieval Astronomical clock in Prague

So, Budapest or Prague, who’s the winner?

Mathematically, Budapest clearly wins this contest, 7-3 (with 3 draws). However, this is a much closer call than it may look as in many items the difference is very small and it really depends on what you want and your preferences.

By now you have probably realized that we really like Budapest and we believe it is one of the best tourist destinations in the world, with plenty of things to like and very few downsides. Prague is also a great option and it would probably win a showdown in 90% of the other cities.

In hindsight, you should choose Budapest over Prague if:

  1. You are traveling in Summer;
  2. Your budget is really tight;
  3. You are a foodie;
  4. You like to mingle with the locals;
  5. You want to explore unique peculiarities like the Thermal Baths and the Ruin Bars;

On the other hand, you should choose Prague over Budapest if:

  1. You want a fairy tale town;
  2. You only have a couple of days to travel;
  3. You are looking for a wild nightlife;
  4. You want to walk everywhere and have everything incredibly accessible;
  5. You the most vibrant and bustling city center with thousands of people having fun.

Both cities are generally pretty, inexpensive, very safe and with plenty of things to do and see! You are bound to have a great time both in Prague and Budapest! After all, there’s a reason (or many) why they are so popular!

Prague vs Budapest
Buda Castle in Budapest

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Prague or Budapest