Budapest or Vienna? What’s the best imperial city to visit?

Vienna or Budapest? Are you looking into traveling though central Europe and can’t decide if you should travel to Budapest or Vienna? Don’t worry we have got you covered! We were haunted by that same doubts but eventually ended up going to both. So now we decided to host the ultimate travel showdown between Budapest and Vienna in order to help you can an educated choice!

We will take this seriously and compare the two central European capitals on 13 aspects to help select your next vacation destination.

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

Budapest vs Vienna Showdown

General Beauty

While we absolutely love Budapest and consider it one of the most beautiful and pleasant cities in the world to travel, Vienna is possibly the most impressive city we have ever visited in terms of general beauty. Paris is the only city comparable, but it’s much dirtier.

The center of Vienna is really majestic, every street is full of grand architecture, every building is beautiful. Sometimes we look at an alley thinking that there’s nothing over there, only to find a magnificent church, museum, statue, or plaza… Vienna isn’t cute, or picturesque, it’s majestic, to the highest level. It’s a blend of architectural styles representing many periods, varying from complex Baroque-era landmarks to the 20th-century dismissal of high decoration.

Budapest is in some ways similar to Vienna, with similar architecture but less impressive and not as well conservated. Not that isn’t a wonderful city, but in this regard, you can’t compete with the imperial capital. So, Vienna has to win this one.

Best country to visit Vienna or Buapest
Vienna State Opera

Things to do and see

As expected both towns have plenty of things to do and see. Let’s compare the main things to do that each city has to offer. Budapest’s main landmarks are spread all over town and include

  • Three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the banks of the Danube, Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • Buda Castle – Imposing castle which now features the National Gallery. It’s a very impressive sight looking from the Pest side.
  • 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.
  • Margaret Island – perfect to relax for a few hours or maybe to do some exercise.

Vienna is also packed with tourist attractions and landmarks. Some of the most important are:

  • Schonbrunn Palace – Baroque palace with astonishing details. It was the Summer Palace of the imperial family.
  • The Hofburg – The former palace of the imperial family is one of the biggest palace complexes in the world. Now hosts the Sisi museum. Both the building and the museum are worth the visit, particularly if you are into Sisi.
  • Vienna State Opera – Going to the State Opera in Vienna is one unique experience, though an expensive one. The building itself is worth the visit.
  • The Prater – huge state park, perfect to jog and relax.
  • Belvedere Museum – wonderful Baroque buildings in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It hosts a huge collection of Klimt’s work.
  • Museums Quarter – a set of museums located very close to each other which includes Architecture Center Vienna, The Kunsthalle Wien (contemporary art), Mumok (modern art) and the Leopold Museum collection.
  • Rathaus – The city hall of Vienna looks more like a cathedral than a city hall, but it’s an impressive neo-gothic building.

As you can see both cities are packed with things to keep you entertained for at least a few days. We are giving this one a tie, as it will depend on what you prefer to do on vacations. If you want great museums, and unbelievable architecture Vienna wins. If you prefer a more eclectic array of things Budapest is probably a better option.

Budapest vs Vienna
Budapest Parliament

Unique attractions of Vienna and Budapest

One of the main reasons to travel is to have the opportunity of doing things that are only possible in those places, or that you can’t really do in your home country. So, do Vienna or Budapest have unique things do offer? They do, and they are very different from each other.

Budapest has a very unique bath culture, with several public baths spread throughout the city. If you are traveling to Budapest you have to go to the thermal baths. There are two main baths, the Széchenyi thermal baths, and the Gellért Thermal Baths. Széchenyi are probably more popular but both are really an institution and something both tourists and locals enjoy!

Budapest vs Vienna
Gellért Thermal Baths

Vienna doesn’t have a thermal bath culture but has two rather unique things that you should really try to appreciate. Viena is the city of music and the perfect place to enjoy a concert, or an Opera. The ideal would be going to the State Opera, but if that’s not possible there are other great options like the Musikverein, the Golden Hall, and the Wiener Konzerthaus.

The other unique thing is the Spanish riding school and the world-famous Lipizzan horses. This is something we would never guess we would enjoy so much. If you want to see it, you have 3 options, the guided tour, going to a practice or buying a ticket to one of the performances. The practice is obviously cheaper, but it’s still very fun to watch!

Again, your own tastes should define which has the best unique attractions! Do you prefer thermal baths, a classical music concert, and a ridding show?

Traveling to Vienna or Budapest
Spanish riding school in Vienna

City Vibe

Let’s be straight and clear, Budapest wins, easily! Not only Budapest is FUN and has a great vibe, but also Wien feels much like a severe destination. In Budapest everything feels easy-going, Vienna, it… doesn’t. Vienna is more classical and strict, cold even…

We understand that this is extremely subjective, but we always felt incredibly comfortable in Budapest. Vienna impresses, it always has something that leaves us speechless but it isn’t relaxing. We always feel that Budapest is like that cute next-door neighbor, while Vienna is the hot supermodel, way out of our league.

What to do in Budapest or Vienna
Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

The people of Budapest vs Vienna

The way the locals interact with tourists and their personality has a strong relationship with the city vibe. In fact, one of the reasons why we enjoy Budapest’s is because of the locals.

We always feel at home in Budapest, the people make you feel welcome and they are always kind to you. It’s always nice to be greeted with a smile, isn’t it? The people from Vienna are more reserved and cold. We have never felt they were rude, but we also never felt welcomed like Budapest.

One other thing, in Budapest the locals are very easy on the eyes… which is always pleasant. So, Budapest wins by a landslide when it comes to how pleasant it is to interact with the locals.

Top attractions of Budapest
The banks of the Danube in Budapest

Getting around Vienna and Budapest

Another important thing about traveling is how to move inside each town. Both Vienna and Budapest have a good transport network. You shouldn’t have much trouble with this in either town.

Budapest, in particular, is a very cool town to move with public transports because you may need to use several types of transport. You have the metro, the light train, the boats, the trains, and the buses. The thing is that it’s very easy and well-integrated. After a few times, you’ll probably feel that you used them your entire life.

The public transportation is also a good point for Vienna, it’s at least as efficient but not as fun, neither as cheap as in Budapest. Though if you buy the Vienna pass, you may use public transportation freely which is great.

Budapest wins this one, but only for a very small margin and mostly because there’s much variety in the city’s transports. Though, you’ll be just fine in either city.

Budapest or Vienna

Accommodation

Both Budapest and Vienna have all kinds of accommodation you can think of and they are usually pretty good. The main difference between Budapest and Vienna is the price. In Budapest, you can find much cheaper rooms than in Vienna. In terms, of quality, if you choose hotels and guesthouses with many positive reviews you’ll get good accommodation. And there are plenty of those in both cities.

As you get the same, for less money, thus better value for money, Budapest wins this one.

The nightlife of Prague vs Budapest

This is another easy win for Budapest. However, this time is both because Budapest is a great option for nightlife and because Vienna is bad… We mean we never went to clubs and bars in Vienna, they are just… difficult to find. After 18:00 everything closes, sometimes is even difficult to find a restaurant if you got a little later. Honestly, it’s just weird, but that’s how the city works. It’s a great city on many levels, but the nightlife isn’t one of them. The exception, of course, is fine dining and most importantly all the concerts that happen. Though, in our book, that’s not enough to compete with Budapest.

Budapest, on the other hand, is also lively at night. It has lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs. It’s also an extraordinarily beautiful city at night, with all the lights in the right places creating amazing views. Budapest is also famous for its ruins bars, which are old warehouses and factories turned in to hip bars. Most people love it!

So, as we said earlier this is a pretty easy win for Budapest.

Budapest Or Prague
Buda Castle in Budapest

Food Debate: Budapest vs Vienna

The food is an important element of any trip, at least for us. Both Vienna and Budapest have a few dishes that you really should try eating there. You should note that Vienna and Budapest are fairly close and were both parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so there are many overlapping dishes.

Let’s explore a few of our favorites. In Budapest you have to try:

  • Beef Goulash – a soup or stew (depending on who you ask) with slow-cooked meat and lots of paprika.
  • Chicken Paprika – one of the most famous dishes in Hungary which includes tender chicken 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.
  • Chimney cake – similar to the one in Prague.
  • Dobos Tarte – chocolate buttercream with thin layers of sponge cake
Better city to visit Budapest or Vienna
Typical Budapest street food – Langos

While Vienna also has a few traditional dishes for you to try:

  • Wiener Schnitzel – thin veal cutlet, which is breaded, and pan-fried. It should be bigger than the plate – it’s the most famous Viennese dish;
  • Sacher torte – It’s the most popular cake in Vienna. This is a dense chocolate sponge cake and you should try the original at Sacher Hotel.
  • Pork knuckle – This is pork knee served on the bone. It’s tender, delicious and something you really need to try.
  • Viennese coffee – Vienna is a great capital to have coffee, and they even have their own special. The Viennese coffee is similar to a cappuccino but usually without cocoa powder.
  • Apple Strudel – This one is famous worldwide, but it’s an Austrian delicacy. For those who don’t know it, it’s a crispy layered pastry filled with apple, raisins, cinnamon, and other spices.
  • Tafelspitz – tender veal or beef slow boiled in Broth With Vegetables.
Best European capital Budapest or Vienna
Typical Austrian food – Pork knuckle

In terms of quality and variety, we believe that Budapest and Vienna are at a very similar level. However, the type of food is a bit different. Budapest has faster street dishes, and also cheaper food. While in Vienna you can’t really eat cheap food, but the quality is amazing and it has lots of more elaborate and posh options.

In a hindsight, both cities are great food options, but it really depends on what you are looking for on this trip. We prefer Budapest, but it’s mainly because of the prices, so a tie it is.

Weather

You may be wondering how is the climate is each city and if it will influence your trip… You should know that Budapest and Vienna have similar weather. Both have hot summers and cold winters and rainfalls are spread through the year with the rainiest season being summer. Though Vienna has larger rainfall than Budapest. 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 shouldn’t be a factor when choosing between Budapest and Vienna, but it may be useful to have a look at the expected weather.

Budapest Or Vienna? What's The Best Imperial City To Visit?
Chain Bridge and Buda Castle in Budapest

Vienna vs Budapest – Safety

Both Vienna and Budapest are relatively safe cities. In fact, the biggest danger should be pickpocketing and travel-related scams. However, these are relatively common in the most touristy cities and the more popular a destination is, the more you need to be sharp.

Statistics suggest that a tourist would need to be very unlucky to be involved in a crime, particularly a violent one. 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, Vienna is a bit safer than Budapest and therefore wins this one. However, we wouldn’t cross Budapest based on safety, it’s a pretty safe city to travel!

Budapest Vs Vienna – Costs

Unfortunately, for most of us, the cost of traveling is a very important factor when choosing a destination. Between Budapest and Vienna, there aren’t many doubts which one is cheaper.

Despite having become one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, Budapest still hasn’t managed to substantially increase its prices. Vienna, on the contrary, it’s very expensive, and it couldn’t be another way, as it’s the capital of a very rich and developed country.

If you look at the Backpacker index, we can see that Budapest is the 38th cheapest city on the list with a cost of only 32.12 USD per person per day. While Vienna is the 110th, with a cost of 76.96 USD per person per day. It’s a huge difference if you are traveling as a backpacker.

There are quite a few things to do in Budapest that are free or very cheap, while in Viena the attractions tend to be much more expensive. As we mentioned earlier, both the food and accommodations are cheaper in Budapest than in Viena. Note that you can easily reduce the costs of transportation and activities in Vienna by buying the Vienna Card.

Where to go Budapest or Vienna
Impressive Hofburg Palace in Vienna

Which is more crowded? Budapest or Vienna?

Both Budapest and Vienna are popular tourist destinations. However, Budapest receives almost double tourists than Vienna. With more than 30 million guest nights per year, Budapest tends to be very crowded, particularly during Summer. Vienna is also a traveler’s favorite but “only” gets 16 Million bednights per year.

The good thing is that both cities are pretty big and have attractions well spread which means people are more spread over. Though the big attractions are obviously crowded. Budapest, in particular, seems to be reaching its limit before starting to lose some of its qualities. The last time we went, the market was pretty much a tourist attraction and not the cool market we visited the first time.

So, Vienna wins this one, especially if you are traveling during peak season when both cities are more crowded, but Budapest much more.

Vienna vs Budapest
Vienna city center

So, Vienna or Budapest, who wins this debate?

Mathematically, Budapest wins this contest, 6-4 (with 3 draws). This is a close call, many items had very similar results and it may really depend on what you want to do and your personal 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. Viena is also a great destination, it would probably win a showdown in 90% of the other cities. As we said above, in terms of things to do and especially in terms of general beauty it’s just astonishing.

In a hindsight, you should choose Vienna if you:

  • Love music and want to attend classical music concerts;
  • Love architecture and history;
  • Don’t mind spending more money;
  • Don’t care too much about mingling with locals;
  • Don’t care about the nightlife;
  • Prefer lesse crowded places (though very far from uncrowded);

Or choose Budapest if you:

  • Want to go the Thermal Baths;
  • Are on budget;
  • Want to explore a unique nightlife;
  • Want to mingle with the locals;
  • Don’t mind about the crowds;

In conclusion, both cities are excellent destinations, though they have a few different features that cater better to some kind of travelers. And, now that you know more about their similarities and differences you can choose the Imperial city that better adapts to you. Budapest or Vienna? It depends on you!

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Vienna vs Budapest

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