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Prague vs Budapest: What is Best to Visit?

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Deciding which comes out on top between Prague vs. Budapest is a challenging feat. Both European capitals find themselves on many a traveler’s bucket list, and for good reason.

Either city can provide the goods for the ultimate city break. Whether you’re after a party, a relaxing retreat, a foodie indulgence, or a history buff geek out, both Prague and Budapest will serve you well.

Prague has an undeniable fairytale-like charm, and everything you want to see is closely packed together for easy accessibility. At the same time, Budapest offers a lively atmosphere on a wallet-friendly budget.

I’ve personally visited both and can happily say I loved them equally but for different reasons. But if you’re interested in seeing Prague or Budapest but can’t fit both into your travel plans, how do you choose?

The question of which is the best to visit between Prague vs. Budapest ultimately comes down to personal travel preferences, trip expectations, and budget.

As we weigh the pros and cons of each city, we’ll go through top considerations like attractions, costs, and transportation options. Then, you can decide which city will ultimately get your vote using the information provided.

TL;DR

Category Prague Budapest
Country Czech Republic Hungary
Top Attractions Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion
Size and Population 496 km², Approx. 1.3 million 525 km², Approx. 1.7 million
Day Trips Karlovy Vary, Český Krumlov, Kutná Hora Szentendre, Visegrád, Eger
Culture Famous for classical music Blend of Eastern and Western influences
Cuisine Roast Pork with Dumplings, Svíčková (Braised Beef) Goulash, Lángos (Deep-Fried Dough)
Beer Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen Dreher, Soproni
Wine Wines from Moravia region Tokaji
Transport Efficient public transport, walkable city center Metro, trams, buses, and river cruises
Types of Travelers History enthusiasts, architecture lovers Partygoers, foodies, culture seekers

Prague vs. Budapest Overview

Charles Bridge from Prague Castle
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is technically two historic cities: Buda and Pest. Budapest drew 4 million tourists in 2022, less than Prague, but still an enchanting city in Eastern Europe that deserves a spot on your radar. With the stunning Danube River flowing through it, Budapest is a treasure trove of ample green spaces, diverse architecture, eclectic cuisine, budget-friendly activities, and captivating history.

The Czech capital of Prague is a brilliant option for a city break. Step back in time while exploring Prague Castle, enjoy the lively ambiance at Charles Bridge, or take the winding cobbled streets to numerous museums and art galleries.

In 2022, just shy of 6 million tourists visited Prague. Its central location makes for easy accessibility to other neighboring cities. This, alongside its lively atmosphere and welcoming residents, makes it a popular spot for tourists.

See Related: Is Prague Safe? Important Safety Tips for Travelers

Prague vs. Budapest: How are They Different?

Size and Population

Busy Prague Main Train Station
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Budapest is a large and sprawling city of 203 square miles (525 square kilometers). With a population of around 1.8 million, it still feels open due to a modest population density of about 3,351 people per square kilometer.

Prague, on the other hand, is a bit smaller than Budapest at 192 square miles (496 square kilometers). With its smaller size comes a smaller population of around 1.2 million. However, the population density is greater at 4,600 people per square kilometer.

See Related: The Ultimate Backpacking Through Europe Itinerary

Culture

Ruin Bars of Budapest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Exploring the city of Prague, you’ll see evidence of a cultural heritage deeply rooted in music, literature, and the arts. Of the many cultural experiences you could enjoy in Prague, you could experience Prague’s reputation for great beer on a night out or go for something more unique at a beer spa!

There are also many other seasonal activities in Prague to enjoy. Attend the Prague Carnival, held at the end of February/start of March every year. The masquerade parade starts in the Old Town and passes by the city’s many iconic attractions.

In contrast, Budapest will offer you an experience that opens the doors to the city’s impressive diversity. The thermal baths are an homage to Budapest’s Turkish and Roman past. Moreover, its local heritage shines through landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament Building and Buda Castle.

Budapest also has some brilliant events to attend throughout the year. Head to Budapest in the springtime to attend the Budapest Spring Festival. A hub for classical music, jazz, dance, opera, and theatre, it’s the largest cultural festival in Hungary and worth a pin in the calendar.

See Related: 3 Days in Prague Itinerary: How to Spend a Weekend

Food

Mezze Plate at Mozel Tov a Hungarian cuisine
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Hungarian cuisine heavily features paprika, black pepper, onion, and garlic. Such strong ingredients lead to powerful flavors.

If visiting Budapest and hoping to enjoy a traditional meal, consider ordering the famous Goulash. There’s a good chance it will be on the menu of any traditional restaurant you visit in the city.

Goulash is a hearty stew consisting of beef and potatoes, cooked with paprika and onions. Some Hungarian regions will add their twist to the dish, but the basics remain unchanged. Other popular dishes you might try in Budapest would be Chicken paprikash or Meat Pancakes.

The cuisine in Budapest is deeply influenced by Eastern and Western food. Consider a foodie walking tour to learn of its blend of Turkish, Austrian, and Slavic flavors in its modern cuisine.

While Hungarian cuisine is heavy on bold flavors, Czech food has a simpler approach to spices and favors creamier sauces instead. Czech cuisine also features hearty dishes, focussing on meats and starches. A typical dish to try when visiting Prague would be Koleno  – pork knuckle roasted over several hours.

Prague vs. Budapest: How are they Similar?

Tourist Attractions

Tourists in Széchenyi Baths
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Both Budapest and Prague come with tourist attractions aplenty! You will be spoiled for choice from top museums to architectural marvels and unique landmarks. While Prague generally bests Budapest in terms of overall visitors, Budapest wins over Prague for travelers looking for a relaxing getaway with its numerous thermal baths.

The Széchenyi Baths are the city’s most popular spot, but with popularity comes crowds. If you have the time to fit in more than one thermal bath, consider the equally impressive Gellért thermal baths; slightly less busy, just as beautiful.

Budapest may be the place to truly take a break. Still, Prague is an incredible city with many unique attractions available, many within easy walking distance of each other. Prague Castle, for one, was an absolute top moment during my time in Prague.

The castle was founded in the 9th Century, and while being one of the largest ancient castles in the world, it is a prominent symbol of Czech culture. Take a day out to explore over 70,000 square meters of this iconic landmark that dominates the city’s skyline.

Another famous spot in Prague is Charles Bridge, which connects the Old Town with the Lesser Town and runs over the Vltava River. Unless you visit at an unsociably early hour, expect significant crowds. You can spot vendors selling souvenirs along Charles Bridge.

See Related: Virtual Walking Tour of Prague

Day Trips

Aerial view of Visegrad Castle Hungary
SAndor / Adobe Stock

Both Prague and Budapest offer some brilliant options for day trips to escape the hustle and bustle of big-city life. Feel like a history day trip from Budapest? Visit Visegrád Castle.

Not too far north of the city lies beautiful river towns around the Danube Bend. When venturing out this way, a stop-off at the highly photographed 13th Century Visegrád Castle is necessary.

If visiting Prague, consider taking a day trip to Český Krumlov, one of the oldest cities in the Czech Republic. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once titled one of the most beautiful historical sites by National Geographic.

Read Also: Prague, Budapest, and Vienna Itinerary

What’s Better About Budapest?

Cost

Czech Money on hand
ArieStudio / AdobeStock

Accommodation costs aside, Prague and Budapest are affordable European cities to visit. The cost of food in both Budapest and Prague can vary. Budapest edges past Prague with its greater assortment of budget-friendly options. You’ll find many more international restaurants in Prague, leading to more expensive dining.

For those looking for a cheaper option for attractions and excursions, you might prefer Budapest. Both Prague and Budapest offer diverse attractions and entertainment options. But the entry fees to museums, tourist attractions, and historical sights may be cheaper in Budapest.

Additionally, travelers to Budapest can enjoy more competitively priced tours and excursions. Additionally, shopping might be a little more affordable with a broader range of options. Here’s a breakdown of the general costs:

Category Budapest Prague
Transportation Generally affordable public transport with metro, buses, and trams. Day pass: $5. Efficient public transport with metro, trams, and buses. Day pass: $6.
Food Reasonable prices for meals at local restaurants. Average meal: $10. Affordable dining options with local cuisine. Average meal: $12.
Activities Entry to attractions and museums: $8 to $15. River cruise: $25. Entry to attractions and museums: $10 to $20. River cruise: $30.
Accommodation Hostels and budget hotels available. Average per night: $30. Wide range of accommodations. Average per night: $40.
Beer Local beer at bars and restaurants: $3 per pint. Local beer at bars and restaurants: $3.50 per pint.

And while these wonderful European cities provide budget-friendly visits, unforeseen costs can arise whenever you travel. Some friends in Budapest had to replace cameras and passports while visiting this wonderful city. So, having the right travel insurance with reputable insurers like SafetyWing is an absolute must!

Ruin Bars

Ruin Bars of Budapest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The Ruin Bars of Budapest make for a brilliant night out. If traveling solo, it’s easy to find a great bar crawl to join and meet a few new friends.

Just be careful; if the beers get you clumsy, ensure you’ve got some decent travel insurance ready. Shopping for policies with TravelInsurance.com can help provide peace of mind on any night out with affordable and extensive insurance options for a whole host of different travel styles.

Beyond the ruin bars of Budapest lies modern trendy clubs and rooftop bars, especially around the Jewish Quarter. You could even attend nighttime spa parties at the thermal baths to mix that party atmosphere with an evening dip.

Accommodations

Aerial view of Budapest, Hungary
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Both Prague and Budapest offer bountiful accommodations for all travel budgets and purposes. Budapest edges a little ahead of Prague with accommodation in terms of affordability and range of options, although both will provide excellent stays for any visit.

To review a few options for an overview of what you might be able to find in either city on varying budgets, here are a few examples:

Budapest

  • BudgetNETIZEN Budapest Centre – Budapest is great for top quality cheap hostels for the budget traveler. NETIZEN Budapest Centre provides hostel dorm accommodation with an on-site bar right in the heart of the city.
  • Mid-RangeEmerald Hotel – This 4-star option offers a great base just a short walk from the River Danube.
  • LuxuryAnantara New York Palace Budapest – This pet-friendly 5-star option offers a spa, wellness center, indoor swimming pool, and luxury for days!

Prague

  • BudgetBrix Hostel – A sustainable hostel option offering a comfortable stay just outside of the city center.
  • Mid-RangeGolden Angel Suites by Prague – Perfect for families, Golden Angel sits right in the city center with easy access via a lift and handy amenities like a fully equipped kitchen.
  • LuxuryThe Grand Mark Prague – This 5-star option will allow you to enjoy 17th-century timeless elegance in the heart of the city.

What’s Better About Prague?

Nightlife

Black Lager at Lokál U Bílé kuželky, Prague
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Prague may not have the same ambiance as the ruin pubs of Budapest, but that’s not to say there’s no nightlife. In fact, it’s often considered to have one of the best nightlife scenes in Europe.

The historic Old Town of Prague features the best nightlife scene for travelers. You’ll find a mix of trendy bars, traditional pubs, and many clubs to bust a few moves. Moreover, Prague is known for some top-tier local brewing, so you can easily find a beer garden or pub to savor world-famous Czech beers.

Should you desire something more upscale, Prague has that too. Cocktail bars and rooftop lounges provide a different ambiance from the hip bars and underground clubs. Enjoy a cocktail or two while enjoying striking scenes of the city’s illuminated landmarks.

See Related: Best Nightclubs in Amsterdam

Transportation

Train in Prague, Czech Republic
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Public transportation in Prague or Budapest will not cost you much at all. Also, both of these beautiful cities are very well connected with extensive and easily accessible options to get you easy access to all the top spots you might want to visit.

In Budapest, you’ll spend about $1-2 for a ticket on public transportation like trams, buses, and the metro. Alternatively, get yourself a travel pass for about $36 if you know you’ll be depending on public transport a fair bit during your visit.

Prague also offers transport passes to make traveling within the city super accessible. The official Prague visitor pass is valid for 48, 72, or 120 hours and starts at about $82. What’s more, in addition to being useful for public transportation, the pass can be used at numerous attractions within the city.

See Related: Cheap Places to Visit in Europe

Who should travel to Budapest?

Buda Castle in Budapest, Hungary
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Choose Budapest if you’re traveling more on a budget and want to stretch your pennies further. Budapest is the ideal European city for those traveling more on a shoestring budget, as many of the costs associated with food, attractions, and activities are cheaper.

See Related: Best Digital Nomad Destinations in the World

Who Should Visit Prague?

View of Old Town Square in Prague
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Choose Prague if you’re after that historical elegance and some top-tier local beers. Prague trumps Budapest in terms of nightlife and proximity of things to do. Slightly more expensive, but not excessively so, Prague is for those looking for a good time with some top-tier historical sites to enjoy along the way.

See Related: Most Beautiful Cities in Europe

FAQs

Which is cheaper, Prague or Budapest?

Budapest edges slightly ahead of Prague regarding which of the two cities is cheaper to visit. Both provide the same variety of accommodation options for the shoestring traveler, right up to those looking to splurge. But other costs of visiting, like transport, food, and activities, are generally on the cheaper side in Hungary’s capital.

What is the best time to visit Prague and Budapest?

The best time to visit Budapest or Prague falls in their shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. The warmer summer months see hoards of tourists and significant spikes in accommodation costs.

However, during spring and early autumn, you can still enjoy agreeable weather but with fewer crowds and potentially better bargains. Of course, both Prague and Budapest are brilliant options to visit for Christmas markets! It’s a popular time and bound to draw in the crowds, but you’re almost guaranteed snow for a truly magical Christmas in either city.

How can I travel from Prague to Budapest?

It takes shy of seven hours on the train to get from Prague to Budapest and a little closer to eight hours if traveling by bus. No overnight trains are available; however, traveling between the two cities is super easy, with four direct trains to pick from. It’s also reasonably priced at about $20 to $128 for a one-way ticket on the train and $35 to $41 for a one-way bus ticket.

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