prague vs budapest

Prague vs Budapest – Which City is Best to Visit?

This article is here to help you decide between visiting Prague and Budapest.  In the past, we have stayed in Prague and Budapest several times and loved both cities. The choice between Prague or Budapest isn’t easy.  If you ask people, 50% will probably say Prague and 50% will opt for Budapest. We are going to give you all the information you need to make your own choice.

Prague vs Budapest

In the right-hand corner of the boxing ring you have Prague:

Country Population Area Tourists per Year
Czech Republic 1.3 million 496 square km 8 million
the-charles-bridge
the-charles-bridge

Prague is located in the Czech Republic.  The currency used is Czech Crowns and the language spoken is Czech. Prague is one of most visited cities in Europe and is sometimes referred to as “The City of a Hundred Spires”.  Prague’s historical centre is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the left-hand corner of the boxing ring you have Budapest:

Country Population area tourists
Hungary 1.7 million 525 square km 4.5 million
Budapest-Parliament
Budapest-Parliament

Budapest is the capital of Hungary.  The currency used is the Hungarian Forint and the language spoken is Hungarian. Budapest is also known as the “Pearl of the Danube”, the “Heart of Europe” and the “Capital of Freedom”.

The tourist trend for Budapest is growing every year and the city is becoming an increasingly popular destination. As more tourists are visiting Budapest, the government has invested more money in the tourist sector.  A new airport terminal will open in 2024, Christmas Markets are more widespread and other events attract more tourists to the capital. In fact, Budapest was named the best European destination for 2019. Budapest is still relatively cheap to visit for a European city.

Round 1 – Things to See in Prague vs Budapest

The two cities are different but each of them offers visitors plenty to see and do over a long weekend. Prague has a more compact city centre than Budapest.  In Prague, all the major attractions are in walking distance of each other which is convenient but makes the streets busy in the city centre. Budapest is more spread out but you can easily take the metro, bus or tram to visit different parts of the city.

Places to visit in Prague

  • Charles Bridge
  • Prague Castle
  • Old Town Square
  • Prague Astronomical Clock
  • Powder Tower

This is just a small taste of what you can visit in Prague, but there is much more to do in “The City of a Hundred Spires”. You will find plenty of interesting places to visit depending on your mood.  There are relaxing walks in parks, iconic buildings to be discovered and delicious specialities to taste.

astronomical-clock
astronomical-clock

With regards food, avoid the stands in the Old Town Square as they are tourist traps.  Instead, head to the backstreets where you will find authentic restaurants. The locals in Prague are friendly and they can help with recommendations if you ask. Prague also has an excellent selection of beer to try. Prague is also a great place to watch an opera or a concert.  A lot of concerts take place in the churches during the evening. I always say it, but the best way to discover a city is to get lost.  You can’t imagine how often we have found great places just by wandering about in a city without a plan. If you want great views of the city, you have plenty of possibilities to gain the best viewpoint.  For instance:

  • Old Town Hall Tower
  • Old Town Bridge Tower
  • Prague Castle
  • St Nicholas Bell Tower

Another way to have a different view of the city is from a boat on theriver where you will be able to enjoy the best views of the Charles Bridge.

Prague-River
Prague-River

Prague also has very good museums to visit. The Jewish Museum helps you better understand the culture, life and experiences of the Jews in Prague during the war. Otherwise, you can go to visit Stahov Library, Mucha Museum or the Town Belfry next to St Nicholas Church.  On top of learning about the bell tower’s secret history, you will also have unrivalled 360-degree views of the city.

Prague is also a popular destination for Hen and Stag parties!  Be warned that you will find plenty of late-night revellers in the city and they are extremely noisy. During the weekends, it is better to book a hotel away from the Old Town centre if you want to have a good night’s sleep!

Places to visit in Budapest

  • Buda Castle
  • Hungarian Parliament
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
  • Hero’s Square
  • Mathias Church
  • Hungarian State Opera House
Fisherman's-Bastion
Fisherman’s-Bastion

Budapest has more to offer than this small list of popular tourist attractions.  For instance, Budapest is also well known for its thermal baths.  Whilst you are in the city you will have the chance to visit more than one. During wintertime, this is a magical experience as you can swim outside in warm water next to the snow. I also loved taking time to relax and watch the chess players in the swimming pool. Budapest has plenty of hidden gems to discover like Gul Baba Street.  This isa cobblestone street near the Margaret Bridge which will lead you to the tomb of Gul Baba and the For Sale Pub where you can leave a note anywhere you like inside. Plenty of tourists walk along the Danube and don’t notice the Shoes on the Danube.  These are in memory of the Jews who were killed and thrown into the Danube without their shoes to make it easier for their bodies to drift along the river. One of the best viewpoints of the city is reached by taking the chair lift (Libego) to the top of Janos Hill where you will find the Elizabeth lookout.  The view is amazing and, if you are lucky with the weather, you can see for miles. If are looking for an adventure, you could also explore the caves.  There are 200 caves of different sizes in Budapest which were created by the thermal water.  If you like, you can have a guided visit of the Szemlo-hegyi which is one of the biggest caves.

Shoes-on-the-Danube
Shoes-on-the-Danube

To summarise, both cities have plenty to see.  Prague has a very compact city centre with picturesque buildings where you will feel wrapped in a cocoon. Another positive point for Prague is that almost all of the Old Town is car free and there are plenty of pedestrian streets. One of the disadvantages of Prague is that it is always very busy, and it is hard to make your way through all the tourists.

Budapest also has some stunning places to visit.  For example, the Hungarian Parliament is magnificent and fascinating at the same time because it is the third largest parliament in the world. The city is certainly bigger than Prague and you will need to use public transport more often.

Check our other articles about what to see in Prague and Budapest

Round 2 – Transport in Prague vs Budapest

Both cities have good transport links which are easy and cheap to use. If you come to Prague by plane, you have different possibilities to reach the city centre. 

The most expensive but stress-free way is to pre-book a car with driver.  The driver will wait for you at the airport and drive you directly to your hotel. Below are some examples:

The second option is to take a taxi.  This is basically the same as above but is a little less expensive.  However, you will need to wait outside and deal with the taxi drivers directly. The pre-booked driver gives you a unique experience and it’s reassuring to see your name on a board when you arrive at the airport.

The third way to reach Prague is to use the bus and metro.  This option is very cheap and not difficult at all. When you exit the airport terminal, look for bus 119 and leave the bus at the final stop (Nadrazi Veleslavin metro) where you can connect with the metro to your hotel. Make sure you buy your ticket at the machine before entering the bus.

Prague has one of the most efficient public transport systems in Europe.  You can use trams, buses and the metro to go wherever you want. Ticket prices aren’t expensive, and you can buy day passes if you know you are going to use public transport often in one day.  However, remember that most of the Old Town centre is pedestrianised and it’s good to walk around to discover new places.

Prague-Tram
Prague-Tram

Budapest public transport is good as well, but I think it is more complicated to buy the right ticket for the right journey. Similar to Prague, if you arrive at the airport, you have 3 different choices to reach Budapest city centre.

Firstly, like Prague, you can pre-book a driver who will drop you at the doorstep of your hotel offering you peace of mind.  Having already paid for the service, you can sit back and just enjoy the ride.

The second option is to use a taxi.  However, in Budapest you need to be careful about using an official taxi company.  The official taxi company is called Fotaxi.

The third option is to take public transport.  There are different buses which operate from Budapest airport to the city centre. You have the new and very efficient 100E which takes you directly from Terminal 2 to Deak Ferenc ter metro hub in the city centre where you can connect to 3 of the city’s metro lines (M1, M2 and M3).  Be aware that you need a special ticket for the 100E which costs 900 Forints (£2.32).  Alternatively, you can take a normal 200E bus (during the night and day) to Nagyvarad ter metro station and connect to the city centre using the blue M3 line.  The railway station, Nyugati palyaudvar is also on this line if you are travelling out of the city centre to other parts of Hungary.

Transport tickets in Budapest aren’t like other cities.  You have different tickets depending on whether you need to change lines or not. If you travel on the same metro line, you can use a single ticket (350 Forints/£0.90), but if you change lines you need a transfer ticket (530 Forints/£1.37) which allows you to make one change. If you want to avoid any worries, we advise you to take a 24-hour travelcard if you need to travel more than one stop (1,650 Forints/£4.25).  The ticket conductors target tourists and there is high probability of being fined.  The first time I went to Budapest, we got fined twice even though we asked the ticket office to provide us with the right tickets.  On our most recent trip to Budapest, we opted for a 72-hour travelcard (4,150 Forints/£10.68) which was great value for money as it covered the 200E bus from the airport and we travelled extensively around the city hopping on and off the metro, trams, buses and even the public transport boats which operate on the Danube.  This ticket works out at £3.56 per day if you are in Budapest for 72 hours.

public-transport-boat
public-transport-boat

Budapest also has other unique forms of transport like a funicular to go to the Buda castle, the chair lift to go to the top of the hill to have the best view of Budapest (bus 291 from the central train station to Zugliget, Libego) or the cogwheel railway (tram 60) from Varosmajor to Szechenyi-hegy, Gyermekvasut.

Funicular-and-Chain-Bridge
Funicular-and-Chain-Bridge

Round 3 – Prague vs Budapest Food and Drink

The food in Prague and Budapest is good and you will find something which suits your taste. Both cities have Michelin star restaurants if you want to experience them. In both cities, you can also find snacks and fast food.  In Prague, avoid the food stands in the Old Town Square as they are tourist traps. Have a look and you will notice the price looks inexpensive, but it is the price per 100g.  The servers will give you a lot of ham to make you pay a lot!

Make sure you plan a walk before you eat in Prague or Budapest!  You will eat a lot and you will need the walk to burn off the extra calories. For me, Prague has more food available and, on top of that, one of the specialities is Steak Tartare (one of my favourite dishes). In Prague, you will also find excellent and inexpensive beer. Prague dishes are all about soup and sauces.  You must try the famous creamy potato soup (Kulajda) or Svickova which is a piece of meat in a delicious sauce serve with bread dumplings.

In Prague, you can basically eat as you do in the rest of Europe.  There are many international restaurants if you don’t want to taste the Czech food.

Prague-Food
Prague-Food

In Budapest, you will eat a lot more comfort food like Langos (a deep-fried flatbread), Goulash or Stuffed Cabbage. For my first meal in Budapest, I ate a piece of foie gras cooked in a pan.  It tasted good and was a massive portion and very cheap for foie gras!

Hungarian-Food
Hungarian-Food

To summarise, eating in Prague or Budapest will allow you to discover different ways to cook and different flavours. Personally, I prefer the food in Prague because of the variety of dishes and, of course, the Steak Tartare!

Round 4 – Prague vs Budapest Cost of Living

In both cities, you will find accommodation at all price ranges, from cheap to very expensive.  It’s a similar story with restaurants – you can eat cheaply in both cities if you head a little way out of tourist areas.  However, you also have Michelin star restaurants in both cities where the prices will be expensive but less expensive compared to Paris or London. Overall, Budapest is a little bit less expensive than Prague with the exception of transportation where Prague is definitely less expensive than Budapest.

Tips About How to Travel on a Budget in Prague or Budapest.

To save money, my advice is to imagine that you are visiting Prague or Budapest as if you are living in your own city. In your local city, you are not going to eat in restaurants where they serve dishes for tourists.  Of course, you will eat where locals eat to pay less and get good quality. These types of places are usually a few streets off the main tourist areas.  Simply, do some research before travelling or ask a local for their recommendations.  Avoid asking the concierge at your hotel as they usually send you to tourist areas.

Prague-kantyna
Prague-kantyna

To save money on accommodation, I always use Booking.com to find my perfect hotel.  You don’t need to pay in advance, and you have the possibility of cancelling your booking just a few days before your arrival.  In addition, the more you use Booking.com, the more offers you will get with discounts. You can use the link below to get their latest offers. With Booking.com, it’s also easy to search for the best places in your price range. In addition, use their map tool to check the location of hotels.  Don’t go too far from the city centre in order to avoid extra costs in transport.  Having central accommodation is a very good idea so that you can walk back to your hotel or have cheaper taxi fares. It is wise to pay a little bit more to be close to the main attractions.

Round 5 – Prague vs Budapest Disappointments

Don’t forget that you are trying to visit a city in just a few days, so the big disappointment for both cities is to lose time by queuing or missing out on tickets for somewhere you really want to visit! We recommend that you use GetYourGuide to avoid any disappointment. For example, if you want to visit the Hungarian Parliament, you need to book tickets in advance.  Tickets are unavailable on the day because they sell out.  Of course, planning ahead is not for everyone, but booking ahead can save you time and money.  Think about what you really want to see and do during your stay.

Although, Prague is the Pearl of Europe, the city centre is very small, and you will be with plenty of other tourists.  Most of the time, the streets are very congested so it’s a good idea is to use back streets.

Prague-Crowds
Prague-Crowds

From my point of view, the downside of Budapest is transport tickets.  To be honest, it is complicated to get the right ticket and find the right information to avoid penalty fees.  However, we hope the advice in our post about purchasing a travelcard will help you to avoid any problems as the public transport in Budapest is efficient and easy to use.

Final Round – Prague vs Budapest Verdict

Prague and Budapest are among the best cities in Europe to spend a long weekend. Prague is a compact city with plenty to see within walking distance.  On the other hand, it is perhaps too compact for the number of tourists. Prague is also more European than Budapest in terms of culture and food.  In Budapest, you will experience a different culture.  The fact that increasingly more tourists are heading to Budapest year on year suggests that Budapest may ultimately lose its identity and become more like the more touristic Prague.  Perhaps, it is worth visiting now before this happens?

I hope we have helped you to decide between Prague and Budapest.  Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below to help the community.

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