Prague vs. Budapest — what are the top differences for travellers

Prague vs. Budapest — what are the top differences for travellers

Prague and Budapest, two of Europe's most enchanting capitals, often find themselves compared by travelers seeking a memorable city break. While both cities offer rich histories, stunning architecture, and vibrant cultures, they also possess unique characteristics that set them apart. This article explores the top differences between Prague and Budapest to help you decide which destination is best suited to your travel preferences.

Key Takeaways

  • Prague is generally more compact and densely populated compared to the sprawling layout of Budapest.
  • Budapest boasts a rich thermal bath culture, offering numerous thermal baths, while Prague is known for its historic castles and bridges.
  • Both cities offer vibrant nightlife, but Budapest's ruin bars provide a unique experience that sets it apart.
  • Prague tends to be slightly more expensive than Budapest, making Budapest a more budget-friendly option.
  • Both cities offer excellent public transportation, but Budapest's system is more extensive and modern.

1. Size and Population

When comparing the size and population of Prague and Budapest, there are some notable differences that travelers should consider.

Prague is slightly smaller than Budapest, covering an area of 192 square miles (496 square kilometers). It has a population of around 1.2 million people, resulting in a higher population density of approximately 4,600 people per square kilometer.

Budapest, on the other hand, spans 203 square miles (525 square kilometers) and has a larger population of about 1.8 million. Despite its larger size, the population density is lower, with around 3,351 people per square kilometer.

City Area (sq miles) Area (sq km) Population Population Density (per sq km)
Prague 192 496 1.2 million 4,600
Budapest 203 525 1.8 million 3,351
Budapest feels more spacious due to its lower population density, while Prague's smaller size makes it feel more compact and bustling.

2. Culture

On the face of things, both cities sound quite similar; both have a castle, a square, and a famous bridge, but that’s about where the similarities end. Prague's cultural scene is deeply historical, while Budapest offers a mix of historic baths and modern culinary delights.

Living Culture

For living culture that you can interact with, Budapest takes the lead. The city is vibrant and offers numerous opportunities to engage with locals and learn a lot about Hungarian culture through these conversations.


When it comes to museums, Vienna might be the top choice, but between Prague and Budapest, Budapest has a slight edge. The museums in Budapest are diverse and offer a rich insight into the city's history and culture.


For architecture, it’s a three-way tie depending on a lot of factors. However, both Prague and Budapest offer unique architectural styles that are worth exploring. Prague is known for its Gothic and Baroque buildings, while Budapest features a mix of styles, including Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic.

Both cities offer visitors a rich cultural experience, but the type of culture you are looking to engage with might determine your choice.

3. Food

When it comes to food, both Prague and Budapest offer unique and delightful culinary experiences. Prague’s food scene is known first and foremost for its hearty traditional Czech cuisine. The city’s historic pubs and taverns offer a warm welcome with dishes like svíčková (marinated beef sirloin served with creamy vegetable sauce) and goulash, a rich stew often accompanied by Czech dumplings.

Budapest, on the other hand, has a thriving street food scene and offers a diverse range of cuisine from local Hungarian dishes to fine dining restaurants. Hungarian cuisine heavily features paprika, black pepper, onion, and garlic, leading 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.

Both cities also host annual food and drink festivals, showcasing local specialties, international dishes, and everything in between.

Food markets and street food vendors in Budapest offer a more casual dining experience – make sure you try a traditional chimney cake!

4. Tourist Attractions

red and white boat on water near brown concrete building during daytime

When it comes to tourist attractions, both Prague and Budapest offer a wealth of historical and cultural sites that are sure to captivate any traveler. However, each city has its unique highlights that set it apart.


  • Old Town Square: A historic square in the heart of the city, featuring the famous Astronomical Clock.
  • Charles Bridge: A stunning medieval bridge adorned with statues, offering picturesque views of the Vltava River.
  • Prague Castle: One of the largest ancient castles in the world, offering panoramic views of the city.
  • The Castle District: Home to beautiful gardens, palaces, and the iconic St. Vitus Cathedral.


  • Royal Palace: A historic palace complex that now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
  • Fisherman’s Bastion: A neo-Gothic terrace with fairy-tale towers, providing panoramic views of the Danube River and the city.
  • Heroes' Square: One of the major squares in Budapest, known for its iconic statues and monuments.
  • Chain Bridge: A suspension bridge that connects Buda and Pest, offering stunning views of the Danube River.
  • Gellert Hill: Offers some of the best panoramic views of Budapest, especially at sunset.
While both cities boast impressive attractions, Prague's Old Town Square and Charles Bridge are among the top sites in all of Europe, making it a must-visit for history enthusiasts. On the other hand, Budapest's Fisherman’s Bastion and Gellert Hill offer some of the most breathtaking views, perfect for photographers and sightseers alike.

5. Day Trips

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.

In Prague, you can fill your days with day trips to towns outside the city like Kutna Hora and Csesky. These towns offer a glimpse into the rich history and culture of the Czech Republic.

For a well-rounded trip, I'd personally recommend 4 nights in Prague and 5 in Krakow. In Krakow, you can spend one day in the mountains (Zakopane). It is a wonderful place.

6. Cost

When comparing the cost of traveling to Prague and Budapest, there are several factors to consider, including accommodation, food, transportation, and activities. Budapest is generally cheaper than Prague in most categories, making it a more budget-friendly destination for travelers.

Category Budapest Prague
Accommodation $30/night $40/night
Food $10/meal $12/meal
Transportation $5/day $6/day
Activities $8-$15 $10-$20
River Cruise $25 $30
Local Beer $3/pint $3.50/pint
  • Accommodation: Both cities offer a range of options from hostels to budget hotels. However, the average cost per night is slightly lower in Budapest.
  • Food: Meals at local restaurants are reasonably priced in both cities, but you can expect to pay a bit more in Prague.
  • Transportation: Public transport is efficient and affordable in both cities, with day passes costing around $5 in Budapest and $6 in Prague.
  • Activities: Entry fees to attractions and museums vary, but Budapest tends to be cheaper overall.
  • River Cruises: A popular activity in both cities, river cruises are slightly more expensive in Prague.
  • Local Beer: Enjoying a pint of local beer is a bit cheaper in Budapest compared to Prague.
For budget-conscious travelers, Budapest offers a more affordable experience without compromising on the quality of attractions and activities.

7. Ruin Bars

Budapest is renowned for its unique ruin bars, which are an iconic part of the city's nightlife. These bars are set in dilapidated pre-war buildings, primarily located in the Jewish Quarter. The concept began with a couple who transformed a derelict building into a bar decorated with quirky second-hand finds, and it quickly became a popular trend. The original and most famous ruin bar is Szimpla Kert.

Key Highlights of Ruin Bars in Budapest

  • Unique Atmosphere: Each ruin bar has its own distinct vibe, often featuring eclectic decor and a mix of vintage furniture.
  • Cultural Experience: These bars often host live music, art exhibitions, and film screenings, making them cultural hubs as well as nightlife spots.
  • Variety: From the lively Szimpla Kert to the more laid-back Fogasház and Füge Udvar, there's a ruin bar to suit every taste.
Visiting the ruin bars is a must-do on any Central Europe itinerary. They offer a unique blend of history, culture, and nightlife that you won't find anywhere else.

In contrast, Prague does not have an equivalent to Budapest's ruin bars. While Prague offers a vibrant nightlife with a variety of bars and clubs, it lacks the unique charm and historical context that make Budapest's ruin bars so special.

8. Nightlife

red ferrari 458 italia parked near white and gray concrete building during night time

Prague and Budapest both offer vibrant nightlife scenes, but they cater to different tastes and preferences.


Prague is often considered to have one of the best nightlife scenes in Europe. The historic Old Town features a mix of trendy bars, traditional pubs, and many clubs where you can dance the night away. Prague is known for its top-tier local brewing, so you can easily find a beer garden or pub to savor world-famous Czech beers. The main party area is Dlouhá street, lined with several bars and clubs, including Harley’s Bar, the Prague Beer Museum Bar, and Roxy. For a unique experience, visit Karlovy Lazne, a huge five-story club with different genres of music on each level.


Budapest stands out with its unique ruin bars, which are a must-visit for evening entertainment. These bars are made out of derelict buildings and decorated with eclectic furniture and art. Instant is one of the most famous ruin pubs, made out of a derelict apartment block, featuring 26 rooms, 7 bars, and multiple dance floors, each more quirky than the last. The ruin bars offer a unique ambiance that you won't find anywhere else, making Budapest's nightlife truly special.

Whether you prefer the historic charm and world-famous beers of Prague or the unique and eclectic ruin bars of Budapest, both cities offer unforgettable nightlife experiences.

9. Transportation

empty road

Both Prague and Budapest have fantastic transport systems consisting of metros, trams, and buses. Prague has a more efficient and expansive system, especially in the city center. In Prague, tram line 17 runs parallel to the river and offers some of the best views. Similarly, in Budapest, tram line 2 provides a scenic route along the river.

Public transportation in both cities is affordable and well-connected, making it easy to access all the top spots you might want to visit. Once you’ve figured out the lines, you'll be sailing smoothly through either city.

  • Prague: More efficient and expansive system, especially in the center.
  • Budapest: Equally fantastic but slightly less efficient in the center.
Both cities offer a great experience of hopping on a tram and seeing the world go by.

10. Thermal Baths

When it comes to thermal baths, Budapest takes the crown. The city is renowned for its thermal baths, with 15 public baths available, some dating back to Ottoman times. Water temperatures generally range from 34 – 42°C.

Budapest's Thermal Baths

  • Széchenyi Thermal Bath: The largest and most well-known bath, but also the busiest.
  • Gellért Baths: Known for its beautiful mosaic tiling and vast indoor swimming pool.
  • Rudas Baths: A traditional Turkish-style bath dating from the mid-sixteenth century. Note that Tuesday is women-only in the Turkish bath area.

Prague's Offerings

While Prague does not have the same reputation for thermal baths as Budapest, it compensates with its unique attractions like Prague Castle and its many towers, all within easy walking distance of each other.

Budapest may be the place to truly take a break with its thermal baths, but Prague offers an incredible array of unique attractions.


Deciding between Prague and Budapest for your next travel destination is no easy task. Both cities offer a rich tapestry of history, culture, and unique experiences that cater to a variety of traveler preferences. Prague enchants with its fairy-tale architecture, vibrant nightlife, and historical landmarks, while Budapest captivates with its thermal baths, eclectic cuisine, and stunning river views. Ultimately, the choice comes down to what you value most in a travel experience. Whether it's the budget-friendly options of Budapest or the architectural wonders of Prague, both cities promise an unforgettable adventure. Use the insights provided in this guide to make an informed decision that aligns with your travel goals and expectations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which city is cheaper to visit, Prague or Budapest?

Budapest is generally cheaper than Prague in terms of accommodation, food, and attractions. However, both cities are relatively affordable compared to other European capitals.

What is the best time to visit Prague and Budapest?

The best time to visit both Prague and Budapest is during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to October) when the weather is pleasant and there are fewer tourists.

Are there any similarities between Prague and Budapest?

Yes, both cities have rich histories, stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scenes, and are split by famous rivers (the Vltava in Prague and the Danube in Budapest).

What are the main differences in tourist attractions between Prague and Budapest?

Prague is known for its medieval Old Town, Charles Bridge, and Prague Castle, while Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, Buda Castle, and the Parliament Building.

Is public transportation better in Prague or Budapest?

Both cities have efficient public transportation systems. Prague's metro is known for its punctuality and coverage, while Budapest's system includes historic trams and a comprehensive metro network.

Which city has better nightlife, Prague or Budapest?

Both cities offer vibrant nightlife, but Budapest is particularly famous for its ruin bars and diverse nightlife scene. Prague also has a variety of bars and clubs, especially in the Old Town area.

Are there any unique experiences in Budapest that Prague doesn't offer?

Yes, Budapest is renowned for its thermal baths, such as the Széchenyi and Gellért Baths, which offer a unique and relaxing experience that Prague does not have.

Can you take day trips from both cities?

Yes, both cities offer excellent day trip options. From Prague, you can visit Český Krumlov or Kutná Hora. From Budapest, you can explore places like Szentendre or the Danube Bend.

Curtis Duggan

Curtis Duggan

Curtis is a serial tech entrepreneur, content creator and the host of the Remotely Serious podcast on the future of remote work and digital nomadism.


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