The Golden City versus the Pearl of the Danube. The Mother of Cities versus the Heart of Europe.
We hadn’t thought to compare these two eastern European destinations until we visited Budapest immediately after Prague, and slowly realized that we’d been here before.
You know the way Budapest is dissected north-south by a large river and has a fancy iconic bridge that everyone loves to oooh and aaah over? That’s just like Prague.
Budapest’s imposing castle and church perched atop a huge hill (cleverly dubbed Castle Hill) that’s just west of the river? Yep, I distinctly remember Prague having the same thing, crafty name included.
The parallels were impossible to overlook, so we stopped trying. Instead, we did our best to examine the relatively few differences to see which city comes out ahead. Please keep in mind that this isn’t facetious AT ALL; this is a highly technical scientific comparison with all possible variables carefully controlled for.
Here are our findings:
CASTLE HILL vs. CASTLE HILL
Prague Castle’s Changing of the Guard ceremony is epic and entertaining, while Budapest’s is… well… neither. +1 for Prague
On the other hand, Budapest’s Castle Hill has the gorgeous Fisherman’s Bastion, while poor Prague has nothing of the sort to offer. +1 for Budapest
CHAIN BRIDGE vs. CHARLES BRIDGE
Budapest’s Chain Bridge was considered an engineering wonder at the time it was built (1849), but as a tourist landmark it ain’t got nuthin’ on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Why?
Charles Bridge is only open to pedestrian traffic, so it’s full of quirky buskers, terrible caricature artists, and an abundance of large (and occasionally disturbing) religious statues. Sure, I’ll admit that crossing Charles Bridge during the day can feel like running a gauntlet, but at least it’s an entertaining gauntlet.
More importantly, though, Charles Bridge is absolutely gorgeous at sunrise. Have you seen these postcards??
Prague has this round in the bag.
BUDAPEST METRO vs. PRAGUE METRO
Both cities have a small but well functioning metro system with three lines. They’re clean, run on schedule, and provide access to most of the important areas of their respective cities.
So what’s the difference between the two? Well, Budapest only has a single transfer station (yep, ONE way to get between lines), while Prague boasts a whopping three. So extravagant.
While this makes me tempted to award the point to Prague, the city’s metro police are a notoriously nasty sort that specifically target confused tourists for fines. So obnoxious.
But the real kicker is that Budapest’s metro system is the second oldest in the world (after London) and Line 1 is a World Heritage Site. +1 for Budapest
HUNGARIAN CUISINE vs. CZECH GRUB
Goulash! Mulled wine! Grog!
We consumed it all, and we enjoyed every bit in both cities. Well, except the grog; that stuff is nasty.Was there a difference between the goulash we ate in Budapest and the goulash that we ate in Prague? Probably. Could I tell? Nope – I was too busy stuffing my face with the delightfully thick meat/potato/noodle stew to worry about fine culinary distinctions.
Both cities had hearty winter fare, delectable little pastries for purchase in the metro stations, and unique grub that we hadn’t seen elsewhere (like a funky potato mash in Budapest and a cinnamon/sugar cylindrical pastry in Prague).
When it comes to food, Prague and Budapest were equally delicious. It’s a tie!
FORINTS vs. KORUNAS
Despite being part of the European Union and within the Schengen Zone, neither Hungary or the Czech Republic is on the Euro.
Hungarian Forints (222 forints to 1 dollar) and Czech Korunas (19 koruna to 1 dollar) are difficult to compare, but after spending time in each country it became clear that things are a lot cheaper in Budapest.
A few items were comparable (like a ticket on the metro), but we found that most everything else was more expensive in Prague – accommodations, eating out, groceries, alcohol, postcards, and entrance fees.
The difference wasn’t extreme, but Budapest is definitely a more affordable city.
+1 to Budapest
Prague’s red-tiled roofs – interspersed with towers, spires, and steeples – make views of the city breathtaking. +1 for Prague
Budapest is famous for its spas and thermal baths, which are beautiful, affordable, and gloriously steamy. +1 for Budapest
Prague has an obsession with polishing gold accents until they’re gleaming. I like this attention to detail. +1 for Prague
Prague is scam-central. Taxi drivers, restaurants, and the metro police all try to make a buck off hapless tourists. Harumph. +1 for Budapest
Budapest has a mummified hand. Clearly this works in their favor. +1 for Budapest
And the winner is…. BUDAPEST!
Prague: 5 points
Budapest: 6 points
After rigorous testing of our subjects and a complete analysis of all applicable empirical evidence, we scientific travelers can now say with complete authority that Budapest is 20±0.005% better than Prague.