Prague versus Budapest: An Eastern European Smackdown

by Christy on

The Golden City versus the Pearl of the Danube. The Mother of Cities versus the Heart of Europe.

View of Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, The Golden City

Castle Hill in Budapest

Budapest, The Pearl of the Danube

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

Changing of the Guard at Prague Castle

Prague's Changing of the Guard

Budapest's Changing of the Guard

Budapest's Changing of the Guard

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

Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion in 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??

Charles Bridge in Prague

Charles Bridge in Prague

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.

Restaurant in Prague

The apple tart at this Prague restaurant was amazing.

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

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

View of PraguePrague’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.

What say you? Who do you think should win this battle royale? Are the two cities even comparable? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


This post was made possible by Nobelcom, who offers international phone cards.

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

Jakori January 29, 2012 at

I have been to both and let me say Prague is by far my favorite. Traveling from old Prague to new Prague I loved every bit of it. The people where friendly and the food was great. Although Budapest is nice, I always have a little more love for Prague.

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Christy January 29, 2012 at

Prague is such a well-loved city that I’m not surprised to hear that it’s your favorite. :) I imagine a lot of other people feel the same way!

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Jarmo @ Arctic Nomad January 29, 2012 at

Very scientific! I’l have to take your word for it for now, as I haven’t been to neither yet (I did go to Czech, but didn’t make it to Prague). But you are right, they do seem very similar :)
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Christy January 29, 2012 at

Ha, I’m glad you’re on board with our scientific methods. ;) Where did you go in the Czech Republic? We only spent time in Prague, but it’s a country I’d really like to explore more.

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Jarmo @ Arctic Nomad February 9, 2012 at

Spent most of our time in a town called Brno as I went there with a friend who was originally from there and was visiting family and friends. It was a great experience, but I think it would’ve been difficult to get so much out of it, if it wasn’t for my friend.
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Christy January 29, 2012 at

I have never been to Budapest, so I can’t really compare the two, but you guys have done a good job of it here. Did you try any potato pancakes while you were in Prague? I think that is my favorite food memory from that city.
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Christy January 29, 2012 at

What, potato pancakes?? We definitely didn’t try any, but would have if we had known to scout them out. Pancakes are my favorite. :)

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Amanda January 29, 2012 at

Haha, I love that the mummified hand was the tipping point for Budapest. ;)

I’ve not been to either of these cities (though I’ll for sure make it to at least one of them this summer), but the fact that Budapest is cheaper and has less scammy-ness makes it more appealing in my eyes. Plus, the Budapest castle guards have feathers in their hats! I feel like they should get extra points for that.
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Christy January 29, 2012 at

Those feathers were pretty swanky, but other than that the Changing of the Guard ceremony in Budapest was a riot… and not in a good way! It was only those five guards and they spent 10 minutes walking in small circles. They also did this funny thing with their legs – whenever they’d make a turn, they’d sweep their foot out along the ground, which was so distracting and not at all graceful! Anyway, I don’t mean to knock on them too much, it was just funny. :P

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Amanda @ Not A Ballerina January 29, 2012 at

Love the Smackdown idea!! I think Budapest wins from me too, but only just. I wouldn’t have given them a point for the metro though – I got fined on the spot there for not re-stamping my ticket (I can’t remember the details now, but it wasn’t at all clear what to do – it wasn’t one of those times when I was actively fare-evading so I felt very cheated!). Fisherman’s Bastion is a cool place though, definitely points for that.
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Christy January 29, 2012 at

Aw, bummer about the metro situation in Budapest. I had heard of that type of thing happening a lot in Prague (the metro police actually tried to target us, but our tickets were fine), but I didn’t realize it was an issue in Budapest as well. It’s a shame because both systems are sort of complicated, so it’s easy for tourists to get confused or have the wrong ticket or just screw it up somehow; I wish they’d be more understanding and helpful of that.

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Cole @ Four Jandalstwitter: fourjandals January 30, 2012 at

Having travelled to neither (but wanting to go to both) this is great! Still won’t choose one over the other to visit but good to know the differences :)
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

You’ll just have to visit both, Cole!

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Stephanie - The Travel Chicatwitter: thetravelchica January 30, 2012 at

Never been to Budapest. I was on a group tour that went to Budapest on the fourth leg, but I choose to rent a car and drive to Munich for Oktoberfest instead. Certainly don’t regret that decision, but I definitely plan to see Budapest one day. Sounds like I would enjoy it.
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

I could see how celebrating Oktoberfest in Munich could sway you from seeing Budapest. ;)

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Audrey January 30, 2012 at

After living in Prague for five years and having friends who lived in Budapest for many years, I really enjoyed this comparison. The only think I’d perhaps question is that Hungarian food is better IMHO than Czech food – more use of spices, paprika, variety. Also, the food markets in Budapest are fantastic compared to Prague’s almost non-existent markets. But, the Czechs definitely win out on beer!
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

That’s great to know, Audrey – I don’t think we spent enough time in each city to really delve into food and notice the differences, so it’s nice to hear from someone who has more background.

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Katie January 30, 2012 at

I also visited Budapest right after Prague and Budapest was by far my favorite! I spent just 3 days in Prague and was ready to go – it’s not that I didn’t like it, I just felt like I’d seen everything. On the other hand, I spent 6 days in Budapest and could easily go back for more!
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

I know what you mean, Katie – we had a much longer list of things we were excited to explore in Budapest. Prague had a few key things that stood out, but I was surprised by how quickly we toured the city.

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diane ancell February 24, 2012 at

Have visited Prague 4 times and only really felt like we had seen it all on the last visit. Have covered the whole city by foot, never used a tram and never felt we needed to. Absolutely love Prague but would love to visit Budapest to see if it compares. Have just arranged a trip for my brother and his wife to budapest, so will be good to get some more feedback!
Budapest will have to be very special to beat Prague!

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Christy February 26, 2012 at

It’s interesting that it took four visits for you to really feel like you saw all of Prague, Diane! I guess that means we still have three more to go. ;)

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Jenny January 30, 2012 at

I visited both cities last year and, for me, Prague was the clear winner. It’s just so romantic! I wanted to hold hands and kiss someone in front of everything (which I’m sure didn’t impress the strangers I was making oogly eyes at in hopes he would grant me a moment of Czech romance…) Add to that the beauty of the train ride from Berlin to Prague, and the amazing hot chocolate I had there on a cold, rainy day, and I just loved it!

This said, the thermal baths in Budapest were one of the highlights of my trip, and the bar culture there was really unique and awesome.

Still. Prague will always have my heart…

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Christy January 31, 2012 at

Our train ride from Berlin to Prague was AMAZING – over and over again I wished I could get off and explore! We also took the train from Prague to Budapest, but the scenery wasn’t nearly as nice. So you’re right, +1 to Prague for that. ;)

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InsideJourneystwitter: InsideJourneys January 30, 2012 at

They both look beautiful. Thanks for your review. I had no idea that Budapest’s metro is so old. That’s quite impressive.
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

I was really surprised to discover that Budapest’s metro is that old; I mean, it looked pretty old, but not ancient! It’s in surprisingly good condition, even if it looks terribly retro. :P

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Annie - FootTracker January 30, 2012 at

Okay, the scores are really really close O_O The question is which one should I go first now? (never been to that part of the world yet ~ )

The Fishermen’s Baston towers look like they have the pointy witches hat on ^^
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

Haha, they really do look like witches hats. I have no idea how you’d decide which city to visit first, so you’ll just have to make sure you visit both. ;)

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Andrea January 31, 2012 at

I love both Prague and Budapest with Budapest slightly coming out on top for being cheaper and a little less overrun by tourists. It’s a tough call though!
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Christy January 31, 2012 at

Oh yeah, the cheapness and less crowdedness (that’s totally a word, right?) of Budapest definitely works in its favor.

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John Rowe January 31, 2012 at

Very interesting! I visited Prague for the first time about 4 weeks ago. Never been to Budapest but now I have read your comparison it is on my list. My first impression of Prague was “too many tourists”. I went to the Charles Bridge and thought it was a nightmare. I’m a tourist but I hate tourists if you know what I mean. I stay undercover and quiet and meander around backstreets rather than the “prime spots”. Anyway, first impressions were not good. But over the course of the day and walking the streets I warmed to it and saw how wonderful it was. The buildings are spectacular. I went up to the castle late at night in freezing cold and it was amazing. In the end, I loved it and will go back. But now I want to see Budapest! Thanks for info. PS Budapest has a mummified hand which seemed to clinch the win. But does it have peeing men? Maybe you need a re-count.

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Christy January 31, 2012 at

Ah, how did I forget about the peeing men?? Prague is going to call for a recount. :P We were pretty overwhelmed by the tourists in Prague as well; for some reason it’s really large tour groups that irk me, and we happened to run into a bunch around the city. It took us a few days to warm up to the city, but we did come around. Prague is absolutely gorgeous, you just have to see around all the people. :)

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Victor January 31, 2012 at

Why not? This is Eastern Europe, neighbours.
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Christy February 3, 2012 at

That’s true, and probably part of the reason why we noticed so many similarities. :)

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Kieu ~ GQ trippin February 2, 2012 at

Haven’t been to either but would love to some day. Soon I hope. They both seem charming and beautiful.
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Christy February 3, 2012 at

Both Prague and Budapest really are charming and beautiful – you can’t go wrong with either of them!

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Travelling Manc February 4, 2012 at

I live in Prague, it is beautiful, but I do find some things unnecessarily expensive. The reason the ticket inspectors are the way they are is because they work off commission (sigh) so they’re like vultures. My ticket once ran out and I got caught. After arguing with him for half an hour he went to call the police at which point I gave in and paid up the fine but not without making my views clear on the matter! And when I last came back from Berlin to Prague, we passed over the Czech border and the new ticket inspector got on then informed me I had printed the wrong ticket online so it wasn’t valid (this was despite it having all the details of the journey and the amount i had paid on it) so I was made to pay it again. The best advice I can give in the Czech Republic is always have a valid transport ticket because they are, and will be ruthless! They also need to brush up on their customer service skills (rolls eyes).
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Christy February 5, 2012 at

What?!? They’re paid on commission? That’s totally absurd, and seriously explains the problem. And the issue with having the wrong printed ticket is so stupid — clearly you paid and made a good-faith effort to have the accurate information. I would be so furious.

Prague is lovely in so many ways, but that dang transportation issue… ugh.

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Travelling Manc February 5, 2012 at

I know. You used to be able to sweet talk your way around it but since they changed it to commission based, you have no chance of getting away with it. With regards to incorrect train ticket, I left a fine mess in the train carriage (well, I had paid double for my train ticket, I figured they should earn that extra revenue!), complained to 3 different people in the train station, all of which tried to fob me off or pretend not to understand me till I got so angry I shouted for a manager, she came and luckily she was nice and gave me a refund straight away once I explained the situation and how rude her staff were!
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Cherina | Quiet Wanderings February 5, 2012 at

What a great comparison! Like many of the the other comments I also preferred Prague, hands down. I fell completely in love with it. In Budapest’s defense though, I went there straight after 3 months backpacking in South America and it felt really strange being back in a European city again. So it’s probably not a fair comparison. You’ve made me want to go back and try again :)
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Christy February 7, 2012 at

When and how you visit a city can make a huge difference! To be honest we were a little exhausted in both Prague and Budapest, and I think it had an impact on how we approached our time there. We really enjoyed both cities, though, so I think we’ll have to try again. :)

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Daynatwitter: wanderlustng February 11, 2012 at

This is great!! I have yet to go to Prague, but I didn’t like my time in Budapest… probably because it was a stopover between two overnight train journeys that sucked the soul out of me. I need to go back and give it a fair shot! I laughed so hard reading this, thanks guys.
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Christy February 14, 2012 at

I’m so glad you liked the post!

Your state of mind visiting a city can have such a huge impact on how you like it — we’re totally indifferent (or downright negative) about some places just because we were exhausted when we got there. Oops!

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Shanna Schultz February 12, 2012 at

Great post! Your recent posts on Budapest are making me want to go there more and more (an itch I might have to scratch someday soon!)

I beg to differ with you on one point, though. Prague DOES have its own mummified hand (actually, a whole forearm). It is located in the Church of St. James.

The legend about it that we were told says that a thief came into the church to steal a necklace off of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the altar. When the thief tried, the statue came to life and grabbed his arm, and then returned to stone. The thief was stuck, and when the priest came the next morning, they could not free his arm, so they had to cut it off. As soon as the arm had been cut off, the statue dropped the limb. It still hangs in the church as a warning to other would be thieves.

Here is the URL for my macabre photo of above mentioned forearm: https://picasaweb.google.com/108768000971096204179/PragueOctober2010?authkey=Gv1sRgCNbxx53S4fu-1AE#5531459020437798770

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Christy February 14, 2012 at

What?!? I’m so glad you commented, Shanna! How in the world did I miss the mummified arm (hanging from a ceiling, no less) in Prague? Pretty sure we need to have a recount AND we need to head back to Prague to see it in person. :D

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Shanna Schultz February 14, 2012 at

The only reason we happened upon it was because it happened to be a stop on the Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour that we took there. Any excuse to go to Prague is always a good one!
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D.J. - The World of Deej March 6, 2012 at

We have been talking about Prague for a while now…Your empirical data is not convincing enough to sway me to Budapest instead:) Great post…
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Christy March 9, 2012 at

You mean my empirical data isn’t enough to sway you?!? But it’s… science! :P Prague is fabulous is its own right, so I’m sure you’ll have a lovely time whenever you visit.

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Johanna April 12, 2012 at

Budapest deserves to win. The city is beautiful and cozy and Hungarians are the kindest, friendliest people on this planet. Shopping and food are fabulous! Plus, the M1 metro line is so adorable <3

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Christy April 12, 2012 at

I definitely agree with you, Johanna! Mmmm, just thinking about the food again is making me salivate…

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Tony Staszewski July 9, 2012 at

We just did a whirlwind 1 week vacation starting in Prague, moving through Vienna, and ending in Budapest. One thing that was not part of the scoring was the language barrier. Even though Czech is a little tricky, I was still able to pick up enough words to get by and even got pretty good at the pronunciation. Magyar was just too difficult to master anything but the simplest words – yes, no, thank you, do you speak English). It made buying or ordering anything difficult. And there seemed to be fewer people in Budapest that spoke English than in Prague – making it even more difficult. Maybe it was just me, but the people of Prague seemed happier and friendlier.

Also, although the architecture in Budapest is stunning, most of it dates from only the late 1800′s since that is when the massive building spree took place to commemorate the Magyar’s 1000 year anniversary. Unfortunately for Budapest, it has been on the receiving end of some serious destruction throughout history, especially Castle Hill). Amazing that most of the late 1800′s buildings are still intact after WWII. Prague has a certain quaintness born from age that Budapest doesn’t.

Now the public transportation systems. Prague’s was easier to figure out – trains, tickets. The stations in Budapest weren’t always marked well, so watching for the station name from inside the train was a bit tricky. However, riding on the communist era trains in Budapest was a treat. We never encountered any problems with the metro police in either city. In Budapest there were ticket checkers at each metro entrance, but we always had our tickets in hand to show them. A quick glance on their part, and we were through. The sudden appearance of riot police at the metro stations and the closure of Metro Line 1 was a bit of a surprise on our last day. Was it something I tried to say in Magyar?

Weather. We vacationed in early July. Prague was bearable, but Budapest was just blistering wearing us out quickly. But you can’t fault Budapest for being closer to the equator.

On the food front I would say both were comparable in the dessert category, maybe Budapest with a slight lead. For main meals again Budapest pulls in front – I just found the food tastier and more interesting. However, the McDonalds in Budapest did not have the coffee counter we have come to expect. This may be cultural since coffee drinking is a big deal in Budapest, and should not be done at a fast food restaurant.

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Christy July 12, 2012 at

Wow, AWESOME comment Tony! You really break it down! Budapest and Prague are both great cities, in their own unique ways. And interesting point about the weather; we were there in October, so they were both unbearably cold in equal measure. :)

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Green Boy July 14, 2012 at

Tony – from when you write, it sounds like you were in Budapest on the day of the LGBT parade. Budapest has had violent problems with counter-protests in the past, so for the most recent years, they literally shut the city down to allow the LGBT parade to go through. Thousands of riot police, every main street blocks and unpassable, metro station closed. It’s a pity, because the irony is tht the paraders are all alone and no one can see them as they march through the main streets. And it’s crazy that for 4 hours or so, you literally can’t drive, walk or travel anywhere in the city. You get stuck in whatever neighborhood you’re in, and that’s that.

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Tony Staszewski July 15, 2012 at

Finally found out why the knights in black armor were present in the metro stations and Line 1 was shut down – Gay pride parade that day. Apparently there was some violence at the celebration a few years previous, and they did not want a repeat.

Quick comment on the currency: I think I prefered the Czech currency at 20:1, the Hungarian currency at 200:1 was easy to misplace a zero and potentially hand over too much or too little money. However, the Hungarians were quite careful and thorough to count back your change in front of you.

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emma@gottakeepmovin February 16, 2013 at

I for one am glad to see Budapest come out on top! I’ve been to both cities and Budapest just stole my heart right away, whereas Prague was still beautiful, but full of tourists ruining it. Thanks for sharing, an enjoyable post!
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