Last updated on April 26, 2023 by Wandering our World
Just to the north of the Balkan Peninsula, in Central Europe, are the neighboring countries of Romania and Hungary. And their respective capital cities just happen to be two of the most picturesque on the planet.
Bucharest and Budapest are separated by less than 1,000 kilometers, and only a few consonants in their spellings. But as they’re actually quite different, which one of these two majestic capital cities will be right for you?
Bucharest sits towards the south of Romania, on the banks of the Dâmbovița river, sixty kilometers north of the Bulgarian border, and 200 kilometers inland from the Black Sea.
This city is famed for its eclectic and impressive architecture, which helped it earn the nickname of Little Paris.
Visit the Palace of Parliament, the world’s second-largest administrative building, the Romanian Athenaeum, and the Snagov Monastery as you explore the impressive city, or venture farther afield to Transylvania to see Dracula’s Castle
Budapest’s history revolves around a tale of three cities and the river that divides them. The Danube, Europe’s second-longest river, runs from north to south through the city, with the eastern side of the city being the old town of Pest and the western side being the old towns of Obuda and Buda.
The city is one of Europe’s best-loved short break destinations and is known for its grand palace, the Matthias Church, and the domed Parliament building.
If you only have time to take in the delights of one of these European capitals, which one will you choose?
We’ll try to make that choice a little easier as we look at the similarities and differences between Bucharest and Budapest in our honest guide…
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Best For Culture?
- Which Is Best For Day Trips?
- Which Is Best For Families?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife & Dining Out?
- Which Has Better Food?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- What Time Of Year Is Best?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
Which Is Easier To Get To?
With only a couple of letters difference between the spelling of these two cities, for some, the biggest difficulty in reaching these destinations lies with the booking of the flight; make sure you don’t mix the two cities up!
If you do, you won’t be the first – Michael Jackson once famously greeted his crowd in Bucharest with ‘Hello, Budapest!’ – and neither will you be the last to make that particular faux pas.
Similar spellings aside, there should be no major obstacle to reaching either of the cities. As the capitals of their respective countries, they are both well served by busy international airports.
Budapest is served by Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) and is well-connected to all the major European cities. It also receives direct flights from a handful of major Asian cities, such as Seoul and Shanghai.
Bucharest is similarly well served by its airport, and although it lacks the direct links with Asia, Bucharest Henri Coandǎ International Airport (OTP) has connections to all major European destinations.
For those traveling from farther afield, such as the US, you may need to transit via another European city, with the western European cities of London, Paris, and Madrid all having excellent connections onwards to either Romania or Hungary.
Which Is Best For Culture?
If you looking to soak up some culture on your European city break, these two cities, with long and varied histories, have plenty to offer.
From ancient castles to modern museums, each city offers plenty of windows into their rich cultural heritages.
That’s why below we will explore the top cultural sites in each city so you can see which may pique your interest the most!
Budapest: The Culture
Buda Castle is a massive palace complex that has stood for over 700 years and is now home to several museums, including the National Gallery of Hungary, the Budapest History Museum, and the Hungarian National Museum.
Visitors can explore the castle’s courtyards, ramparts, and towers for stunning views across the city.
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most beautiful Parliament buildings in the world, the Hungarian Parliament Building is an iconic landmark of Budapest.
You can take a guided tour to see the building’s impressive interior, including the stunning central hall, the Hungarian Crown Jewels, and the legislative chamber.
While the Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and a significant landmark of Jewish culture.
Visitors can take a guided tour to learn about the history of Hungarian Jews, see the synagogue’s ornate interior, and visit the Holocaust Memorial Room.
Budapest also has a thriving art scene, with many museums and galleries showcasing both traditional and contemporary art.
The Museum of Fine Arts features works by many famous artists, including Rembrandt, Rubens, and Goya, while the Hungarian National Museum, in the castle, showcases the country’s rich history and culture.
Bucharest: The Culture
The Palace of the Parliament is a massive government building which is the second-largest administrative buildings in the world (after the Pentagon), and a striking example of communist-era architecture.
Nowadays, you can take guided tours to explore the building’s vast halls, including the impressive People’s Hall, and learn about its long history.
While the Romanian Athenaeum is an ornate concert hall that hosts classical music performances, the Romanian Athenaeum is a beautiful building with a rich history.
Visitors can attend a concert or take a guided tour to learn about the building’s architecture and history.
The Village Museum is an open-air museum that showcases traditional Romanian houses and crafts, and is a great place to learn about Romania’s rural culture, especially if you are traveling with children.
Visitors can explore the museum’s many exhibits, which include over 300 traditional houses, churches, and windmills, as well as workshops for traditional crafts like pottery and weaving.
Bucharest has a mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Neoclassical architecture that reflects its diverse history, and turns the city itself into a living museum too.
You’ll be able to explore the city’s many historic buildings, such as the Stavropoleos Monastery, the Old Court, and the CEC Palace, to get a full sense of the richness of its cultural heritage.
Both Budapest and Bucharest offer unique cultural experiences that are well worth exploring, and it’s difficult to split the cities in this category.
You can rest assured that both have plenty of impressive cultural attractions and activities to enjoy.
Which Is Best For Day Trips?
One of the great benefits of visiting either Budapest or Bucharest is the opportunity to take day trips to nearby attractions.
Both cities are surrounded by stunning countryside, picturesque towns, and historic landmarks that are well worth exploring. Here are some of the best day trips to consider from each city:
Budapest: Day Trips
The Danube Bend is a scenic stretch of the Danube River that’s dotted with charming villages and historic landmarks, such as the medieval castle in Visegrád and the baroque palace in Esztergom.
Or why not spend the day at the lake in Balatonfüred! Located about an hour and a half drive from Budapest, this resort town is situated on the shores of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe.
It’s a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports in the summer, and you can also explore the town’s historic center and enjoy the local cuisine at one of the many restaurants and cafes.
Another popular day trip is to Eger. This charming town is famous for its medieval castle, baroque architecture, and rejuvenating thermal baths.
Eger is also home to some of Hungary’s finest wines, making it a great destination for wine lovers, but it could be a good idea to stay overnight…
Bucharest: Day Trips
Located in the heart of Transylvania, Bran Castle is famous for its connections to the legendary vampire, Dracula.
The castle is surrounded by stunning scenery and is an essential destination for anyone interested in the myths and legends of the region.
If you haven’t already selected your vacation book, we can highly recommend picking up a copy of Bram Stoker’s Gothic horror, Dracula.
Brasov is another great option. This beautiful medieval town is filled with historic landmarks, including the imposing Black Church and the towering Mount Tampa. Brasov is also home to a thriving cultural scene, with numerous museums, galleries, and theaters to explore.
The town is about 30 kilometers away from Bran Castle, and you can turn your day trip into an overnight trip, by staying here, so you can hit the castle early to beat the crowds in the morning.
Another great trip is Peles Castle. Touted as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, Peles Castle is a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture that’s surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.
The castle was once the summer residence of the Romanian royal family and is filled with treasures and artifacts from all over the world.
While both these cities are in superb locations with several day-trip options available, there’s just something darkly alluring about visiting Dracula’s Castle that may just sneak Bucharest ahead in this category…
Which Is Best For Families?
As two large capital cities, you can be sure you will find plenty to do to keep everyone, of all ages, entertained.
With both cities having a good mix of museums, green spaces, and each having a waterpark, it’s another tricky category to call. We’ll have to sit on the fence on this one, but you shouldn’t have an issue keeping the kids entertained in either location.
From exploring interesting and educational museums, to splashing about in water parks, here’s a rundown of the top family activities in each city:
Budapest: For Families
Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden – Budapest Zoo is a popular attraction that is home to over 1,000 species of animals, including elephants, giraffes, and lions.
The botanical garden is also located within the zoo and is a beautiful place to take a relaxing stroll.
Palace of Miracles Science Museum – The Palace of Miracles is an interactive science museum that is perfect for kids of all ages.
The museum features over 250 interactive exhibits that explore everything from physics to biology.
Children’s Railway – The Children’s Railway is a fun and unique way to see the city. The railway is run entirely by children, and the journey takes you through the beautiful Buda Hills
Aquaworld – Aquaworld is a massive water park that is perfect for families. The park features several indoor and outdoor pools, water slides, and even a wave pool.
Vidámpark – Vidámpark is a traditional amusement park that has been entertaining families for over 200 years.
The park features a variety of rides and attractions, including a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and haunted house.
Bucharest: For Families
National Museum of Natural History – This is a great place for families to learn about Romania’s natural history.
The museum features a variety of exhibits, including dinosaur skeletons, taxidermied animals, and even some live reptiles.
Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History – Another great museum in Bucharest is the Grigore Antipa National Museum of Natural History. This museum focuses on the diversity of life on Earth and features a variety of interactive exhibits.
Herastrau Park – Herastrau Park is the largest park in Bucharest and is a great place to spend a day with the family. The park features several playgrounds, a lake where you can rent paddle boats, and even a small zoo.
Bucharest Botanical Garden – The Bucharest Botanical Garden is a beautiful place to take a relaxing stroll with the family. The garden features over 10,000 species of plants, including several greenhouses that house tropical and subtropical plants.
Water Park Otopeni – Water Park Otopeni is located just outside the city, near the Henri Coandă International Airport. The park features several water slides, a lazy river, wave pool, and a children’s play area.
Which Is Better For Nightlife & Dining Out?
Bucharest and Budapest are two bustling European capital cities that offer a lively and diverse nightlife scene, with something for every taste.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet night out at a local bar, a traditional bite to eat, or to party hard into the night, both cities have plenty going on.
Bucharest’s bar scene is centered around the cobbled Old Town, which has a plethora of bars, pubs, and lounges that cater to all tastes and budgets.
Many bars in the Old Town put on live music and entertainment, making it a great place to spend a night out. Bucharest also has several other neighborhoods that offer a range of bars and pubs, such as Herastrau and Floreasca.
Budapest is famous for its ‘ruin bars’, which are unique to the city. These bars are located in abandoned buildings and courtyards throughout the city and are known for their alternative and underground atmosphere.
Each ruin bar has its own unique vibe, decor, and music, making it worth exploring. In addition to the ruin bars, Budapest has a variety of bars and pubs that offer a range of atmospheres, from laid-back to lively, throughout the city
When it comes to nightclubs, both cities have a lot to offer.
Bucharest’s club scene is centered around the bars of Old Town and features a variety of venues that cater to every musical taste.
While in Budapest, the club scene is centered around the ruin bars, which often transform into nightclubs after dark, while there are several big nightclubs within the city too.
Whichever of these destination you visit, you should have no issues finding something to do after dark.
But while both offer wide ranges of venues to enjoy, there’s something about the uniqueness of Budapest’s ruin bars may just sneak it ahead in this section…
Which Has Better Food?
When hunger strikes, both Bucharest and Budapest offer a range of options to refuel.
Bucharest is known for its traditional Romanian cuisine, which is often characterized by hearty, meat-based dishes like sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls), mici (grilled minced meat rolls), and ciorba (a sour soup typically made with meat or vegetables).
There are many local restaurants in Bucharest that offer traditional Romanian cuisine, as well as a whole host of other international and fusion options, and there’s no shortage of fine dining experiences.
In Budapest, traditional goulash is the star of the show at meal times. Goulash is typically made with beef or pork, onions, plenty of paprika, along with vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers.
Goulash has a rich and hearty flavor and is often served with a side of bread, pasta, or dumplings, and is perfect after a long day of exploring.
The city also has a wide and eclectic range of international restaurants, cafes, and bakeries that cater to myriad different tastes and budgets.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: This city is cheap, so even a stay at the gorgeous four-star Stories Boutique Hotel in the heart of the city should fit most budgets. The hotel is incredibly photogenic, especially the ethereal ‘indoor greenhouse’. See photos and rates!
Luxury: If you’re looking for luxury, you can’t beat Matild Palace. This imposing and impressive palatial accommodation has a fantastic location, exceptional service, and the facilities are world-class. The rooftop views, in particular, are special. See photos and rates!
What Time Of Year Is Best?
The ideal time to visit Budapest and Bucharest largely depends on your interests and the type of activity you wish to enjoy.
Both cities experience four distinct seasons during the year, each offering unique experiences and activities.
If you prefer cooler weather and smaller crowds, consider visiting in the shoulder seasons of spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October). During these months, temperatures are ideal for exploring outdoors, and tourist numbers are a little lower, allowing for a more relaxed and immersive experience.
The summer months (June to August) are the peak tourist season for both cities.
However, the temperatures can get quite high, and the crowds can be overwhelming, especially at popular tourist attractions.
But Bucharest does have many parks that are great during summer, such as Herastrau Park and Carol Park, which are fantastic for picnics, strolls, and bike rides. The Romanian capital also has a vibrant music scene, with many festivals and concerts taking place during the summer months.
Budapest also has many open spaces to explore in the summer, including Margaret Island and City Park, and plenty of outdoor cafes and bars where you can enjoy a refreshing drink and people-watch.
The Hungarian capital also hosts outdoor festivals and events during the summer months. The Sziget Festival is a week-long music festival on an island in the middle of the Danube River, featuring international and local music acts.
Another popular festival is the Budapest Wine Festival, where you can sample delicious wines from all over the country.
Winter (December to February) can be cold, but it also brings a unique charm and festive atmosphere to both cities.
You can enjoy winter sports, traditional Christmas markets, and cozy indoor activities like visiting museums, art galleries, and warming up at the thermal baths.
With Budapest and Bucharest practically neighbors, there is very little difference between their weather patterns, and while the weather is not much help in deciding between the two, it can help you plan which time to visit once you have made your choice of destination.
Bucharest vs Budapest: Which Is The Better Choice?
With so many similarities between these two European cities, it’s impossible to pick an out-and-out winner.
Which one is ‘the best’ will depend upon your own preferences and tastes and what you are looking for from your vacation.
If you’re based in Europe and looking for a short city break, both cities will dazzle and delight and make superb destinations for a long weekend.
For those living in Asia, Africa or the Americas and probably looking for a longer vacation, why not split your time between both? With a short hour-and-a-half flight connecting the two cities, you can easily have your cake and eat it!
Traveling with the kids in tow? Maybe the prospect of visiting Dracula’s legendary castle will swing your decision in Bucharest’s favor, but there’s plenty to keep the little ones occupied in Budapest too.
Culture vultures will be equally spoilt in either city, but foodies may just be swayed by the temptation of Budapest’s superb goulashes…
While it may be a tough decision, it can be made a little easier by the fact that there really is no bad wrong choice.
Budapest and Bucharest are two of Europe’s best city-break destinations, and at the end of the day, you’re just choosing which order to visit them in…