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Last updated on April 26, 2023 by Wandering our World

When you’re getting ready to tick cities off your European bucket list, it’s important not to forget about those that lie to the center-east of the continent, and Vienna and Budapest are two that come to mind!

Both of these cities are dream holiday destinations; incredible metropolitan areas built on river banks, bursting with fascinating history, beautiful architecture, and friendly locals. Yet despite these similarities, however, they are actually quite different.

Vienna, the capital city of Austria, is known for its lavish palaces, classical music, and decadent food. It’s an expensive place to take your vacation, but it’s worth every penny.

Budapest, on the other hand, has a reputation for some of Europe’s best thermal baths and a great party scene, and it’s much cheaper to spend time in.

Both Vienna and Budapest are worth visiting on your travels, but if you have to choose between the two of them, we’ve put together our honest comparison, to help you make that tough decision a little easier!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Better For Nightlife?
  3. Which Is Cheaper?
  4. Which Is Better For Food?
  5. Which Is Better For Shopping?
  6. Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
  7. Which Is Better For History?
  8. Which Is Better For Families?
  9. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  10. Which Is Better For Gardens & Nature?
  11. Which Is Easier To Get Around?
An infographic pitting Budapest vs Vienna and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview: Vienna v Budapest

Vienna: A Quick Overview

Vienna is the capital of Austria, and it’s also the country’s biggest city. 2.9 million people call Vienna home, and over 17 million tourists visit the city, taking in the scenes and sights. 

Vienna is in the north-east of Austria, and it’s located near the border with Slovakia. It’s so close to the border, in fact, that from Vienna, you can get to Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia), in less than an hour!

Set on the banks of the Danube River, there’s many walking paths and bridges connecting these two parts of the city making it a lovely place to walk.

You can wander along the river from the outer suburbs into the city center where you’ll find the beautiful old town.

While many buildings were damaged by World War 2 bombing, others have been well preserved, and it’s still easy to wander streets surrounded by buildings constructed in the 17th century. The beautiful and dainty baroque style that Vienna is known for is present here.

Some of Vienna’s more spectacular buildings were constructed by the Habsburg Empire, ruling over Austria prior to the twentieth century. The palaces, gardens, and museums constructed during this time are incredible, and easy to visit.

Vienna is also known internationally for classical music and opera. Both Beethoven and Mozart have both called this city home, and their influence is clear. If you’re interested in the arts, including music and theater, Vienna is the place for you.

Church Heiliger Franz of Assisi at Mexikoplatz, Vienna, Austria, with danube in foreground
iStock.com/sborisov

Budapest: A Quick Overview

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and it’s located near the center of the country. It was previously 3 different cities, Pest, Buda, and Obuda, but as they all grew larger they merged in 1873 to become one city.

Around 1.7 million people live in Budapest, and it’s the biggest city in Hungary. It’s an incredibly popular tourist destination, and it’s visited by millions of tourists every year, with most of them coming in the high season between April and October.

Just like Vienna, Budapest is also built on the banks of the Danube River. The famous Hungarian parliament buildings are located there, as well as mineral thermal baths, and beautiful riverside parks. 

As well as the interesting architecture, Budapest is also known for the Sziget Music Festival which is held here annually, and for its rich culture, art, and history.

Whether you’re interested in wandering alongside the river, soaking in one of the famous thermal mineral baths, or sitting down to enjoy a traditional Hungarian meal, you’ll never be bored in Budapest.

View of Budapest landmarks at beautiful sunset
iStock.com/Givaga

Which Is Better For Nightlife?

As with many big cities, Vienna has cool bars, pubs, and clubs. It’s a great place to spend a night out, no matter what you’re looking for.

In particular, you’ll find an impressive techno and electronic music scene in Vienna, as well as different bars and clubs beside the Donaukanal (Danube Canal).

If you aren’t into electronic music, you’ll still find what you’re looking for in Vienna. Here you’ll be able to find jazz music, Irish pubs, and even karaoke bars. 

Some establishments have been open for more than a hundred years, like Loos American Bar. This Viennese style bar opened a century ago, and it’s a great place to grab a cocktail.

However for some crazy partying, or a stylish rooftop bar, you can’t beat Budapest.

One of the things this city is known for, are the “ruin bars”. These are cool clubs and pubs created inside old abandoned buildings.

They’re known for being fun and wild, and they can be a great place to dance the night away. We recommend a visit to Szimpla Kert to get the party started.

All in all, we have to say that Budapest has the best nightlife. Partying here is different to any other city in the world, and it’s so much fun.

Budapest is also cheaper, so you can try some new cocktails here, or enjoy a beer without breaking the bank.

DJ spinning decks at a bar
iStock.com/DisobeyArt

Which Is Cheaper?

We have to be honest, Vienna is an expensive city to visit. Unfortunately, you’ll find that food, accommodation, drinks, and activities are all more expensive here than other places in Europe.

While you’ll be able to plan your trip according to your budget, and there are ways to keep prices down by staying in hostels and eating at marketplaces, overall it’s still not going to be a cheap holiday.

Budapest, on the other hand, is a cheap city to visit. It’s definitely cheaper than Vienna, and there are a lot of ways to enjoy a holiday in Budapest while sticking to a strict budget.

Coffee, beer, food, and accommodation are all cheap here, and you’ll even be able to do some good bargain shopping if you look carefully. Budapest is a great place to come if you want an exciting, interesting holiday, without having to break the bank. 

Hands down, Budapest is the cheaper city to visit. It’s cheaper in almost every aspect, from food to accommodation, to a night out partying.

So if you’re traveling on a budget, Budapest is the place for you!

Budapest, Hungary - Aerial view of the snowy Fisherman's Bastion with Szechenyi Chain Bridge and St. Stephen's Basilica at background on a snowy winter morning
iStock.com/ZoltanGabor

Which Is Better For Food?

Vienna is famous for food, and it has a lot to offer for both savory meals and sweet treats.

One of the most well known is the Wiener Schnitzel. This is literally named after Vienna, as “Wien” is what Vienna is called in German. Here, you’ll also find other Austrian classics, including knodel, Käsespätzle, or wurst (sausages).

And, if you’re after something sweet, you’ll find that Vienna has just as much to offer as it’s famous for sweet treats!

The Sachertorte cake was created at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, and this chocolate and cream delicacy is a must-try! 

You’ll easily find great cafes in Vienna to sip on a Viennese coffee (espresso topped with whipped cream and cocoa powder), or a decadent hot chocolate.

Hungarian food isn’t as fine and dainty as Austrian, and it has a reputation for being heartier, but just as delicious!

In Budapest, you’ll regularly find soups, stews, and meat and vegetable dishes on the menu. One of the city’s most popular dishes is called Chicken Paprikash, and it’s a comforting, delicious meal of chicken cooked in a spicy sour cream sauce.

When it comes to sweets, there’s also a great cafe culture in Budapest. One of the best cafes to visit is called the New York Cafe, and it has been called the “most beautiful cafe in the world” by many.

You’ll also need to taste Palacsinta, or Hungarian Pancakes. These thin, crepe-like pancakes are made with flour, milk, and eggs and they are traditionally served stuffed with ricotta and vanilla.

It’s close, but we say that Vienna is slightly better when it comes to food. It’s a bigger city, with a lot of outside influences.

That means that you can feast on Austrian delicacies, or try something more international – it’s your choice!

A woman eats a traditional Hungarian goulash or tomato soup from a saucepan in an outdoor restaurant
iStock.com/frantic00

Which Is Better For Shopping?

If you’re looking for a great shopping experience, you’ll be able to find it in Vienna.

You can start by taking a stroll down Mariahilfestrasse, which is a 1.8km street right in the center of the old town.

Part of this street is car free, so you can easily wander up and down, visiting hundreds of shops including local chocolatiers, fashion designers, jewelers, and bookshops.

For bigger, grander shopping you can also visit the Ringstrasse Galerien. This is also in the middle of the Old Town, and you’ll find more than 50 shops, including well known brands.

If luxury shopping is what you’re after, then spend an afternoon in the Goldenes Quartier. This mall houses more luxury brands, and some incredible items.

Budapest also has good shopping, although it’s more of a haven for bargain hunters than millionaires.

One of the highlights of shopping in Budapest is paying a visit to the  wonderful markets. The Great Market Hall was constructed in the late 1800s and is often considered one of the finest indoor markets in Europe, so it’s worth a visit. Here you’ll find everything from local produce to culinary delights, as well as Hungarian designed clothing and accessories.

Budapest does also have contemporary shopping malls, and there are several big ones you can visit. Starting your shopping day at either the Westend Shopping Centre or the Arena Mall, where you’ll find hundreds of stores to keep you busy.

All in all, Vienna is better for shopping, due to its size and sheer range of stores. You can visit markets there, but you’ll also find large complexes and luxury shops. You’ll find somewhere perfect for any budget.

Aerial cityscape image of Vienna capital city of Austria during sunset.
iStock.com/RudyBalasko

Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?

If you’re traveling with your partner, Vienna is a great place to stop for several nights. This romantic city is full of cobbled streets and delicate baroque architecture.

You can wander the banks of the Danube River, or even take a cruise down it, seeing Vienna from the water.

And if you’re really looking for romance, or maybe even somewhere to “pop the question”, this city is full of beautiful backdrops for you to steal a kiss in front of.

It’s not just the architecture and the location that makes Vienna romantic. There are also a number of romantic attractions for you and your loved one to visit.

We suggest that you begin with a morning in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Museum. This museum houses the Gustav Klimt painting called “the Kiss”, which  has been in Austria for over 100 years. It’s a beautiful painting, and its erotic nature has caused much controversy over this time.

Budapest is also a very romantic city, and it is a wonderful place to visit with your partner. You can take a cruise along the river, drink a glass of wine while looking over the city, or go to Gellert Hill to watch the sunset.

The romance doesn’t stop there, however, because there’s a lot more you can do.

Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, and these are the perfect places to relax. Gellert Bath has been called the most beautiful one, so why not spend an afternoon there and treat yourself with a massage.

Or, for another romantic outing take a boat across to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River. In the middle of the island there is a Water Tower, where you can climb to the top and enjoy the “kissing hall”.

So, if you’re looking for a new, different couples holiday, we think that Budapest is the best place to visit. Whether you’re traveling on a budget, or looking for something more luxurious and relaxing, Budapest is a wonderful destination!

Young couple walking holding hands around Vienna
iStock.com/boggy22

Which Is Better For History?

There is a lot of history and a lot of culture in Vienna, dating back centuries. Here you’ll find buildings and influences dating back to the Hapsburg Empire, the Napoleonic Wars, and the World Wars.

For something more recent, in Vienna you’ll find the homes of people like Sigmund Freud, and Beethoven.

As well as these homes and palaces, in Vienna you can also visit many different museums. These are dedicated to different aspects of the city’s history, and are all well curated.

Vienna really is a great place to wander if you’re looking for history, and you can sign up for a free walking tour to find out more about this city.

When it comes to Budapest, there’s no shortage of history and culture either. The iconic Hungarian Parliament Building is located in Budapest, and it is an incredible sight.

This building is newer than many around it, as it was opened in 1902, and it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city. The Parliament Buildings have more than 600 rooms, and overlooks the Danube River.

Hungary’s cultural diversity is also evident in this city, and for example the largest synagogue in Europe, the Dohany Street Synagogue can be found here.

Budapest also has a big range of museums, exhibition halls, and galleries. There you can learn about Bulgarian culture and history, as well as famous Hungarians.

The Hungarians are particularly proud of their libraries and authors, and if you’re an aspiring writer, visit the Anonymous Statue, where legend has it that if you touch the statue you’ll be endowed with great writing skills. 

Budapest and Vienna are both great to visit if you love history. These grand cities have a lot to offer, so we really can’t choose!

Budapest, Hungary - Beautiful aerial skyline view of Budapest at sunrise with Szechenyi Chain Bridge over River Danube, Matthias Church and Parliament of Hungary
iStock.com/ZoltanGabor

Which Is Better For Families?

If you’re traveling with the whole family, Vienna is a wonderful city to visit. It’s a very safe place, it’s flat and easy to get around, and you’ll have no trouble seeing many different attractions in a day.

Also, it’s not all classical music and historical architecture, and there’s a lot more adrenaline and excitement than you’d think.

One great place to visit, especially if you have children, is the city’s large amusement park, Prater Park. 

Other activities for the whole Spanish Riding School, the House of Music, or the Vienna Zoo. These attractions have excellent, child-focussed exhibitions which will keep your children interested, and learning!

Budapest is also a great choice as the location for your family vacation. Just like Vienna, this city is easy to get around with children, and it’s safe too.

One benefit to visiting Budapest is that it’s a cheaper city than Vienna, so a family vacation here will be much more affordable.

There are many great exhibitions here that children will love visiting too. This includes attractions such as the Miniversum, which is a mini-scale model of Budapest, or Cyberjump, the largest Trampoline Park in Central and Eastern Europe.

So which do we think is best? The answer is Budapest! There are many interesting and exciting attractions here that will provide fun for the whole family. It’s also cheaper, which can be a big bonus!

Rear view shot of long haired woman wearing straw hat while standing with arms outstretched in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest.
iStock.com/gzorgz

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Budapest

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!

Vienna

Budget: Hotel Beethoven is a lovely budget hotel set in the city center, just a few steps away from the Naschmarkt Open-Air Market and the Theater an der Wien. Considering its location, the services (they even hold a classical concert every weekend for guests), and the classy interior, the rate may surprise. See photos and rates!

Luxury: It doesn’t get more grand than a stay at the famous 5-star Hotel Imperial. Built during the Austro-Hungarian empire, this hotel is one of the most photographed buildings in Vienna, but it’s those who get to step inside that get to see the real opulence on display. This place is a once-in-a-lifetime stay. See photos and rates!

Aerial view of city center Vienna from St. Stephen's Cathedral
iStock.com/Unclepodger

Which Is Better For Gardens & Nature?

When it comes to striking scenery and mountains, Vienna doesn’t have too much to offer. While Austria does have the Alps, these are in a different part of the city, and they aren’t so close to Vienna.

Luckily, the fact that there are some great parks and nature reserves here make up for that. If you’re looking for somewhere to stretch your legs, then you can visit the Volksgarten and the Vienna Zoo.

Or, another place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city is the Schonbrunner Gardens. In summer these gardens are home to beautifully maintained trees and flowers, and then when the plants are covered in frost in winter, you can instead enjoy the Christmas Markets held here.

Budapest is also a metropolitan city, and while there are large hills around here, it’s not known for extreme wilderness or nature either.

The hills do offer some wonderful views of the city, and there are well cared for public gardens that you can visit too, including the Gardens of Philosophy on Gellert Hill.

There are many other fantastic gardens in Budapest, and it’s easy to find some peace and quiet here. One of the most famous is Karolyi Garden, where you can enjoy rare flowers and trees, some of which were first planted in the 19th century. The Japanese Gardens, the City Park, and the Botanical Gardens are other highlights.

In general then, we think Budapest is the best city to visit if you’re looking to spend time in gardens.

While both cities have beautiful places to explore, Budapest has many different ones, and you’ll be able to see interesting plants, trees, and green spaces.

Vienna in summer. Romantic Sunset at the Alten Donau with view to the Skyline. Scenic panorama of the capital city of Austria.
iStock.com/mdworschak

Which Is Easier To Get Around?

Vienna is a large flat city, and it’s easy to walk around. While some of the attractions are spread out, if you’ve got time, you’ll enjoy taking in the city sights as you go between them.

A lot of the streets in the city center have been pedestrianized, so they’re easy and safe to walk around and you don’t have to share with cars.

Vienna also offers an incredible public transport system, including buses, trams, trains, and subway networks which will all help get you where you need to go.

We recommend that you download the WienMobile App to book your tickets and plan your trips, or consider buying the Vienna City Card.

With this card you can choose to buy 1, 2, or 3 days, and get free use of all public transport during that period. The card also provides discounts at tourist attractions throughout the city.

Budapest is also easy to walk or cycle around, and the center of the city is flat. Once you start heading out into the suburbs, however, you’ll find the Budapest Hills make it harder to walk.

Budapest is also a very spread out city, so you may need to take advantage of this. public transport. Luckily, Budapest boasts an impressive network of public transport, including metro lines, trams, buses, trolley buses, ferries, river boats and passenger trains!

Depending on  how long you are in Budapest for, there are many different options available for your tickets. You can buy a single trip ticket, a monthly ticket, or a time-based ticket, and all of these details are nicely set out on the BKK website.

Overall, Vienna is easier to get around, simply because it’s flatter, which means that it’s easy to walk from between attractions here. Of course, if you don’t want to walk, the public transport system is great too.

Author

  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.