One of life’s hardest decisions can be deciding between two destinations when planning a holiday. Some people write a pros and cons list, some flip a coin, some ask for word-of-mouth recommendations. If you are travelling to Europe and deciding between Paris and Budapest, we hope that the below helps you to pick between these two exceptional cities.
The history associated with Paris dates back as far as 259 BC, with its current name coming about in the fourth century. The city has seen many French Kings, Queens and leaders pass through, as well as several rebuilds after World War I and II.
Budapest also has a longstanding history. Did you know that traces of settlements have been found dating back to the Old Stone Age? It has survived many invasions – from the Romans, Habsburgs, Nazis and Turkish just to name a few – and the two sides of Buda and Pest were united in 1873 to become the capital of Hungary that we know today.
When you think of Paris, you instantly think of romance. Touted as one of the most romantic cities in the world, it’s often referred to as the City of Love. We think it’s a combination of its charming neighbourhoods, beautiful museums and sparkling lights at night.
Budapest certainly lives up to its name of the Pearl of the Danube. With a rich history set alongside the Danube River, Budapest is cosmopolitan with its mix of Old and New World buildings and culture. Hungarians are also friendlier folk, open to sharing stories and speaking English where needed.
We think Paris wins the food and drink scene over Budapest. Paris invented the Michelin Star rating system, so it comes as no surprise that the city is a diverse playground for foodies filled with incomparable local specialties as well as other cuisines. It has a strong café culture, is renowned for its bakeries (hello fresh croissants and baguettes!), and a variety of restaurants to suit all budgets.
Food in Budapest is still delicious though! It tends to be spicier and errs more on the comfort food side. Picture hearty goulash stews served with potatoes and/or cabbage, chicken paprikash, and lángos (deep fried bread served with various toppings). Budapest is also world-famous for its paprika spice. Initially introduced by the Turks, Hungary provides the perfect climate to grow the pepper plant.
It’s difficult to compare whether Paris or Budapest have the better architecture, as both cities have such a diverse range of styles (to be fair, so does all of Europe)! So instead, we’ll point out the main similarities and differences.
Both cities feature Art Nouveau architecture. They then split off with Paris as the birthplace of Gothic style, plus French Renaissance, Belle Époque and the newer Art Deco styles. Baroque, Bauhaus and Socialist Classicism styles are found dotted around Budapest.
We would say choose Paris if you are a museum or gallery buff and avid shopper; and choose Budapest if you want to discover multiple cultures in one big city and are a bit of a night owl.
Paris boasts over 130 museums as well as several popular art galleries – like the Louvre (the biggest museum in the world), Musée d’Orsay and the Rodin Sculpture Garden. Many high fashion designers are based in Paris (Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton) and you’ll find the best Haute Couture shopping in the triangle d’or (the triangle area encompassing Avenue Montaigne, des Champs Elysées and George V). Even if you can’t afford anything here, it still makes for great window shopping! For something a little more budget-friendly, there is the Le Marais neighbourhood.
Each country that has invaded Budapest has left traces of themselves. For example, the Turkish bath culture. Budapest has ample access to natural mineral water springs so communal baths are a favourite for locals and travellers. Popular baths include the Széchenyi, Gellert or Rudas Baths. There is also a lot of Jewish history interwoven with Hungary. Hungary had the second-largest Jewish population in Europe before WWII and the city’s Jewish Quarter is home to the largest synagogue in Europe (and biggest in the world). You may have heard of Budapest’s ruin bars, opened in derelict buildings and factories. These all have a great atmosphere and are open into the early hours of the morning.
For easy day trips, we think Paris takes the cake. Take your pick from châteaux like Versailles or Chantilly; seeing the inspirational gardens of Giverny and home of Claude Monet; or if you have the time, head south to the ‘floating’ island of Mont St Michel (where you may want to spend a night as it’s 3 hours away from Paris).
Both cities have fantastic metro systems that are the main form of public transport. Once you have navigated your way around it a couple of times, it becomes quite easy to get around and each city is very walkable, too. Budapest has the second oldest subway system in the world; its M1 Line even has UNESCO World Heritage status!
For a more budget-friendly holiday, you should pick Budapest. With its own currency (the forint), it is a much cheaper city than Paris for accommodation, meals and activities.
There are always going to be pros and cons to a destination, so we hope that this has helped you to pick between Paris and Budapest, or at least helped you learn something new! Discover one, or both, of these cities on an Avalon Waterways river cruise, or a Globus or Cosmos tour.