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Both Munich and Budapest are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Budapest and Munich, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Beer-mad and shrouded by the mountains, Munich is the boisterous capital of Bavaria. It's in the deep southern reaches of the country, where lederhosen are the threads of choice and white sausage is served at breakfast. Proudly unique, romantic, and steeped in art and culture, you won't find anywhere else like this in Germany.
Straddling the snaking Danube in the very heart of Europe is Budapest, the buzzing capital of Hungary. The largest city in the country, it's split into Buda (in the west) and Pest (in the east). They're joined by grand 19th-century chain bridges to form a continuous metropolis that's home to more than 1.7 million people.
Budapest magnetizes visitors with a mixture of rich history, bold architectural sites, café culture, urban spas and vibrant nightlife. Look one way and you'll see the elaborate Habsburg-era palaces that crown Buda Hill.
Look another and you find steaming bathhouses smelling of sulphur. And that's not even mentioning the heady ruin bars, the colossal Dohány Street Synagogue, and the wide boulevards left over from Communist times.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Fly-in visits for three days are enough to check off the major must-see sights of Budapest. This is a compact capital with good underground and bus links. You can get easily get across town – going from Buda Castle on one side of the city all the way to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths at the other takes less than an hour on public transport.
That said, Budapest has plenty of hidden secrets up its sleeve. You could easily while away a whole week enjoying cheap happy hours in the ruin bars, bathing in the Art Deco spas, and visiting islands up the Danube. If you're coming in summer, you could also extend a stay to include the art galleries and cobbled lanes of Szentendre, the mineral-rich waters of Lake Balaton, and the rustic Tokaj wine country to the east.
Take a couple of days minimum to get a feel for the alternative vibes of Munich. You'll need at least a morning or two to check off the grand churches and plazas of the downtown. Afternoons are often lost to a haze of currywurst and spätzle. The evenings will disappear to clinking tankards and too much Bavarian beer.
If you're planning on joining the Oktoberfest party, then the normal amount of time to spend in the Munich event is two days. Some people will stick around longer but remember that accommodation can cost a bomb during festival dates and you'll need to book well in advance.
The closeness of the Alps and the wide variety of off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods in Munich mean that it's also possible to stay here for much longer than just a weekend or a couple of days. You could do weeks of hiking in the spring and summer months. Alternatively, you could do a full ski holiday in nearby Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany's biggest resort) during the winter.
Munich is one of those cities that has something going for it no matter the time of the year. Lots of people like the height of the summer, for the regular sun and temperatures that often spike above 30 degrees in the middle of the day. That's certainly perfect for wandering the town and enjoying the big lawns and paths of English Garden.
The autumn is best known for Oktoberfest. The shindig and the beer drinking begin in mid-September, lasting until the first couple of days in October. It's usually still warm for the party, but the days get shorter and jumpers will be needed as you get closer to November.
There's often snow in Munich from December onwards. This is the time of year to come if you have your sights set on the ski fields of the German Alps. The slopes of Garmisch-Partenkirchen typically open for business before Christmas, which is also when the enchanting markets start selling gingerbread and sausages on Munich's medieval squares.
Spring is also lovely. May is among the best months of all to travel. The summer crowds haven't arrived yet, the snows have melted, and thermometers can read a pleasant 20 degrees during the day.
Late spring and early autumn are when locals often say Budapest is at its best. Temperatures average around 23-25 degrees in May and September. There's not an overload of rain then either. And it's perfect for avoiding the crowds of midsummer city breakers that come during the European holidays.
There's also something to be said for visiting Budapest in the midst of winter. Mercury plummets between November and March, and it's not uncommon to see the Danube freeze over with huge chunks of ice. What's more, the tenements and side streets of the Jewish Quarter and the historic Inner City areas ooze atmosphere on cold, snowy days. Just be sure to pack the thermals!
Budapest's layers of history combine with a sleepless nightlife scene, making this European capital a great pick for a whole host of travellers. The backpacking crowd can make for the Jewish Quarter's ruin bars and glug uber-cheap Hungarian beers in bohemian courtyards.
More culturally aligned visitors might prefer to unearth the past of the Hungarian empire on the grounds of Buda Castle, or pay their respects at the haunting House of Terror museum that chronicles the dark days of Stasi rule.
You might not feel totally at home here if you're a big fan of beaches and sun. Budapest is a landlocked city in a landlocked country, so the ocean is never near. Hungary's capital isn't the greenest of towns, either. There are parks, but they're really on the outskirts. It's very much an urban destination.
Munich is unique in that it manages to fuse together the great outdoors, rich European culture, and an enticing foodie scene. That's all thanks to its place as the historic capital of Bavaria, which brings a long tradition of cooking, beer making, castle building – the list goes on.
The upshot? There are all sorts of travellers who are catered to, no matter if you come in search of pretzel eating or high-altitude trekking.
One thing you won't find in this city is the sea. The nearest saltwater is a hefty drive over the Alps in Italy or Croatia. So, don't come if you're pining to top up the tan and swim in the Med.
48hours in Budapest
Day 1: Start on the Pest side of the city. That's home to the huge Dohány Street Synagogue. It's one of the great landmarks of Budapest and reigns as the largest synagogue in Europe. From there, head to the wide boulevard of Andrássy, a spectacular thoroughfare and UNESCO site that's lined with Neo-Classical mansions.
Visit the House of Terror museum on one end to unravel the haunting past of Communist rule in Hungary. Then, go for a hard-earned spa session in the famous Art Deco baths of Széchenyi. Dinner can be nothing less than a paprika-smoked goulash in Gettó Gulyás, followed by a beer in the mind-boggling art gallery come bar that is Szimpla Kert.
Day 2: Breakfast in the Central Market Hall that dates from 1897. Grab some sweet Hungarian pastries and then hop across the Danube on the handsome Liberty Bridge. In front of you, the elegant Gellért Baths are an optional stop. Or, push on up to the Fisherman's Bastion and the Citadella. These were once defensive outposts where Hungarian armies protected their capital. These days, they have stunning views of the Danube. A walk to the north takes you to the Castle District. You can tour the grounds and take in the architecture, or go inside for regal court rooms. Be sure to take some photos of the imposing Hungarian Parliament Building across the water. Finally, drop back into Pest for dinner in the Inner City. That area has everything from Tex-Mex joints to smoky 1930s speakeasies.
48hours in Munich
Sample Munich's famous food, beer, and regal inner city on this two-day itinerary that's packed with amazing palaces and parks. If you're hanging around for longer, then you should also have time to make a beeline for the Alps or explore those off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, but that will have to wait…
Day 1: Your travels begin on the grand Odeonsplatz. A prime example of the city's 19th-century rebuilding, it hosts some of the most magnificent sights in the region. There's the huge, 130-room Munich Residenz, the onetime home of the Bavarian kings and queens. There's the Theatine Church from the 1600s, sporting its dual Baroque towers.
You only have 48 hours, but the palaces can be visited if you have extra time. Instead, move on through the heart of the city on Briennerstraße to the vast plaza of Königsplatz. This is a photo op extraordinaire, with handsome Neo-Classical monuments like the strange Propyläen. The area around that is the artistic quarter (the Kunstareal), where there are endless museums and galleries to go into if you need to warm up or escape the rain.
Next is the beautiful Frauenkirche. This is a symbol of Munich as a whole; a great church topped by bulbous domes on the central Frauenplatz. It will take around 20 minutes to walk over there, but you'll enjoy moving into the Altstadt area as you go. You should plan to spend the evening within, hopping between sights like the iconic Hofbräuhaus (the best known beer hall in the city) and the ancient Peterskirche (the oldest church in Munich).
The Schloss Nymphenburg and its beautiful grounds
Day 2: No visit to the grand royal capital of Bavaria could possibly be complete without at least a glimpse of the Schloss Nymphenburg. It's hardly central, but private tours can whisk you there and back in a single morning, going through the manicured gardens, the court rooms, and the curious Marstallmuseum with its gold-leafed carriages from the 19th century.
When you return back to the middle of Munich head straight for the English Garden. This is one of Germany's favourite parks. You could start by strolling up the Eisbach to see the surfers riding the river wave. Then explore the pretty Hofgarten, where babbling fountains and bandstands once provided a retreat for Bavarian royals. Alternatively, go straight to the Chinese Tower Beer Garden, to glug traditional German hops brews and taste bratwurst and pretzels until sundown.
Munich International Airport is the second busiest hub in all of Germany. It's a major arrival point, with links coming in on premium and low-cost fliers from right around the globe. Getting to the city from the terminals is easy thanks to the direct S-Bahn line that runs straight to the train station. The trip costs just over €11 and takes around 40 minutes in total.
Munich is a safe, modern city. The locals are famed for their friendliness and welcoming attitude – a trait of Bavaria, they say. However, it's still important to be wary of scams and dangers, particularly during the Oktoberfest, when alcohol intake increases dramatically.
The best areas to stay in Munich are the Altstadt, the streets around English Garden, and the grand university and gallery area of Maxvorstadt. Cheaper hotels that are still within walking distance of the sights can be found south of the main train station around Bayerstraße.
Talking of the airport, Budapest Airport sits around 22 kilometers from the city center. You can get to and from the terminals using the dedicated express bus (€2) or by train (€2.70). Both options take between 30-40 minutes. Be sure to buy tickets at machines by the stops – they're more expensive when purchased direct from drivers.
When it comes to picking hotels in Budapest, you're best off focussing on the Pest side of the city. That's where the bulk of the best lodgings are located. Being in the Jewish Quarter can be noisy, but perfect if you want to hit the nightlife of Szimpla and the other ruin bars. The Inner City area is charming and quieter, with some boutique options. Meanwhile, Újlipótváros is a local's favourite, with its cool cafés and art galleries and sleek Airbnbs.
Budapest is largely safe and crime statistics are in line with European norms. Some well-known scams include taxi drivers who overcharge and sellers of fake goods. Pickpocketing is also a rare but real problem. Just be aware of your personal possessions and be vigilante, especially when on public transportation.
Price wise, Budapest is surely up there with the cheapest of European capitals. A large beer can cost as little as 500 HUF (€1.50). Food in a midrange restaurant will set you back between 2,000 HUF and 3,000 HUF (€6-9). Nights in hotels are noticeably less than in nearby Vienna, too.