Once sisters of the one of the greatest powers of the world, Austro-Hungarian Empire, both Austria and Hungary have now been separated for the last 100 years. Years that took each of them on different paths, even though sometimes they were intertwined. Part of European Union and part of UNESCO Heritage, Vienna and Budapest are 2 centerpieces of Europe that justify their fame, no need for an introduction.
Vienna, known as a capital of music welcomed us in a waltz pace, as all the airport hallways resounded with Mozart tunes. A hot August morning was beckoning to us after we picked up our luggage and Vienna Pass, which made us wonder how hot a day can be in the middle of Europe, which we found out later on, after visiting Budapest as well, but this is another story.
A city with so many architectural styles, Vienna’s roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements. Now it is known as one of the most developed cities in Europe, being selected one of the most livable cities in the world. From the abundance of baroque style buildings in city centre (which was designed in 2001 UNESCO World Heritage Site) to some of the most interesting, colourful, or bizarre buildings, Vienna hasn’t faltered to offer us unique views.
In order to protect the cityscape, high-rise projects are totally excluded in certain zones. In Vienna there are about 100 buildings higher than 40 m, reason the city maintains the old historical charm, the panoramic viewpoints, and existing lookouts.
The construction of modern apartments started since the ‘90s, after Friedrich Hundertwasser created the most bizarre apartment building in the 1980s. Even he was ridiculed at that time, his buildings are now one of the most visited places in Vienna.
Built by the Celts, occupied by Romans, and many others until 18th century, Budapest got its independence only in the 20th century. With a wide range of architectural styles, similar to Vienna, the historical cityscape is preserved by the legislation, in order to meet the World Heritage Site requirements. It is not allowed to build high-rises in the historical center; hence the St Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament Building remain the tallest buildings in the area.
Walking aimlessly is the best way to see different facets of a city; moreover, one can be surprised by the differences between day and night. I think Budapest is like Cinderella: the shaggy cloths you might see her in during the day will turn into a glowing ballroom gown in the night; the magic always works when the lights are on! While we’ve seen few buildings covered and under construction, many are still calling for renovations. Despite the statistics that say Budapest is the most livable Central and East European city, one can easily see the age of the old empire, when they’ve seen much more prosperous times.
If you’re looking for a European city break, you might like to read: Falling in love with Florence.
City pass and transportation
Vienna pass was the best option for our 3-day sojourn in Vienna. It is impossible to see all 60+ museums included in the pass, but one can certainly select from a huge variety. Two of the biggest museums not only in Austria, but I think in the world, Hofburg and Schonbrunn need their own time, a day and half at least. I have enjoyed a lot the Hop-On Hop-Off included in the pass, but be prepared for long rides, as there is no air conditioning. There is a network of 4 bus routes covering all main landmarks throughout Vienna, and all of them are offering an audio guide in 16 languages.
Since we didn’t have time to see enough museums included in the Budapest Card, we decided we do not want to purchase it. Szechenyi Bath which we wanted to visit is not included, the City Tour Hop On Hop Off and the sightseeing cruise had only a little discount. The unlimited use of public transportation would be something we would have liked, since you can only use one ticket per trip (if you need 2 buses to get some place, you need 2 tickets). Since we didn’t travel a lot, we found a cheaper way to fit our needs, we bought a ten-trip coupon book for 3,000 HUF from the vending machine. We just had to remember to punch the ticket before we got in the subway, as the controllers might wait for people to get off and check the tickets when existing the station, as it happened with us when getting down to the Szechenyi bath station. Unfortunately we witnessed how 2 tourists were caught without validated tickets. The system is inconvenient especially for tourists, as it is so easy to forget to punch the tickets at the entrance of the subway, when your attention is directed to so many other things at the same time. It would be so much easier if they install the punching devices in the subway, same way as they have them in the buses.
Getting from Vienna to Budapest can be done by car, by bus, or by train. Renting a car from Vienna was out of our options, since we were planning to go to Romania, and certain East European countries have restrictions. We thought of taking the bus, since it was a much cheaper option, but we had to travel quite a bit to the bus station in Vienna, and from the bus station in Budapest to our hotel. This left us with the train, which is not a bad option, considering it was a walking distance from where we stayed in Vienna. A train ticket Budapest from Vienna starts from 19 EUR (the cheapest tickets are early morning, or late evening) to 40EUR through the day.
If you’re looking for a European city break, you might like to read: Marseille, the city of 100 neighbourhoods.
With so many parks and green areas in both Vienna and Budapest, I will talk about 2 of them that have impressed me the most.
The Wiener Prater is a large public park in Vienna’s 2nd district (Leopoldstadt), and which is the oldest amusement park in the world. The Prater was firstly mentioned in a document in 1162 under the reign of emperor Friedrich I, but in 1766 emperor Josef II opened the park for free for the people of Vienna.
Opened all the time, the entrance in the park is free, but you need to pay for the rides. The park is famous for the giant Ferris wheel built in 1897, and we didn’t miss it, as part of our Vienna pass. We could see the city from up above, while resting on the little bench from the middle of the gondola.
Alive and beautiful, Budapest offers many surprises, as it was with this park. PopUp Park captured my attention while we were walking through the city. Interesting for its design, colours, and popularity, you can see kids playing, youths hanging out, and people resting. What’s more interesting is that the park is built only for the summer, and the novelty of the park are the solar panels, where anyone can charge their phones.
Next post: More about Vienna and Budapest: food, churches and other impressions
6 thoughts on “AU, HU – Vienna vs Budapest – Two cities in five days, p1”
Christie, your well-written post has lots of planning details that all travelers should find useful. As you know, in these large cities, knowing how to go is as important as where to go. We just traveled through Vienna on our way to Romania, and like you, we only had a couple of days. I had forgotten how much Viennese architects like a monumental scale, but I guess it all goes back to the Hapsburgs and their desire for dominance. Nice post. ~James
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Thank you James, indeed the Hapsburg empire left an impressive architectural footprint, fortunately very well preserved. We visited Romania as well, such a coincidence LOL. How have you got there, and what have you visited in Romania? That will be my next post:)
We enjoyed a very quick visit to Vienna in 1984, but have never been back. All I remember now is how great the food (your pastry shot looks delicious) and coffee was and the availability of good wine. I have never even to Budapest, but almost went there in 2019. Thanks for sharing Christie. Allan
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Glad you have fond memories about food, I’m sure you tried their famous schnitzel😉 If we will visit Austria again, I would try the South-West of the country, I understand it’s amazing. Take care, Allan, stay safe!