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Budapest or Copenhagen; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Budapest and Copenhagen 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 website will provide our unbiased opinions, 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?)

Introduction to Copenhagen and Budapest

There is a buzz going about Copenhagen. The city’s always had fascinating tourist attractions and a welcoming people, but now the city is flourishing and the artisan scene is blossoming. Once deprived areas are being transformed into creative hubs, while trendy bars and independent business are springing up throughout the city.

Copenhagen is a dynamic city, which effortlessly excels at tourism. There is a public transport that actually works, a rich diversity of cultural attractions, along with a distractive, quirky character. It is no secret that Copenhagen is expensive, but borne from this is a growing street food movement, and an attitude to savour and enjoy.

High-level summary for Budapest and Copenhagen

Summary
Which city would I go to? Copenhagen
Which one would I recommend to my parents?Copenhagen
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Budapest (Copenhagen is too expensive for him!)
Which for my food obsessed friend?Copenhagen
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.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

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.

Copenhagen can be seen in two days of sightseeing. A third day provides time for a slower pace (and flexibility to avoid rain) along with a chance to explore the artisan districts (Vesterbro, Latin Quarter and Nørrebro) in great depth. Copenhagen is a very endearing city where staying longer is very tempting…
A popular day trip is to visit the castles of Frederiksborg and Kronborg. Malmö is on the opposite side of the Sound Estuary (the Öresund) and can also be visited as a day trip.

Copenhagen’s weather is not as dismal as most visitors initially presume, and not cold as the other Scandinavian countries it is often mentally lumped with. The summer will always provide the best weather, and this aligns with the peak season, late spring and autumn can also offer decent sightseeing weather. The winters are cool and wet, but as many of the city’s sights are indoors, it is still possible for a better value (relatively!) city-break.

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.

There is a lot to love about Copenhagen, there are funky art installations, wonderful tourist attractions and a great vibe about the city. Copenhagen is a tolerant and inclusive city, which is popular with all ages, diversities and tourist types. .

The main consideration is the astronomical price of everything. For context, the price of a glass of large beer in a touristy bar, is around 60kr (€8/$9), is the same you could pay for a lunch in southern Europe. If you have the money or can budget well, you will adore Copenhagen.

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.

Budapest Saint Stephen's Basilica

Saint Stephen's Basilica

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.

Copenhagen offers so much for a fun-packed 48 hours. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow.

Begin the first day in the Rådhuspladsen, and wander up the Strøget, a bustling shopping street, to the Latina Quarter. Next is the Nyhavn district, with its 17th-century canals and traditionally painted houses, a favourite with tourists. Departing from the docks in Nyhavn are canal boat tours.

For lunch head to the Bridge Street Kitchen for a popular street food market. Christiania is a unique bohemian commune which is worth visiting, but pushy drug dealers and influx of tourists slightly detracts from the original ideals. Afterwards, head to the Vor Frelsers Kirke church, the Christiansborg Slot palace and the Slotsholmen island district.
Tivoli park is one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, and an enjoyable location for early evening. For the later night spend time in the trendy Vesterbro district.

Latin Quarter Copenhagen

The side streets of the Latin Quarter (Latinerkvarteret) are a joy to explore

Start the second day in the magnificent Rosenborg Slot palace, which can easily take a couple of hours to explore. Crossing the river leads to the diverse Nørrebro district with the uber-cool Superkilen Park - great for your Instagram posts. For lunch, visit the Torvehallerne street food market.

In the afternoon head into the historic Frederiksstaden district, with the Amalienborg Palace, and the Frederiks Kirke church both beautiful examples of grand Rococo style.For a cultural end to the day visit the SMK museum (the Danish National Gallery) or the Nationalmuseet Museum.

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.

The “Indre By” area of Copenhagen is the best location to be based in due to its central positioning, but it does sell out. The Vesterbro district is an up and coming area, which is trendy and a touch edgy. Frederiksstaden is a more refined area of the city and contains many of the smarter hotels. For a lively trip be based close to the Latin quarter.

There is excellent public transport but often hiring a bike is the easiest way to ravel around, as there are extensive cycle paths and the city is flat.
The currency used is the krone (dkk), which is pegged to the euro at €1=7.46dkk. You must exchange to krone, as Euro is rarely accepted, except in the airport.

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