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Budapest or Florence; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Florence 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 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 Budapest and Florence

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.

High-level summary for Budapest and Florence

Summary
Which city would I go to? Budapest
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Budapest
Which for my food obsessed friend? Florence
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.

Florence is a compact city which can be seen within a stay of one day and night. This is usually extended by an additional day to visit the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries. In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets start the day sightseeing very early (8am).

There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.

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!

The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October; this is when there are fewer tourists, prices are slightly lower, and the weather is pleasant. Even though it is popular, we would discourage the summer as it will be very hot, crowded, and most expensive for flights and accommodation. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists. Early spring and late autumn and are ideal for a city break.

Florence is an amazing destination. The focus for a trip will always be around the renaissance historical sights, from the statue of David in the Accademia Gallery, Botticelli, Caravaggio paintings in the Uffizi, or the Duomo. Beyond this there is a delightful city, with classical Italian architecture and delicious Tuscan regional cuisine - also gelato originated from Florence!

Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere. The only real negatives are the sheer number of tourists (and day-trippers) who visit during the peak season, which means hours can be wasted stood in queues. Florence is highly recommended.

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.

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.

48 hours in Florence

While sightseeing in Florence always aim to see the major sights as early in the day as possible, to try to avoid the awful queues. For the first morning visit the Duomo complex with the church, the Campanile di Giotto Tower and Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. Next visit the Palazzo Vecchio palace and the pretty Piazza della Signoria.

In the afternoon visit the Galleria dell'Accademia, which the standout attraction will be the statue of David by Michelangelo (advisable pre-book tickets). For the latter part of the day cross the Ponte alle Grazie with it’s views the Arno River and head to the Abbazia di San Miniato al Monte church. For sunset climb to the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint, the most romantic place in the city. For dinner try the regional meal of Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine steak).

david Michelangelo

The statue of David is regarded Michelangelo finest work

For the second day start early again and head to the Uffizi Gallery, with its extensive collection of renaissance art (Botticelli, Caravaggio Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian). For the afternoon cross the Ponte Vecchio with its jewel shops and visit the Boboli Gardens. To end the day visit Forte di Belvedere.

When selecting a location to be based in Florence, it is very difficult to go wrong, the city is compact and walkable. You should also stay within the confines of the SS67 ring road, and all of the main historic sights are to the north of the Arno River. The San Marco district (north of the historic centre) tends to have more budget options, while Oltrarno (south of the river) tends to have a younger vibe with its lively nightlife and artisan scene. For a more authentic Italian experience head to the east of the city and the Santa Croce district.

Florence is best explored on foot, and there is rarely any need for public transport or taxis. The two train stations are conveniently close to the city centre and make public transport day trips easy.

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.

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