11 Ways to Remember the Difference Between Budapest and Bucharest

Georgeta Gheorghe

Before his first concert in Bucharest (the capital of Romania) in 1992, Michael Jackson famously greeted the audience with the infamous ‘Hello, Budapest!’ starting a kind of a fashion among music stars from overseas. Two decades later though, a group of 400 Spanish soccer fans looking to see the 2012 Europa League Final in Bucharest ended up flying to the Hungarian capital of Budapest instead. Here are 11 differences to save you any embarrassment, but above all, allow you to discover what makes each of these great cities truly unique.

Bucharest speaks Romanian, Budapest speaks Hungarian

This is the most obvious thing you’ll notice while visiting these two cities. Romanian, the only Romance language spoken in Central and Eastern Europe, will sound familiar to those who speak Italian, Spanish or Portuguese, as it is closely related to the languages spoken around the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, Hungarian is part of the Finno-Ugric language family, together with Finnish and Estonian, so the two could not be any more different. Try your hand at Romanian and Hungarian and impress the locals by expressing your love for their city by saying ‘Szeretem Budapestet’ or ‘Iubesc Bucureștiul.’ You’ll get plenty of smiles!


Budapest has the Danube, Bucharest has Dâmbovița

One of the nicest things to do in Budapest is to walk along the Danube, either by day or at night, and take in the sights. Dâmbovița river, which crosses the Romanian capital and is much smaller and closed to traffic, is not completely lacking in charm, though. Springing from the beautiful Făgăraș Mountains, it served for a long time as the city’s source of fresh water. While strolling alongside the river is not a very popular pass time in the city, many head to its banks to capture the sunset over Bucharest or join in a SUP or rowing competition in the summer time.


Bucharest is Little Paris, Budapest is Queen of the Danube

Due to its beautiful architecture and French-inspired vibe it acquired in the nineteenth century, Bucharest will forever be known as Little Paris. A stroll along the Calea Victoriei, one of the city’s historic arteries, will show you exactly why through the architecture that includes imposing Neo-classical and Art Deco edifices.

On the other hand, Budapest makes the best of its glorious encounter with the Danube, which gives life to the city and lends it the charm that has earned it the motto of most beautiful city in Europe.


Bucharest has sarmale, Budapest has goulash

Due to its vibrant restaurant scene, the Romanian capital is one of the best places for you to try the country’s delicious traditional food. Look out for sarmale, the best export product of the Romanian cuisine. This dish is a hit with foreigners regardless of their culinary background, and the city offers plenty of occasions to delight you.

As for goulash, a dish world-renowned for its ability to make your mouth water at the mere thought of it, it can be found at Budapest’s best establishments, each fiercely competing to win over your taste buds.


Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is huge, Budapest’s is charming

Arguing in favour of the charm of the Romanian House of Parliament would be a tough sell, either on its own or in comparison with its Hungarian counterpart. With its red iconic dome in Renaissance Revival style and beautifully adorned Gothic Revival façade, the Hungarian Parliament is a major landmark of the city and is best admired from the opposite side of the Danube.

As for the seat of Romania’s Parliament, the biggest administrative building in the world, it dominates the skyline of Bucharest and remains impressive in its own way, due to the amount of work and technological advances it has been involved with.


Bucharest has Old Town, Budapest has District VII

There’s no better place to experience the exuberant spirit of Bucharest than during a night out in the city’s Old Town. With countless pubs, bars, cafes, rooftops and terraces open until the early hours, not to mention its beautiful nineteenth century architecture, this is the city’s ultimate party district.

Budapest’s District VII, for years one of the hotspots of the city, shares in this spirit with many warehouse ruin bars, or romkocsma, and throws in the mix design shops, galleries and community centres.


Budapest has 125 thermal springs, Bucharest has Therme

Sitting on a network of around 125 thermal springs, Budapest has a rich legacy that makes ‘taking the waters’ a millennia old habit, dating back to Roman times. Architectural wonders, such as Art Nouveau jewels Gellért Baths and the welcoming Széchenyi thermal bath, the largest in Europe, have been for years some of the city’s top landmarks.

Bucharest is catching up fast in terms of places where you can spend a relaxing afternoon with the opening of Therme, the biggest wellness centre in Europe. A massive glass structure, Therme invites visitors to luxuriate in warm pools surrounded by 80,000 plants, including palm trees and orchids. There are three zones to relax in, Galaxy, The Palm and Elysium, which alone has six themed saunas, a restaurant, massage cabins and a pool infused with selenium and zinc.


Bucharest has Revolution Square, Budapest has Hősök tere

Located in the city centre, along Calea Victoriei, Revolution Square could easily pass by unnoticed, were it not for its strong historic significance. It was here that in December 1989, Romanians stood against the oppressive Communist regime, which was toppled after the Revolution.

Budapest’s Hősök tere is a glorious testament to the country’s more distant past, celebrated through the iconic statue complex featuring major historic figures.


Budapest has Sziget Festival, Bucharest has Summer Well

Try to find a music lover that hasn’t yet heard of, attended, or is planning to attend next summer’s Sziget Festival and you’ll find yourself with a challenge. Budapest has attracted crowds from all over Europe and beyond with its world class festival, held since 1993 on the Óbudai-sziget island on the Danube.

Bucharest’s landmark festival, Summer Well, on the other hand, is held in an enchanted forest nearby the city and is fast becoming popular, not only with the locals, but also among music lovers in the region.


Budapest has 27 museums, Bucharest has 39

Both cities are proud to have plenty of interesting museums, which capture public attention and offer fascinating aspects of their own country’s culture, history and social life. While in Budapest, check out the rich permanent collection of the Budapest History Museum and the exquisite exhibitions at the Hungarian House of Photography. Make sure not to miss the golden treasures at the National Museum of Romanian History or those at the Museum of Collections in Bucharest.


Budapest’s zoo is in the centre, Bucharest’s is outside of it

Both cities have a zoo and, while both are well worth a visit, keep in mind that Budapest’s, one of the oldest in Europe, is located in the city centre. A trip to the one in Bucharest will take you about an hour’s drive.


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