It’s a situation that every traveller hates: being forced to choose between two incredibly unique European cities, and in this case, it’s a little worse since you’re choosing between Eastern and Western Europe, two starkly different regions within one remarkably beautiful continent. I won’t lie: the fact that you’re having to choose between Amsterdam and Budapest is unfair. It means either you or the person in charge of the itinerary has to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and ask themselves who they are. What do they want to see? What kind of traveler are they? What speaks to them?
Anyway, enough of making you feel bad. That’s not going to help anyone. After all, being in the position to choose between Amsterdam and Budapest isn’t exactly torture.
So what separates these two great cities aside from East and West? What makes Amsterdam a seductive fairytale and Budapest, a vibrant vixen? And most of all, if you had to choose, which is more your style? Here’s an honest comparison from someone who’s been to them, collectively, 10 times over….
The Dutch capital is Europe’s cool kid: a charming, active party animal with a rich history and super liberal lifestyle.
By active, we mean that everybody rides bikes here. No, really, everyone rides bikes here. Bikes rule the roads so all you weekend lycra warriors will be in your element, especially since the terrain is relatively flat and the scenery, gorgeous. Riding over canals decorated with colourful flower pots will lead you past quaint cafes and cool bars. The Dutch love to be out and about, so no matter which end of the spectrum you sit on–social butterfly or bonafide people-watcher–Amsterdam is the perfect place to sit back with a top-notch beer and a handful of bitterballen. And the nightlife you ask? Of course you’re curious, you’ve heard so much….
If you’re a party reveller who loves hopping between a series of hole-in-the-wall bars and the occasional joint, then bohemian Amsterdam is your kind of place. If drinking expertly-crafted Dutch beers in the sun outside an old windmill brewery sounds a treat, and you’re a cheese-lover, then the Dutch capital is sure to delight.
If you decide on Amsterdam, you’re likely to end up passing through the infamous red light district, where scantily-clad women stand in windows, weed-haven coffee shops are abound, and crazy bars fill to the brim. It isn’t all that seedy and there are plenty of people around, so don’t expect some dodgy, back-alley commune of pimps and thugs; instead, you can expect a hedonistic carnival of adult vices where almost nothing is off the table.
The absolute highlight of my trip to Amsterdam was visiting the Bloemenmarkt, the only floating flower market in the world. Housed on barges along the Singel Canal, the market vendors primarily sell tulips in all shapes and sizes: blooming bouquets, colorful single stems, ready-to-plant seed packets, and earthy bulbs of different varieties. Apart from tulips, you’ll also find other types of flowers, cacti, and kitschy Dutch souvenirs like miniature wooden clogs for sale. Even if you’re not interested in purchasing anything, it’s a worthwhile experience to walk amongst the greenhouse-style stalls to admire the colorful flowers that the Netherlands are so famous for.
The most important piece of advice I can give to a first-time traveler to Amsterdam is to bring comfortable walking shoes. I cannot overstate this point enough – the city defines being pedestrian friendly and you’ll more than likely be on your feet all day long, whether you’re standing in line at the Rijksmuseum or exploring the beautiful cobblestone streets and countless bridges. – Elisabeth, Sidetracked
Top 3 Quintessential Amsterdam Experiences
Anne Frank’s House: No matter your reason for coming to Amsterdam, Anne Frank’s House is a must not only for history buffs, but for all of us. It serves as a haunting reminder of the Holocaust as documented by a young Jewish girl named Anne Frank, who hid from 1942 until her capture in 1944 by the German Nazis. Tickets are only 9 euros, but if you’re travelling independently be prepared for very long lines and waits. Get there early before the museum opens to beat the crowds.
We love so much about Amsterdam, especially exploring the canals and staying on a houseboat, but for us the highlight was visiting the Anne Frank house. Knowing the story in advance made it all the more real and we felt the way the visitors are moved through the building was very effective. Also, get tickets to the main attractions in advance. This way we saved hours of time that would have been spent waiting in line otherwise. – David & Veronica, The GypsyNesters
Hire a bike: On the list of epic things one can do in any given city, hiring a bike sounds like a bit of a lazy cop-out by a budding travel writer, doesn’t it? But rest assured, this is how the Dutch get around and given that Amsterdam is a beautiful, sprawling city of canals, bars and cafes, this is exactly how you want to explore the town when venturing off the beaten path. You never know what you’re going to find around the next corner, and trust me – there’s a lot! Bike rentals are around 9 euros per day.
Don’t miss out on exploring the city by bike. There are plenty of bicycle rental shops all over Amsterdam and the city is perfectly set up for cyclists, with dedicated lanes for bicycles along the roads. Navigating the city on a bicycle not only means that you’ll cover a lot more ground than you would on foot, but you’ll also be joining the locals as they make their way around their city. If you have the time, I highly recommend cycling alongside the River Amstel, where you’ll be able to reach an authentic Dutch windmill, Riekermolen.
Hiring our own mini canal boat was definitely the biggest highlight of my time in Amsterdam. For three whole hours, we got to explore the city in an entirely new way. After getting the hang of steering, we navigated our way through Amsterdam’s historic canals and admired the iconic flower-laden bridges as we passed beneath them. We even brought along some Dutch snacks – from stroopwafels to bitterballen – and had our very own picnic on the water. – Kasha, Lines of Escape
Brouwerj ‘t IJ: This brewery is located next to the De Gooyer windmill, and serves world-class beers and traditional Dutch finger food and cheeses. When you want to leave behind the hedonistic bars and loud music (which, of course, can be incredibly fun), this is the place you want to head to with friends to enjoy the sunshine and green outdoor area. Prices start at around 2.50 euros, and they serve everything from Ambers to IPAs, as well as several seasonal beers. Brewery tours are also available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for 4.50 euros and include a free beer.
All the cheese in the world.
If Amsterdam was a song, what would it be?
Three Little Birds, by Bob Marley.
If Amsterdam was a celebrity, who would it be?
If Amsterdam was a fruit, what would it be?
If Amsterdam was a colour, what would it be?
If Amsterdam was a feeling, what feeling would it be?
Sunshine and smiles. Hip and relaxed. A party of positive vibes in a welcoming atmosphere. You’ll never want to go home, and will probably end up moving here.
We traveled there with friends and rented a house in the amazing Jordaan district, so we felt a little like locals during our visit. We absolutely loved staying in Jordaan; it’s a stunning neighborhood with tons of great local food that’s well located to the rest of the city. We fell into a daily routine that let us feel like we lived there: In the morning we’d get the incredible appeltaart and some coffee at Cafe Winkel around the corner, or stop into a corner deli like Jwo Lekkernijen for a tasty broodje kaas (cheese sandwich). We’d rent bikes or walk and explore for the day and then end our evenings with a Dutch beer at twilight at cozy beer bar Proeflokaal Arendsnest. Honestly all of these things were highlights in themselves, and together it made for the best kind of trip. However, we enjoyed Proeflokaal Arendsnest the most. Not only did it have more than a hundred delicious Dutch beers on offer, but it also was an end-of-day social gathering among friends, where we’d figure out our nighttime plans while being treated to the most beautiful canal-front views of dusk settling on the city’s bridges and row houses.
Most important piece of advice? Well, besides “Dutch beer over marijuana,” I’d say don’t overlook the food on the street! Eat the herring, eat the smoked eel, the patat (fries) and stroopwafel (of course), but also hit up the street markets, especially Albert Cuypmarkt and the Saturday Noordermarkt in Jordaan, where you can find delicious made-to-order poffertjes (mini pancakes), sausages, and erwtensoep (traditional pea soup) — super fresh and better than any restaurant version you could find. – Laura, Eat Your World
I loved Amsterdam. It was so incredibly beautiful, the people were so friendly, and there was so much history. The two highlights of our trip were definitely the “Best Dam Boats” tour and discovering the Upstairs Pannenkoeken House. The tour was so fun and jam-packed of interesting historical facts. The Upstairs Pannenkoeken House had the most incredible crepes – I highly recommend you visit it one day (but be sure to wear stretchy pants!)
Also, invest in a map and embrace walking or biking around the city. Don’t bother hopping onto the tram unless you really need to. We loved walking the city and discovering gems as we went along. – Bree, The Urban Umbrella
Hungary’s capital is the Beast From The East: a good-looking, tough hipster with old world charm and a wicked sense of fun.
Anyone heading to Europe and not going to Budapest is making a grave mistake: This spellbinding city is rich in history, a culinary treat (chicken paprika, anyone?), and has an underrated nightlife that allows travellers to experience something unlike anywhere else on the continent. It’s off the map enough to have unexplored secrets within its wide, leafy boulevards, and the imposing, faded grandeur of its historic architecture will leave you marvelling.
Make no mistake: there are no prizes for originality when it comes to Paris and Rome–these cities have seen a billion tourist feet, and yours are just a billion and one. Budapest is a dark horse beauty that attracts visitors, not guests: Unlike the aforementioned travel behemoths, Budapest won’t tart herself up to suit your every need. She’ll simply present her real self, and leave the rest right up to you.
If you prefer chic nightclubs and dystopian, cyberpunk ‘Ruin Bars’, plus a vibrant street atmosphere reminiscent of Barcelona, then Budapest is your best bet. Szimpla bar, for example, could be the set of Blade Runner or a hangout of Angelina Jolie’s in Hackers. Hit the bars, restaurants and merchant stalls in lively Gozsdu Udvar, a remarkably long alley-slash-walkway that houses Vicky Barcelona, a must-see Spanish tavern serving up tapas as good as any in Spain. If you’re into clubs, the ones in Budapest are dazzling with signature interior designs and fancy flair.
The outdoor game is also strong: Hungarians love to congregate in parks and outdoor bars with a few drinks, as the music pumps and the sun shines bright. If you can’t decide between drinks, swimming, relaxing in the sun and say, playing chess, you can do it all at one of Europe’s most iconic outdoor thermal springs: Szechenyi Baths.
A typical Budapest thing to do and super relaxing is taking a tour through Széchenyi Thermal Bath and swimming in the thermal water. Budapest is a large city, but most of the historic centre is easy enough to walk. That’s also the best way to explore the city fully. Alternatively, take a bike tour. Great fun! – Maaike, Travellous World
Top 3 Quintessential Budapest Experiences
Szechenyi Baths: One of the largest bath complexes in Europe, this is the ultimate place to come and relax in the hot, natural thermal baths, or the ice-cold pool, and unwind. There are 21 pools in total, including the iconic outdoor palace, as well as saunas, gyms, and an on-site cafe and bar. The grand building was built in 1913, and also houses the occasional “Sparty” (Spa Party) which is a lot of fun for those looking for an alternative nightlife experience. The water has medically-proven health benefits and can be drunk from the Drinking Well. If you’re up for it, you can also play chess in the pool. Entry with a locker is 4,900 forint on weekdays, and 5,100 forint on weekends.
House of Terror: A museum dedicated to the memory of the Hungarians tortured and killed by two oppressive regimes, backed by Nazi Germany and the Soviets during the 20th century. The House of Terror details the history of what happened during the course of the regimes, both at a political and a social level, and also highlights the spiritedness of the Hungarians in the face of adversity. Entry is 1000 forint for EU students and seniors, and 2000 forint for adults.
Szimpla Kert: Legendary cyberpunk nightspot for a casual drink or a good night out, the old factory-turned-pub-slash-open air cinema, is an art haven providing creative talents the chance to sell their products to revellers. This place has everything. It’s beyond rad. It’s the type of bohemian venue that every bar owner should aim to have. During the day, there are farmers’ markets promoting sustainable eating, recording studios where many-a-great LP has been produced, and weekly non-profit showcasings where those fighting for worthy causes have the chance to raise awareness and funds.
Chicken paprika with nokedli dumplings.
If Budapest was a song, what would it be?
Hey Porsche, by Nelly.
If Budapest was a celebrity, who would it be?
If Budapest was a fruit, what would it be?
If Budapest was a colour, what would it be?
If Budapest was a feeling, what would it be?
Funk and lively. Historic parties of faded grandeur and pretty people. Lovable grunge with a touch of street. If this is your first time in Budapest, I guarantee that it won’t be your last.
The highlight of my time in Budapest was definitely going on a tour of the Parliament building. The outside of the building is stunning, but inside it is equally beautiful. The walls are adorn with gold decorations. There is beautiful stain glass in the windows and you’re walking on soft lush carpets. At the center of it all, you can see the Holy Crown of Hungary which was used to crown kings. The whole building is just full of grandeur which gives you a great look into what the Austro-Hungarian Empire must have been like in its peak.
Keep in mind that despite being a part of the Schengen zone in Europe, Hungary doesn’t use the Euro. Instead, it uses the Hungarian forint. There are money exchange offices throughout the city so be sure to shop around for the best rate before you exchange all your money. – Adelina, Pack Me To
So will you choose Amsterdam or Budapest?
Experiencing Amsterdam and Budapest will allow you to create a bridge between East and West, and in a world where every blogger and media outlet has an opinion, you’ll finally have the chance to form your own. Amsterdam will open your eyes to just how cool this world can be. Budapest will reveal its hidden charm in the most random of corners. Both, however, will become the colourful splash on your travel canvas, the brightest, most revealing of all travel hues. Most of all, you’ll have the chance to dispel a tired travel myth: that Eastern Europe is unfriendly to newcomers, and that Amsterdam is a stoner’s hangout.
So, while both cities are equally remarkable and dynamic, if you could only choose one, which would it be?