Paris & Budapest: Head To Head

Only three candidates are now in the running for the 2024 Summer Olympics: Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest. Putting the Californian city to one side for one moment, the contest provides an intriguing face-off between two of Europe’s most beautiful capitals. Away from their sporting credentials, of course, the pair also stand as excellent winter city-break destinations. But which one gets the nod as a festive getaway?

Banner Image Credit: iStock.com/Mapics

Scenery

Responsible for a never-ending tide of enraptured Instagram posts, Paris is one of the world’s most photogenic cities. Whether you’re looking west along the Champs Élysées, gazing down from the heights of Montmartre or pointing a lens across the Seine from a Bateau Mouche, the place is ridiculously lovely to look at. Famously, Georges-Eugène Haussmann’s wholesale reconstruction of the city centre in the 1800s has reaped dividends – the city exists on a monumental scale.  9.5/10

Panoramic view of Champs-Elysees

Image Credit: iStock.com/C_Fernandes

Budapest might not pack the same consistent panoramic punch as its French counterpart, but it’s still a phenomenally handsome city. There’s good reason why it gets called (ahem) the Paris of Eastern Europe. The view back across the Danube from the Fisherman’s Bastion is the equal of any other city vista in Europe – add a bright afternoon and a frosting of snow and there’s no prettier sight. 9/10

Romance

With the possible exception of Verona, Paris can claim to be more synonymous with romance than any other city on the planet. It’s a reputation that is both a blessing and a curse. Few would argue that it makes a superb choice for an amorous getaway, but the sheer weight of expectation can leave some visitors disappointed when not every moment brings a perfect snapshot of Gallic loveliness. That said, the place is basically an aphrodisiac in city form. As TS Eliot once remarked, “the chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulant.” 9/10

Danube Riverside view in Budapest

Image Credit: iStock.com/Adam Zoltan

And Budapest? Fewer visitors, less pressure for everything to be impeccable, romantic restaurants by the dozen – you only have to look at the “love” padlocks attached to various trees and bridges around the city to see that it draws a huge number of couples. Take a winter stroll along the riverside, arrange a dinner cruise or, better yet, make the most of the city’s numerous thermal baths and spas. Basking in the steamy outdoor pools at the Széchenyi Baths on a crisp December day takes some beating. 8.5/10

Food And Drink

If you’re prepared to spend big, Paris gives the chance to eat in some of the world’s best restaurants. There were, at the latest count, more than 130 Michelin stars glimmering over the city. At the other end of the budget spectrum, winter is also a time for warming up with bags of hot chestnuts, picking up oven-fresh pastries from a boulangerie or nipping into backstreet brasseries for generous portions of onion soup. And don’t get us started on the chocolat chaud9/10

Hot chocolate in Paris

Image Credit: iStock.com/anyaberkut

In Budapest, the colder months give the perfect excuse for lingering in the city’s famed grand cafes. Coffee has been an integral part of the culture here since the Ottoman invasion, and the accompanying cakes tend to be many-layered and indulgent. There’s also no better time of year to try the most quintessential Hungarian dish of all: goulash. Often misrepresented as a simple stew, the authentic version is a rich, well-spiced beef broth that leaves you nicely fortified. 9/10

Value For Money

Paris is many things – soaring, outspoken, flamboyant – but it’s not cheap. Spend a few nights at “palace hotels” like Le Meurice or Plaza Athénée and you’ll likely be several thousand euros lighter. There are, however, alternatives to splashing out on unbridled luxury. Decent budget hotels do exist – particularly if you’re here outside the main Christmas period to take advantage of better rates – while lots of restaurants have good-value set lunches. And don’t be afraid to ask for a “carafe d’eau” (tap water).  7/10

Budapest Opera

Image Credit: iStock.com/Czgur

This year’s annual Post Office survey pointed to Budapest as one of the best value city break destinations in Europe. It’s still perfectly possible to throw cash at the five-star treatment – the seven-course menu at Cortes Restaurant, for example, works out at €120 a head, without drinks – and the city is no longer the bargain it once was, but it can certainly be enjoyed without breaking the bank. Even opera tickets start at very reasonable prices. 8.5/10

Shopping

Paris has some great Christmas markets. The largest is found at La Défense, normally a modern business district but from mid-November onwards home to more than 350 stalls. Among the various other areas to lay on festive markets are Notre-Dame and Montparnasse. If you’re here in January, meanwhile, several of the city’s high-end boutiques have sales periods running through to early February. 9/10

Paris Christmas Markets

Image Credit: iStock.com/encrier

In the Hungarian capital, attention falls onto Vörösmarty Square on the Pest side of the river. The square holds the longest-running and most atmospheric Christmas market in the city – expect the full gamut of carols, gingerbread and flickering candles. Be there at 5pm to witness the daily opening of its musical advent calendar. The city’s main big-brand shopping street, Váci utca, leads off from the square.  9/10

Attractions

Some things aren’t even remotely season-dependent, and Paris’s astonishing range of cultural attractions is one of them. As well as obvious draws like the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, set aside time to head to lesser-known art gems such as the Musée Jacquemart-André, set in an old private house, and the Musée de l’Orangerie, which has the added bonus of being located in the Tuileries Gardens.  9/10

Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest

Image Credit: iStock.com/Andres Garcia Martin

Budapest, of course, has treasure of its own. A guided tour of the sumptuous Parliament Building is a must (it’s open until 4pm over winter), while the city’s incredible Great Synagogue is the largest of its kind in Europe. And for something completely different? Head out of the cold and into the Pinball Museum, which showcases 130 different machines from over the years – and yes, you’re allowed to play them. 8/10

Verdict

Start up the opening bars of La Marseillaise – PARIS takes gold. But while the maths has the French capital topping the podium, it’s a close-run thing. The best Christmas compromise? Go to both.