Vienna or Prague: European Capitals Compared

Prague cityscape
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Deciding between Vienna or Prague is no easy task. Endless history, diverse architecture, beautiful gardens, and distinctive culture are just a few words that describe both of these European capitals.

The moment you step foot in Vienna or Prague, you won’t want to leave, and each city shines bright in its own way. Vienna is known for its elegant buildings and sophisticated arts and culture scene. On the other hand, Prague is more laid back with hearty food, cheap beer, and sprawling neighborhoods to explore.

To make the decision even harder, Vienna and Prague both make for great bases to explore nearby charming villages and breathtaking national parks, and are considered very safe cities in Europe. Below, we get into the finer details of what makes these fascinating cities tick, we hope it makes your choice of Vienna or Prague that one bit easier.

Vienna or Prague: Nightlife

Brewery in Prague
Photo by givagaphotos

The moment you arrive in Prague, you can feel the city’s vibrant energy. You might have even come to Prague for its renowned nightlife, ranking up there with Amsterdam, Las Vegas, and Hong Kong. On the other hand, Vienna’s nightlife feels lower key, and you may wonder what the city holds come nightfall. Have no fear, though. For those who know where to look, Vienna and Prague both provide epic opportunities to party the night away.

Vienna’s nightlife is all about music, especially electronic. As darkness takes hold of the sky, chic and underground bars come to life, bringing a buzz to the city not felt during the day. A favorite spot for many is around Donaukanal, where you can head to the famed Flex Cafe or one of the hip canalside venues. For more offbeat nightlife, The Gürtel is the place to be. Located beneath the U6 metro, classics like Chelsea and B72 boast indie rock, while house and techno can be heard coming from neighboring venues. The downside, if thumping music isn’t your thing, options are limited in Vienna.

If you’re ready to hit the town in Prague, a bit more research is needed. Unlike Vienna, where much of the nightlife is contained to two neighborhoods, Prague’s best clubs are strewn throughout the city. Considering beer is cheaper than water, many visitors start their night out at one of the many bars in Old Town. Once night falls, Charles Bridge is the main go-to, and New Town and Žižkov for more alternative clubs. No matter your style, there’s no doubt you’ll have a blast in Prague.

The Verdict: Prague

Vienna or Prague: Nature

Volksgarten rose garden
Photo by OlegAlbinsky/Getty Images Signature

It’s hard to imagine a more green city with 200 parks scattered across Prague, filled with unique landscapes, green fields, and endless biking trails. That is until you step foot in Vienna. Consistently ranked in the World’s Greenest Cities, Vienna has a whopping 990 parks covering nearly half of the city’s total area. You won’t have to walk far to trade in the hustle and bustle for quiet trails in either city.

Within Vienna, you’ll find tree-lined paths connecting the city, making even urban walks feel like a breath of fresh air. Along with that, an abundance of rose gardens and flowerbeds color the city, and of course, the plentiful parks provide a place to relax and enjoy a picnic lunch. Right in the middle of Vienna is Volksgarten, home to more than 3,000 rose bushes. Further afield, Kurpark Oberlaa showcases a Japanese Garden, Flower Labyrinth, and expansive meadows perfect for wildlife watching.

While Prague has its fair share of greenery within the city, it doesn’t compete with Vienna on this front. Instead, Prague shines the brightest in its offerings on the city’s outskirts. There are many great spots to relax in the sunshine on the hills surrounding the city, and Riegrovy Sady is especially a favorite and even has a beer garden. The Vltava River is another gem of Prague, with cycling and walking trails linking the main parks on its banks.

Verdict: Vienna

Vienna or Prague: Things to do

Charles Bridge
Photo by LianeM/Getty Images

Steeped in history, both Vienna and Prague are impressive cities to wander and discover well-known sites and hidden gems. If you’re planning on spending a long weekend in either city, you find your itinerary quickly fills up with must-see cathedrals, palaces, castles, and museums. On top of that, numerous concerts, festivals, and other events fill up the city’s calendars, allowing every visit to be unique and catered to your preferences.

Vienna is especially easy to navigate, with many of the main sights within walking distance. One could spend an entire day walking the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s famous boulevard that wraps itself around the historic Inner Town. Here you’ll find the Vienna State Opera, gothic cathedrals, the impressive Schonbrunn, Hofburg, and Belvedere Palaces with remarkable architecture. If you fancy yourself a fan of operas, the Opera House is another must-visit.

For the same experience in Prague, you’ll need a good pair of walking shoes or join a guided bus tour of the city. Prague’s most noteworthy monuments are scattered around the city and may not be initially as impressive as Vienna’s historic buildings, but they are still well worth the extra effort. One can walk across Charles Bridge, visit Prague Castle, meander the King Golden Way path, or for something more upbeat, spend time in Wenceslas square, Prague’s ‘New Town.’ You’ll also find your dollar stretches a lot further when deciding on things to do in Prague, with more affordable tickets to museums, concerts, and plenty of sights are free to explore.

Verdict: Prague

Vienna or Prague: Day Trips

Karlovy Vary
Photo by letty17/Getty Images Signature

Like most large cities in Europe, Vienna and Prague are well connected to fascinating villages, nature reserves, and other towns. One can hop on a train and be in a new country within hours, or take advantage of the many bus lines offering cheap travel to just about anywhere. Also, considering Vienna and Prague are a mere four hours drive from one another, they share many of the same great day trips. If you don’t mind a long day, Vienna and Prague can even be considered a day trip to one another.

Unique to Vienna is its proximity to Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. An hour’s drive will bring you to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, known for its 18th-century Old Town and the Bratislava Caste overlooking the city. Sticking within Austria, Hallstatt is a no-brainer when considering day trips from Vienna. While it’s become a popular tourist destination, if you arrive early in the morning, you’ll have the picturesque village dotted with wooden houses all to yourself. Closer to the city is the elegant Vienna Woods, where you can go for a scenic walk, kayak, and tour vineyards in one afternoon – just be sure to keep watch for Austria’s dangerous animals.

Tucked right in the middle of the Czech Republic, the best day trips from Prague center around discovering the many gems that the country holds, which somehow have been left off the main tourist map. Just over an hour from Prague is Karlovy Vary, home to the pleasing natural spas that provide the perfect place to de-stress. If you want to stretch your legs, National Park Bohemian Switzerland (which is not in Switzerland) has yet to be discovered by the masses and makes for incredible hikes ranging from one hour to full-day adventures. 

Verdict: Vienna

Vienna or Prague: Weather

Vienna in December
Photo by Nora Skerlecz/Getty Images

When comparing the weather in Vienna to Prague, you have to dig deep to find differences. Both cities have your typical dry continental climate, with distinctive four seasons. Summers are warm, with temperatures reaching the low 80’s °F (mid ’20s °C) in July, and winters are cold with highs just reaching above freezing. With higher temperatures, rainfall also increases over the summer months, and Vienna and Prague get high humidity.

The differences are in the details. Vienna is slightly north and is surrounded by heavily forested regions, which causes lower temperatures throughout the entire year. On average, you can expect the temperatures to be about 4 °F (-15 °C) lower in Vienna, and while this doesn’t seem like much, you can certainly feel the difference in winter and spring. The slightly lower temperatures and slightly higher precipitation mean you’re more likely to have a white Christmas in Vienna.

When considering when to visit Vienna or Prague, weather likely won’t play a big factor in which city you choose. The most popular time to visit both cities is in July and August, where you’re almost guaranteed hot days and only a few showers here and there. However, this is also when tourists flock to Vienna and Prague, and if you don’t like crowds, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, hot, and sticky. Instead, late April or between mid-September and mid-October promise comfortable temperatures, less precipitation, and fewer people. If you can brave the cold, Vienna is where you’ll want to be for a European Christmas with its magical markets, roasted chestnut stands, and decorations strewn across the city.

Verdict: Prague

Vienna or Prague: Food

Classic Vienna wiener schnitzel
Photo by titoslack/Getty Images Signature

Let’s face it, neither Vienna nor Prague are particularly known as European foody destinations. Shadowed by Spain, France, and Italy’s superb cuisine, Vienna and Prague have flown under the radar, and only once you’re in either city will you understand how big of a misconception this is. Yet, going in with minimal expectations makes discovering Vienna and Prague’s unique dishes even more exciting. 

For starters, Vienna has its wiener schnitzel, and Prague has its goulash. While neither of these popular dishes scream five-star service, they’re cooked with such pride you can guarantee every bite will be perfection. The same goes for Vienna’s taafelspitz (boiled beef) and Prague’s Svickova na smetane (beef with creamy sauce). They may not be Instagram-worthy dishes, but once you have your first mouthful, we promise you won’t care.

When it comes to pastries, Vienna shines through. It’s impossible to walk a block without smelling delicious strudels, pastries, and cakes wafting into the street. Coffee houses are especially famous in Vienna for their pastry creations. If you have a few hours to spare, head to a coffee house, order an Apfelstrudel (strudel pastry filled with apples), and people watch. As it’s part of Vienna’s culture to stretch out your visit, you’ll never feel rushed out the door or obligated to keep ordering.

If your sweet tooth hits you in Prague, you’ll also have your fair share of desserts to sample – the most famous being the Trdelník (chimney cake). Found on every street corner, the Trdelník is as simple as dough wrapped around a stick, heated over a flame, and covered in cinnamon sugar. It’s safe to say, in either Vienna or Prague, you’ll want to make sure there are a few extra notches in your belt.

Verdict: Vienna

Vienna or Prague: Price

Vienna
Photo by domeckopol/pixabay

If you’re looking for the city where your dollar stretches the furthest, this one has a clear winner. Vienna is one of the most expensive cities in Europe to visit and live in. On the other hand, Prague is considered one of the most affordable cities in Western Europe. So the real question is if Vienna’s higher price tag is worth it. Well, it depends on your budget.

With Prague having a bohemian, student town vibe, it’s easy to stick to a lower budget stay. Welcoming hostels line the city, and even in the middle of the popular Old Town, you can secure a bed in a shared room for as little as $30 a night with breakfast included. Food is a similar story, if you stick to lunch specials, cook your own meals in the evening, and avoid the touristy bars, you can stick within your budget without breaking a sweat.

Vienna doesn’t have nearly as many budget-friendly accommodations and restaurants, but if you’re planning on going mid-range, this is where Vienna and Prague even out. Standard hotel rooms in either city will cost around $100 to $150 per night, and a dinner and a couple of cocktails will come in around $50 a person. If you’re seeing the sights, enjoying nice dinners, and treating yourself to some shopping in either city, you’ll find your money disappears rather quickly.

Verdict: Prague

The Final Verdict

Prague cityscape
Photo by MurderousPass/pixabay

This was a tough one, with Vienna and Prague both bringing plenty of reasons to visit to the table. All in all, our final verdict goes to Prague for its laid-back atmosphere, affordability, and fantastic nightlife.

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