Northwest Europe has a unique charm that you can’t find anywhere else; from the canals and tulip fields of the Netherlands to the charming squares and cobbled streets of Belgium. But if you’re looking for a city break, Amsterdam vs Brussels is a tough match.
In general, Amsterdam is the place to visit for some incredible art on display amongst the canals and bicycles, as well as having a famous and eclectic nightlife for party-goers. On the other hand, Brussels has some great city walks amongst the sculptures, chocolate shops and breweries.
So, while both capitals have plenty to offer, they both have their individual character which makes them an ideal holiday destination.
Tulips, cheese, windmills, van Gogh, coffee shops and the Red Light district… That’s what many people think of when they picture Amsterdam, and while there is some truth to it, there’s so much more excitement to discover in this wonderful city.
Amsterdam seems to house every type of museum you can ask for, from historically significant places like Anne Frank’s House to the contemporary and abstract exhibits like the Museum of the Mind. But there’s also excellent food, a beautiful city park and a vibrant nightlife to be found.
Amsterdam is home to one of Europe’s busiest airports – Amsterdam Schipol – with millions of people passing through every year. However, unlike some airports, there aren’t particularly long wait times and you don’t feel crammed in.
The airport is just south of the city and takes 20 minutes to drive into the centre, although renting a car isn’t necessary. The Netherlands as a whole has excellent public transportation, but Amsterdam in particular; a tram can bring you from your coach station or the airport in around 40 minutes or less. There are also shuttle buses from the airport.
You can also reach Amsterdam from London with Eurostar; it takes 4 to 5 hours and costs €100 – 200. So it’s not necessarily the quickest route, but when you factor in getting to an airport and going through security onto the length of your flight, it might just be worth avoiding the hassle and taking the train. You can view schedules here.
Once you’re in the city, you can walk around to most of the attractions, or hop on a tram. You can buy an Amsterdam card to give you access to all of the city’s transportation, and rent a bicycle for 24 hours for free, but more on that in a moment.
If you do decide to do as the locals do and rent yourself a bike to discover Amsterdam, make sure you pin the location of your bike on your phone maps whenever you leave it because – trust me on this – finding a bicycle in Amsterdam when your only reference points are canals and bridges is like trying to find a needle in a… room full of needles. You can also take a bike tour such as this 3-hour bike tour or this half-day tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.
Amsterdam is a much bigger city than Brussels and has an incredible number of museums, art galleries and attractions. The popularity and notoriety of these attractions does unfortunately make them more expensive in Amsterdam than in Brussels, with most activities setting you back over €20 each.
However, since there are around 18 million tourists visiting the city each year, the tourist office has a fantastic Amsterdam City Card that gives you free access to many of the most popular museums (not van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House unfortunately), discounts for others, and free access to all public transportation. You can also take a free canal cruise and rent a free bicycle for 24 hours.
There are options for a 24 hour pass for €60, 48 hours for €85, 72 hours for €100, 96 hours for €115 and 120 hours for €125. So, if you plan on spending a weekend in Amsterdam, it could cost just €85 plus the price of your food and accommodation. Without the Amsterdam City Card, a day ticket for all public transport in the city is €9.
Amsterdam is certainly not short of places to eat, so whatever your tastes, you can find something you’ll enjoy. There are plenty of small fast food joints that are open most hours of the day so you can get your classic large cone of saucy Dutch french fries for under a fiver.
A big part of Dutch gastronomy is actually Indonesian cuisine due to the Netherlands’ colonial history, and there are many fantastic Indonesian restaurants across Amsterdam, with very reasonably priced menus, from street food style restaurants to fine dining, like Bojo.
In the evenings, there are plenty of trendy bars and venues to hang out in, like Jazz Café Alto. It’s a small bar with great cocktails and live jazz all week. You can find plenty of options though, so whatever kind of music you’re into or however much change you have in your pocket, you’re sure to find a great place to spend your evening.
Accommodation in Amsterdam is easy to find too, with hostels and hotels available for all budgets. Since the city is quite big, if you’re just there for a weekend or a few days, it’s best to get a central hotel or stay near a tram stop so you can get around easier.
Amsterdam is no ordinary city and there are tons of activities that make it different from other European capitals. If you like museums and are debating whether to visit Amsterdam or Brussels, the choice is easy: Amsterdam has hundreds!
The Rijksmuseum is one of the top attractions in Amsterdam due to its enormous collection of masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Frans Hals spanning an 800-year period from 1200 to 2000.
As well as feasting your eyes on Rembrandt’s amazing The Night Watch, you can marvel at the architecture, as the fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles works wonderfully, while the spiral staircase in Cuypers Library is a real sight to behold – just don’t forget that you are in Amsterdam so even as you walk around the museum you have to watch out for cyclists!
The museum is free with the Amsterdam City Card and well worth a visit. So if you plan on visiting the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, the Nemo Science Museum and Rembrandt’s House turned museum, then save yourself some cash with the Amsterdam City Card. Alternatively, you can book tickets in advance here or organise a guided tour here.
The Stedelijk Museum is just a minute’s walk away from the Rijksmuseum, so you should also stop over to get a glimpse of some astonishing modern art pieces, including those by van Gogh, Warhol and Pollock. You can’t miss the museum as the new wing looks like an enormous bath!
The legendary 17th-century Dutch artist Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn lived in Amsterdam for 20 years and created some of his most well-known works of art.
His house has been restored to a similar state that Rembrandt would have known, with 17th-century furnishings and objects from his life to give you an extraordinary experience wandering through such a significant dwelling.
There are almost 300 Rembrandt sketches to marvel at as well as workshops where you can learn the master’s materials and technique. This is an absolute must-see for art fans and you can pre-book tickets here.
If Rembrandt’s House wasn’t enough to tempt you in your Amsterdam vs Brussels debate, surely the Vincent van Gogh Museum is. Although the painter lived in Paris and Arles longer than he did in Amsterdam, it’s only right that the biggest collection of his paintings in the world should be located in the capital of his native country.
With 200 paintings including The Potato Eaters, The Bedroom and Two Cut Sunflowers, plus 400 drawings and 700 letters, there’s certainly plenty to discover about van Gogh in this brilliant space. There are also regular other exhibitions by artists who he influenced, so even if you’ve been before, it’s always worth a visit in Amsterdam.
Unlike Rembrandt’s House which has been restored, Anne Frank’s House has been near-perfectly preserved so you can enter a moment of history that’s standing still in time.
You can visit each room of the house as well as the bookcase that led to the secret annex where Anne Frank and her family hid for two years of the Nazi Occupation of Amsterdam which began in May 1940.
After receiving a diary for her 13th birthday on 12 June 1942 and being forced into hiding on 6 July 1942, the now world-famous schoolgirl wrote regular entries of her family’s life under the Nazi occupation; a document that now holds incredible value to historians and citizens alike as a testament to the horrors of World War Two.
The original diary is located in the house for visitors to see, as well as photographs and historical documents for educational purposes.
Anne Frank’s House draws a huge number of visitors, so tickets go on sale six weeks in advance every Tuesday at 10 am CEST. You can also take a Jewish-history walking tour before visiting the Anne Frank House.
While the museums and galleries of Amsterdam are great, especially when the weather is bad, it’s essential to spend some time outside in the city streets over a weekend in Amsterdam – and above them!
Europe’s highest swing at the A’DAM Lookout is located in central Amsterdam, 100 m in the air. Book online for a small discount and head up to the top floor for a unique experience in Amsterdam, swinging high above the city with your feet dangling over the edge.
At the top, there’s also a small beer garden with drinks, snacks and a DJ which is a great place to spend time when the sun is shining.
You can, of course, massively cut down your costs in a trip to both Brussels and Amsterdam by simply taking in the sights on a city walking tour.
Either with a guide or on your own (some hostels also organise free walking tours for guests) take to the streets of Amsterdam to discover the beautiful buildings, picturesque canals and bridges and watch the world go by.
You can also take a free walk around Vondelpark, a huge 200-year-old city park with water flowing through, an open-air theatre, rose gardens and cafes. It’s a great place to unwind with a stroopwafel or a cone of chips after a long day on your feet.
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
‘t Hotel – Mid-range visitors who choose to stay in Amsterdam over Brussels will love this 3-star hotel in the centre of the city. Located in a traditional canal house, they have a number of lovely rooms to choose from. Click here to check availability
Hotel Estheréa – Those looking for a luxury option in Amsterdam will love this opulent hotel. Perfectly located for seeing all the city has to offer, they have a number of plush rooms to choose from and a range of lovely amenities. Click here to check availability
Amsterdam Jewel Canal Apartments – If you’re looking for an apartment or a comfortable self-catering option, these are an excellent choice. They have a range of fully-furnished flats to choose from along with a great location for seeing all Amsterdam has to offer. Click here to check availability
Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark – Budget and solo visitors who’ve chosen Amsterdam for their European city break will love this highly-rated hostel in the centre of the city. They have both private rooms and dorms on offer along with breakfast available in the mornings. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Amsterdam hotels!
A smaller city when comparing Brussels vs Amsterdam, but one with a huge amount of character; Brussels is the main seat of the European Parliament, but it’s also the capital of a small country with a varied history, language, gastronomy and culture. If you like strong beer, beautiful buildings and unusual attractions, Brussels is the city for you.
Since both are very accessible from abroad, choosing whether to visit Brussels or Amsterdam in terms of how long or how expensive it will be to get there isn’t the easiest decision criteria.
The Brussels airport connects many major European cities, as well as four main train stations with further excellent connections, thanks to the city’s importance in the European Union.
You can drive from the airport into the centre in just 20 minutes, or arrive in 30 minutes by train, as once you’re in Brussels centre, you won’t need a car to get around. You can view train schedules here.
You can also simplify your journey massively by taking a Eurostar train from London to Brussels in just 2 hours! You would arrive at Brussels Central Station, from which it’s a short walk to the historic square, although if you want to reach the city’s other attractions, you can simply walk, or take a bus, tram or the metro.
It’s also easy to use the train to go on a day trip from Brussels should you have more time in the city. Popular options include the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bruges, Ghent and even tiny Luxembourg or Lille in France.
Day tickets for public transport are slightly cheaper in Brussels than in Amsterdam, but not significantly.
Like in Amsterdam, in Brussels, you can also buy a 24, 48 or 72-hour Brussels City Card that includes access to city-wide public transport to help you get around Brussels, to have free entry to almost 50 museums and attractions in Brussels and discounts at many other establishments.
Some of the sites accessible for free with the Brussels City Card include Brussels Planetarium, Train World, Belgian Brewers Museum, René Magritte Museum, Abstract Art Museum and the Old Masters Museum. All of which are excellent museums, so if you’re planning on having a cultural weekend in Brussels or Amsterdam, you can have a fantastic time in either, but Brussels is cheaper.
For food and drink, there are many great options all over Brussels and for great prices too. Amsterdam may be famous for their chips, and the French may have claimed the name, but the Belgians are said to have actually invented French Fries, so you can’t miss out while you’re in the capital.
You can also find Belgian staples like chicory gratin and waffles all over, but they will cost more in the more touristic zones, such as the famous Arcade.
Brussels also has an excellent concert venue, AB Ancienne Belgique, that hosts many different music groups for very cheap prices.
If live music excites you as much as it does me, then take a look at the line-ups in Brussels or Amsterdam before you head over so you can guarantee yourself tickets. But you’re sure to find cheaper concerts in Brussels than Amsterdam.
Brussels has some fantastic museums and art galleries, but when you compare it to Amsterdam or Paris, Brussels pales in comparison. What makes the city so unique, however, is the beautiful architecture, lovely Royal Palace, exceptional beers and quirky artistic activities and curios that you can spot as you wander around.
Brussels’ main square, the Grand Place, is your first must-see spot in the Belgian capital. Created at a marketplace in the 12th century, this area has been the hub of Brussels for centuries, with the construction of the town hall in the 15th century turning it into a political centre to boot.
The amazing buildings that line the lovely and lively square look like they’re straight out of a fairytale, with wonderfully ornate windows and roofs adding such charm to the area.
Just off the square is another iconic area of Brussels, the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, also known as the Arcade. This spectacular 19th-century street is filled with quaint shops selling sweet treats and Belgian produce (often more expensive than other, less central shops) in a beautiful covered Renaissance-style street.
The stunning glass roof helps keep the area ventilated and stay dry if you’re unfortunate to have bad weather while you’re in Brussels, so this is a fantastic place to wander through at any time of day.
Much like Paris’ iconic Eiffel Tower, the Atomium was built for Brussels’ World Fair in 1958 and was kept due to its incredible structure and design that now symbolises Brussels. The Atomium is impossible to miss, as it’s a 165 billion times magnification of an iron cell with 9 atoms, standing 102 metres tall in the North of the city. You can easily reach it in half an hour on public transport.
Not only can you go up the structure, but you can also enter six of the atoms to learn from the various science exhibitions, take part in a workshop, or eat in the restaurant with magnificent views over the whole city.
Entrance tickets aren’t expensive and allow you access to the nearby Brussels Design Museum too. You can pre-book tickets here.
Possibly the world’s most famous urinator, the Manneken-Pis, fondly nicknamed Petit Julien, is a quintessential Brussels statue and not one you want to miss in the city. The small bronze statue was first created in the 17th century and became a symbol of the Belgians’ rebellious and cheeky spirit, which unfortunately saw him vandalised and stolen over many centuries.
He has, however, been restored so visitors from all over the world can take a photo of the oddly adorable little man. Locals dress the Manneken-Pis up in specially-made costumes for special occasions, most of which you can find in the nearby museum dedicated to him and his history. The Manneken-Pis is so famous in fact, that he was joined in 1987 by his female counterpart Jeanneke Pis!
You can find this little girl in a small street near the Delirium Café (one of Belgium’s most famous breweries and well worth a visit) squatting over a rock with a cheeky smile on her face, further embracing this stereotype of the brazen Belgians. The third pisser to complete your unusual walking tour of Brussels centre is the Zinneke Pis!
This little dog weeing on a post can be hard to spot if you don’t know where to find him as he isn’t behind a fence like the others. On the corner of Rue des Chartreux and Rue Saint-Christophe, the small bronze statue was added in 1997 to memorialise the city’s stray cat and dog population as well as add another urinating statue to the collection.
It’s just a 20-minute walk around the centre to see all three statues, so try to spot them all while you’re in Brussels.
You might think it’s impossible to see the whole of Europe in one afternoon, but it’s not if you’re in Brussels!
Mini Europe is a miniature continent spread out in a large park, with 350 of the most iconic European landmarks laid out amongst bonsai trees and small plants, to show off the continent at a 1/25 scale. So if you’re still undecided between Brussels vs Amsterdam, worry no longer! You can see them both from the same place!
There are also miniature people and animatronics that bring the 27 countries of the EU and the UK to life in mini Europe. You can see Vesuvius erupt, trains pass through different stations and little boats pass by the even littler Little Mermaid statue of Copenhagen, all in a roughly two-hour walk around the grounds.
Tickets are relatively expensive (you can pre-book here) but you do get a discount with the Brussels City Card, and it’s definitely worth stopping by while you’re nearby in the Atomium, especially if you’re with the family.
Belgium is renowned for its beer the world over, so you can’t set foot in the country without visiting a brewery and sampling some of the local tipples. There are breweries all over the city, including the most famous Brasserie Cantillon, which do tours of their breweries plus tastings. You can also take a tour that provides tastings across breweries.
You can also find legendary Belgian beers in various bars across the city, with the Delirium Café a favourite among tourists, great new brewers at Brasserie de la Senne and En Stoemelings, and beer straight from the vat with live music at weekends in La Source Beer Co.
Although not strictly from Brussels, some fantastic Belgian beers you should try are Leffe, Brugse Zot, Grimbergen and Westmalle, most of which have been brewed for centuries by Belgian monks (Grimbergen has been brewed since 1128!!) so you know the recipes are perfect. But be warned, some Belgian beers can be rather strong…
There haven’t been any mentions of museums to visit in Brussels because quite clearly, Amsterdam has some of the best museums in Europe. So, while you can of course have a wonderful time in any or all of the six museums that comprise the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, the best Brussels Museum is that of Belgian surrealist René Magritte.
Magritte’s house of 24 years has been transformed into a museum dedicated to the life and works of The Treachery of Images painter, so you can wander around his studio and the small room off his living room where he produced a great many of his works including Golconda, featuring his signature men in black suits and bowler hats.
Unfortunately, many of his most famous works such as The Son of Man are either in galleries in the USA or in private collections, so they’re not easy to see for Europeans. However, being able to walk around Magritte’s House and see his personal belongings as well as the surroundings that inspired him is a great look into the artist’s work.
There’s also an abstract art museum next to Magritte’s House which you have access to with your entry ticket, or free with the Brussels Card. You can pre-book tickets here.
There are great restaurants all over Brussels selling fantastic local produce, such as Fernand Obb Delicatessen, as well as expertly prepared international cuisine, and all for an affordable price. But one of the best places to eat in Brussels is the Wolf Food Market.
With 19 street food stalls set up, 2 bars, and chairs and tables scattered around, you can find many great options, so this is one of the best stops for big groups or families with diverse taste buds.
Named after Rue Fossé aux Loups where so-called financial wolves of the former General Savings and Pensions headquarters used to gather for an after-work drink and snack, this area has been transformed into a trendy culinary tour de force.
Choose from pasta to Middle Eastern wraps to sushi and Belgian waffles; you won’t be disappointed with a stopover in the Wolf Food Market.
Where to Stay in Brussels
Motel One Brussels – Located in the centre of Brussels, this mid-range hotel is an excellent choice in the Belgian capital. They have a myriad of great rooms to choose from, an on-site bar and a great buffet breakfast available to guests. Click here to check availability
Pillows City Hotel Brussels Centre – This plush hotel is a fantastic choice for those after a luxury option in Brussels. They have countless great rooms on offer, an unbeatable location and plenty of great amenities for guests to enjoy. Click here to check availability
Appart’City Confort – These apartments are a great option for visitors looking for self-catering accommodation while in Brussels. They have a number of fully-furnished flats to choose from coupled with all of the amenities offered by a traditional hotel. Click here to check availability
MEININGER Bruxelles City Center – If you’re visiting Brussels on a budget, then this hostel is a great choice. They have both dorm beds and private rooms to choose from, great common areas and good self-catering facilities for those who want to make their own meals. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Brussels hotels!
Just two hours away from each other on the train, Amsterdam and Brussels have a lot in common, and not just in their languages and love of chips. But if you have to weigh up Brussels vs Amsterdam, here are the best parts of both.
If poor weather doesn’t deter you and you want a weekend full of amazing art and mind-blowing museums, you have to visit Amsterdam. With so many great Dutch artists having been influential on the global art scene over the last thousand years, you can’t miss out on a gallery visit whilst you’re in Amsterdam, as the city boasts some of the best museums in Europe.
However, Amsterdam is slightly more expensive and touristic than Brussels, so if you’re looking for a calmer trip, wandering the streets looking for odd statues and Tintin graffiti between tasting delicious chocolates and getting an eyeful of stunning buildings, then you absolutely have to visit Brussels.
Although, Amsterdam does also make for an excellent city to wander around, with very picturesque canals, bridges, bicycles and buildings to see. Plus, with more canals than Venice (and Birmingham), a boat ride on a canal is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
On the culinary side of things, Amsterdam vs Brussels is a tough match. Dutch food is not world-renowned, but Indonesian is, and Amsterdam has a lot of fantastic examples of authentic Indonesian food to get stuck into.
That said, Belgium has a rich and hearty culinary identity heavily influenced by the French as well as their colonies, and it has a millennia-long history of beer making. So if great food and beer is your idea of a good time – so is Brussels.
Deciding whether to visit Brussels or Amsterdam is no easy feat. But hopefully, this guide can help you on your way to choosing which of the two beautiful European capitals will give you the best holiday.
Are you considering a visit to Amsterdam or Brussels? Have any questions about these cities? Let us know in the comments!