Copenhagen vs Amsterdam: Which City to Visit?

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by Olivia Ellis


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Choosing whether to visit Copenhagen vs Amsterdam can be a bit overwhelming when both the Danish and Dutch capitals seem so alike.

From a thriving cycling culture and liberal attitude to two rich yet diverse art scenes, both cities are known to be two of the most exciting places to visit. While both are highly recommended to visit, you may only have the opportunity to plan a trip to one of the two cities.

In general, choose Copenhagen if you’re looking for a hip destination perfect for foodies. On the other hand, Amsterdam is a great option for museum lovers and those looking for a booming nightlife.

However, there is a lot more to consider when deciding between Amsterdam and Copenhagen so we’ll compare the two to help you better decide which Northern European capital city is best suited to you!

Copenhagen

Consistently voted one of the happiest cities in the world, Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark, is the perfect blend of history, style, and sustainability.

Known for the best restaurant in the world, an impressive approach to sustainability, and a culture of “hygge”, Copenhagen is a key contender for one of the best cities to visit in northern Europe.

To make the most of a trip to the Danish capital, try to spend at least 2 days in the city to get a more holistic experience of Copenhagen, see all of the tourist attractions and explore some of the cool neighborhoods in the city.

Christiansborg Palace
Christiansborg Palace

Accessibility

How accessible is getting to and around Copenhagen? Your first point of transportation in Copenhagen will be how you get to the Danish capital. Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport is located just outside of Copenhagen and is conveniently connected to the center of the city by public transport.

If you’re visiting Copenhagen by train from another Danish city or nearby country, Copenhagen Central Station is located in the center of the city with frequent train routes connecting Copenhagen to the rest of Denmark along with the rest of Scandinavia. You can view train schedules here.

Once you reach Copenhagen, the city itself is known to have one of the best public transportation systems in Europe. This is partly due to Copenhagen’s assertive attitude towards sustainability as well as its reputation for some of the best architecture and design in the world.

Copenhagen has a well-developed and efficient public transportation system that consists of buses, trains, and a self-driving metro network. Between all of the modes in the public transportation network, you’ll find that no matter where you are in the city or neighboring areas, you can easily and conveniently get to any point in the city that you wish.

Copenhagen’s public transportation system operates on a zone-based fare system as the city is divided into different fare zones, and the fare you pay depends on the number of zones you travel through. If you plan on using a lot of public transport and visiting many attractions, it can be worth purchasing the Copenhagen Card.

The city encourages sustainability, and because of this, the center of Copenhagen is extremely walkable as well as enjoyable. Wandering around the center of the city on foot is a pleasant experience, and taking in the almost perfectly designed and styled streets is one of the best ways to see the city.

In addition, both Copenhagen and Amsterdam are cities prioritising bicycling, making Copenhagen an ideal destination if you’re keen to rent a bike and explore on two wheels.

The city has dedicated bike lanes, separate from vehicular traffic, that make cycling safe and enjoyable. You can even choose to go on a bike tour if you prefer to explore with a guide.

Look for the blue bike lane markings and follow the designated routes. Copenhagen has numerous bike rental shops or bike-sharing services, where you can rent bicycles for hours, days, or longer periods.

Colourful buildings on Copenhagen's harbour
Colourful buildings on Copenhagen’s harbour

Affordability

When looking to visit Copenhagen or Amsterdam, you’ll find that Copenhagen can be more expensive than Amsterdam. Copenhagen is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe for visitors regarding main costs such as accommodation, activities, and eating out at restaurants.

Regarding accommodation, prices tend to be higher in Copenhagen compared to Amsterdam but it really depends on where you are staying and the kind of accommodation you’re after. However, Copenhagen’s hotel rates can be quite steep, particularly in the city center.

If you’re set on heading to Copenhagen but would like to find lower costs for accommodation, the winter season in Copenhagen will give you lower rates for hotels, with the caveat of short and cold days if you can manage and embrace the Danish “hygge”.

Another category where Copenhagen comes out higher in costs than Amsterdam is food costs and eating out. Copenhagen is known for high-end gourmet restaurants, as well as delicious traditional Danish foods. Eating out in Copenhagen is expensive, with even a simple sandwich typically costing around 3 or 4 times the cost of a sandwich in other capital cities.

For affordable food options in Copenhagen, visiting a supermarket to purchase food to cook a meal if your accommodation has a kitchen, or purchasing ready-made meals is a great option. While Copenhagen may be known for its higher food prices, with some research and wise choices, you can enjoy the city’s culinary delights without straining your travel budget.

As for transportation costs when deciding between Copenhagen and Amsterdam, fortunately, they are around the same for both cities. The only difference is that Copenhagen’s metro system works in zones so the more zones you travel within, the higher the cost of your ticket, in comparison to Amsterdam, where public transportation tickets are one cost for a one-way ticket.

Following the trend, activities in Copenhagen are also more expensive in Copenhagen than in Amsterdam, but costs can still vary depending on the specific activity.

While some activities in Copenhagen such as Tivoli Gardens or Christiansborg Palace are high in cost, other activities such as guided tours and boat tours of Copenhagen (where you can see the iconic Little Mermaid statue!) can be more budget-friendly.

The iconic Little Mermaid Statue
The iconic Little Mermaid Statue

Things to do in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a city where just walking around truly feels like an amusement park, with so much to do, see, learn, and explore.

A great place to start any Copenhagen itinerary is by visiting Nyhavn, a charming harbor district famous for its colorful buildings, lively atmosphere, and canal-side cafes. At Nyhavn, walk along the idyllic waterfront, and soak in the picturesque views. Alternatively, consider taking a canal cruise.

If you visit in the warmer months, you’ll be treated to a buzzing atmosphere, with locals and tourists alike swimming in the harbour waters, enjoying boat rides, and enjoying drinks and tasty food. In the winter, Nyhavn turns into a festive atmosphere, with a local holiday market lining the canal full of local specialties, gifts, and warm drinks

Tivoli Gardens is also an excellent place to visit during any trip to the Danish capital. This enchanting amusement park, dating back to 1843, features thrilling rides, beautifully landscaped gardens, and a magical atmosphere that captivates visitors of all ages. You can buy tickets here.

For an alternative activity during your time in Copenhagen, a great area of the city to explore is Freetown Christiania, a self-governing neighborhood of the city known for its unique community, street art, and quirky atmosphere.

You also could wander around the hip Nørrebro neighborhood and get to know a cool, multicultural site of the Danish capital. The somewhat gritty Vesterbro area (which was the former Red Light District of Copenhagen) is another cool place to explore.

If you’re particularly interested in history, Amalienborg Palace, the residence of the Danish royal family, allows witnessing the changing of the guards and you can discover the Royal Palace through the Amalienborg Museum.

Another historical site to visit is the Christiansborg Palace, home to the Danish Parliament, which showcases impressive architecture and historical artefacts.

The world-famous Tivoli Gardens
The famous Tivoli Gardens

Where to Stay in Copenhagen

The Square – Located in the centre of Copenhagen within a stone’s throw from Tivoli Gardens, this hotel is a great choice in the Danish Capital. They offer great rooms to choose from and there is also a good staff to ensure you have a great stay. 

Ascot Hotel – This hotel, located in a historic 19th-century building, is an excellent upmarket option in Copenhagen. Located within easy reach of all the city’s top attractions, they have a range of great rooms on offer and plenty of amenities.

Copenhagen Downtown Hostel – Those visiting the Danish capital solo or on a budget will love this centrally-located hostel. They have dorms and private rooms along with an on-site bar filled with affordable drinks!

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Copenhagen hotels!

Amsterdam

Quite possibly one of the most visited European capital cities with 8.8 million visitors year-wide, Amsterdam is a lively and eclectic gem of northwest Europe.

With names to fame such as the bicycle capital of the world, and the UNESCO World Heritage picturesque city of canals, Amsterdam is a city that’s extremely popular for good reason and deserves a spot on your travel bucket list. To get the full experience of Amsterdam and do the city justice, 4 to 5 days spent in the city is best.

Amsterdam Canals
Amsterdam Canals

Accessibility

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is one of the busiest airports in Europe and serves as a major international gateway. It offers direct flights to and from many cities worldwide, making it an extremely accessible city to reach from just about anywhere in the world. From the airport, Amsterdam city center is easily reached by train and bus transportation.

Once you’ve reached the city center, how does public transport fare in Amsterdam vs Copenhagen?

Like Copenhagen, the city offers a range of options for getting around, including trams, buses, metros, and ferries. The most popular mode of transportation, trams, offer convenient and reliable service to major attractions, neighborhoods, and transport hubs.

Amsterdam also operates free ferries, known as “veerpont,” across the IJ River, connecting the city center with neighborhoods like Amsterdam Noord, offering scenic views and a unique way to travel.

Beyond metro and ferry transportation, the city also has an extensive bus network that covers the entire city, including areas not served by trams or the metro, making it convenient to get around if your accommodation is in a different area.

As for walkability, Amsterdam is extremely walkable, with a small city center. Walking around the city is an attraction in its own right, wandering the quaint canaled streets and quintessentially European architecture of the city.

It’s also safe to say that Amsterdam wins over Copenhagen as the cycling capital of the world, making bicycles the chosen mode of transport for locals and brave tourists. However, both are incredibly cycle-friendly cities.

While it ultimately comes down to personal opinion and preference, due to having a major hub airport and a large number of transportation options, and more regular routes, Amsterdam may come out as the better option for accessibility in comparison to Copenhagen.

Vondelpark
Vondelpark in Amsterdam

Affordability

We’ve already concluded that Copenhagen can be more expensive to visit than Amsterdam, but how affordable is Amsterdam to visit?

Prices in Amsterdam in categories such as accommodation, activities, transport, and restaurants are on the moderate side in comparison to the rest of Europe.

Prices are typically cheaper in the Dutch capital than in Scandinavian capital cities like Stockholm or Oslo, but more expensive than in the Mediterranean or central/eastern Europe.

You’ll find that the city of Amsterdam offers a range of accommodation options to suit various budgets and preferences, from affordable hostels to high-end hotels. Amsterdam is truly a city for everyone in many ways, and the availability of accommodation options is one of them.

When it comes to food prices in Amsterdam, you’ll find that there are options to suit various budgets and tastes. For the cheapest options for food in the Dutch capital, you can explore the city’s street food scene and indulge in local snacks like Dutch fries or herring sandwiches, and bitterballen croquettes.

For a sit-down meal in Amsterdam, prices are quite moderate, making it a great city to visit if you’re on a moderate budget and hope to explore deep into the city’s food scene.

Activities costs in Amsterdam are pretty on par with those of Copenhagen, with prices depending on the specific activity you’re taking part in, along with the location and length of time of the activity.

Museums and walking tours in Amsterdam tend to be more affordable, while experiences such as the Heineken Experience are higher in cost.

Canal Boat in Amsterdam
Canal Boat in Amsterdam

Things to do in Amsterdam

There’s a multitude of experiences and things to do in Amsterdam, making it an exciting and culture-filled city to visit. Whether you’re someone particularly interested in history, art, the local food scene, or just wandering around, Amsterdam is an incredible city for everyone.

Exploring the city’s iconic Canal Ring, either on foot or by taking a leisurely canal cruise is a great way to appreciate the picturesque scenery and historical architecture. A walking tour is also a great way to learn more about the city, its history, and varied facets of cultural importance.

Amsterdam is famous for its art and culture, and the prime spots to explore this side of the city further are renowned museums such as the Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, and Anne Frank House.

Wandering through the charming Jordaan and The Nine Streets District neighborhoods, you can explore boutique shops, and cozy cafés, and soak in the laid-back and friendly local atmosphere. Dam Square is the city’s vibrant heart, and home to the Royal Palace and the National Monument.

Amsterdam’s public parks are also lush areas of greenery. Taking advantage of Amsterdam’s parks and gardens, such as Vondelpark is the perfect way to experience life as a local and unwind and enjoy nature.

Don’t forget to indulge in the local cuisine, which is full of tasty treats such as stroopwafel, fries, and other comforting Dutch classics. For a local experience in the city, make a point to visit vibrant markets like Albert Cuypmarkt, where you can purchase local goods and specialities as a souvenir to bring home. Alternatively, consider taking a food tour of the city.

Rijksmuseum
Rijksmuseum

Where to Stay in Amsterdam

‘t Hotel – Situated in a tradition Amsterdam canal house, this 3-star hotel is perfect for mid-range visitors to the Dutch capital. They offer a range of different rooms to choose from along with an excellent location for exploring the city.

Hotel Estheréa – This hotel is an excellent choice for those looking for a luxury stay in Amsterdam. Offering a number of sophisticated rooms to choose from, they have a great location only 300 meters from Dam Square.

Amsterdam Jewel Canal Apartments – If you’d like your own apartment while visiting Amsterdam, then these flats are an excellent choice. Fully equipped with everything you may need, they are also incredibly well-located for navigating the top attractions in the city.

Stayokay Amsterdam Vondelpark – Those visiting Amsterdam solo or on a budget will love this coll and hop hostel. Located in the centre of the city, there are both private rooms and dorm beds to choose from along with breakfast and good common areas.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Amsterdam hotels!

Traditional houses in Amsterdam
Traditional houses in Amsterdam

Copenhagen or Amsterdam: Which is Better to Visit

Overall, both Copenhagen and Amsterdam are excellent options for a trip to two of the capital cities of Northern Europe, and depending on your personal preferences and needs, there may be a better city suited to you.

If diving into a rich food scene and visiting world-renowned restaurants is a priority high on your travel needs and you have a flexible budget, I recommend heading to Copenhagen vs Amsterdam as Copenhagen’s food scene can’t be beaten and is known to be one of the best in Europe as well as the world.

From classic Danish street food and open-face sandwiches or “smorrebrod” to the best-rated restaurant in the world, Copenhagen is truly a foodie’s paradise in every way.

Both Copenhagen and Amsterdam have fascinating art scenes, and both are great contenders depending on the type of art you are interested in. If you’re more drawn to modern art and design, Copenhagen is best, but if you are a classic and historic art fan, Amsterdam wins.

If we’re looking at the total of museums overall, Amsterdam takes the prize with over 60 museums in the city center.

An extremely important factor for many people when planning a trip is the affordability of the destination. Copenhagen is one of the most expensive cities in Europe in just about every category, whereas in Amsterdam, prices can be more moderate, making it a more budget-friendly city between the two.

If you’re looking to visit Amsterdam or Copenhagen and are searching to get out and explore the most thriving nightlife between the two, Amsterdam is a city both famous and infamous for its booming nightlife. Amsterdam’s nightlife is renowned for its vibrant and diverse scene, offering something for everyone seeking a memorable evening out.

Making the right choice between visiting Amsterdam and Copenhagen can be tricky when, on paper, both are fantastic cities that appear to offer similar things. However, the Danish and Dutch capitals are distinct places with a lot to offer visitors.

Are you wondering whether to visit Copenhagen or Amsterdam? Have any questions about this city comparison? Let us know in the comments!

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Olivia is a writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from Michigan, USA, she is currently living in Athens, Greece exploring Europe and filmmaking. When she’s not travelling or writing, Olivia can be found cooking delicious new recipes from around the world, reading, and spending time outdoors.

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