Last updated on May 12, 2023 by Wandering our World
Europe’s big cities are some of the most exciting places in the world to visit. Packed full of history and filled with interesting landmarks, fun attractions, and fabulous food, these cultural hubs have so much to offer, with Barcelona and Amsterdam being perfect examples.
However they are also both very different from each other…
Amsterdam, the Dutch capital, is nicknamed ‘Venice of the North’ for its famous canals, but it’s also known as one of the most laid-back locations on Earth, with very friendly people and progressive lifestyles – far more progressive than Barcelona.
Then, there’s Barcelona, the beating heart of Spain’s Catalonia region. Laid-back like Amsterdam, this city is also a dynamic and colorful place, filled with jaw-dropping landmarks (arguably better than Amsterdam’s) and scenic sights around every corner.
These cities have quite a few things in common too. They’re both relaxing and romantic in their own special ways, with terrific sightseeing opportunities and pretty rowdy nightlife scenes for people who like to party.
Both cities are also strongly associated with amazing creative minds from the past. Amsterdam, for example, has the Van Gogh Museum in honor of arguably the greatest Dutch artist who ever lived, while Barcelona’s style and architecture is linked with the genius designer, Antoni Gaudi.
Yet, despite a few interesting similarities, these cities also have some serious differences in areas like weather, food, range of attractions, and general vibes. And, if you take a closer look at those key differences, you might find it much easier to decide which city is best for you.
Our guide should help with that!
Below, we’ll be pitting Amsterdam against Barcelona in a range of key categories, like affordability, family-friendliness, nightlife, food and more! Giving you our full honest lowdown on both cities and all they have to offer.
- A Quick Overview
- Which Is Best For Activities?
- Which Is Better For Day Trips?
- Which Is Better For Nightlife?
- Which Is Best For Shopping?
- Which Has The Best Food?
- Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
- Which Is Better For Couples?
- Which Is Better For Backpackers?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Easier To Get To?
- Which Is Easier To Get Around?
- Which Has Better Weather?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview: Amsterdam vs Barcelona
Amsterdam: A Quick Overview
Home to over 920,000 people, with more than 2.4 million in the complete metropolitan area, Amsterdam is the biggest city in the Netherlands, and it’s also the country’s capital.
It’s situated in the province of North Holland, up in the northwest corner of the country, and it’s famed for its many canals and 17th century architecture.
Amsterdam has been around for centuries. It’s believed to have been founded in the 12th century, and started life as a small and sleepy fishing town, gradually growing over the years to become one of the wealthiest cities in the entire Western World. This was primarily due to the city’s strong trade links with the Baltic Sea and other regions.
In the modern world, Amsterdam isn’t such an influential trading power, but it’s still the main cultural and economic hub of the Netherlands and one of the main financial centers in all of Europe.
It’s also a very popular tourist hotspot, boasting an array of interesting landmarks and attractions, like the charming Nine Streets historic area and Anne Frank Museum.
In terms of vibes, Amsterdam is almost like two different cities rolled into one. During the day, it’s a cozy and quaint place, with laid-back locals sipping coffee or hanging out at the many legal cannabis cafes.
But at night, it bursts into life, with a thriving Red Light District and wild nightlife scene. Overall, it’s a fascinating, safe, and welcoming city, with great people and lots to do.
Barcelona: A Quick Overview
Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain. Home to more than 1.6 million people, with over 5.4 million in the metropolitan area, it’s actually smaller than Amsterdam in terms of physical size, but much larger in population, with many more people per square mile.
The city is located in the northeast part of Spain, in the Catalonia region, of which it is the capital.
The history of Barcelona takes us all the way back to the days of Ancient Rome and the 1st century, when it was originally called ‘Barcino’.
It started off small and humble, but grew and grew over the years, eventually becoming one of the main economic and political centers for the entire Mediterranean region in the Late Middle Ages.
Nowadays, Barcelona continues to be one of the biggest and most influential cities in Spain. The local population speak both Spanish and Catalan, and the city is one of the biggest and most popular places to visit on the Mediterranean Sea.
Barcelona is also renowned for its rich cultural heritage and striking architecture, with landmarks like the Sagrada Familia.
Friendly and laid-back, but with more than a little fire in its belly, Barcelona is a dynamic and engaging city where you can spend the days enjoying long walks and admiring the magnificent architecture.
Then finish up the evenings sipping sangria in a lively local tapas bar or screaming along with the crowd at an FC Barcelona game.
Which Is Best For Activities?
When comparing two destinations like Barcelona and Amsterdam, one of the best things to do is look at the main activities and attractions that each city has to offer.
Overall, though Amsterdam and Barcelona both have beautiful buildings, iconic art, and super museums, they’re clearly very different places.
The Dutch capital certainly has more eclectic and unusual attractions, while the Spanish city has a greater range of typical tourist activities, like rollercoasters and beaches.
To help you figure out which location is more in-tune with your personality and preferences, let’s look at the best things to do in Amsterdam and Barcelona.
Amsterdam: The Activities
In Amsterdam, as in many old European cities, there are lots of beautiful buildings and historic landmarks to admire.
The city is famed for its Canal Belt, as well as its narrow streets and cute bridges, often decorated with colorful flowers. Simply strolling around Amsterdam is a blissful activity, all by itself, and the city also has many cycle lanes for bike riders.
Many travelers start their Amsterdam adventures in the Nine Streets area, as this is where you can get some of the best canal views and see some of the finest examples of 17th century Dutch architecture.
Or, if you want to get straight into the attractions, you can head to the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum to admire iconic art from centuries gone by.
The Anne Frank Museum is another must-see spot, situated in the very same building where Anne Frank, the famous young diarist, hid with her family during the Second World War.
Or, for something different, Amsterdam also has a museum dedicated to cat art, or a secret church museum called Our Lord in the Attic.
There are plenty of other quirky landmarks to discover around this city, from its cannabis cafes to its lively urban beaches and infamous Red Light District.
But, if you want to see some greenery and nature, you can take a stroll around Vondelpark or head just out of the city to Keukenhof to see the world-famous tulip gardens in all of their colorful splendor.
Barcelona: The Activities
Over in Barcelona, there are some truly extraordinary landmarks to see, starting off with the breathtaking Sagrada Familia.
Designed by beloved Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi – whose other works can be seen elsewhere around the city – this church has an astonishing level of detail in its design, inside and out. It’s by far one of the prettiest churches on Earth.
Gaudi’s other major creations in Barcelona include the Park Guell, which almost looks like a place from another planet, along with the famous Casa Mila, with its curving, decorative facade.
The famous La Rambla street is another big landmark to check off your list, along with the Gothic Barcelona Cathedral and surrounding Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter).
In terms of museums and culture, the Picasso Museum should be part of every traveler’s itinerary – this place houses close to 4,000 works by the famous artist.
The MNAC museum also boasts a terrific collection of Catalan art, while those looking for more modern, urban art can check out Bostik Murals, where some of the best street artists have made their mark.
Since the sun never stops shining in Barcelona, you might also like to spend a lot of your time outdoors. Thankfully, the city has many markets, parks, gardens, a theme park, and even surrounding mountains like Tibidabo for hiking and climbing.
There are also brilliant beaches in the area, like Barceloneta and Llevant, with soft sands and warm Mediterranean waters.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
You can easily spend a whole week in either Amsterdam or Barcelona without getting bored, as both cities have such a lot of fun things to do.
However, you might want to spend a day traveling beyond the city limits to see some other areas around the Netherlands or Spain, respectively.
Amsterdam has great transport links all across the country. In no time at all, you can travel to cities like the famous seaport of Rotterdam, the medieval Utrecht, or the political center of The Hague.
You can even head over the border into other countries, visiting Cologne in Germany or the Belgian cities of Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges.
From Barcelona, the options are more limited. Many travelers choose to head along the coast, stopping off at port cities like Tarragona or Mataro for seaside fun.
Gorgeous Girona is also quite close, boasting beautiful medieval architecture and Catalan cuisine. It’s also possible to plan an international day trip to Andorra or France, but you’ll probably need to rent a car for that.
Overall, with its superior transport links and wider range of nearby day trip destinations, Amsterdam is the better option.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
Plenty of people from around the world flock to Barcelona and Amsterdam to enjoy the party scenes of these two cities.
They both have great nightlife, and you’ll have multiple bars, clubs, and other evening entertainment venues to pick from, no matter which city you visit.
In Amsterdam, while the days can feel pretty laid-back and chilled-out, the evenings are lively and fiery.
Dam Square and other key areas, like Rembrandtplein and the Red Light District, boast many pubs, clubs, and other places to hang out once the sun has set. Whether you want cocktails, thumping electronic music, or something different, you can find it all.
Barcelona is also a prime party hotspot, with the city really livening up after dark. You can always spot crowds of locals and tourists hanging around the tapas bars in the early evenings, before moving on to rowdy nightclubs and crazy beach parties as the night goes on.
From cozy jazz bars to wild discos, there are so many options in this city.
Overall, it has to be a tie in this category, with no clear winner.
Amsterdam is great for classic underground dance clubs and traditional Dutch pubs, while Barcelona is unbeatable for feisty fiestas and bubbling bars.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
A lot of people also head to both Amsterdam and Barcelona to shop. Both of these cities have markets, department stores, and long, pedestrianized avenues, lined with big brand boutiques and designer stores on either side. But which is best for serious shopaholics?
Well, Barcelona might just claim a win in this category. There are simply so many terrific spots to shop in this city, starting off with the popular Portal de L’Angel, over in the Gothic Quarter.
That’s where you’ll find all the usual high-street names and fashion brands, and it’s a great place for clothes and accessories, as well as books and entertainment products.
The Rambla de Catalunya is a slightly less crowded place to browse some boutiques, with a lot of luxury designers present in this area, while the Carrer d’Avinyo offers a quirkier selection of independent stores and souvenir shops, selling a range of traditional Catalan gifts, like espadrilles. There are also malls, like Diagonal Mar, and markets, like Boqueria.
Amsterdam is also no slouch when it comes to shopping. It has everything, from the vintage stores of the Nine Streets to the famous floating flower market of Bloemenmarkt.
There are also famous designer stores and massive malls, like Magna Plaza. The famous Albert Cuyp Market is also a must-do if you want to experience some authentic Amsterdam culture.
As we can see, both cities are super places to shop, but Barcelona is arguably just a little better, with more diverse streets and a wider range of stores to explore.
Which Has The Best Food?
When it comes to choosing the best food between Barcelona and Amsterdam, it really comes down to a choice between Spanish and Dutch cuisine. And, in that particular battle, Spanish will probably be the winner for the majority of people.
Spanish food is famed for being rich, colorful, and flavorful, with spicy chorizo sausages, delicious paella, tortillas, jamon, patatas bravas, and fried seafood being just some of the must-try Spanish specialties in the Catalan capital.
Barcelona has a truly special culinary scene, with everything from greasy street food to gourmet-grade, Michelin-starred restaurants.
There are other styles of food here, too, like French, Italian, and Chinese, but most visitors will be more than happy with the Spanish menus at the city’s many tapas bars and other eateries.
Amsterdam’s restaurant scene is a little less developed, and Dutch cuisine in general doesn’t usually rank alongside the likes of Spanish, French, or Italian.
There are still some super local specialties to try, like stews and seafood dishes, but it hasn’t quite the same excitement or flair that you see in Barcelona.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
So, let’s say that you’re planning a family trip to Europe and trying to decide which city is best between Barcelona and Amsterdam? Which of these wonderful locations is best-suited to keep both kids and grown-ups entertained?
Well, while media portrayals have sometimes shown Amsterdam in a bad light, it’s actually a very kid-friendly place during the daytime.
There are lots of fun things for visitors of all ages to see and do in Amsterdam, like meeting exotic animals at the Royal Zoo or admiring amazing art in the Van Gogh Museum, which also does kids’ painting workshops for ages 6 to 12.
Amsterdam’s NEMO Science Museum is also very child-friendly, with all sorts of interactive exhibits and educational activities, while canal cruises and playtime in Vondelpark are other great ways to spend your days.
With all of that said, some parents may still feel a little uncomfortable with the presence of the cannabis cafes and seedier side of the city.
So, how does Barcelona compare? Well, the Catalan capital is often regarded as one of Europe’s premier family destinations.
There are numerous attractions here that were designed with little ones in mind, like the Tibidabo Amusement Park – one of the oldest in the world – and the remarkable Automaton Museum, filled with magical, mechanical toys and models.
Barcelona also has its own aquarium, with thousands of marine creatures to admire, along with a zoo, a chocolate museum, an interactive science museum, and multiple parks for family picnics and activities.
Of course, Barcelona also has the benefit of warmer weather and multiple nearby beaches for classic family fun and games.
Overall, the winner here simply has to be Barcelona. It’s got much more of a family feel, and the wide range of attractions will surely please kids of any age.
Which Is Better For Couples?
For couples, the choice between Amsterdam and Barcelona is often a tricky one to make.
Both cities are very beautiful and romantic, and they both have great places to eat, super live entertainment, and lots of cool cultural activities, too.
Ultimately, the right city for you and your partner will depend on personal tastes.
Amsterdam is excellent for long walks with someone special, holding hands and making your way along the Nine Streets or taking in the stunning collections of the Van Gogh Museum or Rijksmuseum. Its nightlife scene will also appeal to couples who love bars and clubs.
Barcelona, meanwhile, wins when it comes to food, with a myriad of enchanting restaurants to choose from, perfect for those romantic evening meals with your partner.
It also has excellent nightlife and amazing architecture to admire, along with superior shopping experiences and cheaper prices, making it ideal for a budget-friendly city break.
Overall, there’s no right or wrong answer in this category, as both cities work well for couples of all ages, but Barcelona might just have a slight advantage, thanks to its great food scene.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
Finally, the last group we have to talk about are the backpackers.
Backpacking travelers tend to be adventurous, eager to see and do as much as they can in a short amount of time, without necessarily spending too much money along the way. So, which works best for that kind of trip?
Well, Amsterdam is often cited as one of the top backpacking spots in Europe, especially for student-age travelers, thanks to its laid-back lifestyle, arty vibes, and unique activities.
There are multiple hostels dotted around the Dutch capital, along with great transport links, ready to whisk you away to other cities and destinations around the continent.
Barcelona is also a prime spot for backpacking adventures. Like Amsterdam, it has plenty of hostels, and it’s actually the cheaper of the two cities overall, so you can grab food and drinks here without being too shocked by the price tags.
There’s lots to do, with a lively nightlife scene, great live entertainment, and cultural landmarks, but it’s not as good for day trips or city hopping.
Overall, Amsterdam may have a slight edge in this category, especially if you plan on backpacking to different destinations around Europe.
However, the most budget-conscious backpackers might prefer the cheaper prices of Barcelona.
Which Is Cheaper?
Last but not least, we have to talk about prices.
Trips to Europe can be expensive, especially in big cities where businesses often hike their prices due to the high numbers of foreign tourists, and both Barcelona and Amsterdam rank among the more expensive destinations in Western Europe.
However, there is a difference between them, and it’s Barcelona that emerges as the cheaper choice.
Average costs for accommodation, food, public transport, and even local activities and entertainment are all cheaper in the Spanish city, and budget-conscious travelers can have a great time here without having to worry about spending too much.
It’s perfectly possible to have an affordable stay in Amsterdam, as well, but the prices are higher all-around and Barcelona is the clear winner in terms of cost.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: The 3-star Top Of The City bed & breakfast is set in the heart of the city within walking distance of many of the main attractions. The hotel is clean, modern and set right beside a canal so you’ll be staying in a fantastic setting too. See photos and rates!
Luxury: There’s many reasons for Hotel TwentySeven being one of the best rated 5-star hotels in Europe. For one, with just 16 suites the service is extremely personal, the decor is gorgeous, and the on-site restaurant even has a Michelin star. On top of that, the location is unbeatable. See photos and rates!
Budget: SuiteaBCN has gorgeous self-contained apartments in the center of Barcelona for a fraction of the price of similar accommodation. From the unbeatable location to the stained-glass windows (!), this place is a unique stay on a budget. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The five-star Ohla Eixample is a luxury hotel set in the heart of Barcelona that is cheaper (and in our opinion better) than similar hotels in the area. On top of that they even have a gorgeous rooftop swimming pool. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
In regard to accessibility, Amsterdam and Barcelona are both super simple to get to, with big international airports and direct flights all over the globe.
No matter where you’re flying from, you should find it pretty straightforward to plot your route to either location.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol is one of the biggest and busiest in Europe. It’s conveniently located less than 20 minutes from the city center, and it receives direct flights from countless cities in Europe, the US, Canada, South America, Africa, and Asia.
Barcelona Airport is also excellent in terms of the quantity and range of destinations served, with flights to and from the US, Canada, and countless parts of Europe. It doesn’t have quite as many routes as Amsterdam, and it’s a little further from the city center, but still very easy to get to.
Overall, Amsterdam is slightly more accessible, but the difference is very negligible.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
Both Amsterdam and Barcelona are easy to access, but which city is simpler to get around, either on foot or with the aid of local public transport services?
Well, this is also a pretty close call, as both cities are super simple to navigate and highly walkable.
Amsterdam’s many attractions are mostly situated in the center, and you can easily walk around from landmark to landmark and museum to museum with minimal fuss.
You can also try cycling – one of the Netherlands’ favorite pastimes, with many cycle lines sprawling across the city – or ride the trams and buses.
Barcelona also has many attractions and landmarks clustered together in the center – you can walk from the Park Guell to the Sagrada Familia in under half an hour, for instance, and there are buses, trams, and an expansive metro network running underground to take you all over the city.
Overall, with a slightly more compact center and simpler layout, Barcelona is slightly easier to get around than Amsterdam, but there’s not a big difference between the two.
Which Has The Best Weather?
Measured in a straight line, there are around 770 miles separating Barcelona and Amsterdam, and the Spanish city is much further south and closer to the equator.
Naturally, this has a pretty big effect on the climate, and weather conditions can be pretty different in Barcelona and Amsterdam.
While summers can be pretty warm in Amsterdam, average temperatures are significantly higher in Barcelona, all-year long.
You can visit the Spanish city in winter and still walk around outdoors quite comfortably, and it’s often best to visit in the spring or fall to get great weather and smaller crowds.
In contrast, Amsterdam can get very frosty in the winter months and has quite changeable, unpredictable weather for large parts of the year, with lots of rainfall in summer and fall.
Because of this, Barcelona clearly wins the weather battle.
Amsterdam vs Barcelona: Which Is The Better Choice?
So, it all comes down to this: which city is better between Amsterdam and Barcelona? Well, the truth is that neither city can be classed as ‘better’ than the other.
There are lots of things to love about both of them, and they both excel in key areas, with Barcelona being great for food, beaches, and sunshine, while Amsterdam has unique charm and one-of-a-kind attractions.
Ideally, it’s great to see both of these cities, if you can, but if you’re only able to visit one, we’d recommend Barcelona to most people.
It’s a wonderful city, with dreamy architecture, excellent attractions, and the kind of food you want to eat again and again. It’s also fabulous for families, with lots of awesome attractions to keep every kid happy.
At the same time, for backpackers, solo adventurers, or simply those looking for unusual and memorable experiences, Amsterdam is absolutely worth experiencing.
It’s got a wild nightlife scene, coupled with some of the most picturesque streets and scenes you could ever hope to see, with lovely locals ready to provide a warm welcome.