Copenhagen or Amsterdam: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on August 9, 2023 by Wandering our World

The Danish capital or the Dutch one? It’s a very tough choice, and countless travelers have hesitated between these two beautiful European cities, unsure which one is the best pick for their next trip.

If you’re facing that same dilemma, you may not know where to start, especially as these two cities have such a lot in common. From their weather conditions to their bike-riding locals and great mix of old buildings and modern landmarks, they’re remarkably similar.

Even in terms of size, population, and vibes, Copenhagen and Amsterdam feel close and connected.

However, there are some key differences between them, and finding out those differences could be the key that helps you pick the right city for you. For example, ETC

Below, we’ll compare Copenhagen and Amsterdam in far more detail, assessing their attractions, activities, average costs, shopping scenes, nightlife vibes, and more.

By the end of this in-depth comparison, you should have a much clearer picture of what these two great cities are all about. Not only that, but you’ll also find it easier to choose between them. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Best For Activities?
  3. Which Is Better For Day Trips? 
  4. Which Is Better For Nightlife? 
  5. Which Is Best For Shopping? 
  6. Which Has The Best Food? 
  7. Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
  8. Which Is Better For Couples?  
  9. Which Is Better For Backpackers? 
  10. Which Is Cheaper? 
  11. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  12. Which Has Better Weather?
  13. Which Is The Better Choice? 
An infographic pitting Amsterdam vs Copenhagen and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview: Copenhagen vs Amsterdam

Amsterdam: A Quick Overview

Amsterdam is the largest city and capital of the Netherlands. More than 920,000 people live here, with over 2.4 million in the surrounding metropolitan area.

It’s located in the North Holland province in the western part of the country, and it’s known for its unique and intricate network of canals, earning it the nickname “Venice of the North”.

The Dutch capital has a long and fascinating history, having been founded hundreds of years ago, in the 12th century. It started off as a small, sleepy village, but enjoyed rapid development and expansion over the years, thanks to its great location and wide range of trade routes to various locations.

There was even a time when Amsterdam was one of the richest and most influential cities in Europe.

Those days have passed, but it’s still a thriving and successful city, well-known for its highly progressive politics, laid-back locals, and strong touristic appeal, drawing in millions of visitors from far and wide.

With its charming cobbled streets and fascinating museums, Amsterdam is, in many ways, a quintessential Western European city.

But it also has unique quirks that set it apart from the rest, like its canals, famous Red Light District, cannabis cafes, colorful houseboats, and unusual attractions, like the Fluorescent Art Museum and obscure antique emporiums.

Canal in Amsterdam Netherlands houses river Amstel landmark old european city spring landscape.
iStock.com/Yasonya

Copenhagen: A Quick Overview

Copenhagen is the capital city of Denmark, as well as being the largest of all Danish cities. It has a population of nearly 1.4 million people, with over 2.1 million in the entire metropolitan area, so it’s pretty similar to Amsterdam in terms of size and feel.

It’s built across two islands named Zealand and Amager in the eastern part of the country.

As with many Scandinavian cities, Copenhagen was founded by the Vikings, many centuries ago. Like Amsterdam, it started life as sleepy fishing village, but grew rapidly as the centuries went by, becoming the capital of Denmark and its primary economic and cultural hub as early as the 15th century.

Despite having a long and storied past, Copenhagen is now known as a very modern and forward-thinking city, with a strong financial sector, lots of innovative technology, and many sustainable initiatives.

It’s also well-known for being one of the world’s best places to live, as well as being quite an expensive, trendy city.

Funnily enough, Copenhagen is also sometimes nicknamed the “Venice of the North,” like Amsterdam, thanks to its canals and waterways.

And, like the Dutch capital, it’s a prominent touristic hotspot, with famed attractions, palaces, museums, and an exceptional culinary scene, with the most Michelin-starred restaurants of any Scandinavian city.

colorful houses, ancient bridge and river. Copenhagen, Denmark, Europe
iStock.com/Viacheslav Chernobrovin

Which Is Best For Activities?

There are lots of things to do in both Copenhagen and Amsterdam, from roaming around the cities’ museums to shopping, dining, and more.

However, each city has its own unique landmarks and experiences to offer. Here are some of the best and most popular things to do in both of these European capitals.

Copenhagen: The Activities

Many visitors to Copenhagen will want to start off by exploring the city’s historic center, known as Indre By.

That’s where you’ll find many of the Danish capital’s oldest and prettiest buildings, like the stunning Rosenborg Castle, where the nation’s crown jewels are housed, or Christiansborg Palace, where Denmark’s parliament assembles.

Many visitors to this city also adore exploring the wonderful Nyhavn area, famed for its pastel-colored buildings and waterfront views.

It feels quite similar to Amsterdam in many ways, but has its own Scandi charm. The famed fairy tale writer, Hans Christian Andersen, once lived in this area, and visitors can snap a selfie in front of his former home.

Along with its historic zones, Copenhagen also has lots of hip, modern areas, such as Sydhavnen, where old harborside factories have gradually been converted into cultural and community spaces, along with Refshaleoen, with its craft beer bars and lively flea markets.

Exploring the city and discovering these trendy spots is part of the fun of visiting Copenhagen.

The Danish capital also has family attractions, like Tivoli Gardens, which is one of the oldest theme parks on Earth, as well as plenty of great museums and galleries, like the National Gallery and National Museum of Denmark.

It also has a few quirky spots to check out, like the Christiania hippie commune or the inner-city Copenhill ski-slope.

Copenhagen iconic view. Famous old Nyhavn port in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark during summer sunny day with Denmark flag on the foreground
iStock.com/nantonov

Amsterdam: The Activities

Over in Amsterdam, much of the city’s charm can be found in its historic center, with its winding canals and pretty old buildings.

The Nine Streets area is a good place to get started, showcasing all of the flower-lined bridges, winding canals, and cute houseboats that the city is best known for.

Amsterdam also has several museums and galleries to check out. Most visitors will want to spend at least a little time in the Van Gogh Museum, for example, admiring the work of the Netherlands’ greatest artist, while the Rijksmuseum is also a super spot to explore for a few hours, with many iconic artworks from other Dutch masters.

History lovers will also like to check out the Anne Frank Museum, where the famous young diarist hid and lived during the Second World War.

Or, for something with a very different vibe, take a trip to the NEMO Science Museum, with its array of awesome interactive exhibits, perfect for teaching kids about the wonders of the world.

The Dutch capital also has huge green spaces, like Vondelpark, and plenty of quirky spots, similar to Copenhagen. There’s a museum all about cats, for example, or another museum focused on microbes.

Plus, Amsterdam has its iconic Red Light District, which visitors might like to walk around – it’s quite a cozy and laid-back spot during the daytime, but has a very different vibe after dark.

Overall, both cities are pretty and pleasant to walk around, but a lot of the fun of Amsterdam is exclusively located in the center.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen has more to discover in its various districts, encouraging visitors to explore and leave the beaten path behind. It also has a slightly wider range of activities than Amsterdam.

Old bicycles on the bridge in Amsterdam, Netherlands against a canal and old buildings during summer sunny day sunset. Amsterdam postcard iconic view
iStock.com/nantonov

Which Is Better For Day Trips? 

You can easily spend a full week in either Amsterdam or Copenhagen without getting bored or running out of things to do.

However, you might prefer to take one or two days out of your travel itinerary to leave these cities behind and see somewhere different. So, which one is better-suited for day trips?

Well, thanks to Amsterdam’s convenient location and good train links, it’s well-connected to other big Dutch cities like Rotterdam and Utrecht, which provide deeper looks into the country’s culture.

It’s also nicely-placed for trips over the border into Belgium, with Antwerp, Bruges, and Brussels all reachable within a few hours, giving you lots of options to choose from.

Copenhagen also has a fantastic location, right by the border between Sweden and Denmark. Thanks to that, it’s quite easy to hop over into Sweden to a lovely city like Malmo, famed for its centuries-old castle.

Or, you could simply stay in Denmark and see the likes of Roskilde, with its Viking Ship Museum, or Hillerod, which also has a super castle and brilliant Museum of National History.

Overall, both cities work very well for day trips, and there’s no obvious winner in this category, as you can find some terrific experiences from either location.

Street leading to the church named "Kristine kyrka". Long exposure and HDR photo.
iStock.com/Paul Wallen

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

Both Amsterdam and Copenhagen are famed for their lively and wild nightlife scenes. So, if you prefer staying out late and hitting up the clubs and pubs instead of heading back to your hotel for an early night, you’ll find a lot to love about both of these cities.

In Amsterdam, for example, there’s the famous Red Light District. Despite having some seedy connotations, this area is also home to the city’s craziest clubs and some super drinking holes, too.

Places like Rembrandtplein also have many more bars and pubs to check out, along with dance clubs playing electronic music or boasting live DJ sets until the early hours.

Not to be outdone, Copenhagen also has impressive nightlife. It’s known as one of the top party spots in all of Scandinavia, with a long list of pubs and clubs bunched up around the center of the city.

Areas like Vesterbro and Norrebro have everything you could hope to find, from rowdy clubs to chilled-out taverns with top quality beer on tap.

Overall, it’s tough to call a winner here, as both cities have excellent nightlife. So, if you like parties, dancing, music, and drinking, you’re guaranteed a good time, no matter which one you visit. Though, Amsterdam probably has the more unique nighltife scene.

Winter night time at Spiegelgracht canal in Amsterdam. Trees lit up and boats on the water
iStock.com/Wigginsn

Which Is Best For Shopping? 

While in Copenhagen or Amsterdam, you might also like to grab some souvenirs to take back home, traditional gifts to give to family and friends, or some luxurious European clothing and jewelry for your collection. No matter what you’re looking for, both of these cities are super shopping spots.

Copenhagen is often cited as the best shopping city in Scandinavia. The almost mile-long Stroget street is a great place to start, with countless stores and all the big brands represented.

The Latin Quarter is also a wonderful place to find indie and vintage stores, along with second-hand shops for budget buys, while the Fisketorvet mall has 100 more stores to see.

In Amsterdam, there are some charming antique stores, great markets, and all the usual European fashion houses and boutique brands to check out.

The Nine Streets area has some charming vintage shops to browse, while the Magna Plaza mall is ideal on rainy days and the floating flower market of Bloemenmarkt is simply beautiful.

Overall, if you love to shop, you’ll find a wider range of options in Copenhagen, with stores of all kinds.

Amsterdam is a little better for markets, but Copenhagen is king for general shopping ad luxury boutiques.

Copenhangen, Denmark aerial view of the skyline.
iStock.com/SeanPavonePhoto

Which Has The Best Food? 

Another wonderful part of visiting European capital cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen is the food. These kinds of cities tend to have the very best of their national cuisine, along with lots of diverse options from elsewhere around the world.

Amsterdam, for example, is a fine place to sample some of the best Dutch dishes, like tasty stews and unique pastries and cakes.

Dutch cuisine isn’t as renowned or widely-loved as other European flavors, but it’s still got some tasty treats. There are also lots of good fast food joints, bakeries, family restaurants, and pizzerias around Amsterdam.

Copenhagen, meanwhile, has a high-end culinary scene to rival some of the best in the world. This city has a whole host of Michelin-starred restaurants, with certain menus ranked among the most delicious on the planet.

For gourmet-grade dining, few cities can compete with the Danish capital. It also has lots of other fabulous eateries for smaller budgets, with stunning seafood and lots of diverse dishes to try.

The prices may be higher in Copenhagen, but it definitely has the better culinary scene of these two cities.

If you love fancy dining or just want to sample a wider range of high quality food, the Danish capital is most certainly the perfect place to go.

woman hand with Stroopwafel in Amsterdam - typical Dutch food - two circular pieces of waffle filled with caramel-like syrup
iStock.com/fokkebok

Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 

If you’re taking the family on vacation to either Copenhagen or Amsterdam, you’ll surely have a magical experience in either city.

Both of them have kid-friendly vibes and attractions, although one might be a little better than the other for the average family.

Copenhagen has the benefit of feeling more family-friendly all-around than Amsterdam. It also has some thrilling attractions, like the famed Tivoli Gardens, with its rides and amusements.

Little ones can also enjoy spotting the various fairy tale statues and sculptures around the city, like the Little Mermaid statue and various trolls. Play areas are also plentiful in Copenhagen, and the city has its own zoo and aquarium, too.

In Amsterdam, there are also some fun family spots, like the Royal Zoo, where a myriad of exotic animals are waiting to greet you, or the NEMO Science Museum, which has lots of interactive exhibits to keep kids entertained.

Older children may also appreciate some of the more mature attractions, like the Anne Frank Museum and Van Gogh Museum.

Overall, families can have happy times in either city, but will probably have a better experience in Copenhagen.

Some parents may be put off by Amsterdam’s Red Light area and cannabis cafes, which Copenhagen doesn’t have, and the Danish capital definitely has more to amuse little ones than its Dutch counterpart.

Copenhagen skyline aerial drone view from above, Nyhavn historical pier port and canal with color buildings and boats in the old town of Copenhagen, Denmark
iStock.com/JaySi

Which Is Better For Couples? 

For couples, the choice between Copenhagen and Amsterdam can be a little trickier. Both of these cities are beautiful to look at, with soothing waterways, cute winding streets, and wide green spaces.

Copenhagen has the benefit of having better restaurants, perfect for those late-night romantic meals with your partner.

There are also lots of lovely gardens to stroll around, hand-in-hand, along with vibrant and diverse districts and neighborhoods to discover and explore together with your partner.

In Amsterdam, couples can enjoy the inimitable beauty of the city’s canals and quaint little bridges.

You and your partner might like to hire some bikes and cycle across the city, stop off at the various hip cafes, or walk the cobbled streets in search of one-of-a-kind treasures in the city’s stores and boutiques.

In short, both cities are romantic and charming for couples. However, Copenhagen might just have the edge, due to its culinary scene.

Amsterdam Damrak during sunset, happy couple man and woman on a summer evening at the canals, a dutch couple at Waterfront by Dancing house of Amsterdam during a summer evening in Amsterdam
iStock.com/fokkebok

Which Is Better For Backpackers? 

Backpackers can also be drawn to both Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and both cities have their benefits for backpacking adventurers.

Amsterdam has the big advantage of being much cheaper than Copenhagen. And, given the fact that budget is usually a big concern for backpackers, you’ll definitely have an easier time finding cheap food and accommodation in the Dutch capital.

Backpackers will also appreciate the laid-back, liberal locals and friendly, chilled-out vibes of the city.

Copenhagen has similarly friendly people and vibes, but undoubtedly comes with higher price tags, which might make it difficult for backpackers to have a truly fulfilling trip.

Still, the city has plenty of free things to do, like touring the hippie community of Christiania or roaming along the waterfront at Nyhavn.

Overall, Amsterdam is slightly better for backpackers, thanks to its lower prices, but you shouldn’t rule-out Copenhagen, as it can still be a great spot for a budget-friendly adventure, if you plan your itinerary with care.

Traditional old buildings and tulips in Amsterdam, Netherlands
iStock.com/Olena_Z

Which Is Cheaper? 

When it comes to cost, as you may have guessed one city is certainly cheaper than the other.

Of the two cities, it’s Amsterdam which emerges as the cheapest. It’s not massively cheaper, but there’s still a clear difference in terms of typical food, transport, and activity costs.

So, if you’re on a strict budget, you might find that Amsterdam works a little better for you than Copenhagen.

With that said, Amsterdam still has pretty pricey accommodation, especially around the center, so you still have to be careful and book ahead of time to get the best rates.

Old bicycles on the bridge in Amsterdam, Netherlands against a canal and old buildings during summer sunny day sunset. Amsterdam postcard iconic view
iStock.com/nantonov

Where To Stay According To Your Budget

Amsterdam

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!

Copenhagen

Budget: Copenhagen and budget aren’t too words that go together that often, but we know a four-star hotel with apartments that will fit most budgets. That’s the four-star Zoku Copenhagen, where you’ll be staying in a typically classy Scandi-style apartment. See photos and rates!

Luxury: The five-star Nimb Hotel is situated within the city’s famous Tivoli Garden and is arguably the most striking building in Copenhagen. Expect world-class service, exceptional decor and the stay of a lifetime. See photos and rates!

Scenic view of Copenhagen old town, Nyhavn harbor, selective focus on a front bicycle
iStock.com/arcady_31

Which Has The Best Weather?

Measured in a straight line, there are just under 400 miles separating Copenhagen and Amsterdam, with the former being much further north than the latter.

Thanks to this, the two cities have different weather conditions, especially during the colder periods of the year, but the difference isn’t as big as one might expect.

In terms of rainfall and cloud cover, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are pretty similar. Even in terms of average temperatures, they’re almost identical for large parts of the year, with comfortable summers and mild shoulder seasons.

However, as winter draws nearer, the temperature definitely drops much lower in Copenhagen than it does in Amsterdam.

So, if you’re planning a visit in the summer, you won’t notice too much difference between the two cities. But, for winter trips, along with visits in early spring or late fall, Copenhagen will certainly feel colder, with a higher chance of frost and snow.

Beautiful tranquil sunset view of Amsterdam. Colorful houses in a terrace fashion in background
iStock.com/standret

Copenhagen vs Amsterdam: Which Is The Better Choice?

Overall, there’s clearly lots to love about both Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and it’s no surprise to see so many people heading to these cities each and every year.

Both are truly beautiful, with lots of charm and an array of unique, intriguing attractions and activities, appealing to folks of all ages and from all walks of life.

However, the aim of this guide is to see which city is best, and if we look back over the various categories, it’s Copenhagen that takes the win in the end.

It’s got the better culinary scene, more things for families and couples to do, great shopping, and a really wide range of attractions, from historic buildings and museums to trendy cultural centers and more.

At the same time, Amsterdam is still a very close contender and has lots to offer. Its nightlife scene is just as good as Copenhagen’s if not better, and it also has some must-visit museums and landmarks, along with a truly one-of-a-kind vibe that you really won’t find anywhere else in Europe.

So, even though Copenhagen is probably the No. 1 option, Amsterdam is still absolutely worth visiting.

Author

  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.