Last updated on May 10, 2023 by Wandering our World
Scandinavia is one of the most picturesque places on the planet, boasting majestic, sweeping landscapes, countless square miles of pristine wilderness, and trendy cities, like Stockholm in Sweden and Copenhagen in Denmark.
When planning a trip to the Nordic nations, many people hesitate between these two cities, and it’s easy to see why. They’re both fantastic places, with lively art and culture scenes, rich histories, exciting activities, and delicious food, too.
However, despite boasting several similarities, like their pretty architecture and trendy neighborhoods, Stockholm and Copenhagen also have some key differences in terms of size, attractions, nightlife scenes, and shopping.
The two cities also have slightly different vibes, with Copenhagen feeling more touristy and also having a slightly grittier and more modern edge to it, while Stockholm feels more traditionally Nordic, with a big focus on historical sights and architectural beauty.
They’re both amazing places, but if you only have time to visit one and don’t know which to choose, this guide is here to help.
Below, we’ll put Stockholm and Copenhagen side-by-side, examining their similarities and differences in numerous key areas, from activities to affordability.
- 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: Stockholm vs Copenhagen
Stockholm: A Quick Overview
Stockholm is the capital city of Sweden. It’s also the biggest city in the country, and it’s situated on Sweden’s southeast coast, gazing out over the Baltic Sea.
Close to a million people live in the city of Stockholm, with over 1.6 million in the full urban area, and more than 2.4 million in the full metropolitan area.
People have been living in the land around Stockholm for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the year 1,000 that Vikings first laid the foundations for what is now known as Stockholm’s Old Town.
They quickly established strong trade routes with other cities, and the city proper was founded in 1252, going from strength to strength as the centuries went by.
Now, Stockholm is Sweden’s cultural and economic center, generating 1/3 of the country’s entire GDP.
It’s the biggest city in Scandinavia, with some of the region’s most-visited landmarks, like the Vasa Museum, while also being home to Sweden’s royal family, who split their time between Drottningholm Palace, just outside the city, and Stockholm Palace, in the center.
In terms of style and vibe, Stockholm is known as a very clean, safe, and exceptionally attractive city, where even the underground metro stations look like art galleries.
It’s wonderfully well-maintained and preserved, with lots of interesting historic sites and an extensive Old Town area. It also has more museums than most other capital cities on the planet!
Copenhagen: A Quick Overview
Copenhagen is the capital city of Denmark. It’s the biggest city in the country, and it spreads out across the two islands of Zealand and Amager in the eastern part of Denmark, just beside the border with Sweden.
Close to 1.4 million people live in the main urban area of Copenhagen, with over 2.1 million in the full metropolitan area, making it slightly smaller than Stockholm.
Just like Stockholm, Copenhagen was founded by the Vikings. It began life as a small and sleepy fishing village, way back in the 10th century, but gradually grew over time to become Denmark’s capital city by the early 1400s. It served as the main cultural and economic hub for all of Scandinavia for more than a century after that.
Nowadays, Copenhagen is a vibrant and flourishing city, being not only the economic center for Denmark, but also one of the main financial centers in all of Northern Europe.
It’s a forward-thinking, fast-developing city that attracts a lot of innovative technology businesses and start-ups, while also being known for its impressive levels of sustainability.
The Danish capital is also a popular tourist destination, boasting many attractions and landmarks, like the Tivoli Gardens and Little Mermaid statue, along with palaces, museums, nightclubs, and more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other Scandi city.
An exceptionally chic and trendy city, it’s a surefire hit with backpackers and adventurers of all ages.
Which Is Best For Activities?
One of the biggest reasons why so many people fall in love with Stockholm and Copenhagen and want to revisit these cities again and again is because of their many interesting attractions and tourist activities.
Both cities have a lot to offer for tourists from all walks of life, from history buffs in search of museums and historic landmarks to families looking for fun attractions to keep their kids entertained.
However the activities on offer can be quite different too. So read on to find out more about the main things to do in each of these capital cities!
Stockholm: The Activities
In Stockholm, there’s a big focus on history and traditional Nordic culture, and many of the best landmarks and attractions allow you to see into the past, learning more about the days of the Vikings and the development of both Stockholm and Sweden as a nation.
The best place to begin is Gamla Stan – the Old Town of Stockholm. Here, on this small island, you can see some of the city’s most beautiful buildings, like the amazing Royal Palace, which houses the King of Sweden’s offices.
The Stock Exchange Building is also very impressive, while the main square of Stortorget is surrounded on all sides by pretty old merchant houses.
While Gamla Stan feels like a huge, open-air museum, Stockholm also has many more traditional museums to check out.
The Vasa Museum is a must-visit, home to an almost perfectly-preserved 17th century ship, while music fans will adore the ABBA Museum and art lovers can lose themselves for hours in the Nationalmuseum.
Since Stockholm is set across a myriad of little islands and waterways, it’s also a great place for outdoor activities.
In the summer, locals and tourists alike love to sunbathe in spots like Hornstulls Strand or swim in the waters around Långholmen Island. You can also find some super walking trails around Lake Mälaren, or even take a boat ride across the archipelago.
While there’s lots to do above-ground, Stockholm also has some amazing underground attractions to uncover. As previously mentioned, this city’s metro stations are genuine works of art, even being nicknamed ‘the world’s longest art gallery’.
There are also some super subterranean craft bars and video game arcades to be found in the trendy SoFo district.
Copenhagen: The Activities
Compared to Stockholm, Copenhagen can be described as a more modern city.
Yes, there are some super museums here and great historic buildings to see, but there are also a lot of modern attractions to check out, along with some very quirky and one-of-a-kind activities you simply can’t find anywhere else.
For history lovers, Indre By (the Inner City) is the main place to be. This is where you can see many of Copenhagen’s oldest structures, like the renaissance-style Rosenborg Castle, home of the Danish crown jewels, and the awe-inspiring Christiansborg Palace, seat of Denmark’s parliament, along with Nyhavn, with its pastel buildings and H. C. Andersen homes.
Beyond its historic areas, Copenhagen has lots of districts with more modern and forward-thinking personalities, like Sydhavnen, where former factories are being sustainably converted into urban community spaces, or Refshaleøen, with its funky, post-industrial vibes, friendly street food vendors, and thrilling flea markets.
Copenhagen also has awesome museums (thought not quite as many as Stockholm), like the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, which houses a collection of Mediterranean antiques, along with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Families, meanwhile, won’t want to miss out on Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest theme parks, with rides for all ages.
But what about the quirky and unusual attractions? Well, there’s a man-made ski-slope called Copenhill that sits on top of a waste management center, as well as random statues of giant trolls made from recycled materials dotted about the city.
There’s also Christiania, a self-sustaining hippie community that lives by its own rules, totally separate to the rest of Denmark!
All in all, we can see that there are clearly some big differences here.
The Swedish capital is amazing for museums and also offers excellent outdoor recreation with its parks and waters.
Meanwhile, Copenhagen has a more diverse and eclectic selection of things to do, from theme park rides and castles to quirky communities and street markets.
Which Is Better For Day Trips?
Even though Stockholm and Copenhagen both have lots of activities and attractions to keep you busy, you might like to take one day of your trip to leave these cities behind and see some other surrounding locations. So, which one is best for day trips?
Well, Stockholm has a fantastic location for day trip opportunities, and you won’t necessarily need to go too far to have a fun day out.
Nearby Drottningholm Palace, for example, is a fantastic place to visit – just outside the capital, this is the private residence of the Swedish royals, and visitors can enjoy guided tours of the lavish rooms or romantic walks in the gardens.
You can also depart Stockholm for day trips to nearby Swedish towns and cities.
Uppsala is a particularly pretty and peaceful city, boasting a university that has been around since the 15th century, while the waterfront town of Sigtuna offers stone ruins, medieval churches, and the oldest main street in all of Sweden.
While Stockholm works well for day trips, Copenhagen might be even better. Since it’s right beside the Swedish border, one of the best day trips here is to hop over that border and into the Swedish city of Malmö. This city’s best attraction is the 16th century Malmö Castle, and it’s also a super place for craft shopping.
You can also explore other parts of Sweden, like the coastal city of Helsingborg or the charming town of Lund, which has an amazing open-air museum with recreations of medieval buildings.
Or, you can stay on Danish soil and see places like Kronborg Castle – the setting of Shakespeare’s Hamlet – or the town of Roskilde, with its Viking Ship Museum.
With a slightly better location for day trips, Copenhagen takes the win in this category.
Which Is Better For Nightlife?
If you’re a party person or simply someone who enjoys hitting up the bars and taverns of the cities you visit for some late-night fun or a chance to mingle with the locals, you’ll want to know about the nightlife scenes in both Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Well, Stockholm may not have the most dynamic club scene, but it’s great for bars, with lots of cool cocktail lounges and wine bars where you can sample an array of colorful, flavorful, and premium-grade alcoholic drinks, prepared by professionals.
However, it’s worth noting that if you want to buy your own bottle of wine or other drinks outside of a bar, you might be out of luck, as the Swedish government has strict regulations regarding the sale of alcohol.
In Denmark, there are no such restrictions, meaning that travelers are free to not only enjoy drinks in the city’s many bars and pubs, but also pick up some bottles of liquor and other alcoholic drinks from various stores and supermarkets – alcohol is also cheaper here than in Sweden.
In terms of general nightlife, Copenhagen is also a little livelier, with lots of pubs and clubs nestled tightly together in the city center, and many of the most raucous spots staying open until 5 or even 6am. Head to places like Vesterbro and Nørrebro for the most vibrant club experiences.
Which Is Best For Shopping?
Shopping is a very popular activity for tourists in the Scandinavian capitals of Stockholm and Copenhagen, and both cities offer a great mixture of independent boutiques, big brands, and vast department stores to explore, but you may find that one is sightly better than the other.
In Stockholm, and Sweden in general, you can find some amazing fashion and interior design – this is the home of IKEA, after all – but there are also some super vintage shops and indie boutiques selling handmade, artisanal crafts.
Drottninggatan is the city’s most popular shopping street. Here, you’ll find plenty of big brand stores, including popular Swedish chains, like H&M.
The NK mall is also worth checking out, boasting more than a hundred years of history and six floors filled with stores, while the Mall of Scandinavia is the biggest mall in the whole of Sweden, with over 220 stores.
For more vintage and quirky finds, head to the bohemian Södermalm district. And, if you like markets, don’t miss out on the Hötorget Flea Market each weekend, home to a mixture of books, bric-a-brac, antiques, and more.
Copenhagen, meanwhile, is renowned as one of, if not the best destination in all of Scandinavia for shopping, and Strøget is the city’s main shopping area.
It’s actually one of the longest fully-pedestrianized shopping streets in the whole of Europe, running for around 0.7 miles in total. You’ll find plenty of big global brands here, from Italian fashion houses to toy shops.
The Pisserenden, or Latin Quarter, is another top spot to shop, and this is where you can get away from some of the big brands and find more unique and unusual stores selling an array of quirky and intriguing gifts.
There are some great vintage record shops here, as well as comic book stores, gift shops, and even second-hand stores, which are very popular in Scandinavia.
For mall shopping, head to Fisketorvet, home of around 100 shops and a huge food court, and for a market-style experience, make sure to visit Copenhagen’s Market Halls, with dozens of stalls selling a wonderful mix of fresh produce and local treats.
Overall, Copenhagen has the deeper and more diverse shopping scene, and its shopping areas are closer together, making it more convenient for travelers.
Which Has The Best Food?
When we compare the culinary scenes of Copenhagen and Stockholm, it’s almost like comparing the cuisines of Denmark and Sweden.
The two capital cities offer the very best of their respective national cuisines, and it’s impossible to say that one is simply better than the other, as it all comes down to personal preference.
In Stockholm, you’ll be able to enjoy all the classics of Swedish cooking, like the country’s famous meatballs and fish dishes.
Some of the best seafood in Scandinavia can be found right here in this city, along with rich, hearty stews to warm you up on those cold nights. Menu prices also tend to be a little cheaper here, overall.
Over in Copenhagen, the prices may be higher, but it’s arguable that the quality levels are also superior, and the Danish capital is famed for having some of the finest restaurants on the planet, like award-winning Noma.
Even the less fancy eateries in Copenhagen are very highly-rated, serving traditional Danish meat, fish, and pastries, as well as Asian and European menus.
Overall, food is always a pretty subjective issue, and some people may prefer the seafood of Stockholm, while others will favor the more diverse dishes of Copenhagen.
The Danish capital can arguably provide more memorable and magical dining experiences, but both cities are fabulous for foodies.
Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
If you’re planning a Scandinavian escape with the whole family, you’ll need to consider which city of Stockholm or Copenhagen has more interesting and exciting attractions for every member of the family, especially if you’re traveling with little ones.
Copenhagen is a fantastic city to see with kids. They can visit the home of the man who wrote some of the world’s most famous fairy tales (Hans Christian Andersen) or ride the rollercoasters of Tivoli Gardens.
There’s also the famous Little Mermaid statue for Disney fans, and lots of play areas and kid-oriented attractions, like the aforementioned troll statues.
If all that isn’t enough, Copenhagen also has a zoo, an aquarium, and even a deer park!
How about Stockholm? Well, the Swedish capital also ranks among the top spots to visit in Scandinavia as a family.
Kids can marvel at the colorful caves of the Stockholm subway system, for instance, or visit some of the many family-oriented museums, like Junibacken.
The Royal Armoury is also a guaranteed hit with kids of various ages, and the MegaMind interactive exhibit at the National Museum of Science and Technology is great for teaching kids about their brains in a fun and engaging way. Plus, Stockholm has lots of parks and playgrounds.
Overall, it’s pretty much a tie between these two cities for families.
However Copenhagen might just have the edge in terms of old-fashioned family fun, with its rides and animals, but Stockholm is a great choice for more educational activities.
Which Is Better For Couples?
The choice between Stockholm and Copenhagen is also a tricky one to make for couples, and it’ll all come down to what you and your partner enjoy the most and what sorts of experiences you’re seeking.
Stockholm is arguably the more scenic city, without the slightly gritty edge of some Copenhagen neighborhoods.
It’s a very romantic place, with more than enough museums and historic buildings for couples to enjoy during their stay, and lots of green and natural spaces for lovers’ walks and adventures.
Copenhagen’s more youthful vibes may appeal to younger couples or the young-at-heart, with lots of trendy districts to explore and fun attractions that you and your partner will surely remember for years to come.
It’s also the perfect city for romantic evening meals, with so many Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from.
Which Is Better For Backpackers?
For backpackers and budget-conscious travelers, there are lots of reasons to visit both Stockholm and Copenhagen, but what if you’ve only got the time or budget to see one of these super cities?
Well, Copenhagen is the more expensive city in general, but it’s very welcoming to backpackers, with numerous cheap hostels and a lot of free things to do.
That includes wandering around Christiania – a backpacker’s haven – or admiring the colorful buildings of Nyhavn and Nyboder. This city also has terrific transport links and day trip potential for backpackers planning additional excursions.
Stockholm has the advantage of being cheaper overall, and also has its own hostels and cheap or free attractions, like wandering around the Old Town.
However, it’s not quite as good in terms of transport links, which might be enough to put some backpackers off.
Which Is Cheaper?
Of course, we also have to talk about costs. Scandinavia isn’t exactly known for being the cheapest part of Europe, and costs can be pretty high in both of these Scandinavian capitals.
However, there is a notable difference between them, and it’s Stockholm that claims the title of the more affordable destination.
In terms of accommodation costs, there’s really not much of a difference between prices in Stockholm and Copenhagen.
However, when we look a little deeper at costs for food, souvenirs, and typical touristic activities, the difference becomes clearer to see, with Copenhagen’s more glamorous culinary scene leading to significantly higher restaurant menu prices.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
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!
Budget: Situated right in the heart of Stockholm’s medieval Gamla Stan quarter is Residence Perseus, a selection of well-decorated and budget-friendly apartments that are perfect for a city break. See photos and rates!
Luxury: The chic Lydmar Hotel is a five-star waterfront accommodation with gorgeous rooms, great service, a fantastic location and a restaurant that’s worth the trip alone. See photos and rates!
Which Is Easier To Get To?
It’s always important to consider how you’re going to get to your destination and how easy it is to access, especially when traveling to Europe, as some cities have several airports right nearby and others have none at all!
Fortunately, both Stockholm and Copenhagen have large international airports you can fly into.
Copenhagen Airport is the biggest in all of the Nordic countries, typically serving tens of millions of passengers a year.
It’s only five miles from the city center and has direct flights all over Europe, as well as to the US (both east and west coasts), Canada, the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Asia.
For Stockholm, there are actually four airports surrounding the city, but Arlanda is the main one for most travelers.
It has direct flights to many places in Europe, as well as a few links with Asia, Africa, and North America, but it’s not quite as well-served as Copenhagen Airport, and it’s also a longer distance from the city center, making it a little more inconvenient to get to.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
As well as traveling to your chosen destination, you’ll also need to think about how you’re going to travel around each city, once you’ve arrived.
Fortunately, public transport is something that Scandinavian nations excel at, and both cities are also pretty walkable, so it’s not too tricky to traverse either one of them.
Copenhagen has the advantage of feeling quite compact, when compared to Stockholm. Its main landmarks and attractions are all within pretty short distances of one another, so you can get around with ease on your own two feet. This city is also famed as one of the best places to cycle on the planet, with lots of bike and e-scooter rentals to help you get around.
Stockholm is a slightly larger city, and its attractions are spread out across a wider area, meaning that you may have to rely on public transport more often.
Cycling is popular here, like in Copenhagen, but buses and the metro system are faster ways to get around – Stockholm’s metro system is almost an attraction in its own right, with beautifully-decorated stations.
Overall, thanks to its effortlessly walkable nature, Copenhagen is the winner in this particular category.
Which Has The Best Weather?
If you’re heading to Scandinavia, you’ll need to be prepared for some pretty frosty conditions. Temperatures warm up during the peak of summer, but both Stockholm and Copenhagen tend to be pretty cold for large parts of the year.
Even though Stockholm is further north than Copenhagen, there isn’t a huge difference in the climates between these two cities, especially in summer, where they both enjoy mild to warm temperatures and long days with lots of daylight.
Yet as the year progresses, the difference between the two becomes clearer, as temperatures start to drop a little faster in Stockholm.
And if you happen to be visiting around Christmas time or during the winter and want to see some snow, the Swedish capital is the place to be.
Stockholm vs Copenhagen: Which Is The Better Choice?
The truth of the matter is that Stockholm and Copenhagen are both worth visiting.
They’re filled with history and charm in great quantities, with super-friendly locals, awesome food, and great attractions to please pretty much every kind of traveler.
However, since we have to pick a winner to help you out, it has to be Copenhagen. The Danish capital is easier to get to and simpler to navigate, with livelier nightlife, more diverse dining options, world-class shopping, and more attractions than you can imagine!
There are so many different reasons to love this city, from its sustainable development to its family-friendly activities.
At the same time, Stockholm also has a lot of advantages. It’s a little cheaper, with extra appeal to budget-conscious travelers, and has a slightly more laid-back and romantic atmosphere.
Plus, with all of those dozens of different museums, you definitely won’t run out of things to do and places to go if you choose to visit this city.