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Amsterdam vs Brussels – Which Is Better To Visit In 2023?

Considering a trip to a European capital but got stuck when trying to decide between the ultimate head to head? “Amsterdam vs Brussels” is a very common choice that travellers make when visiting Europe.

The Dutch and Belgian capitals each have their perks and unique characteristics but unfortunately some travellers only have time to visit one.

When it comes to deciding, don’t just rest your case on the toss of a coin or spin of a wheel… you need to lay out all of the reasons for and against each city before choosing.

This article will weigh up the pros and cons of each city and give an overall review of each, before coming to a decision on which city will win out of Amsterdam vs Brussels.

Amsterdam vs Brussels: Which City is Better?

When weighing up which city is better in the competition of Amsterdam vs Brussels, a lot of what you’ll base your decision on will be other people’s personal opinion.

It’s impossible to write a blog post that is completely unbiased on the topic, but I’ll try my best to be fair!

I highly recommend that if you have time then you should absolutely visit both cities. They are a short train ride away from each other and so you could easily take a day trip to one from the other.

But if you’re set that you have to choose between the two then I’ve narrowed down a few categories that might be helpful in deciding which city is better.

Language

The official languages of Brussels are French and Dutch – reflecting the influence of the Netherlands on the city. If you knew Dutch then you’d be off to a flying start in either city. However, both cities have an overwhelming number of English speakers.

All tourist attractions and tour companies offer tours in English in each city – you’ll never struggle while speaking English at an attraction. However, just outside of the city centres I found that less people spoke English in Brussels than in Amsterdam.

I found Amsterdam to have more friendly English speakers – people that didn’t seem annoyed or frustrated to have to speak English. That’s not to say that everyone I encountered in Brussels wasn’t kind because they absolutely were, I just sometimes got the impression that they disliked having to swap to English – which I understand!

In Brussels I had to use my novice French skills to get by in a few shops and restaurants that weren’t particularly touristy whereas in Amsterdam I never spoke a word that wasn’t English.

So in terms of language, Amsterdam wins for English speaking.

Food

Amsterdam and Brussels are only a short distance away from each other and so it is no surprise that you’ll likely find the same cuisine in the both cities.

Both Amsterdam and Brussels are filled with international eateries – you are far more likely to find an Italian than a traditional Dutch or Belgian restaurant. However, each city does have some meals and snacks that you have to try!

In terms of savoury meals, Brussels definitely wins! I’m not quite sure how any Dutch person likes traditional Dutch meals, in fact I’m pretty sure they don’t! Our tour guide in Amsterdam was very repulsed when speaking about traditional Dutch meals and even suggested that we don’t waste our money trying it!

From what I could gather, Dutch food has a very acquired taste and the country loves to pickle things. Pickled herring and a pickled meatball style dish called “bitterballen” were definitely not my favourite!

The Dutch are also well known for their beef stew which I would say was a mild improvement but definitely nothing to write home about.

Brussels was far superior in traditional meals and the most common is of course Belgian fries. The fries are just incredible and available on every street corner! You cannot leave Brussels without devouring at least three portions.

Belgian fries in front of the Grand Place, Brussels

The greatest competition in terms of meals is definitely between the two cities favourite desserts.

The Brussels waffle vs Amsterdam’s obsession…stroopwafel, is a very hard decision but between the huge array of toppings and the fact that the waffles are so much bigger and filling than a pathetic wafer, I have to sway to Brussels’ side.

Overall, Brussels wins the food competition.

Sightseeing

Sightseeing is one of the most important deciding factors of any trip. No one wants to go to a city and be bored of the sights that they are seeing or be faced with things that they just do not find interesting.

In terms of sights, Amsterdam has a number of historical and cultural landmarks of significance. The city was occupied very heavily during WWII and many notable sights are from that time period.

One of the most famous sights in Amsterdam that draws in thousands of visitors every day is the Anne Frank House which has been converted into a museum.

Visitors come to pay their respects to the Frank family and find out more about their lives hiding from the Nazi troops. The house is a must-stop sight on your trip regardless of if you intend to visit the inside.

One of the main sights that most people come to Amsterdam to enjoy are the canals that dot most streets of the city. The canal network is beyond extensive in the city and a sight to behold.

Amsterdam's canals are beautiful and one of the highlights of the city. Girl stands on bridge overlooking the canal.

The traditional architecture of the houses along the canals make for amazing photographs and many visitors stop to marvel at home much they lean forwards as a result of the ground moving.

Brussels has an incredible number of sights to see around the city. Some of the most notable landmarks include the Atomium, the Grand Place and the St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral.

The Atomium is a grand structure of modern architecture, designed to look like an iron atom. The landmark doubles a museum and viewing point and the structure is well-worth the short trip to explore it.

The Atomium in Brussels - a huge metal structure that is in the shape of an iron atom

The city hall in the Grand Place is the most grand building in all of Brussels and is just absolutely stunning. The architecture and attention to detail on all of the buildings in the Grand Place is incredible and the square should not be missed if you find yourself in the city – in fact it’s probably quite impossible to miss as it sits right in the city centre.

When it comes to sightseeing, it really depends what you’re into. Both Amsterdam and Brussels have unique architecture styles and the cities are both beautiful in their own ways.

For sightseeing, it’s a tie in the competition of Amsterdam vs Brussels.

Things To Do

Both Brussels and Amsterdam have an endless list of things to do and see. It can be hard to cover everything that you want in just one trip.

I’ve picked out some highlights so that you can decide which city has a better list of things to do.

Amsterdam

  1. Canal Cruises: Exploring Amsterdam’s iconic canals by taking a leisurely canal cruise is a must-do activity! It’s a fantastic way to admire the city’s picturesque architecture and learn about its history.
  2. Museums: Amsterdam is a museum lover’s paradise and there is something for everyone. Don’t miss the world-renowned Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House!
  3. Biking: Renting a bicycle and joining the locals can be pretty manic but a fun experience! Amsterdam is full of bike friendly streets and it can be an efficient way of getting around the city. Amsterdam’s flat terrain and extensive network of bike lanes make it a fantastic city to explore on two wheels!
  4. Dam Square: Visit the historic Dam Square, where you can see the Royal Palace, National Monument, and Madame Tussauds. It’s a bustling hub of activity and a great starting point for exploring the city.
  5. Vondelpark: Escape the urban chaos at Vondelpark, a tranquil park which is perfect for picnics, leisurely walks, or simply unwinding in nature.

Brussels

  1. Grand Place: Every visitor is taken aback by the stunning architecture of the Grand Place, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the central square of Brussels. It’s particularly enchanting at sunset or when illuminated at night. Even if you’ve only one day in Brussels you have to visit the Grand Place!
  2. Atomium: Explore the futuristic Atomium, an iconic structure representing an iron atom magnified 165 billion times. Inside, you’ll find exhibitions on science and design.
  3. Chocolate and Waffles: Treat your taste buds to Belgium’s finest chocolates and waffles. The city is renowned for its sweet treats, and you can find artisan chocolate shops throughout Brussels.
  4. European Institutions: Visit the European Union institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Commission. Take a guided tour to learn about the EU’s role in shaping Europe’s future.
  5. Comic Strip Route: Brussels is famous for its comic strips, and you can follow a self-guided comic strip route to discover colourful murals depicting beloved characters like TinTin and the Smurfs.

Both Amsterdam and Brussels have something for everyone, whether you’re interested in art, history, gastronomy, or simply wandering through charming streets.

The answer to “Amsterdam vs Brussels” ultimately depends on your personal interests and the kind of experience you’re looking for.

Nightlife

There isn’t much competition in terms of nightlife in the cities of Amsterdam and Brussels. Amsterdam is pretty widely known as being one of the party capitals of Europe and the night scene is pretty unmatched.

Even though the city is very laid-back during the day, the city turns into a raving and thriving hub of clubs and bars in the evening. It’s true that Amsterdam is a city that never sleeps.

Leidesplein is the best spot for partying and dancing in the city of Amsterdam and really comes to life when the sun has set.

Brussels is a lot quieter than Amsterdam and the nightclubs and range of evening activities are limited. While Brussels is a major capital it falls behind many cities in terms of nightlife.

The city is a lot more structured and many people enjoy relaxing in their evenings rather than dancing the night away.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of dance clubs and bars where you can hang out, they might just be few and far between. You’ll probably find that they are in slightly rougher areas too so make sure to keep your wits about you.

If you’re looking to party hard throughout the night then you should definitely choose Amsterdam over Brussels.

Shopping

When considering buying a new wardrobe or a cool souvenir Brussels comes out on top. While Amsterdam won’t let you down for shopping opportunity, it doesn’t really compare to Brussels.

Brussels has a far larger shopping district, particularly for clothes. Big brands such as Pull & Bear, Zara, Bershka and Primark can all be found on the high street.

Brussels has many designer shops around the city and you can really spend big if you want to! The city is infamous for diamonds and so perhaps if you’re looking for a flashy ring or new bracelet then you should check out the high-end jewellers in the city.

Brussels also has many unique and boutique stores selling everything imaginable. You can get anything that you’re looking for!

If your main concern is souvenir shopping then Amsterdam and Brussels are pretty much equals but you’ll find a far larger number of shops in Brussels (even if they all sell pretty much the same items).

Opt for Brussels if shopping is one of your top priorities on your European city trip.

Family Activities

Brussels is a lot more well-known for kid-friendly activities than Amsterdam. But don’t be fooled by the appeal of prostitution and drugs in Amsterdam – it in now way makes the city adult-only.

There are plenty of things to do in Amsterdam that would appeal to families such as the NEMO Science Museum, Madame Tussauds or a canal tour.

But, there is so much more to do in Brussels that is family-friendly. The city is full of museums and the Natural Science Museum is one of the best places to take kids in Brussels.

The museum has lots of appealing exhibitions and families could easily spend three or more hours in the museum. For slightly older children I’d also recommend visiting Parlamentarium which is a highly interactive museum and can teach kids and adults all about the EU.

One of the best activities to do in the city is to take a chocolate tour – which would be the perfect family activity. Here is an article about the Best Chocolate Tours in Brussels.

Heading on a European city trip with your family? Then head straight to Brussels.

Couple Activities

Amsterdam and Brussels are both great cities to visit as couples. They each have their romantic spots and fun activities.

You can relax as a couple in each city and there are plenty of attractions to spend your time. Brussels has an edge in the way of better restaurants and historic areas that would be nice to explore with a special someone but out of the two Amsterdam is typically viewed as being the more romantic location.

The charming canals, beautiful gardens, and colourful streets make the perfect backdrop for romantic strolls and photographs and appeal particularly to younger couples.

The Floating Flower Market is another great location to go as a couple and treat your other half to a bunch of beautiful flowers.

Girl strolling through the garden at the Rijksmuseum

The city has so much to offer in terms of attractions and so suits pretty much every type of couple whether they’re food-lovers, thrill-seekers or enjoy kicking back and relaxing.

For couples who enjoy history, architecture, or boat rides along scenic canals, the city gets the most brownie points. The city has many unique accommodation options that Brussels doesn’t have like houseboats on the canals or a caravan hostel which I talk more about in this post.

Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in Europe for LGBTQ+ couples if that is also a deciding factor.

When it comes to romantic vibes then Amsterdam has the edge. With that being said, you can still have an amazing time in Brussels as a couple.

Budget Travellers

Affordability is one of the 5 As of Tourism and so can really make or break a trip’s planning.

Budget travellers or backpackers will often head to both European cities since it’s so convenient to travel between them but if you have to pick one then you can be left with quite the head-scratcher.

Both cities have an endless list of cheap hostel accommodation, but Amsterdam normally draws in more backpackers due to the city’s nightlife scene.

Amsterdam will be more appealing to party-loving and younger backpackers due to the nightlife range and main tourist demographic, while Brussels might be more suited to budget travellers who enjoy a quieter city break.

Brussels offers a range of affordable accommodation options, from hostels to budget-friendly hotels, making it easier on the pocket. Additionally, the city’s public transportation system is relatively cost-effective, making it convenient to explore its attractions.

While Amsterdam has a huge range of hostels on offer many attractions can be very pricey, there isn’t much to do in the city that is free and the food can be very expensive.

I was shocked to find that a McDonald’s meal in Amsterdam costed over €10 when I’d pay less than £5 in the UK.

Brussels has so many attractions that are free and you’ll likely only pay for two or three activities in the city. Most museums are free or have huge discounts for particular groups. The most expensive attraction that you’ll pay for will most likely be the Atomium.

With some careful budget planning, it’s possible to enjoy each city but Brussels is the better option for a budget trip.

Public Transport


Public transportation in both Amsterdam and Brussels is efficient and well-developed, making them easy for visitors to navigate.

Amsterdam boasts an extensive network of trams, metros, buses, and ferries that cover most areas of the city. The iconic canal system also includes water taxis and ferries, providing a unique way to explore.

Brussels relies heavily on its metro system, supplemented by trams and buses. While not as extensive as Amsterdam’s, it’s still reliable for getting around the city. The Brussels Card offers unlimited public transport rides and discounts on attractions.

You can scan into both transport systems in the cities with a debit or credit card, making it easy to be spontaneous when travelling the city.

Brussels and Amsterdam both have reliable public transport, including train lines running between the two cities. It is very easy to access public transport in both cities and their systems are reliable.

Brussels and Amsterdam are equal when it comes to public transport.

Walkability

Amsterdam and Brussels both offer unique walking experiences and walking is one of the best ways to see the cities’ beautiful architecture. The level of walkability in each city can vary depending on your preferences for attractions and the neighbourhoods you wish to explore.

Amsterdam is renowned for its exceptional walkability, with its compact layout, pedestrian-friendly streets, and an abundance of picturesque canals. Many of the city’s iconic attractions, such as the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, are within walking distance of each other, making it easy to explore the city centre on foot.

You may wish to use public transport in Amsterdam to speed things up and allow you to visit more attractions in a day rather than constantly rushing to the next by foot.

Brussels, while having walkable areas like the historic city centre around the Grand Place, is generally larger and may require more use of public transportation or cycling to cover longer distances.

You’ll almost certainly want to use public transport when visiting the Atomium. The distance from the city centre would be a very far walk and so the tram is a better option.

Brussels’ hop-on hop-off bus tour is a great option for seeing sights and getting from the city centre to the Atomium.

Amsterdam could be considered more walkable than Brussels as most attractions within the city centre are close by each other whereas in Brussels, the sights can be further apart.

Where is Amsterdam?

Amsterdam is the capital city of the Netherlands, located in northwestern Europe. Situated within the province of North Holland, Amsterdam is renowned for its picturesque canals, historic architecture, and vibrant cultural scene.

Amsterdam is not only the largest city in the Netherlands but also serves as its cultural, economic, and political hub. Tourists flock to Amsterdam to explore its rich history, world-class museums, and the unique charm of its canal-laden landscape.

Where is Brussels?

Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, located in the heart of western Europe. It serves as the de facto capital of the European Union, housing major EU institutions.

The city is bilingual, with both French and Dutch as official languages, reflecting Belgium’s linguistic diversity.

Brussels is celebrated for its historic architecture, including the iconic Atomium, and its vibrant cultural scene, encompassing museums, art galleries, and a rich culinary tradition featuring Belgian chocolates and waffles. Brussels is a pivotal European city with not only European but global significance.

Amsterdam vs Brussels: How Long to Stay

The ideal duration for a stay in Amsterdam or Brussels depends on your interests and the number of attractions you’d like to explore.

A short stay in Amsterdam for two to three days is enough to see the major attractions like the Anne Frank House, Van Gogh Museum, and take a canal tour. If you wanted to go further afield to the likes of Zaanse Schans then a stay of four to five days may be better.

Brussels can be thoroughly explored in two to three days, with time to visit the Grand Place, Atomium, visit the top EU museums and indulge in Belgian cuisine.

If you wanted to extend your trip to Brussels then you’d likely want to do a day trip or overnight stay in a nearby city like Bruges or Antwerp.

With Brussels requiring slightly less time than Amsterdam, it is understandable why many travellers will visit Amsterdam following their trip to Brussels, using the great rail connections.

Which City is Better for a Relaxed Holiday?

Both Amsterdam and Brussels can offer a relaxed holiday experience. You can find a way to make either trip relaxing, with many experiences on offer that are great for unwinding.

Amsterdam is known for its picturesque canals, tranquil neighborhoods, and a slower pace of life. You can enjoy leisurely walks along the canals, visit world-class museums at your own pace, and savour Dutch cuisine in cosy cafes.

The city’s parks, such as Vondelpark, provide beautiful settings for relaxation. If you appreciate a laid-back atmosphere with a touch of cultural enrichment, Amsterdam might be a better choice than Brussels.

Brussels, on the other hand, has a mix of historic charm and bustling city vibe. While it can be relaxed, it’s also the appointed capital of the European Union, so it always has a busier feel in some areas, even in low season.

However, you can still find peaceful moments in the city’s parks and squares, and enjoy Belgian chocolates and waffles at your leisure. Brussels is also well-connected for day trips to other Belgian cities, offering a variety of experiences.

Amsterdam vs Brussels: City Cards

I amsterdam City Card

The I amsterdam City Card provides free or discounted access to over 70 of the city’s top attractions, including museums like the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and the Anne Frank House.

It offers unlimited use of public transportation in Amsterdam, including trams, buses, and the metro and a free canal cruise making it very simple to explore the city!

You can also use the card at various restaurants and shops for a decent discount.

The I amsterdam City Card is available for many different durations: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 day cards.

Find out more information about the I amsterdam City Card here.

Brussels Card

The Brussels Card provides free access to 49 of museums and attractions in Brussels, including the Atomium, Royal Palace, and BELvue Museum. The card also offers discounts at some restaurants, shops, and tours.

It allows for unlimited travel on the city’s public transportation system, which includes buses, trams, and the metro.

The Brussels Card has set durations of 1, 2 or 3 days.

Find out more about the Brussels Card here.

Both cards can be valuable depending on your itinerary and how many attractions you plan to visit. If you’re primarily interested in exploring museums and taking advantage of public transportation, both cards can be beneficial.

However, if you plan to make extensive use of public transportation and visit numerous attractions, Amsterdam wins.

The I amsterdam City Card offers slightly more in terms of attractions and activities included. It’s important to consider your specific interests and how long you’ll be staying before buying a card.

Amsterdam vs Brussels: The Editor’s Pick

When it comes to answering the question of which city I preferred, I’d have to lean more towards Brussels.

I absolutely adored both cities but just found that Brussels suited my vibe a lot more. I have to be honest though and state that I visited Amsterdam in summer while I visited Brussels in low season. I don’t think if I’d changed the timings of either trip though that it would have swayed my opinion.

I much preferred Brussels’ bustling vibe and the diversity of the city really appealed to me. Amsterdam seemed to be full of American and English tourists while I never knew who I’d find myself beside in Brussels.

As it is such a huge city for EU politics, there are so many expats and that makes it so much more exciting. The locals in both cities were very friendly but the vibes and stories of those in Brussels just were so much more intriguing.

Girl strolling under an archway in Brussels

The range of architecture in the city really drew me in and I found my eyes just glued to some buildings. The activities and attractions in the city were a lot more fun in my opinion too.

I thoroughly enjoyed the EU museums as they were highly interactive and unlike anything I’d ever seen before. The chocolate tours were so unique and the tastings were even better!

Accommodation in Brussels was far cheaper than where we stayed in Amsterdam but it was also a lot more basic. I couldn’t fault the location though as the Grand Place was practically on our door step. To find somewhere as cheap in Amsterdam probably would’ve bestowed upon us a 30 minute metro ride to the city.

Overall, Amsterdam and Brussels were incredible cities to visit and I love them both dearly…but Brussels definitely wins in my book.

FAQs: Amsterdam vs Brussels

What is better Amsterdam or Brussels?

The choice between Amsterdam and Brussels depends on personal preferences. Amsterdam offers scenic canals and renowned museums, while Brussels is infamous for its historic charm and delicious chocolates.

Is Brussels or Amsterdam more expensive?

Amsterdam tends to be more expensive than Brussels. Accommodation, dining, and attractions in Amsterdam often come with a higher price tag compared to the other European capital.

Which is better to visit Belgium or Netherlands?

The choice between Belgium and the Netherlands depends on your interests. Belgium offers history, chocolates, and diverse cities, while the Netherlands boasts canals, art, and picturesque landscapes. Both countries have very traditional aspects which can be enjoyed by groups of all ages.

Conclusion: Amsterdam vs Brussels

In conclusion, choosing between Amsterdam or Brussels depends on what you want to get out of the trip, what you’re most likely to enjoy, who you’re visiting with and your budget.

Amsterdam offers picturesque canals, renowned museums, and a vibrant atmosphere, while Brussels combines historic charm with a cosmopolitan vibe and delicious chocolates.

Both cities have their unique appeal, making them worthwhile destinations for all travellers at some point.

Consider your priorities, from art and history to culinary delights and relaxed strolls, to determine which city aligns better with your ideal travel experience.

Ultimately, either choice promises an unforgettable European adventure. And remember, you can always go back to the other city at some other time!

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