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Anchorage or Juneau: What is Better to Visit?

Anchorage or Juneau: What is Better to Visit?

Alaska is a destination that appeals to all kinds of travelers. If you are one of them, in search of a scenic getaway, you might wonder which city is better to visit: Anchorage or Juneau. Well, you’re not alone! Each one is charming in its own particular way.

Anchorage in a Nutshell

Lake and the Wilderness

Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city. It sits on the Cook Inlet in south-central Alaska. The city has many historical sites, and you’ll have easy access to mountains and wilderness in the area. 

National parks and glaciers surround the city. Visitors are also likely to see some of the 1,500 moose that live nearby. It is the city in Alaska with the largest population. Over 40% of the entire population of the state lives in the Anchorage area, even though it covers just under 2,000 square miles.

Anchorage provides a seamless blend of urban and wilderness. The stores, museums, and residential areas offer different activities to do in Anchorage. You will also find bears, beavers, and bald eagles. There are miles and miles of trails to hike and many rivers for fishing and boating.

Restaurants here serve plenty of fresh seafood including clams, cod, crab, halibut, oysters, rockfish, salmon, and scallops. The diversity of culture means that many ethnic cuisines are also available, including German, Himalayan, Polynesian, Russian, and Thai, to name just a few.

Like what you are hearing? Check out our full guide on the best things to do in Anchorage.

Anchorage pros and cons

Pros:

  • Close to nature – both mountains and water
  • Plenty of arts and culture
  • Relatively easy to get to by land or air
  • Hub to many other destinations and activities
  • Vast diversity

Cons:

  • Days are rarely sunny
  • Surrounding mountains are often cloudy, limiting visibility

See Related: Where to Travel for Your Birthday?

Juneau in General

Town by the Mountains

Juneau is the capital of Alaska and the main hub for air travel in Southeast Alaska.

It is one of the oldest cities in Alaska, established in 1880. It is the second-largest city in the US in terms of total area, covering over 3,000 square miles, but interestingly enough the urbanized parts of the city account for only 14 of them.

Downtown Juneau is a very walkable city. The people who live there call its streets “stair streets” because they have a lot of stairs (up to 300!) from one level to another. Most of the things that visitors enjoy are on the lower level.

Juneau only has a population of a little more than 33,000. Most have occupations in fishing, government, mining, or tourism. The residents of the city mostly live on the upper levels.

Juneau pros and cons

Pros:

  • Unique geography – surrounded by mountains and right by the ocean
  • Outdoor recreation options such as hiking trails and boat cruises
  • Freshest seafood
  • Quaint, small-town atmosphere

Cons:

  • Hard to get a plane from the lower 48 directly to Juneau
  • Gets weathered in, especially in winter
  • Rains a lot
  • Tiny town for a capital city

See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in Alaska

Which is more beautiful: Juneau or Anchorage?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Each area has its unique beauty and you will have to decide for yourself which is prettier. Some factors may help to guess which you will like better, though.

Grass Field, Mountains, and Clouds

Both locations are near mountains and the ocean. Juneau is technically nearer to both, as it is built on the mountain and cannot be reached except by plane or boat. Anchorage is within close driving distance of both.

The cities themselves vary, as well. Anchorage is larger and therefore has more attractions, but it also has less attractive areas. Juneau is smaller and enclosed by mountains, making its general layout more attractive by default.

River in Between the Forests and Skyline

While Anchorage is surrounded by mountains, wilderness, and ocean, the city is quite large and from many areas of the city, the view is primarily city. If you enjoy a cityscape, you may consider this more beautiful, but many people would prefer landscape instead.

See Related: Most Beautiful Places in the World

Is Anchorage Colder than Juneau?

If you are wondering, if Juneau is warmer than Anchorage, you will be interested to find that generally, yes, Anchorage is cooler.

Both cities are warmer than most Alaskan cities since they are both located on the southern edge of the state.

Anchorage’s average highs in July (67 F) are higher than Juneau’s (64 F) The lows in January make up the difference, with Juneau’s 25 Fahrenheit warmer than Anchorage’s frosty 9 Fahrenheit!

See Related: Best Places To Travel In Your 20s in the US

Is Anchorage Worth Visiting?

Lake, Mountains, and Skyline

Anchorage is absolutely worth visiting! There are tons of activities including arts and crafts, dining, fishing, hiking, museums, and scenery – and that’s without even leaving the city.

Outside the city, there is more opportunity for hiking, skiing, diving, and all sorts of other activities.

If you don’t like the cold, you can take in a show or concert, visit a museum, enjoy a spa, or do some shopping.

If the cold doesn’t bother you, you can raft or canoe, learn photography, ride a horse or motorcycle, play golf, pan for gold, visit gardens, fish, 4-wheel or bike, or try summer dog sledding.

See Related: Best Day Trips from Anchorage, Alaska

Is Juneau Worth Visiting?

Lake Surrounded by Mountains

Juneau is definitely worth visiting. It is rich in history and became the capital city of the territory in 1906 and of the state in 1959. It has a marvelous State Museum that contains artifacts and displays, an active waterfront with piers full of boats, ships, and floatplanes.

Juneau has a downtown area that is easy to walk, full of stores, hotels, and saloons that are reminiscent of bygone times. The city itself is a type of museum with a lot of beautiful 18th Century architecture.

Is a Drive from Anchorage to Juneau Worth it?

Firstly, you need to know that you can’t actually drive into Juneau from Anchorage. You can drive near enough to catch a ferry in, but there is no road to or from Juneau. The mountains prevent a road from getting through and the river is too long to make a bridge reasonable.

Secondly, it will take about 24 hours of driving to get from Anchorage to Juneau – a minimum of two full days (unless you have several drivers to switch between).

It also includes driving through a large section of Canada, which will require passports and may have other restrictions.

The distance by road between the two cities depends on the route but is about 849 miles (1,366 km). Since you can’t drive into Juneau anyway, you probably should fly instead of taking the extra time to drive.

Anchorage to Juneau trip costs

It will cost around $130 to go one way by rental car, and about $250 for a round trip. An airplane ride will cost you between $150-$350. A trip by train and ferry will cost you between $300-$1,000.

Travel Between Anchorage and Juneau

It is possible to go by rental car, bus, or train from Anchorage to Juneau with the last leg being a ferry ride on the state-run ferry system.

You can get a non-stop flight on Alaska Airlines from Anchorage Airport. Flying is also the only way to make a real day trip between the two, although day trips by flying aren’t exactly cheap!

You can travel between the cities on a cruise ship, too. You can travel between the cities on cruise ships, too. Cruise ship lines such as Royal Caribbean and Holland America make port here.

Naturally, a cruise trip will take longer than going directly since there will be stops along the way – but it is a great way to see the best of Alaska’s coast.

See Related: Best Things to do in Denali National Park and Preserve

Where to Stay

Charming Hotel Room

Both cities have great hotels (major chains as well as local options), vacation rentals, and bed and breakfast options that you can pick and choose from.

Hotels in Juneau

Juneau Hotel is located in downtown Juneau and offers a free shuttle to the ferry and Juneau International Airport. You can get a suite with a washer, dryer, and full kitchen.

You will also get free wifi and flat-screen TVs in the bedroom and living room. Facilities for fitness and business are also available.

The Driftwood Hotel is next to the Alaska State Museum. Its 24-hour shuttle to the airport or the ferry dock is free to guests. It offers free wifi, an iron in every room, and an on-site business center.

Alaska’s Capital Inn Bed and Breakfast is a restored mansion from the historic gold era. It sits across the street from the Alaska State Capital. Rooms include free wifi, flat-screen TVs, bathrobes, and slippers. Hot breakfast is included daily.

Hotels in Anchorage

Anchorage Downtown Guest Rooms are right in the middle of Anchorage.

This centrally-located inn is pet-friendly and offers free wifi. Each room has a sitting area, a flat-screen TV, and an electric teapot. The bathroom offers a hairdryer and a shower. Many attractions are within walking distance.

Susitna Place B&B is located near the Civic Convention Center in the heart of Anchorage. Each room has a place to hang clothes and flat-screen television. A top floor deck offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape including mountains and the Cook Inlet.

The Lakefront Anchorage is on the shore of Lake Hood. It has on-site dining and parking, a gym, and a dock for floatplanes. It offers a shuttle service to downtown and the airport. The main meeting rooms and dining area overlook the seaplane airbase.

See Related: Best Hotels in Fairbanks, Alaska

Vacation Rentals

There are many rentals available in Juneau and Anchorage. Choose a house or apartment and rent it for one or more nights. Most of these are privately owned houses or apartments that are provided as lodging by the owners.

  • Juneau Escape / Mendehal Glacier is an apartment that is sanitized professionally between guests. It has a queen bed in the bedroom and a sleeper sofa in the living room. A full bathroom, kitchen, and living room make living comfortably. The deck offers a beautiful view of Juneau and a shared hot tub.
  • A nice cozy condo in Juneau has a fire pit and is close to a good fishing spot. It is an apartment with two bedrooms and a full bathroom. Each bedroom has a queen bed, and there are indoor and outdoor areas for relaxation.
  • On Douglas Island (about two miles from the center of Juneau) you will find a comfortable guest house that has a bedroom with a queen bed. It also has a queen sofa bed and a twin/full pull-out, allowing up to five people to sleep comfortably. The bathroom, kitchen, and living room round out the house.
  • This dog-friendly apartment near downtown Anchorage has two bedrooms and a full bathroom. It is convenient to access many downtown adventures and dining establishments and the apartment is right near a fenced dog park. You can walk from the apartment to all sorts of eating and shopping places.
  • A 1600 square foot house in South Anchorage has two bedrooms and two full bathrooms and sits on 2.5 acres of stunning land. The modern kitchen is perfect for preparing delicious meals, like frying the fish you caught. A hot sauna helps you relax when the day is over.
  • Bring a whole group and stay in a comfortable lodge house with three bedrooms that sleep up to twelve people. It has three full bathrooms. It is on a private wooded lot and furnished with luxury bedding on memory foam mattresses, relaxing leisure areas, and a fully stocked kitchen.

Best Things to Do in Anchorage and Juneau

Alaska offers a lot of adventure and outdoor recreation, including guided tours.

A guided tour is a great way to learn more about an area and avoid the potential of getting lost. Below are only a few of the many that you will find in South Alaska.

Juneau: Mendenhall Glacier Adventure Tour

Tourists in a Glacier Adventure Tour
Photo by GetYourGuide

This amazing adventure trip begins with a drive through the Tongass National Forest and then transitions to the water in a canoe. Get close to the Mendenhall Glacier.

Weather (other than high winds) does not stop this tour. The whole mind-blowing trip takes about five and a half hours.

Anchorage: 1-Hour Trolley Tour

Red Tour Bus
Photo by GetYourGuide

The Anchorage Trolley traverses the city.

The tour guide points out the sights, explains the fascinating history of each area, including personal stories.

You may see wildlife and you can watch floatplanes take off on the lakes. You also get a coupon book to use at stores and restaurants in downtown Anchorage.

From Anchorage: Wilderness, Wildlife, and Glacier Experience

Wilderness and Flowers
Photo by GetYourGuide

The beautiful wilderness areas around Anchorage contain many flora and fauna, which the tour guide will introduce to you.

On top of this lesson in Alaska’s nature know-how, the trip includes picturesque ocean views, mountains, and glaciers. You also get entry into the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and the Chugach National Forest.

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