Skip to Content

Brussels vs Amsterdam: What’s the Difference?

Brussels vs Amsterdam: What’s the Difference?

Brussels vs Amsterdam! Two Northern European cities sharing heritages, languages, and currencies in the beating heart of the European Union; is there any difference? Actually, yes, a bunch!

Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city in the Netherlands, while the City of Brussels (commonly referred to as just Brussels) is Belgium’s capital and most populous city. Both are ancient, steeped in history and culture, and enjoy millions of visitors yearly.

Where is Amsterdam compared to Brussels? They’re close (about 140 miles/226 kilometers). If you can’t decide which one you’d prefer, why not do your own Brussels vs Amsterdam visit?

How much will this cost? What’s the currency?

Amsterdam

Urban park with pond, water lilies, and skyline in Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Like most continental European cities, Amsterdam’s currency is Euro € (costs are translated into USD$). Amsterdam hosts a staggering range of accommodations, catering to all budgets and tastes; great for cheap lodgings or something special. A 1-bed queen room costs around $150-$200 a night, usually featuring complimentary continental breakfast.

If you’re going the whole 9 yards, investigate De L’Europe Amsterdam – a breathtaking luxury hotel with a Michelin Star restaurant that has been oozing sophistication since the late 19th Century.

The Pulitzer, one of the best five-star hotels in Amsterdam (learn more about it here), is classically Amsterdam. This gem captures the spirit of Dutch chic.

One of the Hotel Rooms at Pulitzer

Rooms at both are between $400-$800 a night, with suites around $2000+, depending on how extravagant you’re feeling.

Amsterdam also has hundreds of budget hostels catering to young visitors looking to indulge in Amsterdam’s more (ahem) adult attractions. Varying in quality and cleanliness (don’t expect complimentary continental breakfast), they are crazy cheap, some costing as little as $25 a night.

Amsterdam is blossoming in inexpensive and quintessentially Dutch boutique hotels that won’t break the bank but still deliver that luxury feel, not to mention the rise of the Dutch vacation rental market.

Uniquely, Amsterdam has a plethora of houseboats, many of which are available for rental in all shapes, sizes, and ages – some over 100 years old! Prices range wildly from $100 a night to over $1000 for this unique experience. The cost of Amsterdam food isn’t outrageous, and the quality is superb. You can feed yourself well on $30 a day.

Prices jump significantly as you venture into anything above fast food, street food, or basic groceries. Fine dining in Amsterdam leans more toward the innovative gastro scene: small plates, big money. Winter is the cheapest time to visit, as the rest of the year is considered peak tourist season.

See Related: Most Beautiful Cities in the World to Visit

Brussels

Grand Place in Brussels with historic guildhalls and bustling tourism.
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Brussels also uses the Euro €. Brussels doesn’t see Amsterdam’s tourist numbers, so hotel rates are generally more reasonable. A 1-bed queen room costs around $100-$150 per night, with a continental breakfast.

If you’re feeling all Daddy Warbucks, the neighborhood around Grand Place (or Grote Markt in Dutch) is flush with luxury lodgings in the city center. The Warwick, and Hotel Amigo, are prime examples of 5-star accommodations, with rooms priced around $150-$500 per night with suites around $2000.

Like most destination cities, boutique hotels like the new Le Dixseptième are springing up across Brussels. Prices vary more dramatically versus Amsterdam, with higher-end boutique hotels in a similar bracket to luxury hotels. Vacation rental listings for Brussels are still a great option for a one-of-a-kind way to experience the city without severely harming your wallet.

It’s worth budgeting your trip around Brussels’ famous eateries. No kidding – Brussels is home to 25(!) Michelin Star restaurants are bonkers, considering Brussels is no bigger than Minneapolis.

Groceries are reasonably priced. One person can feast on $20 daily, plus you’ll never be far away from a Belgian waffle house or chocolatier who’ll be churning out the best confectionaries you’ll ever taste for a pittance.

Godiva Chocolate Basket

If budget is your priority, the best times to visit Brussels are spring and fall, when hotel rates are the lowest.

Brussels Vs Amsterdam Costs

  • Brussels is less expensive to feed yourself, and there are more options for feeding yourself WELL.
  • Higher-end accommodation is less expensive in Brussels.
  • The range of accommodation, particularly low-cost options in Amsterdam, is greater than in Brussels – plus houseboats!

See Related: London vs Paris

How’s the landscape?

Amsterdam

Boat on the river in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is flat, just above sea level, and thick with canals. Large portions of Amsterdam’s center are crisscrossed with a network of canals, bridges, and locks.

The canals, varying in width, depth, and height from street to water level, once primarily used for commerce and trade (still are in limited capacities), are more commonly utilized by water taxis, boat tours, and a damp break for any (read many) falling inebriated tourists.

The canals and typically tiny and haphazard European side streets add a unique and charming aesthetic to this gorgeous old town but make traversing Amsterdam by foot slightly confusing.

If you have time, boat tours, hires, and taxis are the coolest way to see Amsterdam in all its splendor, particularly in spring, when she erupts with the blooms of Amsterdam tulips.

Built on soft, marshy earth, hardly any skyscrapers are breaking up Amsterdam’s skyline. Amsterdam’s Rembrandt Tower, the city’s tallest building, is under 500ft tall.

The stunning architecture in Amsterdam’s center is from the 18th-19th century, and many buildings are listed as UN historic sites. The theme here is density: cramming in as much as possible, typical of many preserved European cities.

Further from Amsterdam’s center, you’ll find a blend of old and new, where classic structures of yesteryear are juxtaposed with ingenious, modern Dutch designs.

Amsterdam gets weirdly sparse outside the center, potentially bringing its navigational problems.

See Related: Priority Pass Review: Is It Worth the Price?

Brussels

Brussels City Museum Gothic facade, tourists in Grand Place
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

With fewer canals and slightly lumpier terrain, Brussels is quite flat and easy to get around on foot, relatively unblemished by jagged skylines as it is built on soft earth.

Brussels is essentially divided into two main segments: Lower and Upper Town. Lower Town, situated in the Senne Valley, is the historic center of Brussels and is the primary hub for business, commerce, and industry.

Upper Town, located on the Senne Valley’s eastern slope, houses much of Brussels’ local and Belgian national government institutions, the European Commission, Council of the European Union, and European Council, as well as the Royal Palace of Brussels; the official home of the Belgian Monarchy. The best views of Brussels can be found in Upper Town.

Atomium Museum, Brussels Belgium

While smaller than Amsterdam, with a population twice the size, structures in Brussels are less dense, and the number of larger, grander buildings (including a few palaces), parks, and boulevards dwarf Amsterdam’s center.

Most structures are from the 17th-19th century, but many in Brussels are older. Recently introduced modern, space-efficient, and architecturally ambitious buildings reflect Brussels’ ever-changing European and global roles.

This constantly transforming canvas changes from a medieval building to a modern art sculpture in a heartbeat.

See Related: Things Amsterdam is Famous For

Brussels vs Amsterdam Landscape

  • Amsterdam has jarring differences in structure density; it is dense in the center and sparse on the outskirts, and each environment is potentially difficult for newcomers to navigate.
  • Brussels is more evenly spread out and feels more deliberately planned but still dense in the center.
  • Amsterdam’s center has the feel and appearance of an old European market town: busy, happy, and cozy.
  • Brussels is filled with splendid old architecture, giving an air of grandeur with more green spaces.
  • Both towns are full of narrow streets, many still cobbled.

See Related: Free Printable Travel and Vacation Planner

How easy is it to travel within the cities?

Amsterdam

Amsterdam Central Station subway bustling with commuters
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Amsterdam’s winding streets and canals are potentially difficult for a first-timer to walk on but are home to fantastic public transport, not to mention 1,000,000 bicycles!

Amsterdam is one of the most bike-friendly cities on Earth, covered in bike paths, allowing for safe cycling across the city.

Bike racks are on almost every street, with an increasing number of guarded, high-capacity bike parking lots for anyone concerned with bike theft (it’s common for thefts to be in the tens of thousands YEARLY).

Bike tours are an incredibly popular, inexpensive, and safe means of seeing the sights. The major issue with bicycles is the congestion caused by the sheer amount of them either on the road or parked EVERYWHERE. If you step into a cycle path, you’ll get yelled at.

amsterdam bike lot

For public transport, purchasing an OV chip card (or OV-chipkaart) grants access to Amsterdam’s buses, trams, metros, and ferries, all operated by Amsterdam’s public transit company GVB.

OV-chipkaart comes in several forms. The most popular is the disposable one-hour card, which allows public transport usage anywhere in Amsterdam for one hour.

Day passes from 1-3 days, and rechargeable cards are also available. The quality and regularity of public transportation options are among the best in the world and inexpensive.

Travel by car or taxi is discouraged by Amsterdam, partially as a means of providing safety to the thousands of cyclists, lower carbon emissions, and congested traffic. Consequently, cab fares and rental cars can be expensive, even for short journeys. Canals are still a viable means of traversing Amsterdam’s center and the best way to travel in style!

See Related: Best Food in Amsterdam

Brussels

Aerial View of Avenue Louise, Brussels
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Brussels is more car-dependent and suffers from some of the worst car congestion of any nation in Europe and North America (at least according to a 2012 study).

Brussels has a growing transportation system comprising buses, trams, trains, waterbuses, and the ever-improving Brussels Metro, mostly operated by STIB-MIVB.

The most attractive aspect of Brussels’ public transportation is its cheapness. A one-hour pass through the Brupass scheme is about $2. Brupass and the new BrupassXL are super low-cost means of travel using Brussels’ public transport.

Another option is the Brussels Card pass, which offers discounts at many clubs, bars, and restaurants, including free entry to Brussels museums and attractions AND free public transportation. Prices start at $20 and never exceed $50.

Unlike Amsterdam, bicycling isn’t a common means of transport, the most popular being a car. Car rental and cab hire aren’t expensive, but the congestion is real. If your timeframe is limited, don’t pay extra to sit in traffic.

Brussels vs Amsterdam Travel

  • Amsterdam’s extensive public transport network is the envy of the civilized world.
  • Brussels’s public transportation system is improving and CHEAP.
  • Amsterdam is home to great “uncommon” means of transportation, plus 1,000,000 Amsterdam bikes!
  • Brussels is slightly easier to walk.
  • Both cities are safe to traverse.

Are there any interesting things to do in Brussels or Amsterdam?

Amsterdam

Amsterdam's historic canal-side architecture and houseboats
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

In Amsterdam, one or two (ahem) less savory ideas pop into mind. Amsterdam has a booming cannabis industry. Hundreds of coffee shops offer cannabis products to be enjoyed on the premises. There are three famous red-light districts, the most famous being the tightly policed De Wallen district.

(Interested in the Red Light districts? The scene is a literal night and day difference depending on, well, day or night).

It’s not all sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll! The city is family-friendly, with plenty of things to do in Amsterdam, except maybe the Sex Museum.

Amsterdam features superb museums and galleries celebrating Dutch history, heritage, culture, and achievements, including the world-renown Rijksmuseum (home to works of Dutch masters like Rembrandt and Vermeer), the zany Stedelijk Museum, and the Van Gough Musem.

The best part? All three are next door to each other!

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Less arty hotspots include the stunning Artis Royal Zoo, the awesome Mirandabad swimming pool, the fascinating Amsterdam Museum, and the poignant and somber Anne Frank House, a must-see.

Amsterdam has amazing retail spots, ranging from the exquisite Magna Plaza and Maison de Bonneterie malls for high-end shopping to Haarlemmerdijk Street for a classically Dutch, bespoke, and boutique experience.

Amsterdam also hosts huge open-air markets. The Albert Cuypmarkt is a great stop for fresh produce and street food. The Waterloopleinmarkt is a famous flea market where you can buy almost everything!

My favorite is the Heineken Experience (not just because of the free beer samples!), a family-friendly tour of the world-famous Heineken Brewery hosted by people who love what they do.

Where to stay?

Brussels

Baroque façade at Brussels Grand Place with tourist photographing
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Taking Brussels on walking or bus tours is highly recommended for those who enjoy history and architecture. Many beautiful public parks and gardens are available for those seeking a rewarding stroll and it’s one of the cheap things to do in Brussels.

Mosying around Grand Place is wondrous. Surrounded by stunning, fairytale 17th-century buildings, this cobblestone square is home to fantastic cafes, chocolatiers, hotels, restaurants, and high-end retailers.

Without spending money, Grand Place is a pleasant and interesting place to be. During the day, you’ll catch street theatre or music (a far cry from the lonely subway guitar busker).

Amateur and professional painters flock to the square to capture the exquisite architecture and the odd caricature.

Brussels Town Hall, Grand Place

At night, the light show transforms the entire square into the mother of all postcard images. Spellbinding during colder months must feature on any list of things to do in Brussels during winter.

Brussels’ mascot, Manneken-Pis, cannot be omitted. This curious and quintessentially Belgin water feature of a boy urinating, normally found in his birthday suit, nowadays enjoys a range of outfits depending on the season or event.

Manneken Pis Statue
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

But there’s more to Brussels than the majesty of Grand Place! The Atomium sculpture and museum, constructed in the 1950s, is one of the most awe-inspiring structures ever built, giving an unparalleled view of Brussels from the 6th and 7th levels, not to mention the panoramic restaurant.

A unique experience, the Museum of Musical Instruments features over 1,500 musical instruments to see, hear, and hold (great for those with kids).

Other kid-friendly spots include the Comic Strip Center, celebrating Belgium’s history of illustrated storytelling, Mini-Europe, taking the toy village concept to the Nth degree through a fanatically detailed toy Europe; and the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate – hallowed ground for any chocoholic!

For beer fans, Brussels is home to some of the finest and most famous beer labels on Earth. There are scores of breweries and taphouses where you can enjoy fine Belgian brew, most featuring non-alcoholic beers specifically for kids.

Consider Moeder Lambic, brewing since 2006, featuring a lively atmosphere, catering to all beer tastes, and offering amazing local food. Brussels holds magnificent retail opportunities, too, the most famous being the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, one of the world’s oldest covered shopping arcades.

Other spots include Avenue Louise and Boulevard de Waterloo, frequently drawing comparisons to 5th Avenue and Saville Row. The best part? They’re all just off Grand Place!

Where to stay?

Brussels Vs Amsterdam: Interesting things to do

  • Both ancient cities are fantastic to walk in if you enjoy old European architecture.
  • Both cities are centers of European culture, featuring countless museums, galleries, and historic attractions telling each city’s (and home nation’s) story.
  • Amsterdam has the edge in various activities and caters more to the adult scene, particularly at night.
  • Brussels is home to more green spaces, but Amsterdam’s tulips in bloom are magical.

See related: Get tickets for tours, attractions, and more

And the locals? The energy of the place?

Amsterdam

Heineken beer truck on Amsterdam cobblestone street with bikes and Dutch buildings
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

A common stereotype is that Amsterdammers are the nicest people in the world  – this stereotype generally holds up as it’s easy to fall in love with the locals.

Openminded and friendly to outsiders, Amsterdammers effortlessly make tourists feel welcome. Most Amsterdammers are multilingual, most fluent in Dutch (duh), English, French, German, Spanish, and Flemish.

The city’s energy changes with the rising and setting of the sun. During the day, Amsterdam is laid back, with the hustle and bustle confined to retail areas and tourist traps.

At night, Amsterdam’s center morphs into a thronging mass of excitement, tangible in the air, as people head to bars, clubs, coffee shops, and red-light districts.

The crowds starting to build in De Wallen at night, Amsterdam

Amsterdam does get rougher at night, and unfortunately, it’s normally ignorant visitors treating Amsterdam as a European Tortuga, ruining the experience for everyone.

This combination of relaxing days and crazy nights is the epitome of Amsterdam. Amsterdammers will be happy to facilitate your enjoyment if you respect them, the city, and the rules.

Brussels

Gothic St Michael and St Gudula Cathedral in Brussels
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Belgians are more reserved than their Dutch neighbors but still very friendly. Brussels has historically been home to different cultures, notably the Belgians (French and Flemish), French, Dutch, and Spanish.

Being home to EU and NATO institutions, Brussels has multilingual Brusseliers, who speak mostly French, Flemish, Dutch, and English. Most Brusseliers in tourists, service, and public transportation industries speak English.

Brussels is relaxed, with an air of quiet appreciation for the surroundings during the day, transforming into a childlike wonder as the sun sets and Brussels’ incredible old structures are illuminated.

Gardens in Brussels

Outside the center, Brussels is rougher around the edges and has considerably more litter and graffiti than Amsterdam. Traffic and constant roadworks become tiresome, so planning your excursions is worth the effort. Brussels is the perfect civilized getaway for an injection of culture and is one of the best examples of Belgium.

Final Comparison

  • Amsterdam is vibrant, lively, and never dull, and Amsterdammers want to ensure you enjoy yourself.
  • Brussels is a stunning collection of grand old and innovative new, a mellow place to live until you hit traffic.
  • Amsterdam is a very clean tourist trap.
  • Brussels welcomes foreigners, and it is easier to live as a local than a tourist.
  • Amsterdam has a unique, exciting nightlife you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Brussels has amazing retail destinations and restaurants.
  • Amsterdam has amazing, easy-to-use public transport.
  • The cost of living in Brussels is cheaper than in Amsterdam.
  • Amsterdam is a town of experiences.
  • Brussels is a town of souvenirs and CHOCOLATE.
  • Brussels vs Amsterdam living: Amsterdam can be hectic, and housing can be tight, but it has more employment opportunities than Brussels.
  • Europeans find Amsterdam to be the party capital of Northern Europe.
  • Europeans find Brussels to be pleasant but a little dull.
  • Both have GREAT waffles.