Both Brussels and Copenhagen are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Copenhagen and Brussels, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
It is all too easy to over-look Brussels as a city break destination, especially considering it is the home of modern European politics.
Sleek yet historic, gritty yet creative, Copenhagen fuses all the contradictions of Scandinavia in one darn loveable city. Yes, it's pricy. But your money buys quality in these parts, whether that's the crispy Danish pastry in the morning, the single-origin coffee beans, or those craft beers in the independent drinkeries. On top of all that comes a town laced with fairy-tale vibes.
Once the home of Hans Christian Andersen, the city's Indre By – the historic core – is all weaving cobbled lanes and flower-strewn cottages from centuries gone by.
Meanwhile, over in districts like Christianshavn and Vesterbro, there's a buzz and energy about proceedings. Jazz bars, sculpture galleries, artisan collectives – there's all sorts popping up around the stone quaysides and tenement blocks. Don't forget that this capital is the veritable home of New Nordic cooking, putting foraged foods and mind-boggling flavour combos front and centre…
Which city would I go to? Copenhagen
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Copenhagen
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Copenhagen
Which for my food obsessed friend? Copenhagen
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.
Brussels is compact city, and as such, you can see all the sights in 1 or 2 days. There is ample to see, but most of it is packed into the historical core.
Walking from the Grote Markt (The Grand Place) in the very middle of the city to the EU Parliament and through the bustling streets of the Stalingrad District hardly takes more than a couple of hours – depending on how many Belgian beers you stop for en route, of course!
With extra time, you could consider outings to places like Waterloo (the battlefield where Wellington defeated Napoleon in 1815) and the handsome medieval city of Bruges.
There are two sides to Copenhagen. There's the side that most visitors will aim to see, and that's all neatly packaged up for a quick two- or three-day break. Then there's the more local side. That can take weeks, or even months to enjoy to the fullest.
The upshot is that everything from short fly-in city breaks to longer jaunts are doable in the Danish capital – there's enough to keep you going, provided you've got the money to keep going!
In addition, it's worth thinking about what out-of-town excursions you might want to do from Copenhagen. These will inevitably add some time to the trip but are also downright tempting. The likes of the ancient Viking capital of Roskilde, and the Swedish city of Malmo, are both on the menu.
Copenhagen’s weather is not as dismal as most visitors initially presume, and not cold as the other Scandinavian countries it is often mentally lumped with.
Summer is Copenhagen's most beloved season. It's easy to see why. Scandinavia emerges from its casing of snow and ice to become a real outdoorsy gem. In the capital, that means the canal-side cafes of Christianshavn come alive with al fresco drinkers and the breweries spill into leafy gardens. This is also the time to enjoy the famous Brygge Harbour Bath and the other marina swimming spots in full swing.
Spring and autumn make good alternatives, particularly if you're on a tight budget. Already high prices can soar in Copenhagen during the summer months, and the streets of the Indre By get busy to boot. Winter has a peak around Christmas, when the Tivoli festive market starts smelling of gingerbread and mulled wine. It's cheaper in January though, and still likely to have enchanting snow cover.
Brussels gets busiest during the warm months of the summer. Everyone from city breakers flying in on short-haul budget links to Interrail backpackers on a cross-continent grand tour pass through during the main holidays from June and August.
There's a real buzz about the bars of the Grand Place then, with people chatting and snapping selfies all around the UNESCO-tagged streets. Some downsides: Brussels can have heatwaves, and the price of hotels at this time is sure to be peaking.
While winter is probably best avoided unless you're on the hunt for cosy Christmas markets, spring and autumn have their pluses. They're both typically cheaper. There's fewer people around, so you're more likely to score tours of the EU Parliament and whatnot. And everything costs a little less, from hotels to flights deals into town.
One of the great joys of Brussels is just how many facets there is to the city. You're certain to be entertained if you love architecture. The main square alone comes with Gothic, Neo-Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
Then there's all that fabled Belgian food, from the double-cooked chips to the chocolate-topped waffles to the frothy monk-brewed beers you find in the pubs. Add in enthralling tours of important parliament buildings, pretty parks, and some seriously rich galleries, and you've got a destination suited to all sorts.
Of course, some people might not feel right at home, Brussels is urban to the core. Finally, budget seekers could find themselves a little happier elsewhere. Brussels hardly breaks the bank, but it's no penny saver either.
Copenhagen is tailor-made for creative, 30s-something city slickers. Bohemian cafes meet cutting-edge beer halls and restaurants that are breaking the mould, while workshops, design studios, and galleries cram the old town. If you're culturally engaged and enjoy places that fuse the old and the new, you could hardly do any better.
Copenhagen is famously expensive. Expect to pay around the 60kr mark (€8/$9) for a beer in most places – and even that's a decent deal! Hotels will cost a lot, no matter the season, and eating out is off the cards for anyone on a shoestring budget.
You can mitigate that if you picnic and dodge the pubs, but it's not really the place for travelers watching the pennies.
48hours in Brussels
A whirlwind 48 hours in Brussels can take you from curious statues to modernist structures, regal parklands to beautiful palaces. Of course, there's plenty of time to fit in home-brewed beers and indulgent waffles along the way.
Day 1: The Grand Place is the only real place to begin in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the kernel of the city, and has been since time immemorial. Look to the north end and you can see the elegant façade of the Brussels City Museum. It's housed in the Neo-Gothic Maison du Roi, hosting collections that include masterworks by Flemish painters and the original Manneken Pis statue (more on him later).
On the south flank is the indomitable Brussels Town Hall. Gaze up at its gorgeous medievalist spire and wonder at the carvings of dukes on the portals. The rest of the square is a photographer's dream, with guild houses and pubs and more. Next, the area of Stalingrad calls. Curiously named, it's nonetheless one of the liveliest quarters of Brussels.
It's also where you'll find the famously underwhelming Manneken Pis statue – we won't spoil it with a description! After lunching in one of the taverns there, head east to the acclaimed Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. It's a must for any culture vultures, what with exhibits that contain works by the likes of Anthony van Dyck, Bruegel, and Rubens. It demands a whole afternoon.
The town hall on the Grand Place, the main plaza of Brussels
Day 2: Overdosed on art and ready for something completely different? Good, because day two begins at the Espace Léopold. Welcome to the vast European Parliament; the corridors of power for 27 states that range from Romania to Portugal. Tours of the huge debating chamber and the plenary rooms where the decisions are made run daily from 9am.
After an hour inside, you can head for the grand Parc du Cinquantenaire that sits just behind. It's a prime example of Brussels' flamboyant public garden style, hosting the eye-watering Arc du Cinquantenaire, a national symbol of Belgium.
The afternoon sees you hop on trams (a combo of Tram 5 and Tram 6 usually does the trick) to the area of Laeken. This otherwise green a leafy suburb has one major claim to fame: the strange Atomium. You might not believe it, but it was built in 1958. Up top there's a lookout point with panoramas of the whole city.
For the evening, mosey back to the Grand Place and seek out the iconic Delirium Café on the side streets nearby. It's home to a whopping 2,000 variations of Belgian and global beers!
Copenhagen offers so much for a fun-packed 48 hours. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow.
Day 1: Begin the first day in the Rådhuspladsen, where the ochre-tinged walls of the City Hall dominate the skyline. This is a beating hub of the city, and you might find concert stages or markets taking place on the plaza. The bustling shopping street of Strøget starts here. Hit that to move between high-street retailers and lively pubs. The walk will take you all the way to Nyhavn.
This is a charming, historic area with 17th-century canals. The painted houses are a favourite with photographers, and you can opt to do a canal boat tour from the docks. Lunchtime is over in the Bridge Street Kitchen. Sprawling across Greenlandic Trade Square, it's a casual food mecca, with hotdogs mixing with falafel pitas and sourdough pizza breads.
Full? Good – Christiania awaits. This gritty artist community come squat is a unique bohemian commune. There are some pushy drug dealers and lots of tourists, but it's worth a stop. The spire of the lovely Church of Our Saviour is sure to pull you down to one end of the area, before hopping back over to Slotsholmen for a sighting of the grand Christiansborg Palace, the home of the Danish parliament.
The side streets of the Latin Quarter (Latinerkvarteret) are a joy to explore
Day 2: If it's sunny, there's never a better way to kick-off a day in Copenhagen than down on the marina. Free to enter and bustling with life, the Brygge Harbour Bath lets you swim in the refreshing waters of the Baltic Sea right in the heart of town.
Dry off and then grab a Danish pastry on your way up to the Indre By, where you can get lost in weaving lanes of cobblestone. The vast Rosenborg Slot sits at the far end of the district. A mighty palace from the 1600s, it's packed with art and can take a few hours to explore.
Nearby Torvehallerne will do nicely for food, with its array of local Scandi dishes. A hop across the water to hipster Nørrebro is great if you're craving a beer or a coffee – Brus is a good option.
Then head back south to Frederiksstaden district. It's crowned by the Rococo Amalienborg Palace, sports stunning churches, and buts up to the old town, where you'll find loads of bars and eateries to cap off the evening.
Brussels Airport (BRU) and the Charleroi Airport (CRL) combine to offer all sorts of long-haul and short-haul air links into the capital. The cheapest cross-continent flights on Ryanair and the like usually jet into CRL. Transatlantic and premium carriers usually go to BRU.
You can use Brussels City Shuttle to get to Charleroi for as little as €5 each way if booked online and in advance. Meanwhile, direct rail links go to Brussels Airport from Brussels Central, costing €8.60 and taking a little over 20 minutes in total.
In terms of travel safety, Brussels ranks well. Incidents involving tourists are rare, although thefts, bag snatches, and pickpocketing do occur in many of the visitor hotspots.
Try not to walk alone in the city centre after dark, particularly if you've been drinking. Never leave valuable items within sight if you're parking your car. Also always keep one eye on your handbag or wallet when riding the metro.
For hotels, the best area of Brussels is surely the district immediately around the Grand Place. The closest establishments to that UNESCO site typically cost oodles but ooze luxury. A few streets back and you can find affordable local B&Bs with plenty of charm.
Copenhagen has many hotels and accommodation options, but the city has one of highest occupancy rates of Europe (a yearly average of 81%). That means booking early is key. We'd recommend trying to score somewhere in the Indre By area.
The old core, it's close to all the main sights. If you're on a tighter budget, going north to Nørrebro might offer a few extra deals. Meanwhile, the Vesterbro district is an up and coming area, which is trendy and a touch edgy. Frederiksstaden is a more refined and contains many of the smarter hotels.
If you want to get around like a real CPH local, then there's nothing for it but to rent a bike. These are cheap and easy to find in pretty much any area of town. A full day's cycling should cost around 150 DKK (£22).
Copenhagen is a very safe city, especially for a capital. People are often eager to help and there are good public services in general. Be more wary if you're venturing off the beaten track. Certain corners of Nørrebro and Christiania can be sketchy, particularly after dark.