Stockholm or Copenhagen, a decision between two of the most tempting cities in the Scandinavian region. This isn’t going to be an easy one, because both these places have enough to charm millions of travelers every season, rich histories, gorgeous palaces, fantastic food, and day trips for all.
On one side there’s the Danish capital. It’s known for its cool design galleries and connection with fairy-tale writers, along with lively waterside districts that get busy when the sun comes out. Stockholm sits in the opposite corner, with its Gamla Stan old town and hipster quarters, along with some interesting museums.
This guide will talk about several things about both places to help you decide where’s the best for you this year. It’s got information on basic things like how to get there, along with in-depth info about the nightlife, the food, and the budgets that will be required.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for ease of travel?
You can fly to Roskilde Airport or Copenhagen Airport to reach the capital of Denmark. The second is the bigger one and it’s got flights that come across from lots of different cities in Europe, and a few that come long haul from destinations further away. A 20-minute metro line links the terminals there to the center of town. International train links on German railways (DB) connect from Hamburg every day and budget Flixbus has longer connections to lots of other European cities further south.
Stockholm has loads of airports. It actually has more than most big European capitals. The largest is Stockholm Arlanda, which is the place you’re likely to land on longer flights from Asia and America. The others, which include Bromma Airport, Vasteras Airport, and Skavsta Airport, are much further away from the center of the city (sometimes up to two hours’ bus ride) but are great hubs for low-cost flights from around Europe. There are also train services in from Oslo and Copenhagen to Stockholms Central, and direct bus links to Berlin.
Winner: Stockholm because it has more airports and air links.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for sights and attractions?
There is no shortage of sights and attractions in the Swedish capital, so it should be easy to fill up an itinerary with great spots. Firstly, take a walk around the quaint streets of Stockholm’s beautiful old town, known as Gamla Stan. Expect colorful architecture and cobbled lanes in this historical part of the city. Then there is Stockholm’s picturesque archipelago, made up of over 20,000 islands and islets. Take a boat tour and explore that area’s natural beauty, from the sea to the forests. There are also plenty of amazing museums, with the impressive Vasa Museum and the outdoor Skansen leading the way. Ah, and don’t miss the Abba Museum – pop lovers especially!
But Copenhagen’s Nyhavn, a 17th-century canal lined with colorful townhouses and stacks of cafes and bars, can easily rival Stockholm’s charming old town. Then there is also Norrebro, a hip, multicultural neighborhood with plenty of nightlife, and Vesterbro, another cool district dotted with hipster bars, art galleries, and cafes. To soak up some history and culture, go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (an acclaimed art museum) or the National Museum of Denmark. Oh, and you will quickly notice that the Danish capital is best explored by bike, so make sure to rent one to enjoy the place like a local.
Winner: Draw. Both cities are packed with cool attractions.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for food?
Copenhagen has become a culinary hotspot in the last 20 years. New Nordic cuisine has made a huge impact on the food scene in the Danish capital. It emphasizes minimalistic cooking with fresh and local ingredients. The master of the movement is the three-Michelin-star Noma, which was voted the world’s best restaurant in 2021! However, high quality cooking isn’t only visible in the gourmet joints of Copenhagen, but also at the more budget venues that sell international cuisine, from Mexican to Thai to French food. Eating in Copenhagen isn’t cheap though, so your dollars should be at the ready.
Dining in Stockholm is also very expensive, especially when it comes to gourmet venues. And even though there are 13 Michelin star restaurants in the city and many others that incorporate the New Nordic cooking scene, Stockholm can’t quite beat Copenhagen in this category. That is just a reflection of how good the Danes have it on the food front. Those looking for top quality in Stockholm should try Ekstedt for wood-fired meats, and Sushi Sho for Tokyo-style food. If you prefer something more local, make sure to sample the famous Swedish meatballs in Meatballs for the People.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for nightlife?
To be honest, Scandinavia probably isn’t the best region if all you’re after is parties. However, if you’re determined to head north then Stockholm and Copenhagen are the best destinations of the lot. Stockholm has a large international population, lots of students, and plenty of bars suited to younger generations, especially in the hipster district of SoFo (an area of Sodermalm). There are more traveler orientated pubs in the Gamla Stan area too.
Copenhagen is probably the wildest of all the Scandinavian cities in terms of nightlife. It’s got a very big student group and lots of international expats who help to keep things going. The areas to know about are the Meatpacking District, an old industrial area that has lots of beer halls in the summer months, and the Freetown Christiania quarter, which is actually a self-proclaimed independent state and has gritty artist bars and jazz places. Also don’t forget about the Nyhavn docks in the summer, which are very lively and fun until the evening hours.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for hotels?
Being two capital cities means that there are lots and lots of hotel options in both these destinations. You shouldn’t have trouble finding a place to suit you and your budget, because there’s everything from five-star pads to affordable aparthotels with self-catering facilities in the mix.
In Stockholm the Lydmar Hotel ($$$) is a great choice for those looking to be pampered. It’s located in the lively area of Norrmalm, the heart of the city, offering vintage rooms with an historic feel to them. When it comes to the budget end of the spectrum then we don’t think there’s anywhere that can beat the Generator Stockholm ($), which has posh dorm rooms and an upbeat backpacker feel. For families, we can recommend the Lord Nelson Hotel ($$), which has dark and stylish rooms inspired by the past.
Denmark’s first city has nearly 500 hotels on offer on Booking.com. That’s a great amount for a European capital, and you’ll find that, because the town is quite compact compared to Stockholm, a lot of the stays are within easy reach of the main sights and attractions. There are some places that we especially think are great picks, like the Motel One Copenhagen ($$) – a stylish midrange hotel – and the Hotel Skt Petri ($$$) – a very cool design hotel right in the middle of the downtown.
Winner: Draw. Both have lots of fantastic hotel options.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for price?
Sorry but there’s no good choice when it comes to prices in this debate. Both Stockholm and Copenhagen are among the most expensive cities in the EU and the whole of Europe. They’re costlier than London and New York. Overall, it’s the Danish capital that is the most expensive. Most estimations say that it’s between 16%-38% harder on the budget than its partner over in Sweden. A budget of about $120-150 is about right for that city, and more will be needed if you’re planning a trip in the summertime.
Stockholm, though, is a touch better for budget seekers. You can usually get by spending something like $110-130 a day in the Swedish capital, and less if you plan on coming in the winter months when there aren’t so many other travelers around. The other thing that Stockholm lets you do – because it’s more sprawling than Copenhagen – is escape the old town area of the city and stay in the outskirts, which helps to cut the cost of hotels considerably.
Stockholm or Copenhagen for day trips?
Day trips are great ways to make the most of your trips to both of these Scandinavian cities, as there’s lots to see a little away from the main sights of the centers. In Stockholm, outings usually mean exploring the Stockholm Archipelago, which includes sea-facing islands on the Baltic and lakes further inland. The best trips usually include visits to the Drottningholm Palace, an amazing UNESCO World Heritage Site that looks like something out of a Disney film, and a walk around Sigtuna, which is considered to be the oldest town in the country.
When it comes to Copenhagen, you have lots of day outings to select from. The good news is that the capital is really well linked up by road to the rest of the country, so there’s plenty on offer. Popular places that can be done on organized tours include Kronborg Castle, the place that Shakespeare set Hamlet, and Frederiksborg Castle, another gorgeous 19th century royal palace. It’s also great to plan a trip to Dragor, a quaint village that lots of people say is the prettiest in the whole country.
Winner: Draw. Copenhagen is close to lots of things, but Stockholm has the archipelago.
Stockholm or Copenhagen? A conclusion
If you’re having to decide between these two ever-popular Scandinavian cities, then the good news is that both are pretty awesome. Stockholm is a capital spread over countless islands, with museums about 500-year-old ships, and the cool areas of SoFo for the bar hoppers. Copenhagen has a charming medieval middle city, vibrant design quarters, and arguably the wildest nightlife in Scandinavia, although it’s slightly pricier overall.