paris or amsterdam

Paris Or Amsterdam: Which To Choose For a 3-5 Day Break

Should you stay in Paris or Amsterdam for a 3 to 5-day break? This article will help you decide.

Paris and Amsterdam are both capitals (France and the Netherlands), but they differ greatly in size: while the city of Paris has a population of over 2M, Amsterdam is a significantly smaller city at under 1M.

Paris is a world capital of culture, fashion, and cuisine, with an endless choice of world-class avenues, monuments, art venues, and dining options. Amsterdam, while much smaller, is charming with its canals, and also reputed for its rich cultural heritage. While not as grand as Paris, Amsterdam is picturesque and pleasant to visit. Paris is more spread out and requires more time and transport to visit. Amsterdam’s center can be seen by foot, bicycle, or tram. Amsterdam is English-speaking (unlike Paris) and has a more fun and relaxed nightlife.

Paris or Amsterdam: what travelers say

  • Paris is impressive with its elegant buildings, majestic monuments, wide avenues, and large business district. Amsterdam feels cozier and charming with its peculiar houses and picturesque canals.
  • Paris is more beautiful but Amsterdam is interesting with its special canals and quaint architecture.
  • Amsterdam is smaller and more walkable with a lot more all-pedestrian zones. Paris is much more spread out and requires endless walking to get to places on foot – you typically take the metro or buses. Amsterdam is easier to wander and explore.
  • Amsterdam is much more bike-friendly than Paris. You can very easily ride your bike around and park it on a bridge, making the city easier to get around in a pleasant way. Cycling an important aspect of Amsterdam’s character.
  • Most people in Amsterdam speak English fluently. In Paris, in contrast, people either don’t speak English or are reluctant to speak it. Visitors can still get around in Paris provided they learn some basic French and have patience for interacting with the locals.
  • As a result, it’s easier for English-speakers to blend in local life in Amsterdam than in Paris, where you feel more like a tourist.
  • The Dutch are friendly and helpful even though they may seem a bit distant at first. On the other hand, English speakers often find the Parisians less friendly and tend to feel more welcome in Amsterdam.
  • Paris is also more crowded and busier all the time. Amsterdam is a lot less rushed.  Spending a few days in Amsterdam feels much more relaxed than in Paris, where there is so much to do and distances are so large with rushed people everywhere.
  • Paris has more choice of things to do but involves more public transport.
  • Amsterdam has a great and easy public transport system which can be a big advantage for a short stay. The metro transport system in Paris is also efficient (aside from frequent staff strikes) but requires more time and knowledge to get around since it’s a bigger city.
  • Amsterdam has fun and friendly nightlife. Paris has more going on but getting to places requires more effort, and going out for a drink is a lot more expensive.
  • While Amsterdam (and the Netherlands) is generally more expensive than France, many travelers feel they get more for their money in Amsterdam.
  • Amsterdam is in the lowlands and traversed by canals. Paris is hilly and cut in two halves (Right Bank and Left Bank) by the Seine river.
  • Amsterdam is a better option for a shorter stay (e.g. 4 days or less). In Amsterdam, most of the main sights can be visited in 3 full days, whereas in Paris, at least 6 days are needed.
  • While both Paris and Amsterdam have great museums and sights, Paris is better for exploring neighborhoods and street sights
  • Amsterdam is easier for a solo traveler as there’s no stigma of being on your own. Going out alone at night in Paris is not so common.
  • Travelers love Amsterdam for its canals, its neighborhoods, nice bars/restaurants, the Jordaan 9, the cycling, the windmills, cow pastures, and tulip fields
  • Some travelers who are not into marijuana cafes or the red light district don’t find Amsterdam so exciting. Also, people in Amsterdam are not as colorful as the French.

Paris or Amsterdam: access & transportation

Traveling between Paris and Amsterdam takes under 3.5 hours by train.

In Amsterdam, it’s a short 17-minute train ride from Schiphol airport to the city center.

While traffic in Amsterdam is congested, people tend to drive much more safely than in Paris. Drivers from other cities in France are often wary of driving into Paris.

In Amsterdam, bicycles are the main means of transportation, with many bike paths and laws protecting cyclists from cars. In Paris, although public bicycles (and electric scooters) are available in many places, cycling in the city can be nerve-wrenching due to traffic.

Both Paris and Amsterdam have easy and cheap public transportation, but Amsterdam is smaller so a lot can be done on foot. A stay in Paris generally involves some transportation costs, whereas from the Amsterdam city center you can walk to many places.

Paris or Amsterdam: vibe & people

Paris is a monumental, imposing city whereas Amsterdam is a cozy city with pretty canals. English-speakers tend to feel more at home in Amsterdam, vs more like a tourist in Paris.

Travelers feel the people in Paris often live up to their reputation of being unfriendly and arrogant. On the other hand, the Dutch are sometimes described as rude – which is probably due to cultural differences.

Amsterdam is considered one of the most liberal cities in the world, which is not as much the case for Paris.

Amsterdam is great to explore, see the charming traditional guild houses, admire the great Dutch master paintings, enjoy the bicycle culture, take a boat ride on the canals. You can go to one of the many saunas and spas all around the city center.

Some travelers are put off by the red light district and weed-selling coffee shops, however they are also an interesting part of the city’s vibe and liberal culture.

Paris is an international center for culture, art, cooking, fashion, literature, history etc, with a lot happening all the time. In Paris, one can have a very quiet and local lifestyle, or an active and cosmopolitan one.

Travelers often complain about the number of panhandlers and scammers in Paris, which can turn into a daily annoyance. Amsterdam has fewer scammers and feels safer and more relaxed for the visitor.

Paris is known for Monet and Michelangelo artworks, good wine, French pastry and crepes, whereas Amsterdam shines for its Van Gogh and Rembrandt masterpieces, good cheap beer, rijstaffel and pancakes.

Paris or Amsterdam: sights & culture

Paris is famous for having a large number of major cultural sights, some of the most famous being the Eiffel Tower, the 12th-century Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica.

Paris has world-class museums such as the Louvre, which hosts Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and the Musée d’Orsay, with paintings from Monet, Renoir, and other impressionist masters. Musée Rodin is less crowded than the Louvre, with some gems of its own.

Visitors also love the city’s neighborhoods, including the quaint Quartier Latin with the Sorbonne University, and chic Saint-Germain-des-Près with its posh shops and iconic cafés, both on the Left Bank of the Seine.

Other great neighborhoods to visit include the Marais, the area around the Canal Saint-Marting, and Butte Aux Calles. The Faubourg Saint-Honoré is lined with designer stores. Montmartre offers amazing views over the city. Paris also has some great parks.

In Amsterdam, travelers enjoy romantic strolls in the beautiful residential areas along the canals in the city center. Popular sights include the 17-th century narrow houses, the Joordan 9 canal-side area with its shops and galleries and attractive cafes, the Pijp local neighborhood, the windmills, pastures, and tulip surrounding the city.

Amsterdam has great museums, including the world-renowned Van Gogh museum (much smaller than the Louvre but very pleasant with Rembrandt and Vermeer masterpieces), the Rijks Museum, the New Hermitage (the largest art museum), and the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum.

The city museum has great temporary art exhibits. The Tropical Museum (third-world cultures) is also very interesting. The Anne Frank house and the World War II Resistance museum are a must-see for most travelers. The Foam Photography Museum is worth a visit.

The Heineken Experience is a popular beer tour. The red-light district is also nicer than you may think. Vondelpark has nice cafes and is near the majestic Royal Concert Hall. Cycling in the city is a great experience. Many bars and restaurants in Amsterdam offer candlelit dinners.

Paris or Amsterdam: food & nightlife

Paris offers good nightlife with more choice and more concerts than Amsterdam. The Marais area, for example, has trendy clubs located among 17th-century mansions. However, getting to the nightclubs in Paris commonly takes at least a half-hour metro ride and an expensive taxi ride to get back home.

Going out for drinks is much more affordable in Amsterdam than in Paris, where you can walk to many pubs and beer typically costs twice as much even in non-tourist places.

Some travelers feel the nightlife in Amsterdam is a bit ruined by soft drugs, which many people tend to consume to get high when going out.

Great food can be found in both Paris and Amsterdam. Visitors tend to eat French in Paris but international in Amsterdam, which has great Indonesian cuisine, but also Dutch, Japanese, Italian, Thai, Spanish etc.

In Paris, there are cafes with open-air terraces everywhere, as well as countless fine restaurants, bistros, and coffee shops with great pastry.

Amsterdam also has its share of good nightlife, including a thriving clubbing scene . many DJs from the Netherlands have become famous around the world. While Paris has many good clubs, travelers tend to find Amsterdam to be more fun and affordable for going out at night.

Amsterdam has a number of concerts scattered across the city, including shows at the renowned Boom Chicago Comedy Clubs. There are also countless cool hole-in-the-wall pubs to hang out, not mentioning the coffee shops, which sell marijuana, and the red light district with its bars and Erotic Museum.

Solo visitors generally feel comfortable and have a good time going out in Amsterdam, while Paris is less suitable for a single person without a lot of money to spend.

The Rembrantplein area is where most of the major clubs are concentrated, with primarily tourist crowds. In contrast, the Leidseplein nightlife hub has more of a mix of locals and visitors. Among the clubs are the Paradiso (housed in an old church), Melkweg, The Sugar Factory and De Kroen.

The Amsterdam dining scene is famous for its traditional Dutch restaurants, lounge restaurants, and Indonesian rice table places.

Paris or Amsterdam: shopping

As one might expect, Paris is shopping heaven with tons of store and galleries for all budgets. The Champs Elysées has upscale fashion stores but also a good selection of reasonably priced stores like Zara, H&M, NafNaf, Etam, Promod etc.

The Les Halles area (teen fashion), the Rue de Rivoli (between Bastille and Place Vendôme) and side streets, the Boulevard Saint-Germain and surroundings, the Grands Boulevards, with the Galeries Lafayette and Le Printemps department stores, Le Bon Marché department store, are some of the most famous shopping areas. Montmartre also has nice boutiques for unique designer fashion.

In Amsterdam, the Jordaan 9 area is a great place to shop (or window shop). Bijenkorf on Dam Square has all kinds of designer stores with both expensive and affordable fashion. PC Hoofstraat has high-end brands.

The Damrak area and Magna Plaza shopping center are example of more affordable shopping places. Kalverstraat has big chain stores including H&M, Sissy Boy, Esprit, and River Island.

Paris or Amsterdam: lodging

Accommodation prices can vary a lot more in Paris depending on the area and hotel range. Average prices for a 3-star hotel in both cities, however, are roughly similar.

Paris is huge so the city has hundreds of hotels. The city has many areas to choose from for a short stay. Many travelers choose to stay in the Latin Quarter where the Sorbonne University is and which has nice, relatively affordable restaurants, a lively nightlife, and proximity to the Luxembourg Gardens.

One recommended hotel there is Hotel des Grands Hommes, a small hotel located across the street from the Pantheon. It offers a pretty Parisian style, good service, and helpful staff. The rooms are relatively small but comfortable. Travelers often return to it.

Amsterdam has nice 4-5 star hotels in the Jordaan area, the Dam Square area, and the museum district. The RHO hotel, right next to Dam Square, is often recommended. It’s very well located, a 10-minute walk to Central station, and very close to the tram for getting everywhere. The hotel street has a great pastry shop and a nice Chinese restaurant.

Times HOtel is also a 10-15 minute walk from the station, close to 9 Streets and Jordaan areas, and a short walk to trams. It has small rooms with canal views and larger ones in the back. It’s within walking distance to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light district.

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Photo credits:
(1) Featured: “Rue de Champs-Elysees” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Shabai Liu