Amsterdam vs. London: a comparison of two capitals

Two renowned yet completely different cities separated by the North Sea. With rave reviews about both, but are you unsure which one to choose? We got you.

Are you considering a university exchange and are tempted by both metropolises? Or perhaps you are taking a sabbatical and want to make the right choice for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

We are multicultural here at DutchReview and many of our staff have lived in both cities. We’ve covered all bases to present to you the ultimate comparison between Amsterdam and London.

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that we are comparing averages. There will, of course, be discrepancies based on personal preferences. 

Entertainment

It’s a little unfair to compare the culture in these two cities given the drastic size difference. London has almost nine times more people and is seven times bigger than Amsterdam, so it’s only natural it has more entertainment. So for this question, we have to assess it relatively.

Museums 

English writer Samuel Johnson famously said: “if you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life”. There is so much happening in London that it is hard to believe people ever get bored.

The British Museum gets roughly 5 million visitors a year. By comparison, the Rijksmuseum gets 2.5 million visitors a year. Both are amazing museums and worth a visit.

But where does it differ? Well, in the price. 🎟 All the major museums in London are free. Yes, completely FREE. Hear that, Dutchies? By comparison, the Rijksmuseum costs 19 euros per adult.

picture-of-Rijksmuseum-with-I-am-Amsterdam-sign
The beautiful Rijksmuseum front. Image: Eagle2308/Depositphotos

Cinema and theatre

On average, visiting the cinema in Amsterdam is cheaper. You can get a ticket for around 11 euros in comparison to the 16 pounds you would pay in London. 📽

There is far more variety in London and all major shows will always visit London. Additionally, both cities have systems to get massive discounts. In London, head to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, where discount tickets for a huge selection of London shows are put up for sale every morning.

In Amsterdam, there are some shows but nowhere near the amount in London and you have to check in advance what shows are performed in English and not Dutch.

Nightlife

London has far more variety, probably due to its sheer size. But what’s certain is that you’re bound to find something that suits everyone’s tastes: electronic music, 80’s themed nights, techno, and blues parties.

There are plentiful clubs in Amsterdam and thousands of people travel to Amsterdam just for the nightlife alone, a city that’s renowned for its intense clubbing experience in electronic music.

People-dancing-at-a-nightclub-in-the-Netherlands-curfew
The vibrant clubbing scene of Amsterdam. Image: Antoine Julien / Unsplash

Amsterdam’s small size works in its favour here as it is relatively easy to visit a few different clubs in one night. Most of the time you could even walk between a few decent clubs with ease — an ideal bar-hopping environment.

London on the other hand requires a taxi which makes going out more expensive unless you hit the jackpot and visit a great club the first time around. 🚕

The club scene is awash with cocaine and ecstasy users in both cities. If you are going to try drugs in the Netherlands, make sure you are aware of the different types and the varying effects they have.

Keeping fit

Like to keep fit? Gym memberships are on average are about 50% cheaper in Amsterdam than in London.

London has great deals with “no-frills” gyms such as Simply Gym and The Gym Group.

READ MORE | The ultimate guide to the best swimming pools in the Netherlands

City size and location 

→Winner: Undecided (depends on personal preference)

Amsterdam is only an eighth of the size of London with a population of a little over one million squeezing into 219.4 square kilometres.

By comparison, London has 1,572 square kilometres and 8.9 million inhabitants.

That is such a stark difference it deserves an article in and of itself and it really comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer more anonymity? Or do you love having little areas within a big city?

Both cities are well located geographically with easy access to Europe. You can get from London to Paris in a mere two hours and from London to Amsterdam in four hours. 🚇

Amsterdam is about the same distance from Paris as London, but it is on the European continent so there is the possibility to drive to other destinations such as Belgium, Germany, and Denmark as opposed to flying or driving much longer distances like you’d need to do from London.

Cost of living 

→Winner: Amsterdam

Food is expensive, eating out is expensive and rent and housing bills are expensive. Expatisan, a living costs’ calculator that allows for a comparison between cities, revealed that London is 27% more expensive than Amsterdam. The prices were updated in October 2021 on the latest exchange rate.

Housing

The cost of living in both cities is very high. I doubt anyone would say either are affordable. Rent is about the same in both cities. For one room in a flatshare, you will pay around 500-800 euros/pounds in both Amsterdam and London.

This is what we feel like when we have to pay rent in both cities:

Food and drink 

 AmsterdamLondon
A beer in a pub€3.20£4.50
Sausage roll (Albert Heijn v Greggs) €1.82£1.20
Latte€2.90£3.00

London is the most multicultural city in the world, and it shows in the variety of cuisine. You can access anything your heart desires: Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Moroccan, and the list continues.

Amsterdam is a lot smaller so it does not have the same selection as London but nonetheless, it is still a capital city with lots of variety. 🤤

Service is more intense and “Americanised” in London, with fast, friendly staff. Servers in Amsterdam are far more relaxed and you’ll likely be waiting a lot longer to have your order taken.

Transport

→Winner: Amsterdam

In London, you can travel with either an oyster card or your bank card through contactless. In the Netherlands, you can only travel with a designated travel card which is either an OV-chipcard or an NS discount card.

Travelling with contactless on your bank card in London and NS discount card in Amsterdam are both much simpler as you don’t have the faff of topping up a travel card each time the money on your card runs out.

picture-of-a-dutch-railway-station-entry-card-swiping
Amsterdam train station enterance, have your card ready! Image: innervision/Depositphotos

Amsterdam’s transport network is less extensive than London’s and a large reason for this is the fact Amsterdam is built on water which limits the underground transport system.

READ MORE | The ultimate guide to taking a train in the Netherlands: from OV cards to saving money

In 2002, construction started on Amsterdam Zuid-Noord metro line. 15 years later it was completed but it quickly became evident that Amsterdam’s precarious historical underground was a less than stable foundation for the new metro line. The result? Houses built above it literally began to fall into the earth. Residents were forced from their homes, and even after the line opened ten years later most of the buildings were still empty.

Cycling

The biggest difference in transport between the two cities is that most people cycle in the Netherlands. In Holland, there are designated cycling paths and Dutch people say they teach their kids how to bike before walking.

Amsterdam is home to more bikes than people and everyone is a prolific cyclist. Need to go to work? Cycle. Need to meet a friend for coffee? Cycle. Bought a sofa and need to transport it to your house? Carry it on your bike. Need to travel to Spain? Cycle. Well, maybe not the last one but you get my point. 😆

READ MORE | How the Netherlands became a cycling country

bikes in the netherlands
Expect a battle for a bike stop in Amsterdam. Image by djedj /Pixabay

It is of course possible to cycle in London but far more dangerous as there are not many designated cycling paths and people are not as aware of cyclists.

Weather

→Winner: London

We could summarise Amsterdam’s weather with the following meme:

amsterdam versus london
there, there

Since Amsterdam is situated very near to the North Sea, cool winds often blow across the Netherlands generating a ‘moderate maritime climate’ with warm(ish) summers and cold winters. The weather in Amsterdam is defined by the high precipitation (roughly 840mm/year) meaning there is no real dry season.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be grateful for the crappy Dutch weather. Perhaps all that time stuck inside sheltering from the rain makes them incredibly innovative! (okay, we’re trying to find a silver lining here…)

READ MORE | What to do when it’s raining: the ultimate guide to Amsterdam indoors

Weather in London is somewhat mild in comparison. Summer temperatures usually sit in the mid-twenties but it is common for London to experience temperatures well above 30°C. London. London gets about 106 rainy days a year (583.6mm).

Picture-of-Hyde-park-London-with-green-lawn-and-beautiful-weather
A scene from Hyde Park, London. Image: Hudozhnytsya/Depositphotos

Salary

→Winner: London

People who work in London usually earn more than their Amsterdam counterparts. The average net salary in London is £1,982 (2,804 euro) and the average salary for Amsterdam is £1,711 (2,419 euro). That’s a difference of around 14%. 💰

Expat culture

→Winner: Undecided

Language

In most cities, talking about the fact that English isn’t a country’s native language would need to be addressed but there’s almost no point when it comes to the Netherlands.

For the last few years, the Netherlands has competed with Sweden for the number one ranking on the EF English Proficiency Index. As it currently stands, the Netherlands is ranked first. 🏆

However, to truly assimilate it is important to learn Dutch. It will help with integration and work opportunities. It is not the easiest language to learn but many people have successfully done it.

Healthcare

Both cities have a public healthcare system, called the ‘NHS’ (National Health Service) in Britain and just ‘healthcare’ in the Netherlands.

But anyone who works in the Netherlands needs to pay a compulsory €100+ per month for health insurance. Without that you will need to pay the full whack of everything from GP visits to surgeries. 💊

Some people from Europe living in the Netherlands try and avoid paying for Dutch health insurance by relying on their European Health Insurance Card instead. This works if you are travelling but if you are working and earning in the Netherlands, paying a monthly health insurance policy is mandatory.

EU, EEA, or Swiss nationals who are working in the Netherlands must get Dutch health insurance within four months of registering at the city hall.

Integration into society

A reddit thread asking people to compare experiences of living in both Amsterdam and London gleaned insight into the exclusivity of Amsterdam.

One user commented that “Amsterdam feels provincial and the mindset of the people reflects it. It’s not multicultural at all and there’s a huge gap between Dutch people and expats because of the language. There are things I miss (Albert Heijn! 🛒) and I can objectively say that quality of life is better in Amsterdam, and I think in general thinks work better in the NL. But the city lacks the energy and opportunities that London has to offer and I wouldn’t move back for anyone.”

Another user commented, “Amsterdam is certainly more relaxed and laid-back than London; the pace of life is slower, and people are less rushed and busy and take more time to enjoy the little pleasures of life.”

Which city is safer?

→Winner: Amsterdam

According to the latest report by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Amsterdam is one of the safest cities in Europe. By comparison, London didn’t make it to the top five in the same report.

The report included 60 cities around the world and analysed 76 indicators contained within four types of safety. These four main categories were digital, infrastructure, health, and personal security.

Like anything, at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference. Both Amsterdam and London are bustling capital cities with incredibly appealing aspects and huge variety. London has more to offer and more going on, just by the sheer size of it but Amsterdam, for such a small capital, does pretty darn well.

What do you think of the Amsterdam vs London debate? Tell us in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2019, and was fully updated in October 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image: 12019/Pixabay and Free-Photos/Pixabay

Freya Sawbridge
Freya was born in Edinburgh but raised in New Zealand (cue every person she meets saying “oh I have always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!”). A restless and curious nature has led her to move countries 5 times in the last 3 years in attempt to find a place she can call home. She contacted DutchReview on a whim and arrived in the Netherlands in summer 2019 to start her internship.

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