When you are planning a trip to Colorado whether it is for winter fun or a summer adventure, two mountain towns that should be on your list are Breckenridge and Aspen. Both are great towns for winter recreation and as hubs for summertime fun.
Both Breckenridge and Aspen have lovely, historic mining towns that also double as ski villages. Both communities also have very versatile ski terrain accessible to skiers and riders of all skill levels. In the summer, both towns are great for summer recreation like mountain biking, hiking, and other outdoor activities. They also offer a wide variety of festivals and events that make summer visits interesting.
The stand-out difference when considering Breckenridge vs. Aspen is affordability. Both communities offer amazing amenities, but Aspen is well-known as one of the most popular luxury travel destinations in the United States. Visiting Aspen, you can expect to pay more for everything from lodging to lift tickets. However, if you are looking for a retreat where luxury is the priority, Aspen is an ideal vacation destination.
Breckenridge is a versatile town that has both affordable and luxury options. The town has a great relaxed feeling. In amongst the craft breweries and distilleries, you’ll find quaint boutiques, craft coffee, ice cream shops, and even world class dining experiences.
In this guide, I will share with you a bit about Breckenridge and Aspen. I hope my insights will give you more information about traveling to these Colorado towns. And, allow you to make the best choice between Breckenridge vs. Aspen.
A Quick Overview & Comparison: Breckenridge vs Aspen
- Easier car access from Denver
- More accessible beginner ski terrain
- Family-friendly lodging and dining
- More affordable
Visitors looking for a convenient, family-friendly resort, close to Denver will find Breckenridge the best option. The drive from Denver International Airport is just over an hour. You will have to travel a short distance off of I-70 to reach Breckenridge but overall, Breckenridge is very accessible. If you care not to drive, Breckenridge is also accessible by ski shuttles that can be taken from DIA to your lodging location.
When it comes to skiing, if you want easy access to tons of terrain that is great for every experience level, Breckenridge is your best pick. With five unique hills surrounding the town, Breckenridge Ski Resort has tons of beginner and intermediate trails but also an entire peak specifically for advanced and expert skiers.
Breckenridge is a great family-friendly resort if you are looking for an affordable location with lots of activities for the whole family.
Suggested Reading: Breckenridge vs Vail: An Honest Comparison
- Ideal Colorado luxury vacation
- Amazing expert ski terrain
- Accessible by both plane and car
- Not as busy as some ski towns
Aspen is your choice if you are looking for a luxury getaway with all of the frills. Aspen is frequently on the list of best luxury locations in the United States. It is home to some of the best restaurants, most luxurious hotels and resorts, and it also has world class skiing. The town serves as the village for Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk ski resorts. When you are done with your day on the slopes, Aspen offers great apres ski bars and nightclubs.
Aspen is one of the few ski towns that is accessible by plane. If you don’t want to drive a long distance to start your vacation, Aspen is a nice choice provided you fly. There are plenty of daily flights to Aspen through Aspen-Pitkin County Regional Airport.
Families can find lots to do in the Aspen area. However, because so much of the town and surrounding resorts are geared to upscale and high-end visitors, it may be difficult for a family to find affordable places to stay in Aspen.
Suggested Reading: Aspen vs Vail: An Honest Comparison
Breckenridge vs Aspen: A Quick Guide to Choosing
Now that you have a little more information about Breckenridge and Aspen, I’ll offer some additional, specific details about the best features of each community.
Breckenridge Mini Guide
- Location Size – 6.047 square miles
- Population – 5,024
- Rainy Season – July
- High Season – December to April
- Top Sights – Breckenridge Ski Resort, Peak 8 Base Camp, Breckenridge Distillery, Breckenridge Nordic Center
- Major Airports – Eagle/Vail Regional Airport and Denver International Airport
Breckenridge is one of my favorite places to visit in the Colorado Mountains. I love that it is convenient from Denver and that it has so many great ways to spend time. For me, the highlight is being able to hit the slopes from my rental condo or from the free public parking in downtown Breckenridge. I love the vibe that Breckenridge has. Locals are relaxed and friendly. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find more upscale offerings in Breckenridge. There are some world-class restaurants and luxury hotels or condominium resorts in Breckenridge as well.
If you have kids, Breckenridge is a great spot to visit. The community is very family oriented with lots of parks, a great recreation center, ice skating, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. It is a great spot to add to your family vacation destination list.
Aspen Mini Guide
- Location Size – 3.858 square miles
- Population – 7,019
- Rainy Season – March-April
- High Season – December to April
- Top Sights – Maroon Bells, Wheeler Opera House, Aspen Brewing Company
- Major Airports – Aspen-Pitkin County Airport and Denver International Airport
Aspen is the ideal Colorado mountain town if you want to enjoy a ski vacation without dealing with the crowds. Because Aspen is a good 4-hour drive from Denver International Airport and the Denver metro area, you are going to find smaller crowds, shorter lift lines and restaurants and shopping that are not so busy. Aspen is accessible from the Aspen-Pitkin County Regional Airport, so you don’t have to make the 4-hour drive if you aren’t comfortable with winter driving or mountain roads.
When it comes to skiing, Aspen has three great ski resorts just on the edge of town. These three ski areas are great for more advanced skiers, which can be a bummer for families with beginners. However, families will find a great skiing and boarding experience just a short drive from Aspen at Snowmass Mountain Ski Resort. Snowmass is known for its beginner and intermediate terrain that is perfect for families.
The 7 Key Differences Between Breckenridge or Aspen
Now that you have a general idea about the communities of Aspen and Breckenridge, it is time for me to give you some specifics about how the two communities compare. In this section, I will give you my thoughts on the key ways that Breckenridge and Aspen differ. This comparison will allow you to gather more information to help you decide which travel location is best for you.
Which Is Better for Activities?
When it comes to activities, Breckenridge is by far the better choice. Not only will you find a wealth of outdoor recreation opportunities, but the town has tons of tours, day trips, festivals, and cultural events that you can experience.
Certainly, the most important activity in Breckenridge is skiing. Breckenridge Ski Resort offers 5 unique peaks with a variety of terrain options. Peak 10 is geared specifically to experts. Peak 8 is family-friendly and is home to ski school.
If you are not coming to ski, the town offers fun tours like a Fat Bike Beer and Distillery tour and a Breckenridge ghost tour. The town began as a gold mining town. Around the area, you will find remnants of the town’s past. Families will love panning for gold at a historic placer mine maintained by the Breckenridge Historical Society.
In the winter, visitors to Breckenridge that don’t want to ski can check out the Breckenridge Ice Carving Competition, the summer Breckenridge Art Festival, and free concerts hosted by the Breckenridge Recreation District.
Aspen is also great for activities. The ski resorts on the edge of town offer great skiing for expert and advanced riders. You can travel a short distance to the Maroon Bells, one of the most iconic mountain views found in Colorado. Aspen also hosts plenty of concerts, art and cultural festivals, and family-friendly events throughout the year.
Which Is More Family Friendly?
Aspen is a great place to visit but is often a more appropriate spot for adults. If you are looking for a family-friendly place to visit, Breckenridge is definitely more catered towards that.
Not only does the ski resort have one of the best children’s ski schools in Colorado, but the town is full of affordable family-friendly lodging, restaurants and activities. One of the most fun things for kids to do in Breckenridge in the winter is the ice castle at the top of the Beaver Run Gondola. You can purchase a pass to ride the gondola to the top just to play in the ice castle. Another non-ski activity that is great for families is tubing at the Frisco Sledding Hill. Frisco is just a short drive from Breckenridge so it is easy to take half a day speeding down a groomed hill on an innertube.
Activities aside, Breckenridge has lots of family-friendly, affordable lodging. You will find that most of the lodging options around the ski area are rental condominiums. These are actually an excellent options for families because they have full kitchens. If you are on a budget, making your own meals can be a great way to save some money.
Restaurants in Breckenridge offer plenty of kid-friendly options. Check out Downstairs at Eric’s for the locals favorite pizza. If you are looking for a family-friendly meal that isn’t pizza, try the Canteen Taphouse and Tavern for great burgers, kid favorites, and an amazing beer list.
Which Has Better Nightlife?
When it comes to a great experience after dark, Aspen is really the better choice. Not only do the ski villages have great apres ski bars and restaurants, but you can’t beat the world-class restaurants and bars in downtown Aspen. For a low-key but unique experience, check out Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar. Located on Main St. in Aspen, this bar feels like a speakeasy and offers classic cocktails as well as house originals.
Many of the bars in Aspen have live music on the weekends and evenings during ski season. For live music, and an old-west feel, hit Silver City Mountain Saloon. This is a local favorite with billiards, live music, great cocktails and a large tap list.
Breckinridge also has some good spots for apres ski and post-dinner fun. Check out the Absinthe bar for cocktails made from Absinthe and other craft-distilled liquors. For a more traditional bar experience check out Apres. This bar has 30 beers on tap and over 30 small-batch whiskeys.
Which Is Cheaper?
When it comes to comparing Breckinridge and Aspen for affordability, Breckinridge is hands down the more affordable option. What makes Breckinridge even more affordable compared to Aspen is that almost all of your lodging options are rental condos or houses. In Aspen you get lots of luxury hotels along with condos and rental houses.
For around $400 per night, the Village at Breckenridge Resort offers full condos that sleep up to 8 people. One of my favorite spots in Breckinridge is the Beaver Run Resort. This spot is a bit more expensive, but they have great amenities including ski storage. It is also just a short walk to the Beaver Run gondola or the downtown area.
Aspen also has a few affordable lodging options. My pick for the most affordable, but highly-rated place to stay in Aspen is the St. Moritz Lodge and Condominiums. This resort is close to downtown Aspen, and has a nightly rate of just over $200 per night. If you are coming to Aspen during ski season and you want this affordable lodging option, plan ahead. It is not a large facility so it fills up quickly in the high season.
How Does the Food Compare? Or Which Is Better for Restaurants & Eating Out?
I have to give Aspen the category for the best food. On every corner, you will find an amazing restaurant, serving meals cooked by world-renowned chefs. One of the unique restaurants in Aspen that is consistently featured on upscale restaurant lists is the French Alpine Bistro. This is a locals favorite, and it serves foods that will make you feel like you are sitting in a quaint chalet in the Swiss or French Alps. You’ll enjoy hearty French cuisine and an amazing wine selection in this location.
If you are looking for something a bit more accessible in Aspen and maybe just a bit more family-friendly stop in at the White House Tavern. Locals will tell you this spot has the best burger in town.
If you are leaning toward Breckinridge for your next vacation spot, don’t worry – there are great spots to eat here too. One of my favorites is Legends Steakhouse. This higher-end steakhouse sits a block off of Main Street in a row of Victorian cottages that have been turned into restaurants. The cuts of steak are huge, and don’t miss the happy hour oyster specials.
Which Is Easier to Get To?
Even though you can fly direct to Aspen, flights here can be pricey and there are not many direct flights. And it takes a dedicated traveler to spend another 4 hours in the car after a long plane flight to Denver.
For me, the more accessible location is Breckenridge. Yes, you will have to drive from Denver, but the drive is manageable, at just over an hour. You’ll travel on I-70 which is well-maintained, even in the winter. Once you exit I-70 the drive to Breckenridge is another 20 or so minutes on another well-maintained highway.
If you don’t want to drive, there are ski shuttle companies that travel directly to Breckenridge and drop you at the front door of your resort.
You can also fly into the Eagle County Regional Airport near Vail. It is a slightly shorter drive to Breckenridge from here. Like the Aspen airport, there are limited commercial flights into the Eagle County Regional Airport and flights can be a bit more expensive.
Which Is Easier to Get Around Town?
For me, this is really a toss up. I find that it is exceptionally easy to get around both Breckenridge and Aspen. Both towns are very walkable with great sidewalks and plenty of wayfinding signs. Likewise, if you are staying in one of the resorts or hotels, both communities offer free shuttles that will stop at your lodging location or stop nearby and take you to town.
I do think that Breckenridge is more convenient for parking. Perhaps it is because the Peak 8 gondola starts just outside of downtown, but the parking in Breckenridge is really good. And in most cases, it is free even during ski season. From the public parking in Breckenridge, it’s a short walk over the Blue River into the historic downtown.
5 Questions to Help You Decided to Travel to Breckenridge or Aspen
Now that you know what features set Breckenridge and Aspen apart from each other, I want to share with you some of the things that are best about each mountain town.
Is Breckenridge or Aspen Better for Resorts?
Comparing resorts in Breckenridge and Aspen is like comparing apples and oranges. Both have great resorts and lodging options. I would say that if you are looking for a luxury travel experience and want to enjoy the best money can buy, Aspen is going to have the best resorts. I have a hard time saying that Aspen is best for resorts because in general they are only affordable for those with more disposable income.
Breckenridge is a great place for families with plenty of places to stay that are geared towards the budget conscious traveler. However, Breckenridge also has a number of luxury lodging options if you are looking for something more upscale. Not everyone wants a condo when they travel and Breckenridge doesn’t have a ton of hotel style lodging options.
You won’t have the same quality of lodging in Breckenridge as you will find in Aspen, but honestly, there aren’t many places in Colorado that compare with the upscale options in Aspen.
When Should You Visit Breckenridge or Aspen?
Both Breckenridge and Aspen are the most fun in the winter during ski season. If you are traveling to either location for skiing or winter recreation you will find the best time to visit is December through April.
If you want to experience the Colorado mountains in the summer and Breckenridge or Aspen is your desired destination, the best time to visit for warm weather activities and summer festivals is June through September.
I like to travel to Colorado mountain towns in the shoulder seasons. Sometimes these are referred to as “mud season”. For both Breckenridge and Aspen the shoulder seasons are late April to early June and then mid-September to early November. During these times you will find that lodging is more affordable, and the crowds are smaller.
Is Breckenridge or Aspen Better for Skiing?
Breckenridge and Aspen offer great skiing for different types of visitors. If you are into extreme skiing right out of your resort doors, the best place for you to ski in Aspen. The three resorts that surround the town are known for their advanced to expert trails. You will have to drive to Snowmass Mountain for beginner runs.
If you are traveling with kids or inexperienced skiers, Breckenridge is a great place for them. That doesn’t mean that Breckenridge is going to be boring for experienced skiers. The ski mountain is huge with 5 peaks, 5 main lift areas, nearly 100 runs, and a great ski school. Peak 10 is where the adventurous go to ski. This peak is for expert skiers only. Breckenridge also has back bowls with more runs to entertain experienced skiers.
Is Breckenridge or Aspen Better for Christmas?
When it comes to spending Christmas in a Colorado mountain town, I think that Breckenridge is where you will find the best festivities. The Breckenridge Main Street with its Victorian buildings is decked out with traditional holiday decorations. There are holiday festivals, Christmas markets and community concerts.
Shopping in Breckenridge during Christmas time is also fun. Sure, you won’t find the luxury brands and upscale boutiques that are in Aspen, but there are lots of galleries, clothing boutiques, and shops selling items that range from outdoor gear to soaps. It is easy in Breckenridge to find a gift for everyone on your list.
Breckenridge or Aspen: Which Is the Better Choice?
When comparing Breckenridge vs. Aspen, the best choice for most travelers is Breckenridge. This quaint, historic mining town, turned lively ski town has a little something for everyone. Whether you are looking for luxury lodging, family friendly skiing, or easy access from Denver, Breckenridge has it all.
When it comes to traveling to Aspen, this ski resort town is amazing, and it offers a lot of great opportunities. However, its reputation as an upscale destination really does make the destination not great for many people. If you are looking for a quiet, luxurious getaway, Aspen is where you want to be.
In the end, while both resorts are amazing and offer uniquely Colorado experiences, Breckenridge just offers more opportunities for a wider variety of travelers.