The Best Cryptocurrency Exchanges to Buy Bitcoin and Ethereum

Buying cryptocurrencies can be an overwhelming experience for newcomers. How to actually buy bitcoin, ethereum, or any of the multitudes of coin, what type of wallet to use, all the proper security precautions - it is enough to make one wait to simply buy the Winklevoss' ETF when it finally launches!

However, it actually is not all that complicated - just ask the thousands of novices that have had to pay bitcoin ransom to cyber thieves in order to save their computers from eternal blue screen. You simply need to pick a brokerage, buy a bit of bitcoin and start playing around with it. You will be an old pro in no time.

Below we rank the best bitcoin and cryptocurrency exchanges, which we try to organize into relevant categories. More in depth reviews are below and can be reached by clicking on the exchange name. All the exchanges reviewed on this page are of a high quality and worthy of patronage.  (If you are more interested in day trading rather than buying to hold, check out our catalogue of the best cryptocurrency trading platforms).

The Best Cryptocurrency Exchange Rankings in 2017

The Best Bitcoin Exchange
Winner: Gemini
Runner Up: Bitstamp

The Best Ethereum Exchange
Winner: Kraken
Runner Up: Gemini

The Best Altcoin Exchange
Winner: Shapeshift
Runner Up: Poloniex

The Best Bitcoin Margin Trading Exchanges
Winner: Bitfinex
Runner Up: OKCoin

The Best Bitcoin Brokerage for Credit Card Purchase
Winner: CEX
Runner Up: CoinMama

Top Scores for Anonymity:Localbitcoins

(Please note: the bitcoin USD pair demonstrates the most trading volume globally on bitcoin exchanges, and so we compare here global USD brands. Please check out our comparisons of the best bitcoin Canadian Exchanges, UK Exchanges, or EUR Exchanges as appropriate.)

Gemini- Consensus Pick for Best Bitcoin Exchange for US traders

If you happen to have a US bank account, Gemini is your place to trade.  Low fees, high volumes, and more enlightened leadership than some of its competitors in the market.

Gemini's integrity, high volumes, and stability is the reason it was chosen by CME as the underlying price index upon which futures contracts are based.  So for futures traders fancying a bit of arbitrage, it makes sense to go with Gemini. 

With Coinbase embroiled in a potential insider trading scandal, not to mention their consistently abysmal support and inability to keep the site active during heavy trading periods, we recommend Gemini as the top US trading spot.

Visit Gemini

Why we (slightly) Prefer Bitfinex to OKCoin

Note - if it is day trading crypto you are after, you might prefer simply trading crypto CFDs in your local currency rather than going through the whole process explained below. You can read up on alternative trading options on our cryptocurrency trading page. (US Traders, FXChoice is your only option for bitcoin CFDs, and it is a good one).

BitFinex is based in Hong Kong, and banks have stopped processing USD deposits to and from the exchange. However, for those interested in buying bitcoin or ethereum on margin, or eight additional top market cap cryptos for that matter, this is a great exchange. Bitfinex operates a lending market, in which traders may borrow from lenders to support their leveraging activities, paying a daily swap that is generally around 10-20%. Lenders are not generally bitcoin holders - they get involved with Bitfinex only to realize solid returns on USD; when a borrower liquidates his position, the borrower will receive bitcoin equivalent to the initial USD amount lent, plus the interest.


Trading is very liquid - bitfinex is amongst the top USD exchanges by volume for most of the pairs it offers, the fees are low and the spreads are generally razor thin. For professional traders out there, the platform is very good as well, with a number of advanced trading options and tons of technical analysis tools embedded in the charting functionality.

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So why do we pick Bitfinex over OKcoin? Like Bitfinex, OKcoin operates margin and lending markets on bitcoin, litecoin and ethereum. They offer an additional feature, lender's insurance, in which for 10% of the interest payment OKcoin will guarantee the interest owed, regardless of the underlying situation of the borrower.  Currently, interest is paid out at 0.1% daily - remind me which bank offers such a rate?


Additionally, they are the only bitcoin exchange offer futures contracts, which is an exceptional instrument in the hands of experienced traders. However, okcoin is first and foremost a Chinese exchange. Their USD liquidity simply pales in comparison to bitfinex. While they both have the same issues in processing USD deposits and withdrawals from US citizens, Bitfinex has always focused on the USD markets, and so they have the depth to ride out banking intransigence.

However, OKcoin is an excellent product, and many will prefer it's lending features and futures contracts to Bitfinex, higher volumes and all.

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Kraken - Our Pick for Best Ethereum Exchange

San Francisco-based Kraken runs a beautifully engineered exchange that offers a USD market against 15 of the most in-demand cryptocurrencies. Leverage is available on Ethereum and Bitcoin, although margin equity of 100% is required in order to open the position.


While the plurality of their fiat liquidity comes via the euro markets, USD liquidity is more than ample, as are the trading volumes of bitcoin cross pairs. Unlike Coinbase, Kraken declined to apply for a New York bitlicense, which means some US states are precluded from trading - which might undermine slightly liquidity potential.

Aside from having an extremely robust trading platform with very low trading fees and small spreads, Kraken has emerged as something of a moral voice for the bitcoin market. The CEO is a passionate advocate for cryptocurrency. They were designated as trustees for the remaining Mt Gox funds following the latter's catastrophic collapse in 2014, and distributed $91m in remaining bitcoin through the Kraken platform. Even their passing on a bitlicense was somewhat of a protest vote; the New York regulation is widely thought to be overly cumbersome and has discouraged bitcoin startups from locating in the Big Apple.

LocalBitcoins - Buy Bitcoins Anonymously from Your BitPeers!

Local Bitcoins is a pure peer to peer exchange, in which local bitcoin buyers and local bitcoin sellers are connected directly. How exactly the exchange goes down depends on the two parties involved. Many prefer to meet in person to exchange cash for bitcoin, whilst others utilize LocalBitcoins escrow service, in bitcoin is held until the seller notifies that the money has been received. To help maximize trust, there is a reputational system next to every buyer and seller, and LocalBitcoins does act as arbiter in the event of disagreement.


The Anonymity depends entirely on the method of transaction. The most anonymous method is also the most uncomfortable - meeting in person and exchanging cash. Depending on local, there might be other forms of anonymous payments as well. Even bank transfers are relatively anonymous, considering they are sent directly to the seller; A wire transfer to John Doe will be difficult to connect to a bitcoin transaction.

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Why does CEX Beat out Coinmama for Top Credit Card Bitcoin Broker?


It is a bit of a coin toss between Coinmama and CEX. Coinmama has a relatively high credit card depositing fee of 5%, but this fee is used to protect against chargebacks, which means users can buy up to $5,000 a day in bitcoin. CEX has a lower credit card fee of around 3.5% but limits purchases to $300 per day, and their effective fees look higher. (This was based on a spot check of the amount of bitcoin we could buy for $100, so subject to change.) So if we stopped here, Coinmama would be top dog.

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However, CEX also offers Ethereum, which is a huge point in their favor against coinmama. There is also an exchange that is much cheaper, though with relatively low volume it might not be of much use. However, with some patience you can achieve a much lower effective fee through use of the exchange. Additionally, they actually have a margin trading functionality which offers leverage of up to 3:1 - either long or short. This might be of interest to some, though we think there are better options out there for leveraged buying or selling.

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BitStamp - The Same Old Trusted Exchange - Now with Better Security!

An old stalwart, Bitstamp operates a very simple exchange, but an exchange that has a tremendous amount of liquidity. Bitcoin, Litecoin and Ripple may be purchased either from a chart interface with some simple order types, or via a more brokerage-type set up.  After a 2015 hack set BitStamp back $5m in bitcoin, they worked with BitGo and Trezor to improve security and can now be considered amongst the best in the business when it comes to bitcoin security.


Whilst traditionally catering to the European markets (Bitstamp is licensed in Luxembourg), Bitstamp is also a favorite spot for non-core marketplaces, and has made recent inroads into the US due to their recent acceptance of US credit cards, though the roll out was extremely cumbersome and wait times are, as of time of writing, intolerable to many.


Poloniex is the mother of all cryptocurrency to cryptocurrency exchanges. If you want to get in on the newest coins before they hit main street, Poloniex is the place to do it. It has emerged from modest beginning to become an absolute altcoin powerhouse.

The troll box constantly scrolling on the side of the site is a fascinating glimpse into the nitty gritty of the crypto world. Here you can see pumps and dumps happening in real time, the emergence of the next Monero, or the demise of the next paycoin.


Despite being the biggest and having the widest variety of coins, we rate Poloniex beneath Shapeshift because we are concerned Poloniex is an accident waiting to happen. However, we are probably wrong. We are usually wrong in our prognostications.


Shapeshift offers more than enough coins to suit the vast majority of cryptocurrency speculators. Shapeshift does not operate a wallet service - rather, alongside order placement, the customer designates a wallet to which shapeshift sends the purchased coin. This eliminates any security risks on the shapeshift side, which are magnified as more coin is stored. This also eliminates any KYC needs - all that is required is a return coin address to send the order. That is crypto-enabled anonymity right there.


It seems like shapeshift tags on a fee of between .5-1%, though this is not really specified and often varies depending on the demand for any of the 50 or so coins they offer.

 A word about Securing your Investment

The exchanges listed here are all of a relatively high standard; that is not to say they are immune from the wiles of sophisticated internet villains out to get their hands on your bitcoin. Some of the exchanges here – Bitfinex and BitStamp to name two – were hacked in the past for large sums of money, and while they were able to make good with their customers, past performance is no guarantor of future success, as the saying goes. If you start building a bit of a nest egg, it is a good idea to diversify your crypto into a few different places. Coinbase is a great exchange and perfectly fine to hold bitcoin with – but not 100% of a large sum. Check out our cryptocurrency wallets page to find alternative wallets that suit your needs. If you do end up investing a good amount in crypto, it is worth ponying up the $90 and buying a cold storage hardware unit like Trezor.


Poloniex Review

Published: May 21th, 2015 | Author: David M

Poloniex provides a web-only cryptocurrency exchange, with over 150 on offer.  While liquidity is decent and fees are good, support is entirely lacking. 

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Coinbase Review

Published: May 9th, 2015 | Author: David M

Coinbase is embroiled in an insider trading scandal that most likely has cost many customers a lot of money.  Steer clear.

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Bit-X Review

Published: January 21th, 2016 | Author: David M

Bit-X offers a bitcoin exchange in multiple currencies and a visa debit card drawing funds at point of sale directly from a user's bitcoin wallet.

Read More Exchange Review

Published: April 12th, 2016 | Author: David M

 CEX has turned its attention to it's exchange product since the discontinuation of it's cloud mining services.  The product is improved, but liquidity is at times limited.

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