Objective We compared the clinical characteristics, findings and outcomes of hospitalized patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) or influenza to detect relevant differences. Methods From December 2019 to April 2020, we recruited all eligible hospitalized adults with respiratory infection to a prospective observational study at the HUS Jorvi Hospital, Finland. Influenza and SARS-CoV-2 infections were confirmed by RT-PCR. Follow-up lasted for at least 30 days from admission. Results We included 61 patients, of whom 28 were COVID-19 and 33 influenza patients with median ages of 53 and 56 years. Majority of both COVID-19 and influenza patients were men (61% vs 67%) and had at least one comorbidity (68% vs 85%). Pulmonary diseases and current smoking were less common among COVID-19 than influenza patients (5 [18%] vs 15 [45%], P=0.03 and 1 [4%] vs 10 [30%], P=0.008). In chest x-ray at admission, ground-glass opacities and consolidations were more frequent among COVID-19 than influenza patients (19 [68%] and 7 [21%], P < 0.001). Severe disease and intensive care unit (ICU) admission occurred more often among COVID-19 than influenza patients (26 [93%] vs 19 [58%], P=0.003 and 8 [29%] vs 2 [6%], P=0.034). COVID-19 patients were hospitalized longer than influenza patients (6 days [IQR 4-21] vs 3 [2-4], P<0.001). Conclusion Bilateral ground-glass opacities and consolidations in chest X-ray may help to differentiate COVID-19 from influenza. Hospitalized COVID-19 patients had more severe disease, required longer hospitalization and were admitted to ICU more often than influenza patients, which has important implications for public health policies.