Aims: To evaluate the effectiveness and safety of cryoballoon ablation (CBA) compared with radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for symptomatic paroxysmal or drug-refractory persistent atrial fibrillation (AF). Methods and results: Prospective cluster cohort study in experienced CBA and RFA centres. Primary endpoint was 'atrial arrhythmia recurrence', secondary endpoints were as follows: procedural results, safety, and clinical course. A total of 4189 patients were included: CBA 2329 (55.6%) and RFA 1860 (44.4%). Cryoballoon ablation population was younger, with fewer comorbidities. Procedure time was longer in the RFA group (P = 0.01). Radiation exposure was 2487 (CBA) and 1792 cGycm2 (RFA) (P < 0.001). Follow-up duration was 441 (CBA) and 511 days (RFA) (P < 0.0001). Primary endpoint occurred in 30.7% (CBA) and 39.4% patients (RFA) [adjusted hazard ratio (adjHR) 0.85, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.70-1.04; P = 0.12). In paroxysmal AF, CBA resulted in a lower risk of recurrence (adjHR 0.80, 95% CI 0.64-0.99; P = 0.047). In persistent AF, the primary outcome was not different between groups. Major adverse cardiovascular and cerebrovascular event rates were 1.0% (CBA) and 2.8% (RFA) (adjHR 0.53, 95% CI 0.26-1.10; P = 0.088). Re-ablations (adjHR 0.46, 95% CI 0.34-0.61; P < 0.0001) and adverse events during follow-up (adjHR 0.64, 95% CI 0.48-0.88; P = 0.005) were less common after CBA. Higher rehospitalization rates with RFA were caused by re-ablations. Conclusions: The primary endpoint did not differ between CBA and RFA. Cryoballoon ablation was completed rapidly; the radiation exposure was greater. Rehospitalization due to re-ablations and adverse events during follow-up were observed significantly less frequently after CBA than after RFA. Subgroup analysis suggested a lower risk of recurrence after CBA in paroxysmal AF. Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov (NCT01360008), https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01360008.