While both were examples of the Ancient Greek polis, Sparta and Athens had vast differences. Much of this can be traced to their ethnic roots. The Spartans were descended from Dorian invaders of the Peloponnese, while the Athenians were Ionian Greeks.
Sparta was an insular society with few outside contacts and relations. They did not maintain trade networks with the other Greeks and preferred to manage their own local affairs. They seldom formed alliances with the other Greek city-states (a notable exception being the Persian Wars). The Athenians, on the other hand, constantly looked outward. They maintained extensive trade relations with much of the Greek world, as well as the central and eastern Mediterranean. They formed numerous military, commercial, and political alliances with their neighbors and were much more open to receiving outsiders into their polis.
Government and politics differed greatly between the two city-states. Athens is famous for being the birthplace of democracy. During the 5th century BCE, decisions were made by popular vote by land-owning adult male citizens. Holders of public offices were selected through a lottery system. Court decisions were made by juries. At this time, Sparta was ruled by kings who made decisions alongside a council of elders. This oligarchy had near-total control of legal and political affairs in Sparta.
Arts were highly valued by the Athenians. Most of the Greek literature and drama that we know of today came from Athens. Visual arts and music were also appreciated in this polis. The Athenians also built sophisticated monumental buildings, such as the temples of the Acropolis. The Spartans, however, saw little value in these artistic pursuits. Instead, they placed more cultural value on militaristic achievements and feats of strength.