Using patient-level data for cerebral infarction cases in 2007, gathered from Finland, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland and Sweden, we studied the variation in risk-adjusted length of stay (LoS) of acute hospital care and 1-year mortality, both within and between countries. In addition, we analysed the variance of LoS and associations of selected regional-level factors with LoS and 1-year mortality after cerebral infarction. The data show that LoS distributions are surprisingly different across countries and that there is significant deviation in the risk-adjusted regional-level LoS in all of the countries studied. We used negative binomial regression to model the individual-level LoS, and random intercept models and ordinary least squares regression for the regional-level analysis of risk-adjusted LoS, variance of LoS, 1-year risk-adjusted mortality and crude mortality for a period of 31–365 days. The observed variations between regions and countries in both LoS and mortality were not fully explained by either patient-level or regional-level factors. The results indicate that there may exist potential for efficiency gains in acute hospital care of cerebral infarction and that healthcare managers could learn from best practices. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.