Recombinant vaccinia viruses based on the attenuated NYVAC and MVA strains are promising vaccine candidates against a broad spectrum of diseases. Whilst these vectors are safe and immunogenic in animals and humans, little is known about their comparative behaviour in vivo. In this investigation, a head-to-head analysis was carried out of virus dissemination in mice inoculated by the mucosal or systemic route with replication-competent (WRluc) and attenuated recombinant (MVAluc and NYVACluc) viruses expressing the luciferase gene. Bioluminescence imaging showed that, in contrast to WRluc, the attenuated recombinants expressed the reporter gene transiently, with MVAluc expression limited to the first 24 h and NYVACluc giving a longer signal, up to 72 h post-infection, for most of the routes assayed. Moreover, luciferase levels in MVAluc-infected tissues peaked earlier than those in tissues infected by NYVACluc. These findings may be of immunological relevance when these vectors are used as recombinant vaccines.