10 Most Beautiful Cities for Students | Top Universities

10 Most Beautiful Cities for Students

By Laura Tucker

Updated March 6, 2016 Updated March 6, 2016

Call me shallow, but a daily dose of beauty can really make a difference when settling into in a new city and coping with the stress of student life. The city you choose to study in will provide the backdrop to your daily experience and a visual culture in which you’ll be immersed for the duration of your course.

Below is a cautiously and painstakingly chosen selection of 10 of the world’s most beautiful cities, which all also offer at least one world-leading university and lots of other attractions to keep you busy in between studies. This wasn’t an easy choice and a lot of very strong contenders were left in the ‘runner-up’ pile… use the comments below to let us know if you think we’ve made any shocking omissions!

Cape Town

Instantly recognizable due to its striking Table Mountain backdrop, Cape Town is a favored destination for international students seeking to experience South Africa’s unique culture. It’s having an especially good year, having recently been named the best place in the world to visit by The New York Times, while also commencing its term as World Design Capital 2014.

A remarkably youthful city, with around 43% of the population under the age of 25, Cape Town has plenty to offer for everyone – music, comedy, film, sports, or general socializing. It’s also home to South Africa’s largest themed costume party, hosted by the Mother City Queer Project (MCQP), which is one of the largest annual LGBTQ events on the African continent.

Of the seven ranked universities in South Africa, the University of Cape Town is the highest ranked, at 145th in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®.

Did you know…? The world’s first successful human heart transplant was performed in Cape Town, by University of Cape Town alumnus Dr Christiaan Barnard in 1967. Even fewer are aware, however, that the patient in question died just 18 days later from pneumonia.

Find out more about studying abroad in South Africa >


Famed for its castle, which towers above the city in all its majestic medieval glory, Edinburgh is also renowned worldwide for its huge annual arts and comedy festival – the Edinburgh Festival. The Scottish capital is a relatively small city with a population of around 450,000, but in the summer months the population more than doubles, filled by festival goers and performers.

The city’s authentic cobbled streets are also filled with literary history; the city is home to the castle where Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, the birthplace of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the café where J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and the historic home of children’s author Robert Louis Stevenson. This rich literary past contributed to Edinburgh being named the first UNESCO City of Literature back in 2004.

The University of Edinburgh, founded over 400 years ago, is the highest ranked university in Scotland, at 17th in the world, and the city is also home to Heriot-Watt University, also ranked within the global top 400. Additional good news about studying in Scotland is that if you are a prospective undergraduate student from within the EU (with the exception of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) your tuition fees are fully paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).

Did you know…? Scotland has the highest proportion of redheads in the world. Approximately 13% of the population has red hair, with as much as 40% carrying the recessive gene. And, as a bonus fact, the official animal of Scotland is the unicorn.

Find out more about studying abroad in the UK >

Kuala Lumpur

Whether it’s the futuristic architecture of the Petronas twin towers, the famous untouched Batu Caves, or the landmark Chinese Thean Hou temple, Kuala Lumpur has plenty to keep you visually entertained. The Malaysian capital city also offers an eclectic range of cultures and cuisines and a liberal, inviting community.

At 47th overall in the latest edition of the QS Best Student Cities, Kuala Lumpur comes first in the affordability stakes, making it a particularly interesting prospect for those considering studying abroad. Of the country’s seven ranked universities, five are situated in or just outside of the capital, giving Kuala Lumpur a thriving student atmosphere. The highest ranked of these is Universiti Malaya (UM), at 167th in the world.

Did you know...? Malaysia reputedly serves up the greatest Guinness outside of Ireland, and is the only country to have won the Guinness League of Excellence Award five times in a row.

Read more about studying in Malaysia >


Although Tokyo’s mountain-backed cityscape might spring to mind more quickly, Kyoto is arguably a more eye-pleasing choice for a longer term stay. The former capital of Japan, it’s rich in history (home to no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites), and generally accepted to be the best place to visit to really get a feel for the beauty and spirit of traditional Japanese arts and culture.

Whether you want to gawk at the famous Buddhist temples, partake in a traditional tea ceremony, consume some world-class Japanese cuisine, get a glimpse of a geisha or even visit Nintendo’s headquarters, then Kyoto is the place for you. It’s also less than one hour from Osaka, another bustling city full of international students and a renowned comedy scene.

The second-highest ranked institution in Japan, Kyoto University is currently placed 35th in the world. Other internationally ranked institutions in the vicinity include Ritsumeikan University and Doshisha University.

Did you know…? Kyoto’s Nishiki Market is famous for its awesome array of foodstuffs. Most notably, the market sells matsutake, the world’s most expensive mushrooms, which are priced at around US$1,200 a pound.

Find out more about studying in Japan >


Italy’s fashion capital, Milan simply oozes style. From the dominating architecture of Milan Cathedral that took centuries of planning and building, to the sumptuous handbags in the windows of authentic Italian boutiques, the city offers glamour and opportunities to spend your hard-earned student loan around every corner… However, as long as you realize you’re a student and not the girlfriend of Silvio Berlusconi, then Milan will treat you well.

With fashion comes a strong spotlight on art and design, and Milan is not short of galleries and museums dedicated to style. The Novecento Art Museum houses many masterpieces of 20th century Italian modern art, while the nearby Sforzesco Castle hosts collections of civic museums and access to the beautiful Sempione Park. Sport is also a big deal in the city, especially football thanks to the presence of two internationally recognized teams, and Milan is also a thriving financial hub, home of the Italian Stock Exchange, with a strong score for employer activity in the QS Best Student Cities index.

Milan is home to a number of the highest ranked universities in Europe, led by the Politecnico di Milano, at 230th in the world. Other internationally reputed institutions here include the University of Milano (235th), Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, University of Milano-Bicocca  and Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi (Bocconi University), which is among the leading business schools in Europe.

Did you know…? Due to its circular plan, Milan has no parallel streets or straight corners. The streets form circles around the city center and are known as “Circonvallazioni”. This is why Milan’s streets are notorious for getting lost in. 

Find out more about studying in Italy >


As well as being attractive in a majestic kind of way, Moscow also bears the title of Europe’s largest city, with its ever-increasing population currently at 13.6 million. It also boasts more billionaires among its number than any other city in the world and in general has a reputation as being a high-cost place to live. Don’t let this put you off, however, because Moscow is packed full of history, creativity and culture.

Those heading to the renowned Pushkin Café, a short distance from Pushkin Square and Pushkinskaya Ploshchad station, will realize just how much Russia values its literary heritage. The Leo Tolstoy State Museum is another example, as well as Parriarshy Prudiy, meaning Patriarch’s Pond, which is portrayed in Mikhail Bulgakov’s seminal novel, The Master and Margarita.

If you want to explore the political and historical aspects of Russia you are spoilt for choice, with the Kremlin, Putin’s White House, Lenin’s tomb, and the second largest state library in the world to educate you about Russia’s often fraught political history. Not all is political however, as Muscovites also know how to have a good time. If the multitude of art galleries and museums don’t interest you, the lavish party scene and fine dining just might.

The vastness of Russia’s capital means that it can accommodate quite a few higher education institutions. Seven internationally ranked universities can be found here, including Lomonosov Moscow State University (120th in the world), the Bauman Moscow State Technical University (334th) and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University, 386th).

Did you know…?  Federal City Day is the day Russians celebrate the birth of their country – this September Russia will be 867 years old.

To find out more about studying in Russia, visit our guide >


The architecture of Emperor Charles IV’s ‘New Jerusalem’ combines with rich historic interest and a more recently developed reputation for nightlife to make Prague one of Europe’s most popular cities to visit. It’s also fairly easy to get around; a tour from Prague Castle, passing through the UNESCO-listed Old Town Square, home of the famous medieval astronomical clock, and ending at Wenceslas Square takes no more than half a day.

The Czech Republic’s capital has plenty more to offer than a half-day of sightseeing, however; as well as being one of the continent’s most beautiful cities, it also offers an interesting mix of cultural venues, luxurious places to eat and drink (the Café Louvre and Café Adria have been around since the first republic era), story-telling locals (the Jewish folklore of the ‘golem’ for instance) and the legacy of the many famous writers and composers who were influenced by Prague, including Franz Kafka, Mozart and Antonin Dvorak. It’s also a relatively cheap place to live, prospective students will doubtless be pleased to hear!

Those considering studying here can choose from among several internationally esteemed institutions.  These include Charles University (the highest ranked university in the Czech Republic, at 233rd in the world), Czech Technical University in Prague and the University of Economics Prague.

Did you know…? Czechs drink more beer per capita than any other country in the world. Each person on average will consume approximately 43 gallons a year!

Find out more about studying abroad in Prague >


Sweden may be renowned for its clean-cut designs and the flat-pack furniture that fills houses worldwide, but it’s historic charm rather than modern innovation which gives Stockholm its place in this list of beautiful cities. In the city center, terrace buildings each clamber to stand out, providing beautiful palettes of block pastel colors. On the island of Gamla Stan, just a short bridge crossing away, the streets and cobbled squares are steeped in medieval history, complemented by museums, palaces and cathedrals dating as far back as the 13th century.

Although not the most affordable of cities, Stockholm makes up for this fact with a high quality of living and an array of some of the best universities in Europe. Of Sweden’s eight internationally ranked universities, two are based in here in the capital, including the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH, ranked 118thin the world) and Stockholm University (170th).

Did you know…? Stockholm was established in 1252 as a fortified island defense outpost against Baltic pirates.

Find out more about studying in Sweden >


Whether you find the Sydney Opera House attractive or not, you’ll be hard pushed to deny the iconic Australian city a place in this list. With its extensive coastline and futuristic urban high rises, Sydney ranks within the world’s top five cities for students in the latest QS Best Student Cities index.

Sydney Harbour Bridge joins the Opera House among the city’s most recognizable structures, and the harbor area in general has a lot to contribute to Sydney’s place among the globe’s most beautiful cities for students. As well as being a busy stopping point for huge cruise ships and small sailboats alike, the harbor also provides the backdrop for many cultural events and festivals. The nearby beauty of Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens is also worth a mention, and the views of the city from Mrs. Macquarie’s Point are hard to beat, especially at sunset.

Though somewhat expensive, like most Australian cities, Sydney appeals to students and workers alike due to its attractive environment and climate, friendly faces, and lively offerings in sport, arts and culture. An incredibly diverse city, it also has the seventh-largest percentage of foreigners in the world, with immigrants accounting for 75% of Sydney's annual population growth.

Much more than just a pretty face, Sydney claims five of Australia’s 31 internationally ranked institutions. These are the University of Sydney (ranked 38th in the world), the University of New South Wales (52nd), Macquarie University (263rd), the University of Technology, Sydney (272nd) and the University of Western Sydney (651-700).

Did you know…? Based on radio carbon dating it is believed that Sydney has been inhabited by indigenous Australians for at least 30,000 years.

Read more about studying abroad in Australia >


Although there are many good-looking Canadian cities to choose from, Vancouver gets the slot due to its unbeatable views and forest-covered escapes. Dominating many of the views from the city are the nearby North Shore Mountains in the north and the flatter coastal view of the Strait of Georgia in the west. On clear days, residents can also catch a glimpse of Vancouver Island and Bowen Island, as well as Washington’s Mount Baker in the US.

The ingenuity of Vancouver’s urban planning has meant that even as one of the most densely populated cities in North America (after New York and San Francisco in the US), the region still boasts many large open spaces – this is due to a focus on high-rise development as opposed to urban sprawl. It is also one of few cities in the world to offer skiing and beach lounging as same-day activities, with three ski hills within a short drive of downtown Vancouver.

Vancouver’s leading universities are the University of British Columbia (at 49th in the world, Canada’s third highest-ranked institution) and Simon Fraser University (ranked at joint 244th). Close by, on neighboring Vancouver Island, the University of Victoria (321=) and Vancouver Island University can also be found.

Did you know…? Earthquakes in British Columbia are relatively common, as the province lies on a major fault line. This means Vancouver could experience earthquakes as high as 8.0 on the Richter scale.

Find out more about studying abroad in Canada >

This article was originally published in May 2014 . It was last updated in March 2016

Want more content like this Register for free site membership to get regular updates and your own personal content feed.

saved this article

+ 1 others saved this article

Explore Events

Get assisted by higher education experts

Our expert teams can help start your academic journey by guiding you through the application process.