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7 Best Student Cities by the Beach

7 Best Student Cities by the Beach main image

Whether you’re into surfing or just soaking up the sun, if you want to study abroad at the seaside we have some very attractive options for you. All of these beach-side locations are featured within the QS Best Student Cities 2019, which celebrates the world’s 120 best student cities.

Gold Coast

Gold Coast

We could pretty much list every coastal city Australia has to offer in the Best Student Cities ranking – (which is all but one of the seven Aussie entries) but Gold Coast, ranked 84th, deserves a place here because you probably haven’t heard of it. 

The city boasts 52km of golden sands and 300 sunny days per year, and even has a suburb called Surfer’s Paradise. But aside from sunning yourselves, there’s plenty to explore here. The Gold Coast hinterland – known as ‘the green behind the gold’ – offers a fascinating selection of waterfalls, rainforests, mountains and national parks.

Gold Coast’s highest-ranked university in the QS World University Rankings® is Griffith University, consistently ranked within the top 350 in the world.

The city has a great student mix, with 19 percent of students at its internationally ranked institutions coming from abroad.



Based in the United Arab Emirates, the combined metropolitan area of the three cities of Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman offers something for everyone and, the hot desert climate here will make you want to cool off at one of the clean and beautiful beaches nearby. Keep in mind that modest dress is legally required here, but standard beach-wear should be fine (though it’s not to be worn when walking around away from the beach).

There are plenty of other interesting things to do in your spare time in Sharjah, including visiting the Eye of the Emirates, a 60m-high observation wheel offering views across Sharjah and Dubai; and admiring the beautiful Khalid Lagoon, which has the third-tallest fountain in the world and hosts the annual F1 Powerboat Race.

The area is home to one of the UAE’s highest-ranked universities, American University of Sharjah, which is currently ranked 371st in the world.

San Diego

La Jolla, San Diego

Placing 76th in the Best Student Cities ranking, climbing four places this year, San Diego is our Californian pick in this list of the best beach cities for students (though fellow Californian cities Los Angeles and San Francisco are also excellent options).

Nicknamed ‘America’s Finest City’, San Diego has 113km of unspoiled coastline to enjoy, ranging from rocky coves to attractive surfing spots. One of San Diego’s many beach neighborhoods, Ocean Beach, offers a good variety of independent shops and restaurants to explore.

The city itself is also known for being ‘America's craft beer capital’ and is a border town which is heavily influenced by both Mexican and American cultures, resulting in a wide range of cuisines to sample in its many restaurants. 

Of the universities in San Diego, the highest-ranked is the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), which is consistently in the top 50.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The next of our best beach cities for students is one you might not expect. Hong Kong is incredibly well-known for being one of the world’s financial capitals, but not so much for being a great city for beach lovers. However, if you decide to study abroad in Hong Kong you’ll find you’re able to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city center by relaxing along the sheltered beaches of its rugged island coastlines.

The most popular of these are found on the largest island, Lamma Island, while the Grade 1 Turtle Cove Beach offers a more secluded spot. Hong Kong is ranked 14th in the best student cities index this year, and boasts seven leading universities, with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) the highest ranked at 25th.



Located on the south coast of England, Brighton is known for its beautiful beaches and Brighton Pier. This year the city ranks 83rd in the Best Student Cities index, earning its best score for the student mix indicator, reflecting the size and diversity of its student population.

If you’re looking for a laid-back but fun-loving place to call home during your studies, Brighton is certainly one of the best beach cities in the UK (and one of its most popular tourist attractions). As well as relaxing by the seaside, there’s plenty of culture to immerse yourself in too, with the city hosting events like the Brighton Fringe Festival, the Brighton Festival (the largest arts festival in England) and Brighton Pride.



large beaches, including the urban and picturesque English Bay, while Kitsilano Beach is the city’s answer to Los Angeles’ Venice Beach.

Vancouver also typically has milder weather than most of Canada, and (in a total contrast from beach volleyball) the nearby mountains offer a great spot for snow sports. In addition to all it has to offer for lovers of the great outdoors, Vancouver also offers an array of brilliant nightlife, theatres and music – everything you’d expect from one of Canada’s most loved cities.

It’s also home to the University of British Columbia, one of the country’s highest-ranked institutions.



Last but not least in our look at the best beach cities for students, there’s nothing better after a long day of studying than unwinding on the beach – and luckily Barcelona has plenty to choose from, with 4km of sandy beaches surrounding the city.

For those looking for some excitement, head over to Barceloneta Beach, or Mar Bella beach, both bustling with entertainment, seafood eateries and watersports (but also, of course, tourists). In contrast, Nova Icaria Beach is known for its peace and quiet – as well as its food.

Barcelona rises an impressive 10 places this year to rank 21st in the city ranking, and is one of the major touristic and economic centers in Spain. When asked what they liked most about Barcelona in our student survey, one individual summed up the appeal of the city well; "the weather, the diversity, the culture and the beauty, it has everything one needs to be happy.”

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This blog post was originally published in January 2016. It was updated in August 2019.

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Sabrina Collier's profile image
Written by Sabrina Collier
The former Assistant Editor of TopUniversities.com, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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