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9 of the Best Places to Study Abroad in Europe

By Sabrina Collier

Updated April 10, 2021 Updated April 10, 2021

If you want to study in Europe, destinations such as the United Kingdom, Germany and France might be the first that come to mind, but there are many other European study destinations well worth considering. All of the following countries feature in the top 50 of the new QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, which compares the world’s strongest higher education systems. With no fewer than 21 of these 50 places claimed by European entrants (22 if you count Turkey), here are just a few of the region’s top study destinations – combining solid higher education systems, exciting study abroad experiences, unique culture and great universities.

1. Sweden


Starting our journey in Scandinavia, Sweden is a diverse, friendly and fair nation, which has been considered one of the most advanced countries in the world for gender equality, wealth and LGBT progressiveness. It’s also known for its high quality of life, with excellent sustainability credentials protecting its vast Northern European natural beauty, as well as good safety and cleanliness. Sweden is the highest-ranked Nordic entry in the QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings, coming at 14th place. Not only does the country have a strong higher education system, but teaching at Swedish universities is known for encouraging students to apply their knowledge and think critically, independently and creatively. Swedish universities are among the most respected in Europe, with eight featuring in the QS World University Rankings® 2015/16 – of these, the highest-ranked is Lund University in joint 70th place.

2. Italy

Next in our list of the best places to study abroad in Europe is Italy, ranked 13th in the System Strength Rankings. Known for its rich history in general, Italy is also home to some of the world’s oldest and most prestigious universities, with 26 representatives in the QS World University Rankings, of which Politecnico di Milano ranks the highest at 187th. International students who choose Italy as their study destination will get to enjoy a rich cultural experience of both the old and new, with a vibrant social life, picturesque cities and landscapes, as well as a fascinating heritage – this is a country which excels in inventions, innovations and creativity, not to mention fantastic cuisine.

3. Austria

Austria ranks 29th in the System Strength Rankings and is another great option if you want to study in Europe, known for its innovation in music and the arts. Located in the center of Europe, Austria is also a great choice for students interested in visiting neighboring countries such as Germany or Switzerland. Ski fans will feel right at home in alpine city Innsbruck, while capital city Vienna is known for its attractive architecture, high quality of life, and extensive cultural offerings. Of the seven top universities in Austria, the University of Vienna, the oldest in the German-speaking world, ranks the highest at 153rd. Austria has a broad range of educational opportunities, including Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences) and a range of universities of the arts.

4. Belgium

The next of the best places to study abroad in Europe, Belgium’s unique higher education system earns it 15th place in the System Strength Rankings, with two main language communities – Flemish and French (German is also an official language, and you may find you pick up a new language during your studies). However, it’s a great option if you want to study in English, with many English-taught programs and residents proficient in the language. Belgium offers a multicultural study abroad experience with thriving student cities, beautiful countryside, historic architecture and delectable food. A center of international politics, its universities are equally international in their outlook; among them, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) is the highest-ranked Belgian university at joint 82nd in the world.

5. Estonia

Another option to consider if you want to study in Europe, Estonia ranks 49th in the System Strength Rankings and is a leader in digital technologies, with more successful start-ups per head than any other European country, including Skype and TransferWise. Study in Estonia and you’ll have a unique experience in the country that’s digitalized everything from health to parking (and more) along with opportunities to explore outside the tech bubble in its attractive cities and layout. Estonia’s innovative attitude is encouraged in students, with initiatives in place to help students transform ideas into reality. The highest-ranked of Estonia’s universities is the University of Tartu, at 400th in the world.

6. Poland


The next of our best places to study abroad in Europe, Poland is ranked 43rd in the System Strength Rankings and can be said to act as a crossroads of eastern and western Europe both culturally and geographically, making it a fascinating place to study abroad. Poland has had a fairly turbulent history but now enjoys strong economic growth and a growing education sector, including an increasing number of international students. It has a long tradition in higher education, with Jagiellonian University dating back to 1364, and the highest-ranked Polish university is the University of Warsaw at 344th in the world. Poland offers a range of locations and activities to suit fans of both the city and the countryside, from the fascinating history of cities such as capital Warsaw, to the Tatra Mountains and beaches on the Baltic Sea.

7. Czech Republic

Czech Republic

Staying in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic is another emerging study destination, and is placed 38th in the System Strength Rankings. The Czech Republic has a longstanding tradition for high quality education, particularly in the sciences, engineering and medicine; its highest ranked university, Charles University, was founded in 1348. Czech universities are increasing both their international cooperation with other universities and the number of English-language taught programs on offer. The country itself offers plenty of varied culture to immerse yourself in, and capital Prague, is considered one of the most beautiful and charming cities in Europe. The Czech Republic is also one of the most affordable European study destinations, with low tuition fees and affordable costs of living.

8. Portugal

The next of our best places to study in Europe is one which will certainly make your friends jealous. Not just an ideal tourist destination with sunshine, warmth and sandy beaches, Portugal is placed 35th in the System Strength Rankings and is home to a number of prestigious universities, the highest ranked of which is the University of Porto at 308th globally. Universities in Portugal are accompanied by polytechnic institutes, which are more focused on practical and vocational teaching in areas such as nursing and engineering. Capital city Lisbon is known for having a tradition for the social sciences and engineering, and is rich in culture, history and character. Portuguese people match the weather with a warm attitude to visitors and they certainly know how to have fun – with vibrant festivals, music, great nightlife, sport and more.

9. Finland

Coming as quite a contrast to the warm climes of Portugal, Nordic nation Finland places 19th in the System Strength Rankings and has a comparatively young higher education system, which is nonetheless regarded as one of the best in the world. Like many other European countries, Finland offers a mixture of more academically focused universities and vocationally oriented polytechnic institutions, and there are opportunities to study in English. The highest-ranked Finnish university is the University of Helsinki in joint 96th place, and the country’s additional eight representatives in the World University Rankings are all within the global top 450. Study in Finland and you’ll get the chance to discover the country’s unique culture and stunning natural beauty, with those snowy hills and the captivating Northern Lights. The country boasts a very high quality of life, political stability and happy, friendly citizens.  

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This article was originally published in May 2016 . It was last updated in April 2021

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Written by

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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