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Top 10 Beautiful Historic Universities in the UK

Glasgow university

Universities in the UK are not only some of the most prestigious the world, but many also offer a rich historic atmosphere and stunning architecture that is difficult to beat.   

The whole atmosphere of a university adds to students’ motivations and inspires them to achieve academic excellence. Students can stroll through grand archways and long corridors, relax in the grassy courtyards and explore ancient books in the library.

So, where can you find these beautiful and historic universities?

Here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of the top 10 beautiful historic universities in the UK, which are based inside some of the most majestic buildings imaginable:

1. University of Cambridge

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge definitely has some of the most impressive and iconic university buildings in the world. Established back in 1209, this medieval university is not only incredibly beautiful, it’s also one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the world, ranked in seventh place in the QS World University Rankings 2021.

The historic grandeur of Cambridge University’s colleges and faculties permeates the entire town and motivates students to develop and improve their skills and academic achievements.

2. University of Oxford

University of Oxford

The oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Oxford was established in 1096. Currently ranked fifth in the world, the university has connections with an impressive 69 Nobel Prize winners, and many more famous and powerful people have passed through its historic doorways.

Iconic buildings such as the Radcliffe Camera library are symbols of academia throughout the world, and those dreaming of Harry Potter may recognize scenes from the film, including the Hogwarts Great Hall (filmed at Christ Church College).

3. Durham University

Durham University

Compared to Cambridge and Oxford, Durham University is a relatively young institution of higher education – through it is by no means new. It was established in 1832, and its stunning buildings have been described as "one of the great experiences of Europe to the eyes of those who appreciate architecture".

Like Oxford and Cambridge, Durham is divided up into colleges, established at various stages in its growth. One of these, University College, is based in Durham Castle, built in the 11th century and 100 lucky students get to live and study there. The university itself is currently ranked 86th in the world.

4. University of Glasgow

University of Glasgow

Traveling further north from Durham, the University of Glasgow is known as one of the four “ancient universities of Scotland”, alongside Aberdeen, Edinburgh and St Andrews. It is part of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities and was a leading center of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The university was established in 1451 and moved to its current site in 1870, with a stunning main building designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1886. It’s ranked joint 77th in the world in the QS World University Rankings 2021.

5. Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Holloway

Established in 1879, Royal Holloway became a constituent member of the University of London in 1900, and is based just outside of the UK capital, in Surrey. Its striking gothic-revival-style Founder’s Building, completed in 1881, was designed by William Henry Crossland and inspired by the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France.

It remains one of the most impressive university structures in the UK today, and has been used in a number of films and TV programs, recently including the popular Downton Abbey. Royal Holloway is ranked joint 308th in the world in the latest QS World University Rankings.

6. Queen’s University of Belfast

Queen's University of Belfast

Queen’s University of Belfast is Northern Ireland’s highest-ranked university, currently standing at 209th in the world. It was founded in 1849, with roots in the earlier Royal Belfast Academical Institution, which was founded in 1810 and is considered one of the UK’s 10 oldest universities.

The centerpiece of its campus is the red-brick gothic Lanyon Building, which opened in 1849 and is named after its architect, Charles Lanyon.

7. University of Edinburgh

University of Edinburgh

Another of Scotland’s four ancient universities, the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583, making it Scotland’s highest entrant in the QS World University Rankings. It’s currently ranked 20th in the world.

The university’s iconic Georgian Old College building was originally designed in 1789 but took several decades to fund and build, with the eye-catching dome finally added in 1887. It currently houses the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law, administrative offices and contemporary art exhibitions in the Talbot Rice Gallery.

8. University of St Andrews

University of St Andrews

Scotland’s oldest university and the third oldest in the UK, the University of St Andrews was established around 1410-1413 AD. It is ranked 96th in the world and 17th in the UK. Some of the university’s buildings, including St Salvator's Chapel, St Leonard's College Chapel and St Mary's College, date back to the 15th century, and are still in use.

9. University of Aberdeen

University of Aberdeen

Completing the four great ancient Scottish universities, the University of Aberdeen was established in 1495, and is currently ranked 207th in the QS World University Rankings 2021.

The university’s iconic buildings, including Marischal College and King's College in Old Aberdeen, serve as widely recognized symbols of Aberdeen, which is far in the north of the UK on the east coast of Scotland, and the city’s rich academic heritage. The university has many notable alumni, including five Nobel laureates.

10. Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University

Aberystwyth University in Wales completes the list of the most beautiful historic universities in the UK. Founded in 1872, it’s one of the nation’s oldest higher education institutions. It lays claim to having established the world’s first official department for international politics, which was founded in 1919 in the wake of World War I.

The university’s Old College building resembles a medieval castle and serves as the main site for most of Aberystwyth University’s administration, plus the departments of Welsh and education. The university currently ranks joint 485th in the world.

This blog post was originally published in October 2014. It was last updated in June 2020 to reflect the results of the latest QS World University Rankings.

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Written by Vyara Pancheva
Vyara is a journalism graduate from the University of Westminster in London and currently an aspiring writer and blogger. She has produced a couple of video documentaries and has written pieces for several websites. Originally from Bulgaria, she is now living in London and loving it a lot! Rock music, sci-fi movies and travelling are amongst her biggest passions.

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If you could visit Universiti Teknologi Petronas, Malaysia, i believe you would be realized about its natural beauty, besides of great architecture (Agha Khan architecture award winner), University is surrounded by lakes natural green belts and mountains which stood the institute among the list of most beautiful universities of the world.

Thanks Umair! I've just had a look at some images of the university, and it's very striking indeed! Must be great to study near a lake as well :)

Thanks for the comments! These universities are some of the most prestigeous in the world, so it is definately worth applying!

Thanks for that great writing...

i want to get admission in one of these universities.