Spending a semester (or year) abroad is one of the most anticipated events of a college career. With all the countries to choose from and loans and scholarships making it more affordable, more students are choosing to pack up and haul off across the world to see how students study and live in other countries.
Europe remains the most popular destination for students who participate in university exchanges and the Association of International Educators reported that over half of US students studied abroad in Europe. Why? Because there is a vast array of cultures, languages, and landscapes, all with their own unique regional lifestyle.
While any European city makes a great backdrop for a semester of cultural exposure, not all are treated the same. It’s much easier if you speak the language or go to a country that offers courses in English, and some universities have programs tailored to certain subjects. Take into consideration what you study, because you might find a perfect complimentary course across the pond!
Whatever your budget, course, or interests, Europe has the study abroad location suited for you. Whether you choose a capital city or somewhere off the beaten path, here are 20 of the top cities for doing a university exchange in Europe.
20 Munich - Germany's Best City For Students
The Bavarian capital of Munich is a vibrant, youthful city buzzing with students. Visiting students usually choose to study at Ludwig Maximilian University or the Technical University of Munich, both ranked in the top 100 universities in the world.
College students from all over the world come to Germany for its free education (all you pay is an administration fee), so it’s a good choice if financing your experience is a concern.
In Munich, you’ll never run out of things to do: From the world-famous culture festival, Oktoberfest, to wandering the city’s museums and landmarks, all while improving your local language skills.
19 Edinburgh - The City Of Festivals
Home to 12 major festivals throughout the year, you’ll be able to experience more than one during a stay of even a few months in Edinburgh. There are three major universities in the area, the most popular being the University of Edinburgh which is rated among the top 20 universities in the world.
In their free time, students shouldn’t miss out on visiting Edinburgh Castle, a 12th century fortress built on a Bronze Age site, and weekend trips to the highlands, and even testing your chances of finding the Loch Ness Monster!
18 Barcelona - Study In The Sun
The south of Spain is an obvious choice for those students looking for a break from harsh winters and being buried in snow, and in Barcelona, you don’t have to compromise the quality of your education for a little sun.
Besides being a great place to brush up on your Spanish, Barcelona has a different atmosphere to the rest of the country. The Catalan style of architecture in Barcelona was led by Antoni Gaudi’s works, seven of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and make the city as colorful and unique as it is.
17 Amsterdam - Art, History, And International Politics
Pay no mind to the stereotypes you’ve heard about Amsterdam, because it’s such a dynamic city full of culture and history. From the Dutch painting renaissance of the 17th century to WWII history to the modern home of the Hague, Amsterdam is especially great for students of history and international politics.
Studying in Amsterdam is handy for those who don’t speak Dutch, because most locals speak fluent English, and courses can be amended for you. Amsterdam is also one of the most visually pleasing cities in Europe, with its picturesque canals lined with trees and a refreshing lack of cars. The city is designed for bikes, which saves you money and time on public transportation.
16 Milan - More Than Fashion Students
Milan may be popular among aspiring fashion designers, but it should be equally desirable for everyone else. Finance students especially might enjoy studying in the home of Italy’s national stock exchange, and future art or history scholars would appreciate Milan’s rich history and art scene.
If you can’t decide which city in Italy to study in, consider Milan. It’s got the artistic culture of Florence, the bustle of Rome, close location to the stunning Dolomite mountains and other Italian (or French) cities, plus its own food culture—you can’t go wrong.
15 Prague - The Gateway To Central Europe
Prague is quickly becoming one of the most attractive cities in Europe. Nestled in Central Europe and coupling Western and Eastern European culture, Prague isn’t a traditional semester abroad city. It should be.
Prague has all the unique features of bigger European capitals like Paris and Berlin that give it its character, while bypassing the massive influxes of foreign students each year, if you’re looking for a more authentic experience. That’s not to say you won’t make friends from all corners of the globe—Prague is a multicultural city. And with prices so low, you’ll have plenty of pocket money for weekend getaways.
14 London - Worth The Cost Of Living
For the student dedicated to studying abroad but overwhelmed with so many options, London is perfect for you. If it’s a first-class education, architectural beauty, or the world’s best student experience you’re after, London is the place to be. Next comes the decision of which of London’s 17 universities to enroll in.
London is an ideal setting to study anything from culinary arts to theatre, business to politics, history to psychology, with an off-campus environment for students to expose themselves to their chosen field. You can’t go wrong with a ride on the London Eye or a trip to Harrods after class, either.
13 Berlin - A Rich History And A Modern Outlook
Still want to take advantage of Germany’s free tuition but looking for a more fast-paced, international experience than laid-back Munich? Head to Berlin, Germany’s capital, which is on par with London’s business and multicultural scene.
Berlin has a bleak past, up until recently being divided by the Berlin Wall, which you can study in history courses or in Berlin’s museums. And yet, the city is one of the most progressive in Europe today, with a vibrant arts culture and social perspective. Much of Berlin’s younger generations study at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the biggest university in the city.
12 Paris - A Muse For Writers
Paris is the timeless source of daydreams for everyone—you don’t have to be a traveller to appreciate its beauty and culture. Paris has been the number one destination for students studying abroad until recently, when it fell to second most popular in Europe.
There are endless art museums and landmarks to check out, most notably the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the Louvre. Or, you can find a favorite sidewalk café to hang out at and drink extravagant coffees just like an authentic Parisian. Paris has 18 universities ranked by QS Top Universities, with the highest score belonging to École Normale Supérieure.
11 Dublin- Europe's Own Silicon Valley
Dublin is a techie’s paradise, the European home of many multinational corporations like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and more, setting up base in “Silicon Docks,” in reference to Silicon Valley. Dublin’s main universities are University College Dublin and Trinity College, which houses the famous Book of Kells.
If technology isn’t your area, Dublin is also a great place to study arts, thanks to Ireland having a rich history and plenty of music and art culture. Its location in the center of the country allows for easy access for day and weekend trips around the country.
10 Vienna - For The Classy Students
A walk down any street in Vienna will showcase its extravagant Baroque architecture if a city with classical flair is what you’re after. Vienna’s combined traditional and contemporary styles are a perfect balance between old and new.
Vienna’s two internationally ranked universities are the University of Vienna and the Vienna University of Technology. Some students like to study with music in the background, and in the “City of Music,” you’ll have plenty of inspiring beats, with the likes of Mozart and Beethoven having played here.
9 Copenhagen - One Of The World's Happiest Cities
Study in Copenhagen and you might find out why Denmark is the happiest country in the world (and Scandinavia isn’t as cold as you think).
The land of fairytales, Copenhagen and the Danish countryside look like they may have sprung from a storybook, and with free education for European Union citizens, career opportunities for students from all over the world, and real-world experience during your course, you might think studying here is a fairytale.
The locals still leave room for downtime, and thoroughly enjoy the fresh air. So, take some time to experience Nyhavn (the New Harbor) or take a bike ride around the city.
8 Athens - Philosophize Among Ancients
Greece’s ancient temples and bight, sapphire beaches are a fantasy destination for many, but why not make it your home for a while? You could study philosophy in the home of Socrates, or religion while looking up at the Parthenon.
And when was the last time your weekend getaway was to Santorini? Or strolled the ancient avenues of the old district, the Plaka, in between classes? Greece is the birthplace of western civilization and modern thinking, making it the premier destination for all the brightest minds. Of course, the ancient Greeks probably took time for a swim in the Mediterranean, too.
7 Manchester - Football And Textbooks
Though a good fit for soccer fans, Manchester isn’t all about sports. Its highly regarded football clubs put Manchester on the map, but students should also be aware of its top league university, the University of Manchester. It’s one of the world’s best in terms of student diversity, welcoming students from 160 countries each year.
Situated in the north of England, Manchester puts you within easy reach of Scotland and even London, while being one of the least expensive cities in the UK for living. With all the saved money, you’ll be able to go to a match at the stadium and you’ll have to pick a side—Man City or Man United.
6 Zurich - Outstanding University Recognition
Whether its chocolate, cheese, or skiing, the Swiss do it best. They aren’t so bad at their higher education system, either. Even if it’s only to be surrounded by mountains that could pass as a painting, Zurich is a fantastic study abroad locale, with ETH Zurich ranked in the top 10 universities worldwide.
Don’t expect it to be cheap, though. Switzerland is a luxury capital and with prices to match, as the richest country in Europe. It pays off, though, also holding a high standard of living and a good likelihood of employment with a semester here on your transcript.
5 Moscow - A Non-Traditional European Experience
If you really want to dive into a foreign culture, look no further than Russia. Sometimes the Eurasian country gets a bad reputation, but it’s really a wonderland of culture. Moscow has nine universities ranked by QS Top Universities, reflecting the value Russia places on education.
Moscow is a first choice for most students to study while submersed in Russian culture and studying the Russian language. Bilingual Russian and English speakers are some of the most coveted employees sought by international companies that even spending a summer semester in Moscow adds to your employability, no matter what you study.
4 Stockholm - The "Venice Of The North"
Stockholm is the capital of Sweden and the unofficial capital of Scandinavia. It’s a beautiful city that is just as easily covered in flowers as it is in snow. The locals are some of the most welcoming in all of Europe and most speak English, so you don’t have to feel uncomfortable if you don’t speak Swedish.
Stockholm is best for those who enjoy fresh air and desire a place in a highly regarded university. Sweden is the birthplace of the Nobel Prize, and if you’re lucky, you can even witness the Nobel festivities.
3 Madrid - A Fast-Paced City Fond Of Siestas
In Spain’s capital, you’ll enjoy both salsas and siestas, studies and sun. It’s the second best Spanish city for students, which might explain the thousands of foreign students who come to study here each year.
Madrid has three prominent universities: Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, and Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Students in Madrid might even complete an internship while abroad at one of the many tech companies and start-ups based in the city.
Located in the heart of Spain, you’re a stone’s throw away from exploring Barcelona, France, Basque country, and Portugal.
2 Rome - Italy's Most Romantic City
Rome’s cobblestone streets, where street artists make their living and gelato shops dot each corner, are reason enough to spend (at least) a semester here, not to mention the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Forum—you could spend your entire semester just visiting all of Rome’s famous sights and museums.
The Università la Sapienza, one of Europe’s largest and oldest universities, is just one of the 24 universities based in Rome. It’s also home to John Cabot University, a US university that teaches in English, perfect for those not yet comfortable with their level of Italian.
1 Lisbon - Relaxed, Seaside Universities
This seaside city is perfect for students who want to practice water sports, with rowing, canoeing, sailing, surfing, and kitesurfing all popular pastimes in Lisbon. Two of Europe’s most beautiful coasts are located close outside the city at Guincho and Ericeira.
This often-overlooked European capital has a huge population of young people and most are trilingual, making it easy to communicate in a handful of languages. And rest assured, you’re welcome—Portugal makes an active effort to promote international student enrollment in its universities. A Eurostat report also named it the safest capital in Europe, and its even one of the most environmentally friendly!