Europe’s best university cities

You don’t have to be a student to enjoy a visit to Europe’s historic university cities. They’re crammed full of visitor attractions and, as you might expect, have cheap eats and bars aplenty. Here’s our pick of Europe’s best university cities that you should visit.

Europe’s best university cities

Oxford, England

The oldest surviving university in the English-speaking world; students have been taught in some form or another in Oxford since the end of the 11th century. It’s a delight to wander on foot; many of its colleges are grandiose affairs up close, built from the local sandstone. Tours take in the main sights, which include the Bridge of Sighs, Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre and the Bodleian Library as well as the famous quads or courtyards. Visit during the summer break; you can book a room and follow in the footsteps of the university’s most famous alumni.

Europe's best university cities,Hertford Bridge,Bridge of Sighs, New College Lane, Oxford,england
Hertford Bridge also known as the “Bridge of Sighs”, New College Lane, Oxford

Bologna, Italy

This northern Italian city of Bologna is a treat to explore and as well as being a vibrant university hub, it’s also great for foodies. Founded in 1088, it predates even Oxford, holding the title of the world’s oldest continually operating university and generally held to be Italy’s most prestigious. It was where Enzo Ferrari studied, as did Guglielmo Marconi, pioneer of long distance radio transmission, before him. Its historic heart contains a labyrinth of streets and alleyways packed with cafes and delicatessens. Make room for all that food by first ascending the Due Torri and enjoy panoramic views across the city and beyond.

Europe's best university cities, Two Towers of Bologna, spain
Two Towers of Bologna

Heidelberg, Germany

Germany’s oldest university is a baby in comparison, starting out almost three centuries later in 1386. The town has a youthful vibe, despite having some of the region’s most historic buildings. The 12th century Church of St Peter dominates the Altstadt; ride the funicular to the castle for spectacular views over the city and its environs. Inside, you’ll find a wine cellar which houses an enormous wine barrel known as the Heidelberg Tun. Over seven metres tall and with a capacity of 58,000 gallons, even a city full of students cannot drink it dry.

Europe's best university cities,Heidelberg Castle, Germany,schloss
Heidelberg Castle, Germany

Salamanca, Spain

Spain’s first university wasn’t established in Madrid or Barcelona, but instead in charming Salamanca, where it’s been a fixture since the 12th century. Nicknamed the golden city on account of the yellow of the sandstone many of its buildings are constructed from; the old town is a gem and has been on the UNESCO list for three decades. Begin at the heart of the action in the city’s Plaza Mayor; tick off both its old and its new cathedrals and check out the Casa de las Conchas, a shell-encrusted palace now home to a public library.

Europe's best university cities, Pontifical University, Salamanca, Spain
Pontifical University, Salamanca, Spain

About JuliaHammond


Julia Hammond is a Geography teacher turned travel writer with a passion for places. Winning Mail Travel's Deep South competition was the catalyst to write for a diverse range of publications including Bradt's Bus Pass Britain Rides Again. She’s written Kindle guides to Cape Town, Peru and London for Unanchor and advice on Savannah for Wanderlust. When not travelling, she can be found at home in Essex planning her next trip, her two golden retrievers curled up at her feet.

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