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Top 5 student cities in Europe

People wearing face masks play volleyball on the Prado beach in Marseille, southern France, on June 1, 2020, on the eve of the reopening of city's beaches, as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Source: Clement Mahoudeau/AFP

It’s no surprise that students flock from all over the globe to the EU for their higher education. Some are drawn by its top-ranked universities but for many, it’s the student cities and the vibrant lifestyles that captivated them even before touching down.

From being the cradle of Western civilisation to a culture bursting with fresh ideas, this is a continent with plenty to offer. London and Paris may make all the headlines but graduates know the hidden gems that hit all the right notes for students. Here are five that make our hearts sing:

Bologna

Bologna in Italy seems to be an underrated choice as one of the top student cities but it deserves to be on the list for its (many) alluring characteristics. What makes it great? For one, it’s been named the Creative City for Music by UNESCO. It’s also known for its gastronomy — cheeses, cured hams and vinegars that have been famous for centuries originate in the area — and Cineteca di Bologna, a national institution restoring and archiving films from around the world.

Small and rustic, cycling makes it a breeze to get to and from university — and less costly on your wallet yoo! Universities located here include the University of Bologna (one of the world’s oldest) along with Johns Hopkins University and the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. This city is nicknamed “la dotta” (the learned one) because of its collection of highly-ranked unis. 

student cities

The French Cathedral and the Konzerthaus concert hall are reflected in a puddle as guests sit outside during rainy weather at Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin. Source: Stefanie Loos/AFP

Berlin

Where to begin? The nightclubs are legendary, the vintage stores a class of their own and the culture as radical left as you can get in Germany.

Top unis here include: Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin and Technical University of Berlin. Most public unis in Germany (except those in the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg) don’t charge tuition fees for undergraduate programmes, only a small fee to cover administration and other costs per semester.

Students perform the mannequin challenge while celebrating during the traditional year-end party held in the main square of Salamanca, Spain on December 15, 2016. Source: Cesar Mancso/AFP

Salamanca

Also known as “La Dorada” (the golden city) for its signature sandstone architecture, Salamanca in Spain is only 200 miles away from Madrid and 80 miles from the Portuguese border. You’ll have the best of three countries with this strategic location.

The University of Salamanca — the oldest in Spain — is based here. When you’re not busy with assignments, check out traditions such as “Reyes Magos” (the Three Kings parade) and “Carnaval del Toro” (Carnival of the Bull) as well as other uniquely Salamancan activities like discovering unique wines and villages. 

student cities

Bystanders stroll on the Corniche road in Marseille, southern France. This road, forbidden to cars for the first time, will be closed one Sunday per month. Source: Nicolas Tucat/AFP

Marseille

Marseille is located on the southern French coast, full of history with over a dozen museums dedicated like the MuCEM (Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Meditarranean) and the Natural History Museum of Marseille. The Musée des Beaux-Arts (a fine arts museum that is also Marseille’s oldest), located within the wing of the lavish, colonnaded Palais Longchamp, is where you’ll find a treasure trove of 16th- to 19th- century Italian and Provençal painting and sculpture.

In 2012, three unis in Aix-en-Provence and Marseille combined to form Aix-Marseille Université which has its main campus at the city’s seafront. This city is also home to KEDGE Business School. 

student cities

Designer Rimante Rimgailaite prepares mannequins to provide social distancing at a restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania on May 21, 2020 amid the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Source: Petras Malukas/AFP

Vilnius

This is one of the most affordable student cities in the EU. A study by Vilnius University suggests that students need a mere 489 euros a month for general living expenses. 

A number of popular cultural events take place here throughout the year. Culture Night is one of the longest nights of the year and the city of Vilnius lights up with music, dance, theatre, sculpture, photography and cinematic installations. Another cool event is Trakai Medieval Festival where over two days, a celebration of all things medieval takes over the Trakai Peninsular Castle with markets, merchants, music and theatre. 

Vilnius University is the oldest in the Baltic states and among the top 3% of unis in the world according to QS World University Ranking. It offers several degree programmes taught in English.