10 fantastic cities for studying abroad

One of the best opportunities you have in life is to begin studying abroad, making friends and seeing life in fantastic cities. It’s a true education

Studying abroad is one of the most important things you can do. If you get the chance, it’ll give you the opportunity to get to know the people, language and culture of another country, as well as to make new friends and travel to places you might never have thought to go.

In Europe, the Erasmus Experience has become such a phenomenon that political scientist Stefan Wolff has said that “in 15, 20 or 25 years, Europe will be run by leaders with a completely different socialisation from those of today”. It’s building a generation with a wider view of the world, a stronger sense of being European, and a more sensitive stance on the issues and problems facing other nations.

That being said, we’re not limiting ourselves to Europe. There are many fine institutions all over the world that offer outstanding education, a wonderful city in which to live, and even permanent job prospects if you love it so much you decide to stay. Here’s our choice of cities that will influence you, inspire you, and remain part of you even after your student days are long past.

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw is one of the most affordable cities for students – Shutterstock

The most affordable city in Europe for students according to higher education data specialists QS, Warsaw is also rich in history. Having been destroyed in a number of violent and creative ways throughout history, it’s amazing it’s still there at all. From the Old Town to the Soviet grandeur – if that’s the right word – of the Palace of Culture, it’s a city with a little bit of everything. Plus tuition fees are low, or free if you study in Polish and pass the same entrance exams as local students.

For cheap eats, milk bars are canteens that serve traditional food for cheap, things like pierogi (filled dumplings) and zapiekanki (a sort of small pizza-type-thing topped with cheese and mushrooms). The city has a great social scene and public transport is affordable, as are national transport links. Buses and trains can take you around the country to other cities like Poznan, Krakow and the like.

On the surface, it might not seem as immediately attractive as somewhere like Prague or Vienna, but once you start scratching a little further beneath the surface, you’ll discover a coffee shop, a bar, a walk through a park or simply a view that you’ll be able to call your own.

Monterrey, Mexico

Monterrey graduates are highly employable – Shutterstock

Mexico’s third-largest city has slightly higher tuition fees that Mexico City, but balances that out with lower living costs. It’s also one of the places that scored highly on the QS Employer Activity category, meaning that graduates from establishments in Monterrey are highly sought after by local employers.

It’s a thriving centre of business, industry and commerce, but it’s also proud of its many historical monuments, an old town dating from the 18th century, and the city’s unusual Macroplaza, an area of 100 acres consisting of interconnected smaller squares, gardens and monuments.

This area contains many of Monterrey’s most famous buildings, including the City Hall, a public library, the city theatre and the iconic Faro del Comercio – the Lighthouse of Commerce – a 70-metre tall lighthouse topped with a green laser.

If you’re the outdoorsy type, it’s also a great place to be. Surrounded by mountains, you’ll never be short of somewhere to walk, climb, raft, cave, abseil or mountain bike.

Ecotourism is massively on the rise as well, with places like the Parque Ecologico Chipinque offering horse-riding and kayaking with the unusual aspect of being in the forest looking at the skyline of the city, a nice contrast to sitting in a bar in the city looking out towards the mountains…

Tomsk, Russia

Oksana_Shmatok / Shutterstock
The Pride of Siberia, Tomsk, holds one of the most respected higher education institutions – Oksana_Shmatok / Shutterstock

The Pride of Siberia is not an obvious choice of location by any means, but if you really want to have an adventure, why not? The city of Tomsk is over 400 years old, and is one of the most respected educational and scientific centres in the whole of Russia.

Home to just over half a million people, 100,000 of these are students studying at one of Tomsk’s six universities. It was ranked the 6th most affordable university city in the world in 2017, with rent 64 per cent lower than that of Moscow as of February 2017.

The city itself has a number of interesting quirks, not least its ornate ‘gingerbread’ houses; ornate wooden buildings in a style peculiar to this part of Russia. Culture lovers are well catered for as the city has a wealth of galleries, theatres and concert halls, as well as the sinister-sounding Museum of Oppression, housed in an old KGB dungeon.

Fans of sport will also find things to keep them entertained; the city has a football team – Tom Tomsk – and, of course, there’s a lot of winter sports to take part in if you’re the active type.

Berlin, Germany

fantastic cities for studying abroad
Berlin is a relatively affordable city and a night out won’t ruin your bank balance – Shutterstock

Okay, so the Berlin/student/startup/hipster thing has gone on long enough; indeed, there are complaints about Berlin becoming, if anything, too cool. This is manifesting itself in the city trying to tackle the rising AirBnB problem – namely, there’s nowhere to live because all property is being used as short-term rentals. It’s not, however, as bad as all that.

Compared to a number of other large European capital cities (think London, Paris, Madrid and the like), Berlin is still (relatively) affordable.

It’s certainly a great place to be a student. The centre is not as massive as you’d expect, and public transport is cheap enough, as well as reliable. Going out won’t destroy your bank balance (again, in comparison to other capitals) and, because it’s Berlin, you get to tell people you live in Berlin, with all the cadaverous David Bowie chic and Cold War glamour that goes with it.

You’ll never be short of educational inspiration either. Forty Nobel Prize winners have been affiliated with Berlin’s higher education establishments over the years, and the three big hitters (the Humboldt, Freie, and Technische universities) account for around 100,000 students. Add to that the Art School, the School of Economics and Law, and the University of Applied Sciences and Engineering, and you’ve pretty much got something for every academic leaning.

Seoul, South Korea

DiegoMariottini / Shutterstock fantastic cities for studying abroad
Come to Seoul for an excellent education and fall in love with the city – DiegoMariottini / Shutterstock

Unlike Japan, its neighbour to the east, South Korea is not normally somewhere that students have in mind when they choose a study abroad destination; of the 40 universities in Seoul, only seven per cent of all students come from overseas. Conversely, however, if you do choose to study there, you may well find yourself either falling in love with the city, or being poached for a career there. 86 per cent of all graduates stay on in the city after completing their studies, suggesting that talent-spotting is taken very seriously indeed.

For the uninitiated, it can be an overwhelming place. Over 25 million people live in the greater Seoul area alone – around half of the population of the country as a whole – and despite the fact that it’s a clean, modern city with friendly, welcoming people, it can still seem a vast and confusing maze.

As you might expect, once you’ve got past the hugeness and have buckled down to your studies, you might wonder what those 86 per cent of graduates who stay in the city do. Well, as you might expect, the bulk of the city’s economy is based around electronics and IT, either programming or manufacturing. Samsung and LG, South Korea’s two mighty consumer electronics brands, are headquartered there, as are car makers Kia and Hyundai. Add to this the banking and finance sectors and you’ve got a place where reputations can be quickly and effectively built.

Montreal, Canada

fantastic cities for studying abroad
Montreal is the best city in the world for students – Shutterstock

Canada has a well-founded reputation for friendliness, and Montreal bears that out. It might not be as prestigious as studying in Paris or London, or even Boston for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering. In fact, it’s a good reason to put it high up on your list, and the stats would agree. The 2017 QS Best Student Cities survey ranked Montreal as the number one city in the world in which to be a student.

Cost of living in Montreal is relatively low if you compare it with cities of a similar size, and the nightlife is great. It’s hosted an Olympics and a World Expo. The Montreal Jazz Festival and the Just For Laughs comedy festival are renowned worldwide. The Ile Notre-Dame on the St. Lawrence Seaway hosts the Canadian round of the Formula One World Championship.

Along with two other cities that happen, coincidentally, to be on this list (namely Berlin and Buenos Aires), Montreal has been recognised by Unesco as a Capital of Design, something that is as rare as it is cool. But it’s not just a haven for the chic; it’s a city that does the everyday things well. Food, drink, socialising and relaxation are all massively important. Local chef Caroline Dumas calls it “a city on a very human scale”, and that just about sums it up.

Brno, Czech Republic

fantastic cities for studying abroad
Brno is laid-back and full of bars that spill onto the streets and squares – Shutterstock

Away from the bustle and stag parties of Prague, the capital of Moravia – the region in the south and east of the Czech Republic – is a city of around half a million people. There’s a large student population of around 100,000, attending one of Masaryk University (the largest in the city), Mendel University, the Brno University of Technology, the University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the Janáček Academy of Performing Arts, to name but a few. There are 14 universities spread across the city.

It’s a laid-back place with a young, vibrant feel to it, especially in the spring and summer when the bars and restaurants spill onto the pavements and squares, and there’s always time for a tasty Czech beer in the sunshine. The food, cocktail, coffee, music and theatre scenes are all thriving, and in the summer there are festivals ranging from street food to fireworks.

It’s also a great location from which to explore Central Europe. There are cheap, fast and reliable bus and rail connections to cities such as Vienna (90 minutes), Prague (two and a half hours), Bratislava (90 minutes), Budapest (four hours) and other Czech towns such as Olomouc and Ostrava. It’s a cool, quirky yet mellow place to be.

Regensburg, Germany

fantastic cities for studying abroad
The pretty city of Regensburg is a Unesco World Heritage Site – Shutterstock

Located in southern Germany, Regensburg isn’t massive but still manages to be the fourth-largest city in the federal state of Bavaria. It’s a pretty place, with the River Danube flowing lazily through the centre of the city; so pretty in fact that the medieval centre is a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it’s one of the most-visited cities in Germany due to this.

The university is one of the country’s youngest higher education institutions, having only been founded in 1962. It’s made up for lost time since then though, going on to become one of the more respected in Germany with eleven faculties all located on one campus to the south of the city centre.

It’s roughly equidistant from both Nuremberg and Munich, so both are easy day trips if you feel like visiting somewhere larger and more striking. Nuremberg is very beautiful and Munich basically dominates the south of Germany, despite being known as a large village in feel. Regensburg, like its university, is more than holding its own against these two regional powers, and its economy is one of the fastest-growing in the country, being focussed on areas such as automotive and electrical engineering. Time to get in on the ground floor…?

Buenos Aires, Argentina

fantastic cities for studying abroad
Studying at the University of Buenos Aires is free, even for foreigners – Shutterstock

Argentina’s capital is sometimes known as the Paris of South America, and you can certainly see why. Grand boulevards and monuments abound in this elegant, cultured city. You can feel it too, in the stylish yet passionate populace, raised on a diet of dance, wine and football.

The University of Buenos Aires is the largest in the country and, by enrolment numbers, the second-largest in all of Latin America, and is free to anyone who wants to study there, including foreigners. Since its foundation in 1821, it has educated 15 former Prime Ministers, five Nobel Prize winners, and Che Guevara.

While you’re in Buenos Aires, it’s obviously important (as it is everywhere) to immerse yourself in the local culture. Whether this means learning the dialectical Spanish, attempting to dance the tango, eating steak and drinking Mendoza wine from the foothills of the Andes, or following one of the fanatically-supported football teams, it’s a city that, if you’re willing to embrace it, will love you back passionately. And what better time to go than when you’re equally idealistic, passionate and free? Go on!

Coventry, United Kingdom

fantastic cities for studying abroad
Coventry is a melting pot of cultures and ideas – Shutterstock

In lists of Best University Cities compiled by QS, four places in the UK routinely feature in the worldwide top 50: London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Coventry. As a Coventrian myself, this makes me happy.

An unfairly maligned city in a lot of ways, its post-industrial decline in the 1980s has given way to a city developing a new-found pride in itself. Sure, it’ll never win any prizes for glamour, but the UK’s automotive capital isn’t without its quirky charms.

It has two universities, Coventry University and the University of Warwick, both offering superb facilities with fine reputations. Warwick, named as the world’s 19th most international university in 2017, and recognised as one of the best educational establishments in Europe, is slightly the smaller of the two in terms of student numbers, and has a large campus on the outskirts of the city. Coventry University is based in the city itself, is known for its engineering, technical, medical and scientific output, and has won the Times newspaper’s Modern University of the Year three years in a row.

Coventry is a melting pot of various nationalities, cultures, religions and cuisines, as well as a centre for the arts, music and sport. Taking on the mantle of UK City of Culture in 2021, the population is quite a lot younger than the UK national average, and its inhabitants have a fierce pride in the place. A mixture of medieval and modern architecture – the beautifully-merged old and new cathedrals being a wonderful example – gives it a bizarre combination of buildings unlike anywhere else in the country, the Transport Museum is world-class, the parks are plentiful and, despite the situation with my beloved football team being a crying shame, it can stand proudly with the other places on this list.