Studying in Europe may have a romantic allure for American learners, given the rich histories, appealing culture and dazzling landmarks of famous cities like Paris, Rome, and Vienna. Many European college towns are undeniably beautiful in their own right, with streets offering gorgeous buildings, magnificent monuments and splendid parks for students to enjoy. Fortunately, the university campuses themselves are often just as stunning.
The following article, then, aims to showcase 30 of the most beautiful college campuses that Europe has to offer, whether through appealing architecture, striking natural features or a combination of both. This beauty, moreover, may very well inspire learners in their studies.
To develop this list, we first studied other list articles from highly respected publications that have identified the most beautiful college campuses both in the world and in Europe. These included the following:
- Business Insider, “The 30 Most Beautiful Universities in Europe”
- Forbes, “The World’s Most Beautiful College Campuses”
- The Telegraph, “Beautiful Universities Around the World”
- Travel + Leisure, “World’s Most Beautiful Universities”
To decide which campuses to include, we took into consideration the college campuses that appeared most frequently on these lists and those that seem the most aesthetically pleasing overall. Some of the key criteria used to judge the beauty of a campus were: the design and appearance of an institution’s architecture; any particularly picturesque natural features, such as lawns, botanic gardens, and arboretums; any other notable features of landscaping that helped to highlight its attractiveness.
Finally, the ordering was achieved with an eye to those campuses that are most often featured on the lists we consulted, but also by which, all things told, seemed to be the most beautiful.
30. National University of Ireland Galway – Galway, Ireland
Perhaps it’s no accident that the campus of the National University of Ireland Galway is so beautiful, as its celebrated 19th-century Quadrangle building was inspired by the famously stunning architecture of the University of Oxford’s Christ Church. The imposing limestone edifice has even been dubbed “the Harry Potter building” – although it’s not quite as magical as Hogwarts, its Tudor Gothic style lends it an air of majesty. Moreover, today the handsome, ivy-clad structure is complemented by a range of newer facilities, including the sleek and open Engineering Building, a futuristic vision in glass and zinc that, from its height, allows students lovely views of the River Corrib. It was the brainchild of Castlebar-based Taylor Architects and international firm RMJM and scooped the Irish Architecture Awards’ Public Choice Award in 2012.
29. Vienna University of Economics and Business – Vienna, Austria
Vienna University of Economics and Business’ history goes back to 1898 with the founding of its predecessor, the Imperial Export Academy. Then, nearly 80 years later, the Austrian institution adopted the name by which it is currently known. In 2013, moreover, the university moved to its new grounds close to the Danube – and its facilities are housed within some rather stunning examples of modern architecture that rival the Ferris wheel in nearby Prater park for sheer eye-catching splendor. Zaha Hadid Architects’ Library and Learning Center, for instance, offsets its austere color scheme with an inventive and undeniably striking design; the student services and library management areas, for example, are contained within a gray block that seems to teeter on the precipice of the larger structure underneath. Arguably just as arresting is the Teaching Center designed by Viennese architects BUSarchitektur. It is an extraordinary building with irregular, fractured surfaces and a dazzling, rust-hued steel facing that has been left to weather naturally.
28. Heidelberg University – Heidelberg, Germany
Germany’s Heidelberg University is one of just 23 institutions to be featured in Guillaume de Laubier and Jean Serroy’s 2015 book, The Most Beautiful Universities in The World. It is easy to see why it made the cut with structures as stunning as the University Library – built between 1901 and 1905 to the blueprint of architect Josef Durm – on campus. Indeed, the handsome building deftly blends eye-catching design elements both old and new: its Renaissance-type flourishes offer a nod to Heidelberg’s historic castle, while Art Nouveau aspects bring it rather more up to date. Another gem is the Old University building, an 18th-century red and white-toned hub for the Rector’s Office, the university museum and, intriguingly, the now-disused university prison.
27. Wrocław University of Science and Technology – Wrocław, Poland
In 1945, Wrocław University of Science and Technology rose from the ashes of theTechnische Hochschule Breslau, which had been decimated during World War II. Fittingly for an institution that seems to have one eye on the future, the central campus close to the river Oder is most striking for its starkly modernist yet undeniably eye-catching architecture. The Integrated Student Centre, for example, is a startling steel-gray vision, punctuated by a dusting of round windows, that garnered a nomination for the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award in 2009. Just as arresting, although a little more colorful, is the Center for Advanced Information and Communication Techniques Studies, with its towering glass entranceway and slashes of red livening up its facade.
26. University of Oslo – Oslo, Norway
The University of Oslo started life in 1813 with only seven teachers and 18 students to its name. In the two centuries since, of course, the institution has grown considerably, with 27,886 students attending in 2016, and facilities spread across four different areas of the Norwegian capital city. Perhaps some of those students were enticed by the Blindern campus’ grand University Library, a sleek, streamlined mélange of steel, glass and stone opened in 1999. Cleverly, Norwegian architect Are Telje’s design also incorporates towering columns and materials like marble that hark back to the structures of the ancient past – appropriate, given that the library itself houses Egyptian papyrus scrolls from over 2,000 years ago. Classical references also abound in the splendid Faculty of Law building; located near the city center, the edifice brings to mind a Roman temple and overlooks a handsome square paved with a mosaic.
25. University of Glasgow – Glasgow, U.K.
The University of Glasgow has its home close to the center of Scotland’s largest city, enabling its students to take full advantage of all that the lively and cosmopolitan metropolis has to offer. For beautiful sights, though, they need go no further than the campus itself – especially with structures as stunning as the Gilbert Scott Building, the university’s stately central hub, on display. Named for the man who originally came up with its design, the Gothic Revival-style stone structure became even more splendid in 1887 with the addition of the spire to its unmistakable 278-foot tower. The Undercroft’s elegantly vaulted arches, meanwhile, make the trip to the East and West Quadrangles all the more enticing. Students wishing to step foot onto the quadrangles’ inviting lawns should take note, though: walking on them before graduation is believed to bring bad fortune.
24. University of Helsinki – Helsinki, Finland
The University of Helsinki has no fewer than four campuses, plus satellite locations, but it’s the institution’s city center grounds that are by far the most beautiful. And that’s due in large part to the Finnish university’s botanic garden, nearly ten-acre stretch of vibrant greenery that contains a herbarium, a rose garden and several distinctive glasshouses arranged by plant type. But the breathtaking Kaisa House building, which contains the university’s main library, also deserves some credit. Local architects Anttinen Oiva Arkkitehdit Oy were responsible for its attention-grabbing facade, which combines gridded elements and undulating glass openings to winning effect. And its interior is no less spectacular, thanks to its gleaming white, almost space age-style design. It’s no wonder, then, that Kaisa House was a runner-up for the inaugural Finlandia Prize for Architecture in 2014.
23. University of Southern Denmark – Odense, Denmark
The University of Southern Denmark is a relatively new institution, having been founded in 1998 after Odense University, the Southern Denmark School of Business and Engineering and the South Jutland University Centre were all combined. It’s since spread to incorporate seven distinct campuses throughout the region, the most striking of which is the one in the idyllic seaport of Kolding. That’s primarily because of the main building’s startling modern design by Copenhagen’s Henning Larsen Architects. Set by Kolding’s harbor, the distinctive, triangular structure includes a stunning five-story atrium and a kinetic facade that responds to changes in the weather. Indeed, master’s students in economics, IT and tourism at the University can boast about learning in a building that earned a nomination for the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award in 2015.
22. University of Bucharest – Bucharest, Romania
The Romanian capital of Bucharest is full of eye-catching historic buildings, and the University of Bucharest can certainly lay claim to possessing some of them. The Central University Library, for example, is a splendid neo-Baroque creation conceived by 19th-century French architect Paul Gottereau. Meanwhile, the Palace of the University of Bucharest – the institution’s principal building – is a handsomely imposing edifice in the neo-classical tradition, overlooking the grand University Square. Alexandru Orăscu drew up its blueprint, and it was completed in 1859. Perhaps it impressed people at the University of Bucharest back then, too, as Orăscu went on to serve as the rector of the institution from 1885 to 1892.
21. Saint Petersburg State University – Saint Petersburg, Russia
The origins of Saint Petersburg State University date back to 1724, when the Russian Tsar Peter the Great founded the Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences. And although the institution has certainly developed since then, it still retains some links to the past. The stunning main Twelve Colleges building, for instance, was authorized by Peter the Great in 1718 and is part of the Vasilievsky Island campus. This monumental edifice, with its more than 1,300-foot-long facade, was in fact first comprised of a dozen buildings and originally meant to be the home to the departments that made up the Russian government of the day. By 1835, however, the building was unoccupied, and it was then that Saint Petersburg State University took it on. Today, it houses administrative areas and the college’s departments of earth sciences and geology. Students from other departments, however, are bound to be charmed by its magnificent red and white-colored Baroque exterior as well.
20. Paris-Sorbonne University – Paris, France
Paris-Sorbonne University’s main campus is within easy walking distance of several iconic Parisian landmarks. Indeed, the magnificent 18th-century Panthéon is practically on its doorstep. And while the sights of France’s capital may entice some learners from the university’s grounds on occasion, there’s still plenty for them to admire as they walk from class to class. The Sorbonne Building has a graceful neo-Renaissance exterior more than fitting for a “veritable temple of knowledge,” as the institution calls it. Inside the structure, meanwhile, the glorious Academic Palace, with its sweeping staircase and its elegant lecture room, offers students a suitably opulent place in which to absorb knowledge. They could very well be distracted, though, by the gorgeous fresco from 19th-century muralist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes at the front of the teaching space.
19. Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne – Lausanne, Switzerland
With the Alps as a backdrop and the placid waters of Lake Geneva lapping at its edge, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s campus certainly doesn’t lack for surrounding natural beauty. Still, the man-made structures owned by the Lausanne, Switzerland-based institution are often quite the spectacle, too. Take the stunning Rolex Learning Center, for instance. It’s the extraordinary work of Pritzker Prize-winning Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, whose graceful, undulating space incorporates a library, restaurants, meeting spaces and more. The center has drawn its fair share of acclaim, too, with The Observer critic Rowan Moore “mesmerized” by what in 2010 he deemed “an astonishing place.” Also of note is the vibrant, rainbow-striped BI building, the one-time library that now houses the university’s administrative services and was transformed by Paris-based Dominique Perrault Architecture.
18. University of Alcala – Alcala de Henares, Spain
The Spanish city of Alcalá de Henares has the interesting distinction of being the first place on the planet that was deliberately built to house a university. However, the University of Alcalá hasn’t always been there; it moved to Madrid in the mid-19th century, returning to Alcalá de Henares only in 1977. And with gorgeous historic features like the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso complex on offer in the university city, it was a wise idea to return. The Colegio Mayor’s magnificent 16th-century facade, awash with carefully crafted religious imagery, acts as an eye-catching focal point. Venture toward the Philosophers’ Courtyard, meanwhile, and it’s immediately apparent that this is the ideal place in which to ponder upon the meaning of life, given the beautiful array of trees and flora and charming paved walkways on offer.
17. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich – Munich, Germany
The lively and attractive German city of Munich is home to the downtown and technology campuses of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Other facilities are based in the nearby areas of Oberschleißheim and Garching bei München. But it’s the campus closest to the city center that most captures the imagination – chiefly because of its Friedrich von Gärtner-designed main building, which is just a stone’s throw from the landmark Englischer Garten park. The University describes it as its “architectural centerpiece,” and given its elegant decorated windows and striking white columns, it’s easy to see why. While World War II saw the ravaging of several of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich’s structures, including the main building, the institution decided to rebuild and repair its downtown estate rather than move. The splendid building you see today is the result of that restoration.
16. Sapienza University of Rome – Rome, Italy
Sapienza University of Rome was founded by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303 with its original Latin name of Studium Urbis. It wasn’t until 1935, however, that its main city center campus, Città Universitaria, was opened. And while the grounds aren’t as steeped in history as much of the rest of Rome, its structures are undeniably a product of one of Italy’s most notorious eras. That’s because the campus as a whole was masterminded by architect Marcello Piacentini on the command of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Despite those negative connotations, though, the monumental scale and clean lines of the modernist buildings are undeniably impressive. To the east of Città Universitaria, is the Orto Botanico dell’Università di Roma “La Sapienza”, with its calming green spaces, quaint Japanese garden, and hosts of palms that could have come straight from a tropical paradise.
15. KU Leuven – Leuven, Belgium
The venerable KU Leuven was established by Pope Martin V nearly 600 years ago and has the distinction of being the oldest Catholic university on the planet that still survives to this day. However, global conflicts threatened the Belgian college in the 20th century, with the institution’s library, in particular, being set on fire during both World Wars. Fortunately, after some renovation, Whitney Warren’s original Flemish Renaissance-style building continues to add grandeur to the campus today – aided in part by restoration work at the turn of the 21st century that brought back the vibrancy of its stone and brick exterior. The University’s charming Grand Béguinage of Leuven, meanwhile, contains a pedestrianized village-like collection of buildings traversed by quaint cobbled streets and punctuated by pretty green spaces. In 1998, it was deservedly given the honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
14. The University of Edinburgh – Edinburgh, U.K.
The University of Edinburgh is set in Scotland’s capital city, just to the south of the picturesque Old Town and Edinburgh’s iconic castle. Founded in 1583, the University has operated without interruption since then, apart from a pause in classes in 1745 when Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite rebels arrived in the city. And while nothing as eventful has happened since to the institution, its beautiful architecture still makes it arguably one of the most attractive places of learning in the U.K. Students at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, for instance, can bask in the grounds of the imposing Old Medical Building, a Northern Italian Renaissance gem that, with its palazzo-style facade and roof of red tiles, harks back to another time and place entirely. The university-owned George Square Gardens, meanwhile, offer stressed-out learners a green, leafy oasis of calm – or, perhaps, a place to catch shows at the city’s annual Fringe Arts Festival.
13. University of Salamanca – Salamanca, Spain
The University of Salamanca is set just outside of the historic Old City of Salamanca, which acquired UNESCO World Heritage status in 1988. However, according to UNESCO, the Spanish city “owes its most essential features” to the university itself, meaning that the institution possesses some truly glorious architectural wonders that would be jewels in the crown at any place of higher learning. Chief among them is the Major Schools building, a sumptuous, stucco-covered edifice with kings’ faces and crests intricately carved onto its surface. But the motifs aren’t all regal: carefully search the details of the facade, and you’ll find a carving of a frog atop a human skull. Finding this curio is said to bring good luck.
12. Jagiellonian University – Kraków, Poland
Jagiellonian University’s origins date back all the way to 1364, although the death of its founder, Poland’s Casimir III the Great, six years later nearly led to the institution’s demise. Luckily, it was founded for a second time in 1400 by King Vladislaus Jagiello, from whom it takes its name. And centuries later students at the Kraków-based campus can revel in the magnificent architecture around them, with the university’s principal building, the Collegium Novum, a case in point. The monumental, neo-Gothic construction took 14 years to complete and was intended through its design to imitate the appearance of the equally impressive Collegium Maius. The Professors’ Garden, meanwhile, offers pleasant greenery and an appealing space in which to take time out from study – and, despite its name, anyone is allowed to come in, take the weight off their feet and enjoy the view.
11. Queen’s University Belfast – Belfast, U.K.
Founded by Queen Victoria in 1845, Queen’s University Belfast is set just to the south of the center of Northern Ireland’s principal city, Belfast, with the Belfast Botanical Gardens and its eye-catching floral displays at its edge. There’s plenty to admire outside of the gardens, too – not least the Queen’s University’s historic Lanyon Building. Designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and finished in 1849, the handsome red brick and sandstone edifice forms the towering centerpiece of the university’s campus and was influenced in part by the grand architecture of Oxford’s Magdalen College. The building itself houses the magnificent Great Hall, with its carved wooden paneling and a soaring ceiling buttressed with timber beams. And the university’s graduate students can while away the hours studying or just admiring their stunning surroundings in the Ruskinian Gothic Lynn Building, named after its architect, Irishman William Henry Lynn.
10. Uppsala University – Uppsala, Sweden
Uppsala University’s Main Building hosts a truly magnificent art collection that spans the centuries and takes in everything from paintings and tapestries to furniture. But the building itself is quite the work of art. Indeed, Herman Teodor Holmgren’s palatial Romanesque Renaissance-type structure is as impressive now as it would have been in 1887 when it was first opened. Another outstanding landmark is the Botanical Garden, dubbed by the university as a “living plant museum” and the oldest of its kind in Sweden. Spring sees it at its most enticing when magnolias and tulips bloom with bursts of attention-grabbing color. Any student suffering through another cold Swedish winter, however, can seek haven in the tropical greenhouse and marvel at its array of orchids and palms while he or she warms up.
9. University of Bologna – Bologna, Italy
The University of Bologna is inextricably linked with its northern Italian host city of the same name, It was founded over a thousand years ago in the year 1008, and holds a rich history and culture as well as an outstanding architectural heritage. Indeed, David Mayernik, an associate professor at the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture, has asserted that the University of Bologna’s campus is, in fact, Bologna itself. Speaking to Forbes, Mayernik added that this is “a great advantage when the environment is an important, beautiful city whose origins date back well before the Roman Empire.” And one of the university’s most attractive buildings is the Collegio di Spagna, a mixed Gothic and Renaissance-style structure once intended to house the institution’s Spanish student body. The structure’s sandstone portal, arched courtyard and open, European feel are all as welcoming today as they were in 1364 when the college was established.
8. University of Rostock – Rostock, Germany
The University of Rostock boasts that “education and research started in Rostock even 73 years before Columbus discovered America, as the University was founded… in 1419.” And the institution, based in the pretty north German city of Rostock, can be equally proud of its grand main building, a terracotta red and white-hued wonder and an outstanding example of 19th-century Renaissance Revival architecture. The similarly colored Institute of Anatomy building is striking, too, but perhaps one of the most naturally magnificent features owned by the university is to the east of the main campus. The Rostock Botanical Garden sprawls verdantly across 19 acres of land and is packed with plant varieties from across the globe. Its arboretum, meanwhile, provides the perfect place for students to stroll through, hit the books or just sit back and relax in glorious surroundings among its around 1,100 different species of trees.
7. École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts – Paris, France
As befits an institution with a focus on fine art, the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts’ five-acre Paris campus hosts some buildings that are aesthetically pleasing creations in themselves. The university chapel, for example, impresses from the outside with its intricate carvings and classical columns, but inside it’s even more remarkable, with richly decorated engravings, statues, and paintings to delight the senses. The campus’ crowning glory, however, is the elegant Palais des Études, the work of illustrious 19th-century French architect François Debret and his brother-in-law Félix Duban. Bronze-cast wreaths decorate its doors, and vibrant Roman-style paintings adorn its walls and ceilings. Its most splendid feature, though, is the grand courtyard. This was restored over a two-year period from 2007 to 2009, and its arresting orange walls, blue pillars, and towering glass roof are now more spectacular than ever.
6. Aarhus University – Aarhus, Denmark
Lush green parkland features throughout the main campus of Aarhus University, make it a tranquil oasis in Denmark’s second-largest city. There’s a lake on the grounds, too, although its calm waters are disturbed every springtime by the university’s annual boat race. And several of the structures that have sprung up around the grounds since 1933 complement the stunning natural features there to great effect – not least because of their distinctive yellow brick facades. Indeed, the campus’ main building blends into the landscape even further thanks to the flora creeping up its walls and around its windows. Students climbing the stairs of the Lakeside Lecture Theatres building, meanwhile, are treated to a brilliant, multicolored piece of modern art from Danish painter Per Kirkeby when they lift their eyes to the ceiling.
5. Trinity College Dublin – Dublin, Ireland
Set within the Irish capital, Trinity College Dublin was founded by royal decree in 1592. It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that some of the institution’s most handsome buildings came into existence. The Old Library, for example, was finished in 1732, and its breathtaking Long Room, complete with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, is a haven for bibliophiles. It’s the perfect place, then, to house the Book of Kells, a lavishly illustrated manuscript dating back to the early 9th century. Other notable buildings completed later in the 18th century include the Public Theatre and the Chapel, both the work of Sir William Chambers, architect to George III. In the early 1800s, meanwhile, two grand quadrangles, Botany Bay and Mew Square, were built. And this cornucopia of beautifully executed architecture prompted Mike Evans, an architect from Norfolk, Virginia, to compare Trinity favorably to the University of Oxford. However, he told Forbes that Trinity is “gentler, and on a more human scale” than its English counterpart.
4. University of Oxford – Oxford, U.K.
The University of Oxford is thought to have first welcomed students through its doors as early as 1096. In the centuries since 38 independent colleges have been established to meet scholars’ needs – arguably the most outstanding of which is Christ Church. Set in central Oxford and founded in 1525, Christ Church includes Tom Quad, the largest of Oxford’s stately quadrangles. Its majestic Romanesque cathedral, meanwhile, dates back to the 12th century, although the bell tower, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is a relatively new addition from the late 1600s. Elsewhere, Magdalen College’s own magnificent, 144-foot bell tower marks it out, too – along with the college’s magnificent cloisters and grotesque gargoyles. But some of the university’s more recently constructed buildings have garnered acclaim as well. In 2016, for example, two of its newest facilities, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed Blavatnik School of Government and Wilkinson Eyre’s Weston Library, were named among the six nominees for the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize.
3. University of Coimbra – Coimbra, Portugal
The University of Coimbra is set on a hilltop with marvelous views across the Portuguese city which gave it its name, just over a two-hour drive north of the country’s capital, Lisbon. The university was founded in 1290 in Lisbon, but after years of operating in both that city and Coimbra, it was definitively settled at its current location in 1537, by decree of King John III. And that link to monarchy may have helped the university acquire, in 1597, the Royal Palace of Alcáçova, an ornately decorated, suitably stunning edifice still in use today for official ceremonies. The 18th-century Joanine Library is also breathtaking both inside and out, thanks to its Baroque-style stone and timber facade and the eye-catching trompe-l’oeil paintings decorating its ceilings. The heart of the university, however, is the Schools Courtyard, an impressive open plaza from which students can take in the architectural splendor around them.
2. Lomonosov Moscow State University – Moscow, Russia
Set in the Russian capital city, Lomonosov Moscow State University was founded in 1755, but it was 1940 before the name of Mikhail Lomonosov, a brilliant 18th-century Russian scientist, was added to the institution’s official title. Meanwhile, the monumental main building at the heart of the university campus opened its doors 13 years later and has been leaving visitors in awe ever since. Masterminded by chief architect L.V. Rudnev, its construction involved the use of a jaw-dropping 40 million bricks and 40,000 tons of steel as well as marble sent from Georgia and Uzbekistan and granite quarried in the Ukraine. And in the building’s shadow, but no less magnificent is the university’s botanical garden, a lush green space playing host to over 1,000 separate species of shrubs and tree offering a calming place away from the rigors of the classroom.
1. University of Cambridge – Cambridge, U.K.
The University of Cambridge’s 31 distinct colleges are dotted around the historic English city of its name. Cambridge itself is handsome, and the institution boasts an equally attractive collection of buildings that span the centuries, with some of them set off by vibrant, well-tended lawns. One of the most magnificent examples, though, is King’s College Chapel, an exquisite, late Gothic edifice that, appropriately, was spearheaded by Henry VI. Work on the stone-carved chapel began in 1446 but wasn’t completed until more than 100 years later. The Sainsbury Laboratory, meanwhile, is a more recent addition to the university, which opened in 2011. Located in the lush environs of the University of Cambridge Botanic Gardens, the laboratory serves as a plant research center and features an impressive facade of stone colonnades and glass. London-based architects Stanton Williams won the prestigious Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize for its design in 2012.