Travel inspiration and insider tips

5 years, 11 months ago

Europe’s Most Beautiful Universities

Summer is celebrated for many reasons – sunshine, holidays, time off work – but for others summer is a time for celebration as they don long black robes and throw flat black hats into the air. I’m talking about the thousands of students who will be graduating over the next few months.

However, universities are not just for students. They are often beautiful, historic buildings that add great cultural value to a city; things many travellers are on the hunt for. With this in mind here are ten of Europe’s most beautiful universities well worth visiting.

1. Oxbridge, UK

Oxford University

If other people can bundle the universities of Oxford and Cambridge together and make Oxbridge one locale then so can I. Supporting my decision is the fact that both universities and cities are disbelievingly rich in handsome architecture and miles and miles of prestigious history. Highlights include The Bodleian Library in Oxford and Trinity College’s famous Wren Library at Cambridge University. A visit to either Oxford or Cambridge will leave you feeling like you stepped onto the set of a Harry Potter film, albeit surrounded by slightly older, less magic-wielding students.

2. University of Bologna, Italy

Archiginnasio of Bologna

The oldest university in the world is a must-visit not only for its history and red stone buildings linked by miles of porticos, but also because Bologna is a great city for an Italian getaway. The majority of the university buildings can be found on and around Via Zamboni, which is also where you’ll find indie bookstores, coffee shops and restaurants serving up feasts at very small prices. See the university and city best from the top of one of the Due Torri, Bologna’s two medieval towers.

3. University of Salamanca, Spain

University of Salamanca

Spain’s oldest university is also considered the country’s prettiest thanks to an extensive collection of attractive campus buildings including the serene School Courtyard and the Gothic Old Library. You will also find one of the city’s finest examples of the Plateresque facade Salamanca is famous for. Furthermore, the beautiful buildings in Salamanca don’t just belong to the university; the old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and among the many buildings to be admired is the Old Cathedral, arguably one of the finest European churches.

4. Sorbonne University, Paris

Sorbonne University

The city centre campus of the Sorbonne University in Paris is one of the most photographed in the world thanks to its symmetrically perfect frame in Place de la Sorbonne, practically next door to another highlight of Paris, Le Jardin du Luxembourg. Outside you can enjoy the white stone edifices of the university buildings and inside you should spend at least an hour or two admiring La Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and the Saint-Jaques room in La Bibliothèque de la Sorbonne.

5. Trinity College, Dublin

The Long Room, Trinity College

Right in the centre of town, Trinity College is somewhat hidden from the passing tourist’s view but everyone is free to wander inside it’s greystone walls and discover this relatively young university’s history; it’s ‘only’ four hundred years old. Trinity College’s highlight has to be watching the students float by the 18th century buildings inside the courtyard on a sunny day. However, if it’s raining then head to the ‘Long Room’ inside Ireland’s largest library. You’ll soon understand why it has that name.

6. University of Coimbra, Portugal

Joanine Library Coimbra

Just a couple hours up the coast from Lisbon is the city of Coimbra, which many centuries ago used to be Portugal’s capital. Founded in 1290, its university is one of the oldest in the world and is definitely one of the most beautiful. Top of your list of must-find sights at the University of Coimbra should be the ceiling in the Joanine Library and the spectacular gold altar in the university São Miguel Chapel.

7. University of St Andrews, Scotland

University of St Andrews

Scotland’s first university, St Andrews in Fife loomed over the Scottish education system long before Joan of Arc, before Beijing was built and before Columbus sailed across the pond, saw locals with golden earrings and decided the logical course of action was kidnapping. The university grounds are austere, beautiful, and buildings are spattered about this relatively small town. Each with its own character and dignitas, you can feel the weight of history in its details, like a tree planted by Mary Queen of Scots. Being an ancient institution, there are many traditions which are unique and great to see. Like how every Sunday all the students take a bright-red-begowned ‘pier walk’, commemorating a student who died rescuing five men from a sinking ship hundreds of years ago.

8. Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

Catholic University Leuven

A suburb of Brussels, Leuven is a great place to stay while visiting the Belgian capital and it’s also the oldest and largest university in Belgium, dating back to 1429, It’s also considered the country’s most beautiful thanks mainly to the intricate detail of the neo-renaissance University Hall building which looks more like a palace than a library, though that is what you’ll find inside. You can also take a walk around the inner courtyard, climb the bell tower (though you have to book in advance) and if you’re still hungry for more, make the short 3km walk south to the memorable Castle Arenberg, which is home to the KU Leuven’s Faculty of Engineering.

9. Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Freie Universität Berlin

Beautiful buildings can be modern too and few prove this point as well as the Freie Universität in Berlin. Founded in 1948 this university’s history is one of great change and hope and this can almost be felt in the light, airy modern structures of the Freie Universität which serve as a great overview of architectural trends from the last seven decades. Arguably the most impressive space is that found inside the vast dome space of the Philological Library.

10. University of Helsinki, Finland

University of Helsinki

Less than twenty steps from the city’s famous cathedral and just a few hundred metres from a handful of museums and the main shopping district, the University of Helsinki’s buildings are some of the city’s prettiest. Painted in the soft pastels Helsinki does so well, you should definitely step inside the National Library so you look up at a number of beautiful rooms. There’s also a great – and very cheap! – cafe in the basement which is open to public looking for coffee and cake.

Which other cities do you think have beautiful university buildings?

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  • Liucija says:

    I would say J.W.Goethe University Campus Westend, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany

  • Tchernowitzer says:

    one is missing – national University in Chernivtsi, Ukraine

  • Tomas says:

    I think one could be deleted to insert Heidelberg University. I think that deserves a spot, maybe even Freiburg University

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