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
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.
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.
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.
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.