Top Cities in Europe

When comparing 44 university-cities on 35 very diverse qualities, only one wins. Berlin has it all: strong universities with minimal tuition, affordable living, a socially open city and lots of fun. Other top ranks are Munich (#2), Lisbon (#3), Amsterdam (#4) and Porto (#5). While Ljubljana (#12), Leuven (#14) and Warsaw (#18) are maybe not on everyone’s radar they also score well. Established student cities as London (#10) and Barcelona (#13) do not rank to their full potential, mainly due to housing scarcity and the lack of stay back visa.


Today there are more mobile students than ever before, both on Erasmus and pursuing a full degree. For these digital natives there is a lot to choose from and compare. The Class of 2020’s Best Student City ranking offers insight into Europe’s most attractive university-cities. What is influencing the choice behaviour of mobile students? The answer is manifold as no one has the same necessities and preferences: some students are party animals and others library lovers. Yet, on average a student wants to receive good education and enjoy cities with great quality of life. Students seek places where calendars can be full of fun, while still living on a student budget. All of this wrapped in a tolerant and welcoming society. The Best Student City ranking shows that a great student experience is all about the mix and only the university cities that understand this cocktail will be able to attract and retain the brightest mobile minds.

Research Methodology

For this ranking we combined 35 indicators divided into 6 categories, each of them representing a fundamental characteristic of the best student city. These 35 indicators were sourced from specific rankings and recognised international datasets. We considered each city’s size and population before normalizing the results and giving them a weight. Here are the results:
Generated by wpDataTables

Berlin for the win

With three cities in the top 20 and two cities in the top 3, Germany scores with its impressively diversified offer. Berlin especially boasts affordable housing, countless social events, superb connectivity, a welcoming start-up scene and great stay back visa opportunities. As Dr. Stefan Franzke, CEO of Berlin Partner emphasizes, “Berlin’s universities are more colourful than anywhere else. Almost one in three first-year students comes from abroad. Berlin’s universities are particularly popular with Erasmus students. English language courses, international flair, tolerance, entrepreneurial spirit – everything attracts young people. We are happy and proud that Berlin’s academic landscape is now one with distinction.”

Other winners

Munich does not fall far behind with an unbeatable city environment and an open-minded society. Portugal remains competitive, with two cities scoring in the top 5 and Porto championing the affordability sub-ranking. Amsterdam takes the fifth place in the overall European ranks. This much sought-after destination for millennials remains attractive, with superb city life, a strong start-up scene and great universities. A threat for this top5 position is the shortage of housing in and around Amsterdam and the social sentiment, which is not always welcoming to internationals.

Behind the ranking

Some results might be surprising and in this post we try to unravel some of the rationale behind that. Generally we put an emphasis on the study experience (university rank, share international students, share english taught programmes, start-up density etc) and affordability (housing, meals, drinks, public transport). Porto and Lisbon rank in the top 5 mainly because great affordability, combined with an open social fabric and dynamic city life.


Florence is the only Italian city in the top 20, mostly due to its cultural amenities and reasonable housing prices compared. Housing scarcity makes Milan rank lower. The relatively low scores of Italian universities in general – according to established HE rankings – and the very limit share of English-taught programmes generally affect the position of Italian university cities.


These two factors – shortage of accessible student housing and the absence of top-ranked higher education institutions – also affect Madrid. Barcelona’s universities score better, housing is a bit more affordable than in the capital and, on top of that, it offers an unparalleled social experience – as reflected by the high numbers of Erasmus students. The Scandinavian cities get good grades in terms of social tolerance and connectivity but don’t score well when it comes to cost of living. On the other hand, Eastern European cities rank high in affordability and low in terms of student experience.


Cities in the United Kingdom obviously miss out on the weather, and the green area per capita is relatively low. Next to this, tuition fees are high. London offsets this easily with a vibrant city life and high-ranking universities that are globally recognized. Of course, the fact that courses are taught in English boosts its attractiveness. On the other hand, there is little opportunity to stay after graduation due to a lack of proper stay-back visa opportunities as was recently forewarned by Universities UK[1].


In this ranking we have tried to shed a light on the strengths and the weaknesses of 44 student cities. It is not a way to dishearten either citizens or students in these cities. Because in the end studying abroad can be an extraordinary experience, no matter where you go. We aim to create an encouraging comparison between cities that helps policymakers to learn how their respective cities can become absolute hotbeds for mobile talent. And of course, indicators are always matter of discussion, even subjective sometimes. Let’s have that discussion – your input is very much welcomed!