5 of the Oldest University Cities in the World

One of the great things about studying internationally is the exposure it gives students to different cultures. Historic university cities often have years and years of academic achievements, fascinating stories and famous alumni.

It’s no coincidence that some of the highest ranked universities in the world have existed for centuries. They’re shrouded in an aura of prestige, wisdom and stature which only comes with age and knowledge.

These five student cities are some of the most ancient inhabited places on the planet:


  1. Athens, Greece

We couldn’t begin with anything other than the birthplace of democracy and civilisation.Parthenon and Herodium construction in Acropolis Hill in Athens

Philosophy, art, literature; European culture, political ideology and intellectual freedom all stems from the ideas cultivated in Ancient Greece. Athens itself was home to some of the most eminent thinkers in recorded history, including Socrates, Aristotle and Plato – who founded the Platonic Academy, possibly the earliest institution for higher education in the western world.

There are currently around 20 universities in Greece, and Athens is home to both the oldest university and the highest ranked university: the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and the National Technical University of Athens respectively.


  1. Padua, Italy

Said to be the oldest city in northern Italy, Padua is famous for its university, and its picturesque, arcaded architecture. It’s also the setting for The Taming of the Shrew.

View of historical Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua

The University of Padua is the second-oldest university in the country, founded almost a millennium ago. The significant cultural and academic influence of the city has attracted many prominent thinkers and artists over the years, including perhaps the most celebrated scientist in history, Galileo Galilei.


  1. Beijing

The city of Beijing has a tumultuous 3,000-year-long history, although evidence of human ancestry in the region dates back an immense 700,000 years.

Forrbidden city in Beijing

Preserved through dynasties, invasions and wars, Beijing is home to some of the country’s most celebrated, traditional Chinese architecture. Famous landmarks such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, part of the Great Wall of China and the Temple of Heaven are all located in the capital.

There are a number of successful universities in the city, although perhaps the most well-known is Peking University. It was the first modern, national university in China, founded in 1898, and continuously ranks amongst the best universities in the world.


  1. Edinburgh

One of the oldest cities in the United Kingdom, Edinburgh is known for its many historical locations, its reputation as an intellectual hub and its huge arts and culture scene.

Edinburgh Castle

The city’s architectural sites include the 12th century Norman castle which overlooks the capital; the cathedral, which is said to date to around 1124 CE and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, which has housed many Scottish and British monarchs over the centuries.

The city developed its academic reputation during the Age of Enlightenment. Famous alumni include scientist Charles Darwin, inventor Alexander Graham Bell and writer Robert Louis Stevenson.

The University of Edinburgh is the sixth-oldest university in the English-speaking world, and one of Scotland’s ancient universities. It ranks very highly, regularly in the top 20 universities in the world.

In addition to its historical reputation, the city is also home to the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

  1. Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the most extraordinary ancient cities on the planet. The oldest part of the city dates from around 3000 BC and since then it has been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and destroyed and rebuilt twice.

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is holy to three of the world’s major religions; Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Both Palestine and Israel claim the city as their capital, though the internationally recognised capital of Israel continues to be Tel Aviv.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is the second-oldest university in the country and a prestigious centre of higher education. It is well-known for some of the remarkable people who have attended or worked there. The first Board of Governors, for example, included Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Chaim Weizmann.

The city is filled with historic buildings and sites, including the Temple Mount, the al-Aqsa Mosque, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Check out the latest QS Best Student Cities index to find out the most desirable places to study for students.

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