The Best Places to Study Abroad

Girl reading book on university campus in fall with yellow bicycle
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Studying abroad is one of the most exciting parts of the college experience. But with so many incredible destinations across the globe, how do you narrow down your options? 

Imagine your ideal study abroad experience. What kind of classes would you take? Do you picture yourself sipping coffee in a café, hiking in a rainforest, or snoozing at the beach? As you consider what kind of adventure you want, look for destinations that offer similar experiences, starting with this list of the best places to study abroad.

Florence, Italy

Aerial view of Florence cityscape.
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All of Italy's "big three" cities – Florence, Venice, and Rome – are beloved study abroad destinations, brimming with history, culture, and heaping plates of pasta. Yet there's something about Florence that makes it particularly well-suited for the student traveler. Florence is a comparatively small town that can be explored almost entirely on foot. After learning your way around, you can quickly settle into a daily routine of morning coffee and afternoon gelato. What could be more dolce vita than that?

Study: Art history. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, and contemporary Florentines are masters of art conservation. In other words, there's a field trip opportunity on every corner. Instead of learning from PowerPoint slides, you'll spend your class time getting up close and personal with original works of art in iconic galleries like the Uffizi and the Accademia.

Explore: Walk to Piazzale Michelangelo to take in the Florentine skyline at sunrise or sunset, when the terracotta rooftops blaze a brilliant red and locals gather to admire their city.

Travel Tip: It's tempting to spend most of your time in the areas immediately surrounding Florence's most popular tourist attractions – there's so much to see, after all – but for a more authentic Italian experience and much better food, make sure to explore neighborhoods further afield, like Santo Spirito.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne city skyline
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For a study abroad experience that combines the 24/7 excitement of a major city with the thrill of outdoor adventure, choose Melbourne. With its artisanal coffee shops and eye-grabbing street art, Melbourne is a hip urban destination. Need a break from your studies? Take a surfing lesson on one of Australia's most picturesque beaches less than an hour away from the city. Melbourne is a hub for international students, so you're sure to make like-minded friends from all over the world.

Study: Biology. Australia is home to some of the world's most diverse landscapes and ecosystems. Biology classes will get you out of the classroom for hands-on research and exploration in places like the Great Barrier Reef and the Gondwana Rainforest. 

Explore: For a close encounter with Australian wildlife, take a day trip to Prince Phillip Island to meet kangaroos, koalas, emus, and wombats at the conservation center. The highlight, however, takes place each day at sunset, when hundreds of penguins parade across the beach as they make their way home after a day at sea.

Travel Tip: Its location in the southern hemisphere means that Australia's seasons are the opposite of those in the U.S. If you go to school in a cold climate, be strategic and plan your semester abroad during Australia's summer. Your sunny snaps will be the envy of all your frozen friends back home.

London, England

Piccadilly Circus, London, England.
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Part of what makes the United Kingdom such a popular study abroad destination is, of course, the English language, but London has much more going for it than its easy-to-read street signs. The endless stream of free (or heavily discounted) cultural attractions and events, the prim and proper parks perfect for picnicking, and the lively neighborhood pub culture make London one of the most student-friendly cities in the world. Plus, London is home to over 40 universities, so you're sure to find a program that suits you.

Study: English literature. Sure, you can read a book anywhere in the world, but where else can you walk the exact route described by Virginia Woolf in Mrs. Dalloway or see Romeo and Juliet performed at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre? In London, your course readings will come alive like never before. 

Explore: Shop at London's iconic neighborhood markets. For delicious food and impressive vintage finds, drop by the bustling Portobello Road Market on a Saturday. On Sunday, check out Columbia Road Flower Market, where stall owners compete for your attention by calling out the latest deals.

Travel Tip: Sign up for the public transportation student discount card and use the bus as much as possible. The double decker bus system is easy to use and much more scenic than the Tube. For the best views, try to snag a seat in the front row of the upper deck. 

Shanghai, China

Aerial view, Shanghai, China
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The ultra-modern city of Shanghai is ideal for students seeking a total change of pace from typical college life. With a population of over 24 million people, Shanghai is the textbook definition of hustle and bustle, but ancient history is never out of view. In fact, you'll spot plenty of historic buildings sandwiched between skyscrapers.  Shanghai is the perfect starting place for exploring the rest of China thanks to the accessibility of its airport and bullet trains. It's surprisingly affordable, too – you can buy a delicious lunch on your way to class for around $1. 

Study: Business. As an international business hub, Shanghai is the perfect place to study the global economy. In fact, many study abroad students score internships during their semester in Shanghai.

Explore: When you arrive, ride the Maglev, the world's fastest train, from Pudong Airport to the center of Shanghai. The futuristic, magnetically-levitating train travels 270 miles per hour but feels almost motionless. 

Travel Tip: Not totally confident in your Chinese language skills? Not a problem. Download Pleco, a dictionary app that works offline and can translate handwritten Chinese characters. Use it to share addresses with taxi drivers and to make sure you know what you're ordering when you go out to eat.

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Valdes, Olivia. "The Best Places to Study Abroad." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Valdes, Olivia. (2020, August 27). The Best Places to Study Abroad. Retrieved from Valdes, Olivia. "The Best Places to Study Abroad." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).