The 8 student-friendly cities in Europe every student should visit over summer before university term begins

Ben Grech writes how the summer is the best time for students to enjoy the quiet of Europe’s best student city holiday destinations

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The Independent Online

For many of Europe’s largest student cities, the end of the academic year signifies a loss of a huge part of its young population.

The good news for holiday-makers, however, is that tables are readily available at the best clubs and restaurants in town, and picturesque streets are practically empty during the day, leaving visitors to soak-up all the cultural and historic charm of these cities.

From the World Heritage sites of Coimbra and Bamberg, to the medieval streets of Padua, Europe-wide student accommodation platform Uniplaces suggests eight lesser-known – but accessible – university cities across Europe for students to visit before term begins.

1) Salamanca (Spain)

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The city with the oldest university in Spain is usually brimming with students in its historic centre. Home to illustrious figures such as Antonio de Nebrija, Calderon de la Barca, and Miguel de Unamuno, the city is a beacon of knowledge – yet is also a prime location for fun.

Furthermore, Salamanca boasts one of the country’s best university atmospheres, which is exhibited during its Nochevieja Universitaria – a night that brings together thousands of students in the city’s streets and main square a few weeks before New Year’s Eve.

Summertime in Salamanca offers the perfect environment to visit the university’s buildings, the Plaza Mayor, and the famous Casa de las Conchas. It’s also a great opportunity to visit the city’s beautiful cathedrals, or walk along the riverbank of the Tormes.

2) Coimbra (Portugal)

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Known as ‘the city of knowledge’, Coimbra has one of the world’s oldest universities and is a World Heritage site. The city maintains peculiar traditions called the ‘praxe’ which sees the students having to wear a long black cloak as part of their official uniform.

Coimbra’s university atmosphere is so well-known that the city’s main attraction is the Queima das Fitas – a festival in May that marks the end of the academic year, full of concerts, beer, and cultural activities.

From June onwards, Coimbra is practically empty. This opens the city up for tourists to explore the university’s buildings, as well as its impressive Joanina library. The cathedral is a must-see attraction, as well as the city’s botanical gardens. And be sure not to miss the chance of sitting down for a coffee by the riverside while watching the sun set.

3) Padua (Italy)

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The city with the second oldest university in Italy attracts thousands of students, eager to follow in the footsteps of previous alumni such as Galileo, Dante, and Petrarch.

A quarter of the city’s inhabitants are students, so the young vibe throughout the academic year is exceptional, however, the summer exodus of students allows visitors to calmly enjoy Padua’s architectural and artistic monuments without the never-ending queues.

The Scrovegni chapel – with its Giotto frescoes, the Palazzo della Ragione, and the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, are essential places to visit. The warm summer temperatures also warrant a visit to the huge Prato della Valle square, the botanical garden, or a boat ride on the river – with a delicious gelato, of course.

4) Nottingham (United Kingdom)

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Famous for the legend of Robin Hood, Nottingham is also one of the UK’s major student cities. The fact that it has two very important universities – as well as thousands of students – makes it a very dynamic city with a strong nightlife. This is also where you’ll find the famous ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – a pub that claims to be England’s oldest, serving pints since 1189.

In the summer, Nottingham becomes somewhat of a ghost town – quite literally, in fact, in that it was voted the UK’s most haunted city in 2013.

One of the UK’s less obvious tourist destinations, the city has several landmarks worth visiting. Nottingham’s castle, the underground caves, Galleries of Justice museum, and Wollaton Park and Hall will leave no room for boredom. And the surrounding countryside is also stunning which is an added bonus.

5) Leuven (Belgium)

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The main university destination of the Flemish region has the oldest Catholic university in the world, and can boast having had, among its teachers, a certain Erasmus of Rotterdam. Come September, Leuven’s population increases by 20 per cent as younger visitors provide the city’s streets with a breath of fresh air.

Leuven has plenty of events going on during the summer. Every Friday of July, during the Beleuvenissen Festival, the streets are filled with music. In August, Leuven hosts Marktrock – one of Europe’s largest urban music festivals.

The buildings of the main square – such as the City Hall and St. Peter’s Church, as well as the university’s majestic library – are perfect for visiting during the summer. Follow this up by sitting down to savour a Stella Artois, the world-renowned beer native to Leuven.

6) Bamberg (Germany)

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Walking through the medieval streets and steep red roofs of Bamberg will feel like you’re part of a fairy tale adventure. Despite its small size, the university’s student population has recently increased dramatically and now accounts for a sixth of the city’s inhabitants. Why the recent surge? We’re not sure if it’s the university’s improved reputation, or the fact that Bamberg is in the region where you will find the most breweries in the world; 200 of them, to be precise, with ten of them situated in the city.

After all the students have left for their summer vacations, Bamberg offers a quiet environment for exploring the city. Here, you can visit architectural gems such as the old town hall, the late Romanesque cathedral, and the Michaelsberg Abbey.

7) Maastricht (Netherlands)

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Vibrant and dynamic, Maastricht is one of the Netherlands’ most international campuses. Attracted by the young and multicultural vibe, almost half of the city’s student population comes from abroad to study and enjoy the epic nightlife.

However, it’s more than just a city for students – Maastricht is a great culinary destination, with numerous cafés and several restaurants boasting Michelin stars. In August, the city hosts the Preuvenemint, the country’s largest food festival.

Apart from the food, Maastricht also has a dispute with Nijmegen for the title of oldest city in the country. This means that, during the summer, you can explore the city’s historic landmarks with less people around.

Make sure you visit Maastricht’s medieval walls, Fort Sint Pieter, and the Basilica of Saint Servatius, as well as the city’s underground bunkers and the market square.

8) Rennes (France)

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Home to two very well-known universities in France, Rennes is a city with a large student population and a famous nightlife. There are so many bars on the historic Rue St. Michel that it has earned the nickname of ‘The Thirst Street’ by locals. The vibrant nightlife perfectly coexists with other more bohemian and cultural facets, with plenty of cafés and museums to visit.

When summer arrives – and most locals head for the coast and students leave – the atmosphere becomes perfect for a quiet stroll through the city.

Walk through the medieval streets and admire its countless historic buildings, among which are the Basilica Saint Sauveur, the City Hall square, and the Mordelaises doors with its turrets. You can also enjoy a walk along the river, crossing its drawbridge in the process, and then head for Parc du Thabor, to breathe in some fresh air.

So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and head over to as many of these cities as you can. Now’s the time to visit them in peace!

Twitter: @benthegrech

Ben Grech is the founder of student accommodation booking site, Uniplaces

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