What Are the Best University Cities in Portugal?

Portugal is increasing in popularity among international students. This country located in southwestern Europe has a long academic, cultural and historic tradition, with universities which roots date back to as early as the 13th century. Add to that the fact that Portugal has a cheaper study and living costs compared to its neighboring European countries. Some will choose to live in the Algarve regions to enjoy the golden beaches. But others will prefer to settle in a popular university city in Portugal such as Lisbon, Porto or Coimbra. Here is our review of the best student cities in the country.

Coimbra: the university city par excellence in Portugal

Coimbra, best university city in Portugal

Coimbra is the location of Portugal’s oldest university, with a long academic tradition that dates back to the 13th century. It’s the typical university town, hosting approximately 30,000 students, about 5,000 of them being foreign ones. 

Coimbra is also one of the most eminent cities in southern Europe hosting numerous prestigious landmarks, some of which are even in the vicinity of the university. In the “school palace” of the University of Coimbra, you can see the Joaninha Library, St. Miguel’s Chapel, the Sala dos Capelos, the Science Museum, as well as the academic jail. 

Students in the city have the choice between several types of accommodation, from university residence, to renting a room or flat sharing. You can also get housing that are not far from higher education institutions, which will spare you the transportation cost. Moreover, Coimbra is well-connected with other university towns in Portugal. You can smoothly go to and from Coimbra to other Portuguese cities by train.

Lisbon: the capital city of Portugal and home to several universities

University town in Portugal, Lisbon

If you want to enjoy the best that the higher education in Portugal has to offer, then Lisbon is the best university city for you. The capital city of Portugal is also the country’s biggest city. And it stands out for its historic landmarks, its cobbled streets, its hills and trams. If you get the chance to study in Lisbon, some of the famous places to visit include: the São Jorge Castle, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Belém Tower, or the Lisbon Oceanarium.

Lisbon is student-friendly, hosting many public and private universities: University of Lisbon, NOVA University of Lisbon, Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon, Catholic University of Portugal, ISCTE – University Institute of Lisbon, to name just a few. 

Moreover, since Lisbon is an industrial hub in Portugal, many people in the city speak English. Actually, the city is one of the most popular places to live and work in the world. It hosts an increasing number of remote workers and tech nomads. This opens the door for international students to stay back if they want to work in Portugal after graduation.

Read also our review of the top 10 universities in Portugal.

Porto: the most affordable city in Europe

Porto, affordable university city in Portugal

Porto is a coastal city in northern Portugal. It is the second-largest city in the country, and also a major financial and industrial center. But what makes it a great university city in Portugal is the fact that it ranks at the top position as the most affordable city in Europe for students. That’s how, the University of Porto alone hosts more than 30,000 students, of which more than 6,000 are international students. 

The other prominent institutions of higher education in Porto include: the Polytechnic Institute of Porto, Fernando Pessoa University, IPAM Oporto also called the Marketing School, and the Portucalense Infante D. Henrique University. 

Moreover, Porto is a vibrant city, with many historic and cultural landmarks that are worth a visit: the Torre dos Clérigos, the Casa da Música, Mercado do Bolhão, etc. The city is also famed for its magnificent bridges over the Douro River such as the Porto Bridge Climb. So if you’re looking for a typical Portuguese city that is student-friendly, Porto is a great option and a cheaper alternative to Lisbon.

Braga: Portugal’s oldest city

Braga, Portugal

Along with being a great university city in Portugal, Braga is also the oldest city in the country, with more than 2,000 years of history. It’s also the hometown of the University of Minho, one of Portugal’s best universities. The city stands out for its interesting location, being only 40 minutes away from neighboring Spain. It’s also among the happiest cities in Europe. It’s favored by retirees but also international students, who want a cheaper and smaller alternative to Porto and Lisbon.

Located in northern Portugal, in the Minho province, Braga is famous for its vibrant cultural life, and its historical and religious landmarks. Among the most popular attractions in the city, there is the Museum of Sacred Art, the Old Episcopal Palace, the São Frutuoso de Montélios Chapel as well as the beautiful Parque de Santa Barbara. Braga also hosts major cultural events such as the Braga Music Festival and the Braga Film Festival. 

The University of Minho, in Braga is a public institution that welcomes students from different countries. Its particularity is that most of the university’s surrounding buildings are rented to students of UMinho. 

Aveiro, a very authentic Portuguese city

Aveiro, Portuguese university city

For students who are looking for a university city that is not too touristy Aveiro with its inland and coastal atmosphere, might be the best option. The city is also famous for its 3 canals running through its center, and earning it the name “Venice of Portugal”. Though small, Aveiro is lively, and rich in culture, history and has this specific charm of Portuguese cities. 

Aveiro is also close to Porto and has several attractions. Among them are the Mercado do Peixe, the Convento de Jesus or the Aveiro Museum. The building of the University of Aveiro itself is one popular monument, having been designed by famous Portuguese architects. And about the university, the institution is home to a student population of 12,000 students in its 3 campuses. 

Faro, the best university city in Portugal’s famous Algarve region 

Faro, university town in Algarve, Portugal

A list of the best university cities in Portugal won’t be complete without mentioning the Algarve region. Faro is located in the most southernmost part of the country. It’s also the largest city of the Algarve, the place where most people spend their holidays in Portugal. 

The region is famous for its magnificent coastline and delightful weather. And all this offers lots of outdoor activities to do when not in class. Among the city’s attractions, there are the Old Town, the Municipal Museum, the Ria Formosa Natural Park. There is also the Nossa Senhora do Carmo Church among other places that are worth visiting.

When it comes to higher education institutions, Faro hosts 2 of the 3 campuses of the University of Algarve. The institution is not only one of the top universities in Portugal, it’s also one of those with a quite strong international profile. In fact, among the student population of more than 8,000 at Algarve, nearly 25% of them are foreign students.

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