High school is over, and it’s time to embark on a new journey. Teenagers are set to map their future by selecting the best colleges and universities. The most established universities, from Stanford University to Oxford University, not only offer the best programs but also feature the most breathtaking campuses. Check out our curated guide if you’re planning to study abroad or want to drop by these spectacular campuses.
Some of the top-class colleges and universities in the world are known for their architecture, lush greenery, scenic landscapes and soothing ambience that enables the creative and innovative minds of students to flourish. Moreover, the rhythmic collaboration of nature and buildings has made these campuses famous tourist destinations.
So, even if you have left your college days behind years ago, you can still visit these sprawling campuses on your next holiday as some of these make up for the greatest destinations for architecture buffs and avid travellers.
The most spectacular university campuses you can visit on your next holiday
Stanford University, US
Besides being one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Stanford University has an exceptionally beautiful campus in Silicon Valley, California.
Former California governor and senator Leland Stanford and his wife Jane Stanford founded this coed institution in 1885 in remembrance of their only child. The Stanford family gave their favourite residence Palo Alto Stock Farm to the university, and it still carries the nickname The Farm.
Architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who is also famous for designing Central Park in New York, built the central idea of the university grounds. While the style of the campus showcases Romanesque and Mission Revival architecture, the place is dotted with several rectilinear sandstone buildings. They are all joined by covered arcades formed by successive arches.
With over a 33-sq-km area comprising nearly 700 major buildings, the campus accommodates more than 16,000 students. Visitors and students are greeted by the one-km-long road lined with 160 Canary Island Palm trees. Named The Palm Drive, it serves as the entrance of the university. The paved road leads to the Oval, which is known for its emblematic gardens and expansive manicured lawns.
Further enhancing the aesthetics of Stanford University are the Quad buildings designed in two rings. These are separated by areas for sandstone arcades and small courtyards meant for relaxation between classes or having lunch. This area leads to the Memorial Court, which is adorned by red rose beds and crisscrossing pathways. Do not miss Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais” sculptures that were erected in 1981 and the drinking fountain that makes for Instagram-worthy clicks.
Other remarkable places like Oregon and Meyer Courtyards, beautiful gardens and the rolling hills add to the grandeur of the colossal architecture. There is no hesitation in saying that this campus is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.
University of Coimbra, Portugal
King Dinis founded the first university of Portugal in 1290. Although it was initially in Lisbon, it was transferred to Coimbra in 1308. Eventually, it was moved to the city of the River Mondego in 1537.
Though it was restricted within the borders of the Royal Palace in its early days, the University of Coimbra has three campuses throughout the city, lending it the name “University City.” You can still notice the royal patronage in areas of the university.
The main campus of the university, the historical site of great architecture, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. The mediaeval and modern architecture sits on the riverside, overlooking a scenic landscape. It is one of the oldest universities in the world, and its three campuses have over 25,000 students.
The Baroque Library, one of the richest and oldest European libraries, adds more glory to the university campus. The beauty of 16th-century architecture and the majestic interior of Saint Michel’s Chapel will surely catch your attention.
A 200-year-old botanical garden, the oldest and one of the most splendid iron-glass architectures of the great greenhouse, innovative science museums, and a digital planetarium add more charm to the university campus.
Last but not the least, the Great Hall of Acts, which was the throne room till the 14th century, is one of the most regal sites on the campus. The carpet-like tiles on the walls, grotesque-motif-style wooden ceiling and portraits of Portuguese kings on the walls will leave history buffs in awe.
BITS Pilani, India
This world-class institute in India started as a patshala (meaning ‘school’ in Hindi) in 1901. Then it became a high school, a college and finally, in 1964, with G.D. Birla as the founding chairman, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) was deemed an institute. It later became a prestigious university.
Spread over almost a 1.33-sq-km area, the BITS Pilani campus was in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, which has inspired many adoptions of Western practices over the years.
Lush and shadowy gardens, wooden pathways, a unique Saraswati Temple on the southern block and the striking visual of the clock tower at the top of the academic building make it one of the most beautiful university campuses in the world.
The research university also encourages a sustainable environment by using solar panels on the rooftops, water conservation techniques and recycling domestic waste. This magnificent university ground is home to 4,500 students.
The United States Air Force Academy, US
When the Air Force became a separate service in the US, the leaders demanded a distinguished school to train the cadets. So, in 1954, the government established the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Initially, it was an all-men school, but in 1980, the first class, including women, graduated from the institution.
It is a 75-sq-km campus in the lap of breathtakingly beautiful vistas of the mountains. The mid-century modern architecture hosts 4,000 cadets from across the country and trains them as future leaders.
Cadet Chapel is one of the most famous tourist destinations in the country. 17 spires made of aluminium, glass and steel tower approximately 45.72 metres into the sky, making them one of the greatest creations of American academic architecture. Currently, the chapel is undergoing restoration, but it serves as a worship place for cadets of all religious beliefs. Alumni, US military graduates and officers can hold their weddings there as well.
If you drive to North Gate Boulevard and stop at the first overlook, it will allow you to see the majestic view of the academic buildings and the college campus. Barry Goldwater Visitor Centre is another tourist attraction to learn more about the history of the place and buy souvenirs. Additionally, half-kilometre-long hiking through the chapel trail will give some awe-inspiring mountain views.
While Harmon Hall showcases numerous historical statues and sculptures, the circular-shaped memorials bring a contrast to the ascetic look of the campus site. Arnold Hall, the planetarium, Doolittle Hall and Falcon Stadium are other stunning sites you can check out.
As a tourist, you can enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, and hunting. They also have arranged scavenger hunts to keep your little ones engaged.
Oxford University, UK
Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Though the foundation year isn’t clear, its official website states that “teaching existed at Oxford in some form” in 1096.
The historic and cutting-edge modernised building attracts millions of tourists every year. While the oldest building on the campus site is the 15th-century Duke Humfrey’s Library (the oldest part of the Bodleian Library), the Blavatnik School of Government is one of the latest additions.
The campus of the university comprises several colleges, institutions, museums and libraries. For instance, All Souls College, located at the heart of the university, displays some of the best architectural marvels from the 15th century. Medieval buildings and the gothic interiors of the chapel are definitely a highlight of the campus.
Balliol College, located in the centre of Oxford, also showcases some contrast, as it has 15th-century architecture with a 19th-century façade at the front.
The libraries and museums, too, are spread throughout the city and open to visitors during the day. The first public museum in Britain, the Ashmolean Museum, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History exhibits many instances of neo-gothic architecture.
Moreover, a walk in the Christ Church meadow, Oxford Botanic garden, Harcourt Arboretum and other university parks will bring you peace and tranquillity. The entire city portrays culture and history through its stunning architecture and lush greenery.
This world-class university with a picturesque landscape is home to more than 26,000 students from all over the world.
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
Noticing the need for a research-based institute, Hong Kong leaders felt the need to build an innovative and world-class institute in the financial hub of China in 1989. The architecture of the campus can be described as unique and innovative and targets carbon neutrality and zero water waste.
Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the 1082-sq-km campus on the Sai Kung Peninsula accommodates more than 16,000 students.
There are several attractions for tourists to enjoy on the university grounds. The Circle of Time, also famous as the Red Bird, is a magnificent red sculpture that represents the institution and the earliest scientific invention of mankind, the sundial.
The golden HKUST logo is another prominent attraction of the campus site. The Armillary Sphere is an ancient Chinese invention used for the measurement of the position of heavenly bodies. A replica of this astronomical instrument at the Fung Shu Chuen Promenade enhances the beauty of the campus. Moreover, One-World-Fountain, which represents the synergy of technology, harmony of nature and man, and worldwide communication, is the first-ever symbolic water sculpture of Asia.
The research university, located in one of Hong Kong’s havens, is a panoramic campus where the countryside charms coexist peacefully with a modernised lifestyle.
Flagler College, US
Only 6.5 km away from the Atlantic Ocean, the 0.19-sq-km campus, with a 0.8-sq-km athletic field, of Flagler College is one of the biggest tourist attractions of St Augustine.
The construction was originally designed as a hotel. Noticing the absence of luxury resorts in St Augustine, industrialist, railroad pioneer and entrepreneur Henry Morrison Flagler founded the Hotel Ponce de León in 1888.
Though the building was designed by two rookie architects, it was considered a marvel of architecture and engineering from the beginning. The immense beauty of the place caught the attention of many Hollywood filmmakers back in the day.
In 1957, the Florida American Institute of Architects recognised the masterpiece and included Ponce de Leon in the list of the nation’s 100 most important buildings. Now, the national landmark serves as the centrepiece of Flagler College. In 1968, a new era of the opulent Ponce de León began as the Flagler College and now more than 2,500 students study here.
The iconic structure has been preserved over the years and its unique features can be seen across the campus. While the Italian mosaic tile floors with oak woodwork and Numidian pink marble wainscoting in the lobby named Rotunda will welcome you inside the campus, the massive 1,320-square-metre dining hall can accommodate 300 guests. Its walls are adorned by Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows.
You can find many French and Spanish Renaissance décor and original artefacts from the hotel throughout the building. The orange-beige combination with tropical trees and large ponds brings the Spanish renaissance style to life. The pleasant vibe of the campus makes it all the harder to leave Flagler College.
University of Cambridge, UK
The fourth oldest university in the world and the second oldest university in the English-speaking world, the University of Cambridge was founded in 1209. But the first college was established in 1284 by the Bishop of Ely.
The University doesn’t have only one dedicated campus, but it also has 31 constituent colleges and numerous libraries, museums, sports centres and other facilities. Almost 24,000 students from 141 countries study at this prestigious and world-class institution.
The main campus of the university is in the centre of Cambridge city with many older buildings overlooking the River Cam. Dating back to the 14th century, the marvellous architecture of the colleges, especially the regal design of King’s College, catches the eye of every visitor.
The library of Cambridge, which first began in 1416, is one of the oldest university libraries in the world. The rich history of 800 years and the ancient architecture, statues, rich cultural diversity and well-kept museums attract tourists from all over the world.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico
In 1551, the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico initiated the foundation of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). It is the largest university in Latin America, covering a 7.2-sq-km area and with over 3,69,000 students.
Also known as the National Autonomous University of Mexico, its main campus was built between 1949 and 1952. More than 60 architects, engineers and artists came together to create an exemplary monumental ensemble that represents 20th-century modernism and also refers to its pre-Hispanic past and local traditions.
Currently, it has become an important symbol of modernism in Latin America, which is a true embodiment of universal cultural values.
Trinity College, Ireland
Trinity College Dublin, also popular as the University of Dublin, was established by royal charter by Queen Elisabeth I in 1592. The style, design, and architecture were deeply inspired by the two long-established prestigious universities Oxford and Cambridge.
With a No.1 ranking, Trinity is the oldest university in Ireland and The Library of Trinity College has the largest selection of manuscripts and books on the island. 1200 years old Book of Kells, the manuscript containing the four Gospels of the New Testament written in Latin and adorned with bright colours, is Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure. Built between 1712 and 1732, the Old Library has a 65-metre-long main hall. The walks on the leafy squares, cobblestone walkways on the trinity trails and historic architecture will leave you spellbound.
You can also stay on this beautiful university campus as there are many types of accommodations available for travellers across the world.
Other most beautiful universities in the world
Some notable mentions in Asia include St Xavier’s College in Maharashtra, India. Witness its Indo-gothic architecture, which was recognised by the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee as a heritage structure. Additionally, a trip to China’s Tsinghua University will take you to Qing Hua Yuan (Tsinghua Garden), one of the top tourist sites in Beijing renowned for its colourful display of flora.
Some other universities in the US with beautiful campuses include Boston’s Harvard University, which has several quaint walking trails and historical buildings showcasing old architecture. The university is also known for Harvard Square, River Charles and its magnificent libraries.
Meanwhile, Yale University’s iconic campus in New Haven has been a go-to place for filmmakers for years.