Top Student Cities in Spain for International Students

Spain has earned its reputation as one of the best European countries for international students. According to the latest statistics, over 224,000 international students thrive in its universities, including more than 53,000 in mobility programs.  

The country’s pristine beaches, sun-soaked cities, diverse regional identities, mouth-watering food, and centuries-old rich history make it a hotspot for international students and other expats.

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Plus, with Spain being quite large, you have a wide range of places to pick from. Whether you prefer the buzz of big cities, quiet smaller towns, or something in between, there’s a city for you to study in.  

Every part of Spain has its attractions, but we’ve researched and narrowed down the top 10 Spanish cities for international students in 2024. 

Let’s explore these exciting study destinations together!

Summary

The best cities in Spain for international students based on our Study in Spain score are: 

  1. Madrid
  2. Barcelona
  3. Valencia
  4. Seville
  5. Valladolid
  6. San Sebastian
  7. Vigo
  8. Murcia
  9. Pamplona

Check out the full table at the end for more details on how we scored each city.

1. Madrid

Source: Unsplash

Madrid is the top choice for international students in Spain, thanks to it being much more affordable than other major European cities like Berlin, London, and Paris while still offering all the perks of a capital city. 

With a selection of 17 universities, including the popular Complutense University of Madrid, students are spoiled for choice.

The city enjoys plenty of sunshine, around 2,769 hours per year, making it the sunniest capital in Europe. This sunny weather is perfect for exploring outdoor spaces like Casa de Campo Park, Retiro Park, and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

If you’re a foodie, don’t miss Casa Botín, the world’s oldest restaurant serving traditional dishes since 1725. Art lovers can explore masterpieces at the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, featuring works by famous artists like Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Picasso. And for football enthusiasts, a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is a must!

2. Barcelona

Source: Pexels

Barcelona is the second-best pick for international students, and it’s no secret why! 

As the capital of Catalonia, it’s bursting with Catalan culture, from its language to traditions. You’ll find most fellow international students at the University of Barcelona—the city’s largest university and the best in Spain.

The city is famous for its stunning architecture, like Sagrada Família (remember the viral escalator trend on TikTok?) and Park Güell by Gaudí. Plus, being on the Mediterranean coast means you’re just a hop away from beautiful beaches like Barceloneta or Bogatell.

And let’s not forget the food scene – indulge in delicious tapas before experiencing the vibrant nightlife with clubs and live music. Football fans will also love Camp Nou, Europe’s biggest stadium, right here in Barcelona!

3. Valencia

Source: Unsplash

Often overlooked in favor of the bigger cities, Valencia is a fantastic cultural hotspot and place to be for international students. Home to the historic University of Valencia, the city also ranks as the third-best European city for expats, considering factors like ease of settling in, working abroad, and essential services.

In 2022, Valencia was named the World Design Capital. Its innovative designs are best seen in iconic attractions like the City of Arts and Sciences. Valencia is also known as the birthplace of paella, the mouthwatering Spanish dish everyone loves.

The city comes alive each year with the UNESCO-recognized Las Fallas festival, known for its colorful parades, detailed “ninot” sculptures, fireworks, music, and traditional clothing.

4. Seville

Source: Pexels

Tucked in the heart of Andalusia, Seville is perfect if you love the buzz of cities like Barcelona and Madrid but don’t want to empty your wallet. It’s also a hub for students at the renowned University of Seville, known for its broad range of courses and a warm welcome for international students.

If you’re into colorful festivals and cultural experiences, don’t miss the Feria de Abril, where you can enjoy flamenco dancing, traditional music, and tasty local eats. Speaking of flamenco, Seville is a center for this passionate dance, especially during the Biennial of Flamenco Art. 

Seville is the warmest city in continental Europe, so you’ll have pleasant weather year-round, perfect for wandering through the UNESCO-listed Seville Cathedral, café hopping, or just soaking up the lively atmosphere.

5. Valladolid

Source: Unsplash

Nestled in northwest Spain, Valladolid is the perfect spot for international students who want a slice of authentic Spanish life away from the usual tourist spots. 

As the vibrant capital of the Castile and León region, it’s packed with cultural events, from the prestigious Seminci International Film Festival to the lively International Street Theatre and Arts Festival.

History is just around the corner with places like the House of Cervantes, where the famed “Don Quixote” author lived, and the Christopher Columbus Museum, detailing the explorer’s life right where he passed away.

6. San Sebastian

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Language enthusiasts will be captivated by San Sebastian, or Donostia-San Sebastian, the heartland of the Basque language (Euskera)—Europe’s oldest language. This unique cultural immersion is unmatched.

San Sebastian is generally cooler than some other Spanish cities, but the temperatures are still mild year-round. As one Reddit user puts it, international students find the Basque Country’s charm irresistible, even in its slightly darker, mistier winter days.

Getting around San Sebastian is eco-friendly and easy with its extensive bike lanes. Don’t miss La Concha Beach, famed for its crescent shape and golden sands—it’s one of Europe’s most beautiful urban beaches, perfect for surfing and paddleboarding.

For food lovers, San Sebastian is a culinary paradise, known as Spain’s culinary capital. With an abundance of fresh seafood, legendary pintxos, and must-try cheesecake, it boasts more Michelin stars per capita than almost anywhere in the world.

7. Vigo

Source: Unsplash

Seventh on our list is Vigo, home to the namesake University of Vigo, which offers a broad range of courses tailored to meet societal and job market needs. 

The city enjoys warm, clear summers and cool, wet winters—perfect for both beach days and cozy study sessions.

Food lovers will thrive on Vigo’s exceptional seafood and traditional Galician dishes, complemented by the local Albariño wine. For a cultural fix, check out historical sites like the Castro Fortress and the Museo do Mar. 

And when it’s time to unwind, Vigo’s beaches, from family-friendly spots to wild coves, along with nearby mountains and parks, provide countless opportunities for outdoor fun. Vigo is a city that truly blends academics with adventure!

8. Murcia

Source: Pexels

The bustling capital of the Region of Murcia, Murcia is a great destination for international students thanks to its more affordable living costs. Essentials like accommodation, food, and transportation, are significantly lower here in comparison to cities like Madrid and Seville—rent alone is almost 47% cheaper than in Madrid!

Murcia is famous for its vibrant coast, the Costa Cálida. Here, students can enjoy a plethora of water sports along 250 kilometers of shoreline, from windsurfing to diving. The city is also dubbed “Europe’s orchard” due to its long tradition with agriculture, so your meals will not lack of fresh ingredients such as locally grown fruit, vegetables, Murcian rice, and aromatic plants.

Murcia may be the seventh largest city in Spain, but as one Reddit user puts it, it has a “village” feel where it’s common to bump into familiar faces, and its laid-back lifestyle and multitude of local events mean you never feel like you’re missing out.

9. Pamplona

Source: Unsplash

Last but not least, we have Pamplona, the lovely capital of Navarre province in northern Spain. Pamplona is most famous for its San Fermín Festival, particularly the thrilling running of the bulls (encierro). This has been a cultural tradition since the 14th century and draws millions of spectators each year. 

While the festival is a cultural spectacle, Pamplona offers more than just that; it’s a city with a rich history and a vibrant local culture. Despite its modest size, Pamplona stands out with its passionate community and renowned landmarks like the Cathedral of Santa Maria la Real, Plaza del Castillo, the Bullring, and the Citadel Park. 

Plus, let’s not forget about its connection to the famous author Ernest Hemingway, who fell in love with Pamplona during his visits and immortalized the San Fermín festivities in his novel “The Sun Also Rises.”

Methodology

To determine the best cities for international students in Spain, we developed a unique “Studying in Spain Score” based on an analysis of several critical factors:

  • Number of Students per Region. We analyzed the density of students in each region to determine regions with cities preferred by international students.
  • Number of Universities. We counted the total number of universities in each region, prioritizing regions that offer the most options.
  • Student Popularity Score. This was based on feedback from current and former students about their experiences.
  • Top Public University. We noted the presence of a well-respected public university as a sign of high academic standards.
  • Quality of Life Score. We sourced this from general indices that measure citizen satisfaction with local amenities, services, and overall quality of life in the city.
  • Cost of Living Score. This measure helped us evaluate the affordability of each city for students.
  • Health Care Score. We looked at the accessibility and quality of healthcare services in each city.
  • Safety Score. This was determined by overall safety indices.
  • Climate. We considered the climate’s impact on the student experience.
  • Crime Rate Score. We derived this from crime rate indices to evaluate student safety based on local crime statistics.

These factors were combined to create a comprehensive score for each city. Our analysis relied on reputable sources such as Statista, Numbeo, and Public Tableau to ensure the accuracy and reliability of our findings.

Complete Breakdown of Top Student Cities in Spain [Table]

Here’s the complete table showing our analysis of the best cities in Spain for international students:

CityRegionStudents/RegionUniversitiesStudent Popularity ScoreTop Public UniversityQuality of Life ScoreCost of Living ScoreHealth Care ScoreSafety ScoreClimate IndexCrime Rate ScoreStudy in Spain Score
MadridCommunity of Madrid46,223171.14The Complutense University of Madrid183.5552.479.7873.2685.4726.74

46.40
BarcelonaCatalonia43,787120.78University of Barcelona (UB)143.4454.1777.0948.595.7351.5
22.21
ValenciaRegion of Valencia25,51390.41University of Valencia200.4746.2479.9270.8193.8429.19
19.55
SevilleAndalucia25,472110.50University of Seville166.4451.4374.4466.6696.0333.34
18.99
ValladolidCastilla y Leon13,75790.30University of Valladolid179.2454.4176.8582.9880.3817.02
12.24
San SebastianBasque Country5,31130.07University of the Basque Country176.546.1192.6980.2496.5619.76
3.95
VigoGalicia4,65430.07The University of Vigo195.6549.2972.9680.3696.1719.64
3.38
MurciaMurcia5,38130.07University of Murcia176.546.1180.2255.0589.644.95
3.01
PamplonaNavarra4,85210.02The Public University of Navarre176.548.5287.7280.4588.8219.55
1.18