This article is the fifth in a series featuring the top five cities for students around the globe in 2012, determined by QS. A number of factors were considered in the organization’s ranking, including educational institutions, quality of living, affordability and employer activity. Vienna came in fifth.

Considering Vienna’s long history as an international leader in the arts, it is easy to understand why students from around the world come to study in the land where such luminaries as Mozart, Freud and Klimt once walked. In fact, around a quarter of the city’s enrolled students come from abroad, totalling about 25,000. Cities such as London and Boston might contain a greater concentration of top universities, but it is the composite experience of studying in Vienna – a city of easy living and affordable tuition -- that makes it one of the world’s best cities for students.

Best spots
The Universität Wien is Vienna’s most illustrious university and the Innere Stadt --the 1st District, where the university is located -- is always crowded with students. The inner-city, pedestrian-friendly area is also a draw for tourists visiting the Hofburg imperial palace, the National Library and the elegant Spanish Riding School, the world’s oldest equestrian institution practicing haute école. The WUK, one of Europe’s largest cultural centres both in area and prominence, makes for a popular student hangout as many attend concerts and events here, as well as linger in the courtyard and dance until the wee hours of the morning in the on-site disco., The Alt Wien, a local cafe is also frequented by an artistic crowd.

The bourgeois, bohemian 7th District, near the centre of Vienna, is a popular student spot for its many trendy cafes, including the attractive (both in atmosphere and clientele) Café Europa. At the end of the nearby Mariahilferstrasse, one of the most famous streets in the city, coeds also gather at the MuseumsQuartier, a huge, open square surrounded by institutions like the Leopold Museum, which showcases Austrian artists, and MUMOK, the modern art museum. In warm weather, people convert the square into an open-air bar, pulling up brightly-coloured lounge chairs scattered around the square to relax and socialise over beers.

Students get their schnitzel fix at the simple and tasty restaurant Schnitzelwirt on Neubaugasse in the 7th District or dine at  the pay-what-you-want Pakistani buffet Der Wiener Deewan, located near the Universität Wien. Favourite nightclubs include Flex, which is located along the Danube and attracts top international DJs, and Pratersauna, a former sauna (a pool remains on-site) located in the massive public park Prater, which also contains one of the world’s oldest amuseument parks. A boisterous after-dark scene can also be found in the city’s Bermudadreieck (Bermuda Triangle) area, where pubs are filled with imbibing tourists, locals and students.

Student activities
For sports and exercise, students take advantage of the Vienna University Sports Institute, which encompasses both team sports and fitness classes. Co-eds also partake in the city’s plentiful cultural programming, such as the Donau Insel Fest in June, a free music festival on an island in the Danube, or the Lange Nacht event series, when Vienna’s museums stay open all night.

The classic Austrian spot to eat with fellow students is at any of the city’s canteens – subsidised cafeterias that are open during the week and serve classic Viennese fare like schnitzel and beer at student-friendly prices. Try the canteen at the art school Akademie der Bildenden Künste.

Student discounts
Many of Vienna’s museums and cultural sites offer free entry or discounted rates for students including the Sigmund Freud Museum, which is popular among psychology students. Co-eds on a budget can also queue for an hour or so for inexpensive standing-room-only opera tickets (as low as €3) at the tony Wiener Staatsoper. While a university ID works most places, some students opt for the International Student Identity Card as well, which grants further discounts on transport and admission in Vienna, like cheaper entry to the Johann Strauss Wohnung, the house of famed composer Johann Strauss.

Day trips
Austria has a convenient rail system that traverses the country and takes travellers to other large cities like Salzburg and Graz, both of which are popular student day trips. Salzburg is Mozart’s birthplace, a baroque-style city and a Unesco World Heritage site about 300km or two-and-a-half hours on train from Vienna, which also was the setting for scenes from the film The Sound of Music. Also about two-and-a-half hours on train from Vienna is Graz, another student-heavy metropolis and Unesco World Heritage site with a picturesque city centre. Innsbruck, the capital city of the Austrian state Tyrol, has hosted two Winter Olympic Games and maintains its standing as a top international winter sports centre. The train ride lasts about four hours, though, so many student skiers and boarders opt to make it a weekend trip. For jetting around Europe, Vienna is in an ideal location as it lies on the edge of Western Europe and the start of Eastern Europe, and many take weekends to hop over to cities like Prague, Krakow, Budapest and Ljubljana.

Travelling on a budget
With 50 bike stations, kilometres of well-maintained bike lanes and an easy-to-use bike sharing program CityBike Wien, Vienna is highly conducive to cycling. Students can register for the program online or at a CityBike terminal and pay with a debit or credit card. The subway, the U-Bahn, operates on a trust system, meaning there are no turnstiles for tickets. Instead, officers perform surprise ticket checks and levy fines for riders without the proper tickets. For transport around the city, the semester card grants unlimited access to the city’s U-Bahn, trams, buses and trains for about €130. The ÖBB, the Austrian railway, also offers a substantial 50% discount on train fares for students. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the location of Schnitzelwirt. This has been fixed.