The Most Beautiful Study Abroad Destinations

Studying abroad can be one of the greatest, most horizon-expanding, challenging experiences of your life.

If you have the opportunity (and the cash) to study abroad, it can truly be a worthwhile endeavor that, in an ideal world, every undergrad would experience. But where in the world (literally) should you go?

Paris, London, Beijing, Shanghai, and other well known, high population cities are popular choices, and for good reason: they're major cultural centers with incredibly rich histories and lots to do and see. But what if you want to take a hike a bit off the beaten path to experience something truly unique? One of these often overlooked but incredible study abroad locations might be worth checking into.

1. Rabat, Morocco

Rabat, Morocco - houses next to a clear lake

Image courtesy of Jesús Sánchez-Bermejo Ramos.

There's probably a good chance you've never thought about visiting (or even heard of) Rabat, the capital city of Morocco. But Rabat overflows with history, including ancient Roman ruins, a twelfth-century mosque, and French, Spanish, and Arabic influences that shape the city's language, cuisine, and culture. Last year, CNN named Rabat a "top travel destination," citing the city's rich history, modern boulevards and cafes, and natural coastal beauty.

Popular programs:

2. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa - mountains, city, then a beach

Image courtesy of swazileigh.

Anyone who has ever been to Cape Town, South Africa will tell you the same thing: The city is flat-out gorgeous. Located simultaneously ocean side (it's on a cape, after all) and mountainside, you could spend a single day climbing in the morning, swimming in the afternoon, and hang out at a hip bar or club at night (all of this after completing your homework, of course). Earlier this year, the New York Times named Cape Town the world's number one travel destination.

Popular programs:

3. Thimphu, Bhutan

Bhutan - East Asian religious building in mountain

Image courtesy of Ben Smethers.

Bhutan, a small country nestled between China and India, is regularly referred to as one of the happiest countries in the world. Not surprising, considering the country's government measures their countries development in a metric they call "gross national happiness."

The views — which include the other worldly Himalayas — probably don't hurt either. The country is largely rural, with a total population about the size of Alaska, so urbanites need not apply. But for serenity and quaint beauty, Bhutan is in its own class.

Popular programs:

4. Valletta, Malta

Statue on a pier with buildings in the back

Image courtesy of carmen.costa.

The small, beautiful Mediterranean island nation of Malta is a must-visit for history buffs, having been ruled over by the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Spanish, French, British, and a whole lot of others over the centuries. If history really isn't your thing, the weather — consistently ranging between 60 and 80 degrees — and world class beaches don't hurt Malta's case either.

Popular programs:

5. Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey - historic buildings overlooking long river and city bridge

Image courtesy of Moyan Brenn.

Turkey has spent a bit of time in the news as a place of political unrest. However, Istanbul, which is the third largest urban center in the world, is largely regarded as a very safe city, and recently won the world's number one destination by TripAdvisor for its combination of modern and ancient charms, including its beautiful mosques and minarets, and world-class bazaars and nightlife.

Popular programs: - CIEE - Syracuse University - IES - USAC

Sources:

Brunt, L. (2013, December 17). Top travel destinations for 2013. CNN Travel. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from CNN.

Kahn, S. (2014, January 9). 52 Places to Go in 2014. The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from The New York Times.

Best Destinations in the World - Travelers' Choice Awards - TripAdvisor. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from Trip Advisor.

History of Malta. (n.d.). Visit Malta. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from Vista Malta.

Arditi, T. (1970, January 1). Is Istanbul safe for tourists? CNN. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from CNN.

Kamenev, M. (n.d.). The World's Happiest Countries. BusinessWeek. Retrieved April 26, 2014, from BusinessWeek.