prettiest countries in the world
A crane (bottom R) flies over the Edo river surrounded by fully-blossoming cherry trees in Tokyo. Source: AFP

It’s one of the top questions every student has asked themselves: where do you want to go? 

The question of where you choose to get a degree is more important than most people think.

It can determine how budget-strapped or lavish you can be, arguably making or breaking your student experience – that’s why many people look up the cheapest cities for international students. 

Costs aside, it’s important to find out what the country you have in mind has to offer.

Do you want to study somewhere picturesque and Instagrammable? Maybe a university in a bustling city, one close to the wilderness or by the ocean’s edge.

Or maybe you’d prefer a university in a country with a colder or warmer climate, especially if you come from a tropical country where it’s sunny all year round and want a change of scenery.

Or maybe you’re from the coldest city in the world Yakutsk (where it’s minus 40 degrees celsius in the winter) and want to go somewhere warmer.

But if what’s important to you is the chance for some adventure and to see the world as it’s most beautiful, you should study at the prettiest countries in the world.

prettiest countries in the world

Snow-capped peaks of Wilkin River are located near Makarora on the South Island of New Zealand. Source: AFP

10 prettiest countries in the world

Everyone has their opinion on what makes a place “beautiful.” Our list focuses on the countries that have the most natural wonders that offer stunning views, rich history and warm, welcoming people.

New Zealand

New Zealand’s best views have been said to make people believe in the gods again.

According to Māori legend, a gifted and clever demigod named Māui was said to have fished the country from the sea. Together with his brothers, they carved New Zealand into the many valleys, mountains, and lakes that you see today on the North Island.

From snow-capped peaks to ancient glaciers and rolling viridian hills, each is as gorgeous as the next.

If you’re eager to explore natural reservoirs and engage with wildlife, this is the country for you.

There is much to see, such as Huka Falls, home to New Zealand’s longest river, Cape Reinga, where the waters of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet, or Tāne Mahuta, named for the Māori forest god. 

Our favourite pick is Abel Tasman National Park on the South Island. It’s home to beautiful beaches, shimmering azure water and lush greenery, spotted with tiny coves and pools teeming with ocean life.

The park also hosts the Abel Tasman Coastal Walk, a 60-kilometre (37-mile) hike that’s one of the Nine Great Walks of New Zealand.

Those with a more adventurous spirit can visit Queenstown, a little town with a large personality. Known as the ‘“Adventure Capital of the World,” tourists can enjoy extreme sports such as bungy jumping, skydiving, paragliding, white-water rafting and more. 

Bonus fun fact – it’s safe to consume tap water in New Zealand!

Japanese wild monkeys known as “snow monkeys” groom each other in a hot spring at the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park in Yamanouchi town, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Source: AFP

Japan

A tremendously popular location for tourists and international students alike – and for good reason. 

Here, time and culture appear to have blended together — creating a mixture of scenic natural areas, ancient wonders and some of the most futuristic cities in the world.

The contrast can be strange at first – high-tech bullet trains run through digital wonders like Akihabara and food havens like Osaka and Kyoto, while local folks rigorously practise thousand-year-old customs and traditions like ikebana (the Japanese art of arranging flowers), tea ceremonies and temple visits. 

A perfect example would be Tokyo, the capital – a mega-modern metropolis where traditional temples and bustling marketplaces coexist with buildings glittering above the skyline. Iconic landmarks such as Shibuya Crossing are a mere stone’s throw away from the old, preserved Meiji Shrine, and old teahouses exist alongside shiny food chains. 

If you’re looking for sights with natural beauty, visit Kyoto during cherry blossom season or stroll through the Arashiyama bamboo forest.

During colder seasons, visit hot springs in towns like Hakone or Beppu. They are a peaceful haven amidst stunning scenery – Beppu in particular is known to produce more hot spring water than any other resort in Japan.

Ride a gondola up the Beppu Ropeway to the top of Mount Tsurumi and soak in the exceptional panoramic view. 

A picture shows the ski resort of Engelberg in the Swiss Alps. Source: AFP

Switzerland

Tucked away in the pristine Alps, Switzerland is easily one of the prettiest countries in the world. The snow-clad mountains are a sight straight from a painting, home to beautiful towns, modern cities and breathtaking landscapes. 

Nature lovers will revel in Switzerland’s glistening lakes and picturesque strolls. Blooming meadows are filled with grazing cows and sheep, and hiking routes and scenic train journeys are available year-round. During winter, visitors head to the powdery ski slopes and frozen lakes in droves.

The landscape is peppered with homely towns like Zurich and Geneva, with historical buildings, delicious Swiss chocolate and a rich cultural tapestry. If you’re game for a little adventure, Zermatt and Interlaken are quaint little villages that serve as entry points to exciting excursions in the Alps. 

People row boats under blossoming cherry trees in Eur Park in Rome. Source: AFP

Italy

From the city streets of Rome and Florence to the idyllic islands of Sicily and Capri, there is something in Italy for everyone. The country is a hub of history, culture, and art, filled with beautiful architecture and vast blue waters that certify its position as one of the prettiest countries in the world. 

History buffs can visit the Colosseum in Rome, explore the Roman Forum, or walk through the sacred Vatican City.

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence is home to works of art such as Michelangelo’s “David” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”; the gallery is also known as the birthplace of the Renaissance

Italy also offers a range of natural beauty for those who prefer a countryside getaway. Drive through the winding roads of Tuscany and soak in the craggy mountain peaks and rolling vineyard-covered hills.

If you’re a rock-climbing enthusiast, San Pellegrino Pass is the best spot for rock climbing, skiing, or just taking in the sights. 

Two youths canoeing during a sunset on the beach of Agioi Ilias, southern Greece. Source: AFP

Greece

Home to Santorini, a gorgeous city known to have the most beautiful sunsets in the world. The blue-white rooftops line the windswept shores of Greece, hiding a patchwork of history and culture. Visitors in restaurants and local taverns relish fresh olives, feta and delicious seafood.

Percy Jackson fans might revel in the ancient relics of Greek history, such as the architecture in The Acropolis of Athens.

Visit the temples of Hephaestus, Zeus and Poseidon, or check out the Theater of Dionysus in the south  – it may remind you of the amphitheatre at Camp Half-Blood.

Take a day trip up to the ancient sanctuary of Delphi where the Oracle of Apollo resides, or visit Crete, the island where Zeus was raised as a baby in Dikteon Cave

With over 6,000 islands, you won’t run out of breathtaking views and romantic getaways.

Explore the cliffs that line the beaches of Zakynthos, or wait for the amazing sunrises in Mykonos. If beaches aren’t your thing, check out Epirus up north-west, a mountainous, forest-filled region with quaint, white-stone villages. 

prettiest countries in the world

The northern lights (aurora borealis) illuminate the sky in Norway. Source: AFP

Norway

One of the prettiest countries in the world, known for its magical Northern Lights (best spots are north of 66°), towering mountains and winding fjords (a long, deep, narrow body of water that reaches far inland).

This Scandinavian heaven sits in the northernmost regions of Europe and is a gold mine for rustic towns, blue glacial lakes and epic hiking trails. 

Famous fjords include Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord. Geirangerfjord is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting several impressive waterfalls such as de Syv Søstre and Friaren.

Visitors can enjoy waterfall hikes, guided kayak tours, canyoning, and rafting in the icy water.

For those looking for something a little more unique – and daring! –, visit Trolltunga at Hardangerfjord, a protruding rock that sits 2,300 feet above Lake Ringedalsvatnet with some of the most spectacular panoramic views in the country. 

prettiest countries in the world

A diver swimming amongst the coral on the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of the Australian state of Queensland. Source: AFP

Australia

Most people may know Australia for its bustling cities, such as Perth, Melbourne or Sydney. It’s a popular destination for international students as the country hosts some of the top universities in the world.

But the sun-kissed country is just as blessed in the natural beauty department, putting it on many lists of the prettiest countries in the world. 

Let’s start with the oceans it’s surrounded by. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world, comprising of over 2,900 individual reefs and almost a thousand islands.

You can go snorkelling or diving, learn about the reef’s biodiversity and restoration efforts, or even enjoy stargazing on a pontoon. 

If the great ocean is not for you, check out Tasmania, a gorgeous island state filled with nature, wildlife and amazing food.

The pristine coastline is dotted with historical attractions such as The Nut and the Totem Pole, while the island is home to spectacular views such as Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park or Cataract Gorge in Launceston.

For those who prefer a more rugged experience, the great Outback boasts untamed beauty and historic Indigenous heritage.

Covered with vast red-earth stretches and famous attractions like Uluru, the iconic rock formations are home to various plant and animal life. 

People enjoy the warmth on Santa Maria beach in Cadiz on January 26, 2024 as temperatures around 30°C were recorded in Spain. Source: AFP

Spain

Barcelona and Madrid are usually the first cities that come to mind when visiting Spain. Both cities boast legendary nightlife, ready to sweep you off your feet and dance away till dawn. 

Bustling cosmopolitan cities aside, the country has a rich history, vast landscapes, stunning coastlines and idyllic towns, perfect for exploration.

Take a dip into Moorish history in Granada, home to the fabled citadel and the palace of Alhambra, or visit Segovia, the city that inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.

Visit Seville, the capital of Andalusia, which boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Reales Alcázares palace, the Seville Cathedral, and the General Archive of the Indies.

Looking for a more scenic route? Head down to Consuegra, where windmills are scattered for miles on end, framed against the blue Spanish skies.

In October, locals hold the Saffron Festival, to celebrate the cultivation of saffron and the traditional culture of Castilla-La Mancha.

Green tea plantations in Boseong, South Jeolla Province, around 318 kilometres (197 miles) from Seoul. Source: AFP

South Korea

Most people think of food, Korean skincare brands and K-pop idols when it comes to Korea, but that’s not all the country has to offer.

From the snowy peaks of Gangwon province to the coastal city of Busan, Korea is a treasure trove of magnificent natural wonders, coupled with rich cultural history. 

In Seoul, Buchon Hanok Village comprises over 800 meticulously preserved traditional Korean homes, and is an oasis of tranquillity.

The region is also home to palaces from the Joseon Dynasty, such as Gyeongbokgung Palace, the largest palace in Seoul. 

Another cultural gem is Gyeongju, one of the most scenic places in South Korea — where you’ll find Gyochon Traditional Village and loads of non-Joseon history, which is hard to find in the rest of the country.

Other sights not to miss out on include: 

  • Jeju Island’s blue waters
  • Gangwon province’s snowy peaks
  • Nami Island’s captivating sights
  • Boseong County’s Green Tea Fields 

Komodo dragons eat chickens at Jakarta Ragunan Zoo on November 28, 2010. The komodo dragon is a vulnerable species limited to a few Indonesian islands of the Lesser Sunda group, including Rintja, Padar and Flores, and of course the island of Komodo. Source: AFP

Indonesia

A true crown jewel of Southeast Asia, Indonesia is one of the prettiest countries in the world with some of its best islands.

Of course, this is where you’ll find the sun-kissed paradise that is Bali, everyone’s favourite destination, but there are still magnificent sights throughout the country that are lesser-known. 

The country has 17,000 volcanoes, lush jungles, wildlife sanctuaries and UNESCO-protected rice fields.

The Raja Ampat Islands are a scuba diver’s dream, with blue channels and biodiverse reefs off the coast of West Papua

Explore Sumatra’s expansive rainforests, waterfalls and crater lakes, or discover Komodo’s cliffs and pink-sand beaches.

For thrillseekers, go trekking along the Kelimutu Volcanic Lakes which offer a beautiful landscape like no other.