Top 5 University Cities and Towns in the UK

When it comes to picking their top choice of degree, many UK undergraduate applicants concentrate on factors like the university’s name, reputation, and worldwide brand. 

While it’s important to take these things into consideration, you should also think about the sort of place where you want to live while at university. After all, you’re going to be in this town for the next 3 or 4 years of your life. 

To make this decision a bit easier for you, we’ve narrowed down the best university towns and cities in the UK to 5 top picks. Each of these places has a rich cultural history, a vibrant social scene, and an affordable cost of living. 

For that reason, they’re perfect for prospective undergraduates who want to get the most out of their university experience. 

  • Best University Towns: Glasgow 

Glasgow is a unique city, and one of the best university towns in the UK. It has an incredible mix of excellent nightlife venues, incredible art museums and hubs, a vibrant music scene, and true affordability when it comes to the cost of living and rent prices.

On top of all these things, any student will find that Glaswegians are some of the friendliest people around, with a cutting sense of humour and an openness to strangers that you rarely find in big British cities. 

A True University City

The main campus of the University of Glasgow is located in the West End of the city, just north of Kelvingrove Park (where you’ll find the iconic and gorgeous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum). The West End is a vibrant student area, packed full of young, energetic people and inspiring, innovative entrepreneurs and artists. 

If you’re attending Glasgow Caledonian University or the University of Strathclyde, you’ll be attending school in the very centre of the city, near George Square and Queen’s Street train station. The area around here, Merchant City, is an older borough (or “burgh”) of the city, jam-packed with excellent restaurants, clubs, pubs, and coffee houses. 

Glasgow is also one of the best university towns around when it comes to affordable venues and social haunts. Here are just a few of the brilliant, student-friendly places in Scotland’s largest city, whether you’re hanging around the West End, shopping in the City Centre, eating in Merchant City, or chilling out on Glasgow Green: 

  • Drygate Brewery: fans of craft beer and local businesses will love this brewery, with its industrial-style aesthetic and awesome Peaks Bar & Terrace. Make sure you try the iconic Disco Forklift Truck with a Drygate Burger while you’re there. 
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum: this museum is located in one of the most recognisable buildings in Scotland, and is completely free. Whenever you need a break from studies, or simply want to feel inspired by the incredible exhibits and artworks on display, spend a few hours (or more) in this place. 
  • Oran Mor: another iconic Glasgwegian venue (see also: the Barrowlands, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, and the Old Fruitmarket), Oran Mor is located in an old church in the West End. If you want to sample drams with old (and new) friends, head to the well-stocked Whiskey Bar on-site. 
  • WEST: this German-style brewery is situated alongside Glasgow Green, and produces high-quality wheat beers in a style unique to UK breweries. WEST is also known for its advocacy and community work, becoming the first British brewery to be completely run and owned by employees in 2019. 
  • The Glad Café: another music venue and bar that emphasises the importance of giving back to the local community, The Glad Café is situated in the Shawlands, to the south of the city centre. It’s a not-for-profit space that collaborates with a number of local charities: on top of all that, it has an excellent bar and coffee menu. 
  • The Big Feed: this street food market is the largest indoor operation of its kind in Scotland, and features a changing line-up of local vendors every weekend. You’ll find it on Govan Road, around the back of the Glasgow Science Centre. 

Undergraduate and postgraduate students alike will love everything that Scotland’s biggest city has to offer, from its special music venues, cathartic museums, quick-witted people, and dynamic nightlife. 

  • Manchester

For those people who want the big city experience without having to shell out extortionate amounts on double gin and tonics, club entrance fees, and Sainsbury’s meal deals, you should look into attending the University of Manchester.

Not only is this institution a highly regarded, research-intensive university that’s part of the prestigious Russell Group, it’s also located in a city that’s one of the best university towns around when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. Simply put, Manchester is full of like-minded students who want to have a good time. 

Another reason why Manchester is one of the best university towns in the UK is that the cost of living in the city is considerably less than it is in London. For example, as a student, it would cost you around £500 per month for a 3-person flat in Manchester city centre, whereas for an equivalent option in London you’d likely have to pay over £1000 each. Basic groceries tend to cost between 6 to 7% less for those living in Manchester compared to those in London. 

A Social City

As well as being a cheaper city than London, Manchester has an incredible social scene, with an eclectic variety of world-renowned clubs, pubs, and restaurants. Here are a few of the best student haunts in the city:

  • The Liars Club: if you’re a fan of Tiki Bars, you need to pay this place a visit. If you’re not, you should head over to 19A Back Bridge St anyway. Their rum-based cocktails are exceptional, as are their weekday club till 4 nights. 
  • Behind Closed Doors: this speakeasy-style bar plays a vibrant mix of old-school disco, funk, and boogie, making it one of the coolest haunts in the city. 
  • MOJO: this legendary venue has everything, from a famously laidback policy on tabletop dancing to a Rhum Room stocked with over 100 specialist rums and a team ready to play all your music requests (you’ll have to book ahead for that privilege, though).
  • NQ64: fans of arcade games and old-school console nostalgia will love this basement bar, with its vibrant neon aesthetic and classic games that include Crazy Taxi, Guitar Hero, Mortal Kombat, The Simpsons Arcade Game, and Spiderman Pinball. A brilliant night out for everyone involved. 
  • Bongo’s Bingo @ Albert Hall: the seminal Bongo’s Bingo event rolls into Manchester’s gorgeous Albert Hall every week, and participants won’t be let down by the unique mix of raves, bingo-playing, and mobility scooter prizes on offer at this incredible night. 
  • Zouk: located on Chester Street, this exceptional Indian restaurant and bar offers cocktail classes, hen and stag nights, and a gorgeous menu that includes excellent grill options, homemade curries, seafood platters, and a variety of succulent starter plates. 
  • Azuma: this all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue is both inexpensive and absolutely delicious. It’s an experience as well: you sit around a table with a built-in hotplate and cook your own meat until it’s ready for your plate. 

Manchester is an iconic city that has so much going for it, making it one of the best university towns around. It also has excellent tram and bus services to the epochal Curry Mile and excellent Chinatown. The independent and raucous, inclusive spirit of the 1990’s rave scene lives on in the variety of brilliant independent venues dotted around the city. 

  • Best University Towns: Newcastle

This great northern city on the Tyne is home to both Newcastle University and Northumbria University, and it’s one of the best places in the country when it comes to student living. 

There are a number of reasons for this: firstly, it’s an exceptionally affordable place to live. For example, if you were looking to rent a flat in the city, you’d probably be looking at paying between £335 and £715 (at most) per month (that’s including utility and electricity bills). Compare that to London, where you’d be really lucky to find something as cheap as £500 per month as a student. 

Secondly, Newcastle has a burgeoning new food scene, with a number of brilliant pop-up-style restaurants setting up shop in the old shipping containers along the Gateshead quayside. Here are some of our top picks when it comes to enjoying food and drink along the Tyne: 

  • Hawker Market: this street food market features a number of resident vendors that serve gorgeous grub, from DabbaWal and DotBagels to TokyoSeoul and ChuchosTacos
  • Proven Goods Co: anyone with half a sweet tooth needs to visit this bakery. Everything is freshly made and absolutely delicious, from the rhubarb and ginger fool to the wide array of mouthwatering glazed doughnuts. 
  • Stack: this incredible venue and self-styled “leisure and social community hub” is located a few hundred metres away from the Northumbria University main campus, and students will love visiting the Stack space. You’ll find a diverse range of street food vendors, as well as some seasonal pop-up festivals, live music, and bars serving craft beer at affordable prices. 

Newcastle also has a well-developed public transport system that includes three major bus companies an excellent QuayLink bus service that runs between the city centre and Gateshead, a Tyne and Wear Metro service, and an excellent train station that allows you to travel down to places like London and Manchester or up to Scotland without the hassle of having to worry about taking a car. 

Newcastle also has an international airport with frequent, affordable flights to destinations including Dubrovnik, Sofia, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Budapest. 

  • Sheffield

Sheffield is the second-largest city in Yorkshire and is nestled just a few miles east of the rugged and dramatic Peak District National Park. Like Glasgow, Sheffield is one of the friendliest towns in the UK and retains a major sense of collective community from its time as the steel-making hub of industrial Britain in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. These two factors make it one of the best university towns in the UK if you’re looking to live somewhere where people really look out for each other. 

Nowadays, the post-industrial style and spirit of innovation are evident throughout the city, in neighbourhoods like Kelham Island and Neepsend.

Students will love Abbeydale Road, the main route that runs through the southwest of the city and opens out into the beginnings of the Peak District: in recent years, an eclectic array of locally-run shops, bars, and thrift stores have opened up along this road, offering high-quality food, drink, and clothes at affordable prices. 

Sport and Music

Another reason why the Steel City is one of the best university towns in Britain is that it punches above its weight and size when it comes to both sport and music. Both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday have historic stadia in and around the city suburbs, and you can grab a ticket to see The Blades or The Owls in action every week or so.

Music fans will appreciate the rich cultural history and scene in Sheffield: synthpop giants The Human League, Heaven 17, and Cabaret Voltaire all hailed from the South Yorkshire city, while Britpop pioneers Pulp formed at The City School in the late ’70s.  

More recently, Sheffield has produced one of Britain’s most successful and critically-acclaimed rock bands, the Arctic Monkeys. Urban music fans will love the vibrant garage and grime scenes in the city, with Toddla T, Otis Mensah, and MC Coco reaching national audiences throughout the 2010s.

Here are our top picks when it comes to student-friendly institutions in Sheffield: 

  • The Showroom: this independent cinema has a diverse programme of films that changes weekly, and also offers a large workspace for creatives in the city.  
  • The Wick at Both Ends: this awesome late-night pub is located near the skate park at Devonshire Green, and is one of the most popular and well-known haunts in the city. Head to the nearby OHM Food Yard if you want some tasty street food afterwards.
  • Steam Yard: coffee lovers will need to visit this café, which serves top-quality hot caffeinated drinks in an Americana-style surrounding
  • The Cavendish: skint students will absolutely love The Cavendish, with its wide selection of filling food servings and high-quality (yet affordable) drinks. You’ll also find that you can watch some kind of live sport whenever you’re at this pub: there are multiple widescreen plasma TVs dotted around the room. 
  • Broncos Rodeo: you’re guaranteed a great night out if you head to Broncos Rodeo on West St, with its American-style sports bar food (think full racks of ribs, plates full of buffalo wings, and T-bone steaks), decadent milkshake cocktails, and an evening rodeo experience for anyone over 18. 
  • Bamboo Door: this Leopold Square tiki bar is a must-visit for students, with its £6.50 cocktail specials, £4 beers, and fun, vibrant aesthetic. 
  • Wyming Brook Nature Reserve: whenever you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, head out to this gorgeous nature reserve to the west of Sheffield. You can take the number 51 out to Wyoming Brook, and spend a few hours strolling alongside streams and through pine trees. 
  • Picture House Social: another student-friendly pub, this bar serves up excellent cocktails and high-quality loaded fries. There’s a lovely outdoor drinking area as well. 

Sheffield may be a relatively small city, but it has so much to offer for students seeking great times at affordable prices. 

  • Best University Towns: Leeds

Another Yorkshire city, Leeds is home to both the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University, making it one of the best university towns in northern England. Like Sheffield, Leeds is an exceptionally affordable place for new students, with rent costing around £100 per week

Green Spaces

Nature lovers will also love Leeds’ location: a quick and cheap train or bus ride will take you straight into the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, while there are plenty of vibrant, green parks and spaces in and around the city centre. Here’s a few of the best:

  • Golden Acre Park: this gorgeous park is just over 5 miles north of the city (you can just head up the A660 for 10 minutes or so and you’ll find it). The park itself has sweet-smelling woodlands, well-kept gardens, and a popular tearoom. 
  • Beckett Park: situated in the Headingley borough to the northwest of the city centre, this public spade has plenty of amenities, including a skate park, playground, and several tennis courts.
  • Woodhouse Moor: also known locally as Hyde Park, Woodhouse Moor is just over a mile’s walk from the city centre, and is right beside the University of Leeds main campus. On a sunny summer’s day, you’ll find plenty of company from fellow students sitting on the grass with cans of beer and makeshift picnic hampers. 
  • Kirkstall Abbey: this old, ruined abbey lies along the banks of the River Aire, and is a few minutes’ walk from Beckett Park. There’s a visitor centre and café on-site, and the abbey-run Kirkstall Markets relatively regularly.  
  • Temple Newsam: this grand, stately home is located a few miles to the east of Leeds city centre, and has a number of excellent facilities, including an adventure playground, football pitches, and a lovely café. Whether you’re looking to get away from the city for a while or want to complete your week’s reading in exquisite surroundings, you’ll love Temple Newsam. 

Leeds also has plenty of student bars, clubs, and music venues that serve drinks, food, and live entertainment in atmospheric settings and for affordable prices. Here’s our pick of the bunch: 

  • Be at One: this Boar Lane haunt offers half-price cocktails for up to an hour after you enter the pub. Enough said, really. 
  • Opposite (either location): this coffee shop has a place right next to the University of Leeds’ main campus (the other site is near Chapel Allerton). It’s one of the best places to study in the city, serving excellent coffee and food. 
  • Mook: students love this cocktail bar, which offers more than 80 different mixed drinks at affordable prices. Watch out for the 2-for-1 offer on student drinks. 
  • Strawberry Fields Café and Bar: affectionately known as “Strawbs” amongst locals and students alike, this Leeds institution lies on Woodhouse Ln. and allows you to play beer pong whenever you want to on a weekday. Cocktails are £4.25.
  • Mrs Atha’s: students flock to this Central Rd. café to study during the week, so make sure you get there in good time to guarantee yourself a spot. If you do have to wait, it’s well worth it: the coffee is excellent, and the atmosphere is laid back and friendly. 
  • The Dry Dock: the best thing about The Dry Dock is its pricing. You’ll be able to get affordable pitchers and cheap, tasty cocktails throughout the week. Watch out for Wing Wednesdays as well!

Leeds is one of the best university towns around. It’s an awesome place to live for both undergraduate and postgraduate students: the cost of living is affordable and the nightlife is excellent. There’s so much to do, whether you want to sample a pizza at Dough Boys, have brunch at LS6, watch cricket at Headingley, or shop at the Corn Exchange. 

Final Thoughts 

There are plenty of student-friendly cities up and down the country, but we’ve narrowed down the list to the top 5 best university towns around when it comes to nightlife, cultural and social history, and overall affordability. 

If you’ve got your heart set on getting into one of the universities in any of these cities, but don’t know where to begin when it comes to building your personal application, reach out to one of our experts to book a free consultation with A&J Education.

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