Best University towns and cities

The years we spend as college students are among the most important and formative years of our lives. We learn about the world, ourselves, our values, and how to get by in life without the support of our parents or carers.

When choosing which universities to apply to, your first consideration should be the subject you want to study. However, shortly following that should be which town or city you want to live in for the next three years.

Some towns and cities are defined by the universities within them. While in others, the university is merely one of the countless draws the location has going for itself. So what are the best university towns and cities in the UK?

Join us as we take you through some of the most exciting places to be a student in the UK.

What are the best university towns and cities?

The best university towns and cities are the ones that best suit your interests as a student. You may prefer the hustle and bustle of big cities like London, Birmingham, and Manchester, or you may want to be somewhere smaller, surrounded by countryside, but with still plenty to do, like Sheffield, Bristol, or Sussex.

Whatever you are looking for, our list will have something for you.

But let’s first look at what you should think about before deciding where you want to live and study for the next three years.

How to choose where to study

When choosing a university city or a college town, it is usually a good idea to visit beforehand. You can do this by attending an open day at the university or just by heading there of your own accord and checking it out for yourself.

You should consider the size of the place and whether you would enjoy living somewhere that big or that small. Do you need to be close to nature and the countryside, or are you more content in a big city? Also, how much do accommodation, food, and drinks cost in the local area? Will you be able to afford to do much once you have paid all these living costs?

These are all things you should think about when deciding where to study. Ultimately, everyone is different and will respond differently to certain places depending on what they like.

With this in mind, we have tried to include a whole range of places to study in the UK, each of which offers something unique and is home to some of the best universities in the country.

So let’s jump in and look at some of the best university towns and cities in the UK.

Nine best university cities in the UK

Newcastle

For a university city, Newcastle has got it all. Great nightlife, a lively cultural scene, reasonably priced accommodation, and a selection of top universities, including the world-renowned Newcastle University.

Newcastle University is a member of the UK’s Russell Group. It frequently features in lists of the top-ranked universities in the country and the 150 higher education institutions worldwide.

Newcastle also has affordable rent prices compared to much of the country, particularly in the south. And lower rents mean other expenses are cheaper too. Alcohol is reasonably priced, and Newcastle was even recently named the best city in the UK to go for a pint.

Liverpool

Home of The Beatles, the Titanic, and one of the best football teams in the world, Liverpool has a rich cultural history of music, industry, transport, sport, and politics, which makes it the perfect place to study any subject you can think of.

Liverpool’s three main universities to choose from are the University of Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University, and Liverpool Hope University. The University of Liverpool is the biggest and most established of the three. It is a Russell Group member and is ranked amongst the best universities in the country.

Liverpool is a compact city with lots to do and see in a relatively small area. With affordable booze and accommodation prices, as well as a whole host of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and music venues, Liverpool is perfect for students who enjoy a good night out.

London

It would be impossible to write any list of the UK’s best towns and cities without including the capital. London is the beating heart of the UK, and while it isn’t for everyone, there is still something there for all in the big smoke.

Home to over 20 universities, London has some of the best higher education institutions in the world. Not only that, but you can also study a diverse range of courses at world-leading institutes. For example, people come from all over the world to study acting at RADA or LAMDA, and there is the Royal Ballet School, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Royal College of Art.

Although London is infamously pricey, it doesn’t disappoint, and no one living in the bounds of the capital could ever complain of being bored or short of things to do.

So no matter what you want to study, if you enjoy getting lost in the whirl of a towering metropolis, London could be the place for you.

Sheffield

Sheffield is not only a buzzing city with a vibrant cultural scene, but it also has the added bonus of being surrounded by the Peak District national park, one of the true natural jewels of the UK. The Peak District (or just “The Peaks”) is known for its unparalleled hikes, river swimming spots, and excellent natural climbing walls that attract climbers from all over the country.

Sheffield has two main universities, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. The University of Sheffield is a Russell Group university. It regularly features as one of the best institutions in the country and amongst the top 100 in the world.

Sheffield is an affordable, easily navigable city thanks to its reliable bus network and tram system. Many students love the perfect balance between city life and the surrounding countryside, as it offers something for everyone all year round.

Bristol

Bristol is known worldwide for its art scene that has produced the likes of Massive Attack, Portishead, and Banksy. This makes it an especially attractive home for young people who want the excitement of a cultural epicentre without the eye-watering rent prices of London.

The University of Bristol is widely regarded as one of the best in the country and regularly features in the top 10 or even the top 5 national higher education rankings. The University of West England (UWE) is also in Bristol and is well known for its arts and creative courses.

Bristol is a lively and active city with plenty to get involved in, from political organisations to performance troupes, climbing walls to music halls. This, combined with its highly regarded universities, makes it an ideal city for students.

Glasgow

Glasgow has undergone a radical transformation over the last few decades, and it is now seen as one of the most desirable cities in the north of the UK. As Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow is often regarded as more exciting and lively than its neighbouring rival Edinburgh.

Glasgow has three main universities, the University of Glasgow, the University of Strathclyde, and Glasgow Caledonian University. It also has art, music, and drama institutions ranked among the best in the world.

Glasgow is very affordable and is often compared favourably to Edinburgh by students in terms of rent prices and the cost of alcohol. So, when you also consider that it has one of the best creative reputations of any city in the country, it is easy to see why so many young students are keen to take up their studies in Glasgow.

Norwich

The University of East Anglia lies in the eastern city of Norwich. It is a top-ranked institution that is perhaps best known for running the world’s first creative writing course. Since then, it has seen Nobel Prize winners, Booker Prize winners, and international bestsellers graduate from courses led by some of the best writers in the country.

With a population of around 150,000, Norwich is on the smaller side. But people are attracted to the cosy pubs, the winding streets, and the tight-knit community arts scene that permeates every corner.

Students at the University of East Anglia are also blessed with a beautiful campus that is only a stone’s throw away from the Norfolk Broads and the rest of the east coast of England.

Belfast

Queens University Belfast is one of the UK’s leading universities. It is regarded as the best higher education institution in Northern Ireland and has produced some of the country’s best-known writers, politicians, artists, and thinkers.

On top of that, students are attracted to Belfast as it has all the perks of a capital city with few of the regular drawbacks. With a population of around half a million, it is easily navigable, and the cost of living is far lower than many other similar-sized cities in the UK.

There are plenty of pubs, music venues, art centres, and museums for students of every discipline to lose themselves.

Aberystwyth

The Welsh seaside town of Aberystwyth is home to Aberystwyth University and is the smallest place on our list, with a population of around 15,000.

Students at Aberystwyth generally prefer the quieter life, but there is still plenty to do around the town. Aside from the beautiful coastal walks, there are castles to explore, waterfalls to climb, and plenty of pubs to enjoy.

The university is widely commended for its commitment to encouraging green living and sustainability practices. It also regularly features in lists of the best universities in Wales.

Summary

Choosing where to study is as important to your university experience as choosing what to study. With so many college towns and cities to choose from, it is important to go and explore the places you are considering before you make your final decision.

Think about the size of the place you want to live and how much money you would have left once you have paid your rent and other living expenses. While there is no definitive list of the best university and college towns and cities, the places we explored above are among the most popular and widely loved universities in the UK. So, if you feel stuck, buy a train ticket and explore some of them.