Best University towns and cities

So you’ve been given your predicted grades, and you’re sure that the next step in your life is to continue your education at university. Many students have no idea what they want to do after sixth form or college, which means that compared to them, you’re at an advantage.

However, there are still many other decisions to make regarding higher education. You need to start thinking about which subject you want to study and where you want to go, for example. Some of the things to consider when deciding on where you want to study include how far away from home you want to be, whether you want to attend a large or a small university, and the reputation of each academic institution you’re looking at.

Most undergraduate courses last for three or four years, although some are even longer. You’re going to be spending a long time living in your university town or city, so it’s important to make the right decision about where you want to study. The happier you are with student life, the better you will do when it comes to exams and coursework.

With that in mind, we’ve written a list of the best university towns and cities in the UK, explaining what makes these places so good for students.

Where’s the best place to go to university?

Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Liverpool, and Edinburgh are among the best university towns and cities in the UK.

Some of the other places that are popular with students in the UK include Brighton, Leeds, Sheffield, and Plymouth.

Continue reading to find out why these places made it onto our list of the UK’s best student cities.

Top nine university towns and cities in the UK

1. Oxford

No list of university towns and cities would be complete without a mention of Oxford and Cambridge universities.

As one of the most prestigious universities in the world, the University of Oxford provides its graduates with the best chance of landing their dream job once their studies are over. 

Some of the courses on offer include English, Fine Art, Geography, History, and Music, however, as a research university, the main focus is on the sciences.

As well as being known for academia, Oxford is famous for its architecture. There are many historic buildings within the university itself (St John’s College, Magdalen College, and Christ Church Cathedral, for example) and also around the city, in the form of pubs, markets and museums.

The city is also known for its mixed nightlife, theatre scene, and punting.

2. Cambridge

Like Oxford, the University of Cambridge is one of the world’s best educational institutions, recognised internationally for its academic superiority and traditional scholarly values.

The city of Cambridge has a large student population, with undergraduates being offered a choice of 30 courses covering 65 subject areas. The courses students can enrol on range from Archaeology, History and Philosophy to Economics, Engineering and Mathematics.

Many people choose to explore this beautiful city by bicycle, taking in the scenic river views, lush green parks and Gothic architecture.

Again, the city also offers an array of pubs, historical landmarks and punting.

3. Bristol

Along with Oxford and Cambridge universities, the University of Bristol is a research institution that prides itself on its innovation. It’s committed to making a positive impact on the world, with students, graduates and researchers coming together to work on projects that aim to inspire social, political and cultural change. Some of the courses that the university offers include Cancer Biology and Immunology, Environmental Geoscience and Economics and Politics. Students come to this university from all over the world to enrol on one of the 200 courses, and around 94 per cent of graduates go on to work or further studies six months after graduating.

The University of the West of England is also based in Bristol, with three campuses across the city. In the last five years, it has invested more than £300 million into state-of-the-art facilities and has also been awarded a gold rating by the Teaching Excellence Framework.

As well as having two major universities, Bristol is the number one choice for many students because of its lively music and arts scene, alternative way of life and laid-back vibe.

As the birthplace of controversial street artist Banksy — and boasting endless historic charm and a thriving eco culture — Bristol is a forward-thinking, vibrant and creative city that isn’t afraid to push boundaries.

4. Liverpool

Bristol may have two major universities, but the city of Liverpool has more. Over 60,000 students are enrolled on higher education courses here, meaning young people are very well-catered for.

Thanks to the city’s affordability, academic options, job opportunities and exciting nights out, it’s one of the best places in the UK for student life. Most student accommodation is located in the city centre, so undergraduates can save money on travel and live in the most popular areas. Pubs like The Font offer affordable craft beer and Mario Kart, while bars like Baa Bar are for shots and dancing, and there are many other entertainment options when it comes to sport and culture too.

The University of Liverpool is yet another leading research university with an emphasis on health and science, and it too has received a Teaching Excellence Framework award. Not only that, but following a £14.25 million refurbishment, its students’ union is now one of the largest and best-equipped in the country.

Liverpool John Moores University was also awarded a Silver rating by the Teaching Excellence Framework and is widely recognised for teaching and research in the field of Sports and Exercise Sciences.

Liverpool Hope University, meanwhile, received a Gold-rated Teaching Excellence Framework award and specialises in music, visual and performing arts. With just 5,100 students enrolled at the university, it’s one of the smallest in the UK.

5. Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital also has several universities, making it a great place for undergraduates to study. 

One of Scotland’s four ancient universities — and the sixth oldest in the UK — the University of Edinburgh is a world leader in the fields of art, humanities, law, medicine and psychology. Around 35,000 students from both the UK and abroad come here to study one of the institute’s undergraduate, postgraduate or short courses.

Named after the sixth-century Scottish mathematician and philosopher John Napier, Edinburgh Napier University offers state-of-the-art facilities across three campuses and works with industries to ensure that 85 per cent of its graduates go on to work full-time or further study within six months of graduating.

Heriot-Watt University, meanwhile, is known for its research in the fields of business and industry and has campuses in the Scottish Borders, Orkney and other parts of the world, as well as in Edinburgh.

Students from all three of these universities can make the most of everything that Edinburgh has to offer, from historic buildings — most notably, Edinburgh Castle — to cultural events like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Graduates also rate the city for its affordability, employment opportunities and nightlife.

6. Brighton

With students making up more than 11 per cent of its population, Brighton is an extremely popular university city.

It’s home to both the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex, with a large number of international students attending each one (about 28 per cent in total). Combined with being the UK’s unofficial LGBTQ capital, this makes Brighton one of the most inclusive cities on this list, and it’s a firm favourite with easygoing creatives, free spirits and eccentrics.

As well as having the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, students here can enjoy the city’s nightlife, shopping and beaches.

7. Leeds

Leeds is another of the UK’s student cities that has a number of higher education institutes for undergraduates to choose between.

With 38,000 students from more than 170 countries, the University of Leeds is one of the largest universities in the UK. As well as being situated just a ten-minute walk from the city centre, the university boasts an award-winning students’ union and a state-of-the-art fitness, sports and wellbeing facility.

Specialising in humanities and social science, Leeds Trinity University offers a variety of courses, such as Sociology, Psychology and Criminology. Each degree includes a professional work placement, making it one of the UK’s best universities for employability. The proof is in the statistics, with 95 per cent of students in employment or further study within six months of graduating. 

More than 28,000 students are enrolled at Leeds Beckett University, which was the first English university to achieve the ISO 14001 (the international standard for Environmental Management Systems). As well as taking steps to become more green, the university invested £300 million into new buildings and campus developments like a creative arts building and a sports centre. 

Academia aside, Leeds has a great deal to offer in the way of art and culture, nightlife and shopping.

8. Sheffield

Sheffield attracts 60,000 students from all over the world for its cultural diversity, vibrant city life and green spaces. But while this student city is extremely popular with undergraduates for its inclusivity, local scenery and nightlife, its main draws are the red brick University of Sheffield and the more modern Sheffield Hallam University. 

While the University of Sheffield is a research university that’s been recognised for its teaching with a silver Teaching Excellence Framework award, Sheffield Hallam University is a progressive institution which puts emphasis on practical learning. Undergraduates studying here can gain real-life work experience via placements and live consultancy projects with businesses.

9. Plymouth

Home to more than 19,000 students, the University of Plymouth is one of the largest universities in South West England. Some of its most popular courses are fine art and art history, as well as computer science, computing and geographical sciences. The institute is also well known for law and psychology degrees. 

Plymouth’s other major university, Plymouth Marjon University, attracts many students who want to learn about business, social sciences, health and wellbeing, sport and performing arts, and it has high-quality facilities which enable them to do so.

With a large student population and plenty of outdoor activities, restaurants and bars, this student city is ideal for those who want to live somewhere that’s small enough to be accessible and friendly but large enough to have a variety of entertainment options and all the necessary amenities.