It should go without saying, but I have to include London in the list of the best student cities. While there are significant downsides, such as long travel times and cost, London has so much to offer that it’s impossible not to recommend. For one thing, the capital is so large that something is going on for everybody. Whether you enjoy going to art galleries, rock-climbing, alternative music, or experimental dining, there will always be one or many places in London that you can indulge your passions and interests. The city might be large, but the excellent public transportation system of tubes, buses, and light railways makes it incredibly accessible 24 hours a day (especially with the recent expansions of 24 hour underground services). I would personally recommend taking advantage of this transport system and not being afraid to live a little further out from the city centre. A slight addition to your commuting time is likely to translate into significantly better accommodation on the same budget; something that I wish I had known when I first moved to the city.
A personal favourite of mine, Bristol is, in many ways, the best of all worlds. A city large enough to cater to varied interests (and provide a few years’ worth of exploring) but with a centre that is easily navigable on foot. A vibrant nightlife scene, with independent bars, music venues, and unique clubs, set within a beautiful and historic city. Both the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol are based around the city, meaning that there is always a large and thriving student population. It is also a city that has produced some of the finest creatives of the past few years, from either its universities or its general population. Notable examples are musicians such as Massive Attack and Portishead, the comedian, director, and actor Chris Morris, and the playwright Sarah Kane. If you are interested in getting involved in music, art, theatre, or anything creative and want to steer clear of London, then there aren’t many places better than Bristol.
The city that homes both Newcastle University and Northumbria University is, by all accounts, one of the finest student havens there are. Not only does it host an impressive array of nightlife options, from upscale bars to well-respected independent music venus, but the city has a growing food scene and a vibrant theatrical community. For many students, however, part of the draw of the city is the opportunity to have access to these benefits for an exceptionally affordable price, which means that even those on a maintenance loan budget can afford to make the most of the city. These affordable prices also extend to accommodation, meaning that students in Newcastle are more likely to be able to steer clear of questionable flats and landlords without breaking the bank. Finally, the well-developed public transport system which services the city (including a metro system) makes getting about without a car simple and reliable.
For several years, recent graduates have avoided moving to London and have begun flocking to Manchester. This is, at least in part, a result of its reputation as cheaper alternative to the capital, while also being a thriving social hub for young people. The city’s music scene, with a pedigree stretching back to the establishment of Factory Records in the late 70s, through to the establishment of the UK’s first super-club in the Hacienda, continues through to this day with the Warehouse Project and a collection of excellent independent venues. The food in the city is varied, exciting, and affordable, with its own Chinatown and Curry Mile. What’s more, Manchester boasts a tram system and great bus service, making it easy for students to get into and around the city for lectures or nights out.
One of the main draws of Liverpool as a top student city is its nightlife. Concert Square is considered by many to contain the best collection of clubs, venues, and bars in the country. The city as a whole is incredibly student-friendly, with affordable prices and student discounts widely available at shops and restaurants. Furthermore, Liverpool is a noticeably small city in comparison to the variety of activities and venues on offer, making it perfect for a student wishing to save a little money trying to get around on foot. Also, the city is host to four universities, meaning that there is plenty of chance for socialising and always something going on for students.
Sheffield deserves a place in my top ten, if only for its reputation as being one of the friendliest cities around. In my experiences visiting and, briefly, living in Sheffield, it has managed to retain a strong sense of community, despite its size and a largely temporary student community. Set amongst the beautiful hills of the Peak District, it also benefits from Yorkshire prices, making the abundant local activities easily accessible to those on a student budget. Like most university towns there is no shortage of nightlife, but Sheffield distinguishes itself by having an imposing musical pedigree for a city of its size. Although probably most famous in recent years for producing the Arctic Monkeys, it is also one of the main hotspots for UK hip hop, community choirs, and jazz.
Leeds has a reputation as being one of the most fun student cities to live in. While it excels in many of the areas which make a city a student favourite (clubs, music venues, and affordable prices), over recent years it has also developed an impressive shopping scene. The city centre and satellite retail parks provide a variety and quality of shops to rival larger cities like Manchester and even London. Despite its cosmopolitan appeal, Leeds also has the advantage of well-maintained green spaces that are easily accessible from the city centre, with the Yorkshire Dales only a short bus ride away and Woodhouse Moor in the centre.
Brighton would have almost made this list based purely on the access to the beautiful seaside on the south of the city. While the prices might not be as inviting as some of the other, more northerly, contenders I have already suggested, Brighton more than holds its own in terms of the sheer variety of activities available to students. The city is a bustling creative hub, with student groups dedicated to everything from performance art, to poetry, to contemporary dance and stand-up comedy. Couple this with a strong community feel, the scenery mentioned above, and a variety of independent restaurants and bars and you can see why many students that move to Brighton to study choose never to leave the city.
I had to include an Oxbridge city on this list, purely because they offer such a unique and engaging sort of student experience. I decided to pick Oxford because I am more familiar with the city and its reputation as having a wider variety of recreational facilities and nightlife, but the real draw of these two cities is the magical atmosphere and look of them. In Oxford, the centre is dominated by wonderful architecture, such as the Radcliffe Camera and St Mary’s Church, and the idyllic spaces of Port Meadow and University Parks are readily accessible on foot. For students at the University of Oxford, the opportunity to live within one of the many beautiful colleges and experience the centuries-old traditions first-hand is one that many find impossible to pass up. Saying that, it is worth noting that Oxford is incredibly expensive for students to live in, second only to London on this list, so any prospective students ought to start saving early (if they can).
Home to more canals than Venice, the industrial city of Birmingham is the perfect mixture of cultural history and innovation. With a town centre that presents and eclectic mixture of Victorian architecture and brave, contemporary designs, the city provides a vibrant and exciting home to any students. The nightlife is varied: including a dedicated darts cocktail bar and Australian pubs, as well the traditional mixture of pubs and clubs. One of the most exciting draws is Digbeth Dining Club, which is hosts an array of street food vendors, drinks stands, and live music events. Stall space in the Dining Club is incredibly competitive, so you know that any vendor that gets a coveted spot under the arches is well worth your time and money. Furthermore, students will have the opportunity to enjoy theses benefits without it straining their wallets too much, as the city ranks highly in terms of affordability of services and accommodation.