St. Andrew, UK

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Starting university is a milestone filled with anticipation, new experiences, and plenty of nerves. As students gear up for this journey, there’s a lot to think about: where to live, which courses to take, and the friends they’ll meet along the way. But there’s another factor that can have a big impact on a university experience: how friendly and welcoming the chosen city is.

With summer just around the corner, it’s time for prospective university students to start exploring their options and deciding where they’ll call home for the next few years. So to help students out, we conducted research to discover the friendliest university locations in the UK, and around the world. Using a seed list of top global and UK universities, we analysed a series of metrics to determine which location offers the warmest welcome and best experience for students.

The UK’s 10 friendliest university cities

RankCityNo. of restaurants/ cafes/ bars/ pubs per 10,000 peopleNo. of art galleries and history museums per 10,000 peopleHappiness ratingSafety index scoreQuality of green space
1St Andrews67.92.47.283n/a
2Bath483.87.274.575
3Durham50.40.87.478.895.8
4Brighton65.82.6760.885.7
5York47.92.27.572.475
6Edinburgh42.31.57.368.881.8
7Oxford28.90.87.766.088.2
8Lancaster30.11.97.856.2n/a
9Canterbury431.57.468.370.5
10Aberystwyth54.60.77.366n/a

1. St Andrews

St Andrews is crowned the friendliest university destination in the UK, with all metrics considered. This charming city, located on the east coast of Scotland, is home to St Andrews University, a prestigious academic institution with history rooted in the mediaeval period. 

St Andrews boasts the highest number of restaurants, cafes, and bars, with 115 of these available to a population of only 16,930 (that’s 67.9 per 10,000 people). This high number of dining and entertainment options means that students have plenty of places to go for food, drinks, and social gatherings.

The town also has a rich cultural scene, with the third-highest number of art galleries and history museums per 10,000 people, at 2.4. One of these, the St Andrews Heritage Museum, not only explores the town’s ancient history, but features tranquil gardens for students to enjoy too. 

Safety is another notable aspect of St Andrews, with a safety index score of 83 out of 100, making it one of the safest university locations in the UK.

2. Bath

In second place is Bath. Art and history enthusiasts will feel at home here, with 3.8 art galleries and history museums per 10,000 people. Bath has the highest density of these attractions in the UK, so there’s always something interesting for students to do when they’re not studying.

One of the city’s highlights is the Roman Baths, an ancient spa with a globally recognised historical significance. Students attending the University of Bath or Bath Spa University can enter for free, another bonus for students. Additionally, the Victoria Art Gallery is a must-see for art lovers and those curious about Bath’s artistic heritage.

The city also has a relatively high safety score of 74.5 out of 100, with low crime rates and a strong sense of community.

3. Durham

Durham, home to Durham University, takes third place with the highest green space quality score of 95.8 out of 100. The city boasts some beautiful parks and outdoor spaces, including Pow Hill Country Park located next to the Derwent Reservoir. This idyllic setting gives students plenty of opportunities to relax, explore, and connect with nature.

In terms of safety, this city ranks second in the UK with a score of 78.8 out of 100, making it one of the safest locations. This high safety score contributes to the overall quality of life, meaning that students can explore the city with peace of mind.

Food enthusiasts will also enjoy studying in this city, as it has the fifth-highest number of restaurants, pubs and cafes per 10,000 people, with 50.4 options to choose from. 

4. Brighton

Brighton takes the fourth spot among the friendliest university cities in the UK. This vibrant coastal city is home to both the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex.

Brighton stands out when it comes to dining and entertainment, with 65.8 restaurants, cafes, bars, and pubs per 10,000 people, ranking second in the UK, ensuring that students and visitors have a wealth of options to choose from. Brighton also ranks second for the number of galleries and museums per 10,000 people, at 2.6, indicating a thriving arts and culture scene.

Students have plenty of places to wind down when they’re not studying. Brighton is known for its beautiful beach and iconic pier, but our research shows the city has top-quality green spaces, scoring 85.7 out of 100 and ranking sixth in this category.

5. York

York, ranking in fifth place, is home to the University of York and York St John University. What makes this city particularly appealing is its impressive number of museums and art galleries—2.2 per 10,000 people—ranking fourth among global cities. From York Art Gallery to Cliffords Tower, a mediaeval stronghold in the city centre, students can enjoy many cultural days out in between their studies. 

York also has a commendable safety score of 72.4 out of 100, providing peace of mind to residents of the city. York also has the highest happiness score in the top five (7.5 out of 10), indicating that residents enjoy a high quality of life.

The three least friendly UK university cities

To balance the scale, we also examined the least friendly university cities, with Coventry ranking as the UK’s least friendly. It has only 15.4 restaurants, cafes, and bars per 10,000 people, the lowest safety score at 35.1, and a low quality of green space score of 50. 

Birmingham and Loughborough follow as the second and third least friendly cities for students with Birmingham having the second lowest safety score of 36.2 (after Coventry) whilst Loughborough has the third lowest happiness scores at 6.97 out of 10.

The world’s 10 friendliest university cities

RankCityNo. of restaurants/ cafes/ bars/ pubs per 10,000 peopleNo. of art galleries and history museums per 10,000 peopleQuality of life scoreSafety index scoreQuality of green space
1Ithaca96.24.8147.468.5n/a
2Princeton44.41206.282.690
3Amsterdam331.3196.871.483.9
4Edinburgh35.21.3184.968.881.8
5Stanford12.65.5166.25051
6Munich20.850.34193.37985.5
7Copenhagen16.520.60194.474.181.3
8Cambridge37.681.1817268.494.4
9Madison30.820.98183.965.186.2
10Zurich12.920.3019377.769.8

1. Ithaca

Ithaca, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, takes the crown for the top friendliest university city outside of the UK. The city is home to two universities: Ithaca College and Cornell University, the latter being one of the eight Ivy League universities in the US.

With the highest number of restaurants, bars and cafes per 10,000 people, totalling around 96 (that’s 199 overall), Ithaca has a buzzing social scene that new students may appreciate.

The city also has five history museums and art galleries per 10,000 people (10 overall), the second-highest of any city in the study. Ithaca is a reasonably safe city for students, with a score of 68.5 out of 100, which adds to its appeal for students and residents.

2. Princeton

Princeton, best known for Princeton University, another Ivy League college, boasts the highest quality of life score in the global ranking at 206.2. This score takes into account various factors such as cost of living, pollution levels, healthcare quality, climate, and traffic conditions. In this scoring system, a higher number indicates a better quality of life. 

It also has the highest safety score, of 82.56 out of 100, and the second-highest score for quality of green space, at 90 out of 100, showing that the city has good air quality, cleanliness and low noise and light pollution. 

Princeton has the fourth highest number of restaurants per 10,000 people, at 44.4. However, in terms of art galleries and museums, it has only 1 per 10,000 people. 

3. Amsterdam

Amsterdam, the first non-US city in the ranking, takes the third spot. There are seven universities in the Netherlands’ capital, including the University of Amsterdam and VU Amsterdam.

The city isn’t among the top ten cities for restaurants or art galleries and museums, but it ranks second for quality of life with a score of 196.8. Its safety score is a bit lower, at 71.4, but still respectable. The city also scores well for green spaces, with a rating of 83.9.

4. Edinburgh

In fourth place is Edinburgh, Scotland. Heriot-Watt University, the University of Edinburgh and Queen Margaret University are three universities among the four located here.

Edinburgh has a high quality of life score, averaging 184.9, ranking eighth for this metric. The city also has a quality of green space score of 81.8, though it just misses out on a place in the top 10 for this metric globally, positioned at number 11.

As far as restaurants, cafes and bars, Edinburgh has an impressive 35.24 per 10,000 people, ranking ninth for this particular metric globally, and tenth for art galleries and history museums, at 1.3.

5. Stanford

Stanford in California, known for Stanford University, is the fifth-ranked city on our global list. It has the most art galleries and history museums per 10,000 people, totalling 5.5. 

However, the number of restaurants, cafes, and bars is lower, with just 12.6 per 10,000 people. Despite this, Stanford has a solid quality of life score of 166.2, earning its place in the top five global university cities. 

How to choose the right university for you

Choosing a university is a big decision—possibly one of the most significant in your life. That’s why it’s crucial to know where you’re headed and what you’ll be studying before you commit. The right choice can set the tone for your future, so take the time to make an informed decision.

1. Do your research

When you’re getting ready to start university, it’s a good idea to do a bit of homework (and not the kind you’re used to). Start by looking at the university’s website to see what courses they offer and learn about campus facilities or clubs you can join. Engage with the university’s social media channels to get a feel for campus culture and events. Additionally, explore student forums and platforms where current and past students often share their experiences, tips, and advice.

2. Be open-minded

When it comes to choosing a university, keeping an open mind can lead you to unexpected and exciting opportunities. 

Don’t be afraid to change your mind during the research process. As you gather more information and visit campuses, your priorities might shift. This is a natural part of choosing a university, and staying flexible means that you make the best decision for your future. Embrace the process, and you’ll find the right place for you.

3. Visit the university

Visiting a university campus before deciding to attend is a great way to get a feel for the environment and determine if it’s the right fit for you. 

Start by planning your visit on a day when you can experience typical campus life, like during the academic year when classes are in session. This will give you a sense of the student atmosphere and energy. When you’re on campus, don’t just stick to the official tour; explore on your own to discover the spots where students hang out, study, and relax. Talk to current students and ask them about their experiences—what they like, what could be better, and any tips they have for incoming students.

4. Try a summer school

Another great way to make your decision is to actually try out a university before you go. A summer school allows you to spend two weeks of your summer studying at renowned campuses in cities around the world.

Here at Immerse Education, we offer summer schools across the globe, with UK programmes in Oxford, Cambridge and London, Australian programmes held in Sydney, and North American programmes held in San Francisco, New York and Canada. To help give students a taste for student life, each summer school location is carefully selected to offer not just classroom learning, but also a rich, culturally immersive experience, mimicking the experiences of undergraduates. 

Sources and methodology

To find out which university city is the friendliest in the UK and around the world, we created a seed list of 43 university cities in the UK and 37 university cities worldwide.

To evaluate what constitutes a ‘friendly university city’, several metrics were defined. These metrics focus on factors that contribute to the quality of life for students, including:

Once all metrics were ranked, an average score was calculated for each city. This average represented the overall friendliness score for the university city. The final ranking was then created by ordering the cities based on these average scores, with higher scores indicating friendlier university cities. Cities with too many missing data points were removed in order to avoid skewing the rankings.

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