Which is the most beautiful uni in the UK?
Spoiler alert: it’s not Hull
If you’re starting uni in September, you’ll already have been inundated with fancily filtered pictures of your campus in prospectuses and emails aplenty. If you’re already at uni, though, you know the ugly truth.
However for every dismal concrete lecture theatre, there are the universities with the decadent chapels and imposing great halls. But which campus’ halls are the greatest?
Here is our list of the most beautiful university campuses in the UK. Only one can win, so cast your vote below.
Where else can you literally watch out for dolphins while you’re studying?
Studying at Aston is getting the best of both worlds. You get to spend your days right in the centre of the city, and yet you still get to do it while lying next to a lake on a campus which is anything but city-like. The main building is one of the oldest freestanding brick buildings in Europe, and yet the majority of the uni buildings are very new and very swanky – gone are the likes of Dalton and Lawrence and Stafford, and the sooner we forget them the better.
Then there’s the triangle in the lake, which reflects the triangle shape of campus, which represents the “Aston Triangle” address, which is all to do with the triangle logo of the uni. You can’t deny that’s pretty cool
If you can find a greener campus in the UK, we’ll accept defeat – but trust us, you won’t. Seriously, there’s so much grass.
The Chancellor’s Court at the heart of the campus has a redbrick design and is a beautiful building with historic origins. It was designed by leading architect Sir Aston Webb, who also designed the façade of Buckingham Palace. Just saying.
Just across from the court is Old Joe, a soaring clock tower that can be seen across the city. At 325 feet the clock tower is unique to Brum and one of its greatest treasures. Not only is it the largest free-standing clock tower in the world but its name “Old Joe” is in honour of Joseph Chamberlain. Just don’t stand under it on an hour mark, or you’ll fail your degree.
With a new Library and Sports Centre coming later this year Birmingham is also a site full of new projects and modern looking buildings. The peaceful, idyllic landscape with lots of greenery and trees is something to behold. In winter, the snow makes the campus look (to quote Kanye West) “like a scene from your favourite author.”
With this historic, beautiful landscape you would never guess it was in the megabucks, industrial land of Birmingham – it wouldn’t feel out of place in the Lake District.
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Bristol’s beauty is a tale of Two Towers. Ultimately most of it rides on the back of the Wills Tower, but what a tower it is. Add to that the Cabot, and you’ll start to realise that Bristol’s main aesthetic attractions merely reflect our status as a uni in general: towering above all the rest.
Cambridge sees Oxford’s Radcliffe Camera and UCL’s Main Building and raises them King’s College Chapel, Trinity Great Court, and St. John’s College’s Bridge of Sighs.
The headline tourist photo hotspots get all the postcard space, but what cements Cambridge’s status as prettiest is the range of still pretty buildings that are more functional for students, and less swarmed by tourists, including the many college libraries (Pembroke and Trinity stand out), the imposing Victorian red bricks of Selwyn, and the circular first court of Christ’s College.
The gleaming glass of the Law Faculty adds a patch of modernity amidst the old buildings, but the less said about the History Faculty, the better.
You see that? You see the name of that park next to Cardiff University? We rest our case.
Does your uni have a castle? A cathedral? Does every building look like a palatial structure to rival the home Walt Disney dreamt up for Sleeping Beauty?
Durham’s buildings are almost as fit as the people who go there, with cobbled streets, flowing rivers, grassy knolls and ornate dining rooms aplenty. If that doesn’t make it the prettiest in the UK, we don’t know what does.
Edinburgh simultaneously has one of the most beautiful and ugliest campuses around. The genuine eyesores that are the David Hume Tower and Appleton Tower loom over George Square but elsewhere, the uni buildings truly does Edinburgh justice.
The buildings around Bristo Square are stunning and are probably the images that first come to mind when you picture Edinburgh Uni. Then there are the Law and Theology buildings, Old College and the slightly gothic looking New College, which are genuinely so nice looking that they make you want to work, just so you can be inside them.
What Exeter lacks in history, it makes up for in Instagram-ready greenery. Why else would half of Surrey relocate to the verdant heart of Devon?
We may not have spires and quads but while half of the country’s Oxbridge rejects are slumming it in the concrete jungle that is Warwick, the fitter half are enjoying the lush rolling hills of the south west.
Built in the grounds of a botanical gardens, the University of Exeter plays host to the dreamy architecture of Reed Hall (the perfect wedding location for the hot alumni), the awe inspiring technology filled Forum, and the marble clad Islamic centre.
On gloomier days, one heads to the state of the art gym to appreciate the indoor aesthetic beauty of the best rugby team in the country. If sport isn’t your cup of tea, the campus is littered with Harry Potter references from JK’s days at probably the best university in the world.
Penryn Campus is the prettiest campus in the country, there’s no question about it. If you ever want to brighten up in the morning, walk down the sheltered path to the campus steps – the brief encapsulation with nature is something you won’t experience at any other university.
Once at the campus, you’ll have views of nothing but lush green Cornish fields, bar a few wind pylons. Forget old historical buildings, welcome to a 21st century campus; fitted with innovative modern architecture and enough glass to check yourself out in every few steps.
If you want some more beautiful surroundings, take a walk down near the photography building; why not climb some trees, or get lost in all of the shrubbery which will make you feel like you’re in a magical forest.
Glasgow Uni campus, AKA Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It’s not just the buildings that are beautiful, it’s surrounded by frosty grass and trees too – stray too far, though, and you might get lost in the Enchanted Forest.
Of all the London universities, King’s is clearly the most aesthetically pleasing. We’ve got a campus jostling with Somerset House in terms of courtyard opulence on the Strand, an SU with a ridiculous panorama of the Thames and a medical institute which is literally at the foot of The Shard.
KCL’s campuses are what uni would look like if an American film fan was cherry-picking the best bits of Britain: think Love Actually in university form, with a Round Reading Room taken straight from Harry Potter.
If the Lancaster campus was a person, it wouldn’t be pretty. It would probably be a 46-year-old man called Greg. He likes West Ham, Stella, pie and chips and leaving the toilet seat up.
The Lancaster campus is huge, sparse and everything is made out of concrete, but you know what? We wouldn’t have it any other way.
The beauty of the Leeds campus comes from its dichotomy. On the one side, you have the university in all its redbrick glory: the awe-inspiring Great Hall, the towering marble monolith that is the Parkinson Building, the splendid iron-wrought gates of the Clothworkers and at least three sublime gothic churches, only one of which was turned into a nightclub.
Then you cross the threshold of the weird wavy statue, and everything gets a little more… interesting. The Roger Stevens looks is as baffling on the outside as it is within, the Edward Boyle can only be described as an eyesore and the Worsley looks like the result of a blind man throwing a tantrum with a box of Kinex.
That’s the point, though. It’s Classicism meeting Brutalism; it’s serenity meets chaos; it’s a campus which is half beauty, half pure unadulterated ugliness.
Yeah, the city campus might be a bit soulless next to Leeds Uni and their giant fucking clock, but have any of their buildings ever beaten Burj Khalifa to the Best Tall Building in the World award? Thought not.
Then there’s the Headingley Campus, a little slice of heaven in the arse-end of nowhere. Sure, it’s a trek to Warehouse from there, but look at how much green there is.
The rolling plains stretch as far as the eye can see, tree-lined roads map your walk to uni, and the hills are alive with the sound of the O2 Academy.
Shame about the cheese grater though. Taking Attenborough’s name in vain, at least the paternoster is fun.
Look at the Victoria Building. Look at it. It’s like the term “redbrick” became a synonym for prestige after some scholar stood beneath it 100 years ago, slack-jawed and reaching for his sketchbook so he could show it to his friends later on.
In 2016, it’s still having exactly the same effect on every open day – and it’s just a slice of the allure of Liverpool Uni.
The Man Met buildings are a lot like the people who go there – simple, fuss-free and refreshingly unpretentious. Sat on the busy Oxford Road, everything’s clean, modern and functional: what buildings should be.
Even the shittiest, rainiest weather isn’t enough to make Manchester’s campus look ugly.
It’s a really great city, and the UoM buildings are some of its best parts. You’ve got the old, grand, Oxbridge-like buildings – John Rylands, The Manchester Museum, The Whitworth – just across the road from ridiculously modern structures like Ali G and Tin Can. The perfect mix.
Who needs a pretty campus when you have Jesmond?
Jokes aside, Newcastle’s towering red brick buildings and archways are the stuff of dreams. The King’s building and Armstrong building are at the heart of the campus, along with the iconic Student’s Union (that, let’s be honest, you only really ever go to to buy a chocolate bar, Domino’s or to get hammered at Throwback).
The whole campus in interspersed with grassy areas and art – other unis can’t boast a rhino sculpture (that you’re absolutely not to sit on even if you’re really drunk and getting your photo taken on it, walking back to Jesmond with a McDonald’s you bought on Northumberland Street).
If you didn’t get a picture in the glorious archways, did you even graduate?
Nottingham is not a pretty city. It is a grey and desolate place in a grey and desolate part of the world. The shopping centres are vile, the bus station an abhorrence. But, if you follow Derby Road far enough away from the soul-destroying centre, you enter what is truly a perfect little bubble.
In the autumn, leaves cascade around Hallward as you wander across the Trent Courtyard feeling like you could be in an American college film. In the winter, the downs are covered in powdery snow and stretch out in the middle of campus, inviting you to sledge. In the spring, as the blossom erupts around the politics building, it becomes warm enough to walk around the lake and sit on the Florence Boot lawn.
Notts is perfect in any season, the buildings are old enough to feel important but lacking any of the obnoxious pretension, and the 660-acre campus and its rolling hills will make you never want to leave.
The Trent Army barracks consists of a few ugly dilapidated buildings, a weird glass spike structure on Shakespeare Street, and the slightly haunted looking Arkwright building – which actually looks really nice when you get inside.
But anyway, who cares about buildings when you’re just a bunch of absolute legends?
Let’s be honest, Northumbria’s campus shits all over Newcastle’s. If you’re into your architecture, our new business school is an absolute feat. If you’re not, that’s cool it’s still just really shiny and nice to look at.
We are Newcastle’s fitter and younger sibling (and we’re more fun, too).
You don’t even need to explain this one, because the films have already done it for you. Oxford’s spread out campus is ridiculously impressive, and if it’s good enough for the likes of X:Men, Alice in Wonderland and numerous Harry Potters, it’s probably a winner.
Seriously, have you seen the Rad Cam?
So it’s not Oxford University, but maybe that’s a good thing. Brookes students don’t want huge, pretentious fancy OTT buildings that you have to literally swear an oath to get into. All they need is their homely, warm and beautiful JH-Bae.
As soon as you first approach those gates and see the Lanyon Building unfold before you, you know Queen’s isn’t going to be like any other uni. Literally, where else has a botanical gardens between their main building in their library? And who else gets to sit in cloisters in said gardens during graduation, eating strawberries and cream like the fancy fuckers we are?
Yep, QUB is something special – and from the wardrobe doors of the CS Lewis Reading Room to the funky statue in the Lanyon, you know your Instagram will never be left wanting.
Do people need reminding that Reading has been named the most stunning campus in the UK for four years in a row? We even have a hidden garden, that admittedly no one ever goes too but it’s still there.
Whether it’s our beautiful scenery, interesting looking buildings or our beloved union, Reading is definitely the prettiest campus.
There’s no real competition here. “Royal Holloway, is that the one with the nice building?” your verbally inadequate friends will ask.
Having been featured in the likes of Downton Abbey and the Avengers movies, RHUL’s Founders building/small castle is so Instagram-worthy that they don’t even need to sell the actual courses to you. It was based on a French chateau and opened by Queen Vic herself, so if that’s not classy, then what is?
That’s not forgetting the rest of the leafy campus, with its sprawling sports fields and pretty woodland (there’s a lot of room to spare in Egham). It’s well known to be the fittest in the London family, and one thing any RHUL student has in common with their Oxbridge buddies is that we’ve all been in the background of one too many tourist’s selfies.
Erm. We’ve got a massive Union?
Going to St Andrews is like stepping back in time, which isn’t surprising considering it’s been there since 1413.
The Wardlaw Wing looks like something out of Game of Thrones, St Salvator’s could be in Narnia and Hamilton Hall is Gatsby-esque in its opulence, making the whole place look like a pretty fantastic piece of fiction – even if the library is a little bit too 1984.
What isn’t pretty about a hospital? OK so being surrounded by numerous graveyards isn’t a selling point. The newer Tooting establishment is bustling with culture – the dark, narrow corridors, the smell of freshly fried Sam’s Chicken lingering, crashing into bed-bound patients every time you walk out of Monckton.
Don’t forget the serene pond next to Peabody’s or the big glass pyramid outside M&S. Also have you seen the cow (literally) in the library? Gorgeous!
Look at that lake; look at that castle. As far as sublime Scottish unis go, Stirling is by far the most Scottish and the most sublime.
We don’t need to tell you that Stirling is an ANOB – the Instagram hashtags will do that for you. And if you don’t go here, it means Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Once the hippies vacate the campus to protest about globalisation, the true beauty of Sussex campus comes out. A nirvana of squirrels, rabbits, and hedgehogs come out to enjoy the peace.
Sussex campus looks good in all weathers but especially the sunshine. You can then visit the pubs on campus to watch the day go by and watch a seagull as they do their weird Irish jig (if you’re from Sussex you know).
Sir Basil Spence can be thanked for designing the uni to look like a cat, the library to look like books, and the lecture halls like butterflies. Where else can you find such attention to detail?
You might think that, with London being London, the UCL campus has the potential to be a bit shit. How wrong you are.
UCL’s campus is a place of sheer prestige, nobility and elegance, outshining other London uni campuses and the layabouts that they contain. A gem in the hub of Bloomsbury’s magnificent architecture, you don’t get much better than the wonderful walls of Gower Street.
Do you even go to UCL if you haven’t Snapchatted a glorious picture of Portico in the glorious London sun with a glorious London filter?
People will tell you the University of East Anglia has the ugliest campus in the UK: don’t listen to them. Sure, the ziggurats don’t exactly scream “gorgeous” and Congo Hall is pretty damn disgusting, but the concrete monstrosities on our campus mean the pretty bits are too often overlooked.
The lake is beautiful, the square is perfectly serene and the Sainsbury Centre is so swish that it was literally used as the Avengers’ base in the Marvel films. UEA is a slice of futuristic beauty in the arse-end of the English countryside, and that makes it aesthetically years and miles ahead of any other uni in the UK.
While Warwick can’t claim to be an idyllic movie set, the university is one of the most biodiverse in the country. When students aren’t worshipping The Koan, they will be picking bluebells and frolicking in the forest.
Warwick is by far the prettiest campus university, if you look hard enough. There must be a reason that the famous geese have stuck around for so long. Plus our central piazza makes us cultured as well as beautiful.
Did you know that York’s campus features the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe? Not only is the campus the best at some things, it’s also beautiful too.
The brutalist architecture combined with an array of waterfowl gives the campus a unique beauty, an acquired beauty that you have to work for. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, even where plastic-bottomed lakes are concerned.
York St John
YSJ is actually in York, and York’s one of the most beautiful cities in the country. You do the math.
No really, I go to YSJ, I need you to do the math.
Contributions from Josh Kaplan, Oli Dugmore, Tom Jenkin, Daisy Bernard, Jonny Long, Victoria Brush, Charley Scoggins, Hamzah Niaz, Kate McMartin, Megan Davies, Raph Barnett-Ward, Diyora Shadijanova, Joseph Spencer, Roisin Lanigan, Yas Rana and Kyle Farrell.