There is no better way to get to know a university before joining its student ranks than by visiting on Open Day. The intention is to check out facilities, talk to tutors and maybe sneak a peek at the students’ union bar. But a wander around the grounds and surroundings can be just as important. Here are the most beautiful university campuses in the United Kingdom that are bound to inspire academic excellence.
It was an initial generous gift of 35 acres of land by the family who founded Boots the chemists that led to one of the largest (and widely recognised as one of the greenest) university campuses in the UK. University of Nottingham’s University Park campus, now some 300 acres, has consistently won a Green Flag Award for its green and environmentally friendly spaces. The landscaped setting consists of contemporary gardens, trees and shrubbery, various plant species from around the world, and water features that provide a focal point.
Spread out across the city, University of Edinburgh had its first intake of students in 1583. Its buildings straddle the two distinct districts in the city centre: the old historic area with narrow streets and winding staircases and the more upmarket New Town where the variety of shops and cafés means the area is always bustling with activity. The university’s Old College is one of the city’s landmarks. Its foundation stone was laid in 1789, but it stands on the original site of the university’s first building. The courtyard has a central grass lawn which provides a serene location for outdoor study and an ideal space for graduation celebrations.
The Keele University campus is self-contained and has everything on-site in its rural setting. It is situated on a hill that overlooks the town of Newcastle-under-Lyme in the north of England. All aspects of student life, from teaching and accommodation to shops, leisure and healthcare, are all provided within the 620 acres, making Keele the archetypal university campus. Some staff also live on campus, so there is a distinct vibrant and cosmopolitan university community. The Keele Estate where the university is located was once owned by a medieval military order before passing into the hands of a merchant family who managed the estate until the early 20th century. The university became Keele University in 1962.
Royal Holloway is officially part of the University of London, but it is located about a 40-minute train ride outside the city, in Egham, Surrey. It was originally established as an all-women college and opened by Queen Victoria in 1886. Male students were later admitted in the mid-1900s. Everything is located on campus, which is set in 135 acres of beautiful parkland.
The centrepiece of Queens University‘s campus is the main building, named after its architect, Sir Charles Lanyon, who also designed Belfast Castle. The Tudor Gothic-style mansion was built in 1849, four years after the founding of the university. It is one of the university’s 250 buildings on the estate, which are mostly spread across the south of Belfast, near the river. Most student activity centres on University Square, where they can come together to socialise and relax after lectures.
There are two campuses at York – East and West, built around the village of Heslington, as well as a university presence in the city centre. Europe’s largest plastic bottom lake can be found here, winding its way through the 200 acres of parkland that make up the campus grounds. The lake and wetlands are not just distinctive features of the university campus, but they have also attracted a wide variety of ducks and birds. The university even has a dedicated website celebrating the ‘daily duck delights’ that can be spotted on the grounds. An immaculately landscaped and peaceful area known as The Quiet Place has been set aside on campus for students who want to enjoy a little solitude. The university is currently undertaking a huge expansion of its East campus, with an investment of £750 million. The development will include new teaching spaces and laboratories, and there are plans for advanced sporting facilities, a medical centre, small shops and a restaurant.
Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with teaching dating back to 1096. The central University and 38 colleges are located across the city, and each of the colleges provides students with accommodation, social and sporting facilities and other services. The iconic buildings in a mix of architectural styles dominate the city, and the 44-metre-high bell tower of Magdalen College is the tallest building in Oxford. The University Parks, bordering the River Cherwell, are open to everyone and have several points of interest. The Genetic Garden commemorates the revolutionary research in genetics with a unique collection of plants. The Mesopotamia Walk takes you across a narrow strip of land that lies between an upper and lower level of the river. The University Parks also host a range of sports, and Harry Potter fans may even find students battling it out in the sport of Quidditch.
Cambridge is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world. It was established by a group of scholars who took refuge in Cambridge after falling out with local people back in Oxford. The earliest record of university study was in 1209. Cambridge, like Oxford, is among the top academic centres in the world, and there is still a healthy rivalry that exists between the two institutions. Cambridge has 31 colleges, and the magnificent buildings are spread across the city centre and along the River Cam. One of the grandest is King’s College and its Chapel, renowned for its Gothic English architecture and the large medieval stained-glass windows within the Chapel. Visitors are welcome to tour or even join a service in the King’s College Chapel. Another activity that is a definite ‘must’ is to go punting along the river and journey under the succession of bridges linking the various Colleges together, including the Grade 1 listed ‘Bridge of Sighs’.
Like Oxford and Cambridge, Durham University is a residential collegiate university. The main buildings are in the city centre, and a purpose-built campus that delivers teaching and has a wide range of facilities is 30 miles away in a picturesque waterfront setting. The University estate is home to a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site that includes the 11th-century Durham Castle, which now provides student accommodation.