Birmingham: Student City Guide
It's the second-biggest city in the UK and the heart of the Midlands – but why should you choose Birmingham for university? Let us explain.
If you fancy going to a big city for university but don't fancy London's expensive living costs, then Birmingham is a great choice. It's the second most populous city in the UK, being the home to a whopping 2.6 million people.
This means it's culturally diverse, vibrant and full of things to see and do; you'll never be bored living in Birmingham.
Below we take you through everything from transport to nightlife, to help you get a feel for life in Birmingham as a student.
Birmingham: Key Facts
- Number of universities: 5
- Student population: 80,000
- Average rent cost: £103 a week
- Average cost of a pint: £3.37
(Note: Figures quoted are correct at time of writing).
What's on this page?
Birmingham living costs
First thing's first – how much is it going to cost you to live in Birmingham? We've broken down monthly expenses in the city with a handy table:
|Expense||Birmingham||London||National student average|
|Takeaways & eating out||£36||£44||£41|
|Going out & socialising||£51||£57||£47|
Universities in Birmingham
Birmingham has five universities, making it one of the largest centres for higher education outside London – and that also means there is a great student culture throughout the city.
- University of Birmingham – A Russell Group university with a student population of over 25,000, UoB is a huge institution, and recognisable by its distinctive 'red brick' buildings.
- Birmingham City University – BCU is spread over two campuses and a number of additional sites in the city. It is the second-largest university in Birmingham and is very popular with local students.
- University College Birmingham – UCB specialises in more vocational subjects like hospitality, hairdressing and beauty, tourism and business enterprise.
- Newman University – Based in the suburb of Bartley Green, Newman is a fairly new university that prides itself on inclusivity.
- Aston University – Aston is known for having a really high quality of teaching, holding the Guardians 'University of the year 2020' award. They are also big on research ranking 5th of UK universities under 50 years old years.
There are thousands of student flats and properties located in and around Birmingham, so you won't struggle to find some digs.
Selly Oak is by far the city's most popular student suburb, mainly due to its proximity to the University of Birmingham. Harborne, Edgbaston and – further out – Kings Heath are also popular areas for student housing, alongside the new purpose-built blocks spread across the city.
For student digs, average rent can range between £95 to over £150 a week, obviously depending on the location and quality of the house. Check out our guide to viewing a student house for extra tips when taking a look.
Student travel in Birmingham
Being one of the biggest metropolitan hubs outside the capital, Birmingham unsurprisingly has a very well-connected transport system.
Whether it's getting to and from uni, or travelling home for Christmas, you'll find plenty of ways to get around.
Birmingham has three major train stations – Snow Hill (ideally located for Aston Uni), Moor Street (for BCU), and the redeveloped mainline Birmingham New Street station. UoB also has its own station; the only station in the UK built specifically to serve a university.
If you’re living in one of the popular student areas like Selly Oak, you’ll probably want to get a student train pass, as it makes it easier to head into the city centre (and to uni – otherwise you’d have to walk!). More information can be found on West Midlands Railway.
Birmingham's bus system, mainly served by National Express West Midlands, is pretty efficient and comprehensive.
A single fare is around £2.40, and although you can't get return tickets an unlimited day ticket is around £4.00.
Birmingham is not the best for cyclists but is still accessible – and there are plans afoot to make Birmingham more cycle friendly.
There are a lot of pedestrians and not many cycle lanes in the town centre, and you'll need to look out for the traffic as well, of course.
Recently, however, a new cycle route was installed by the city council to connect the University of Birmingham and Selly Oak with the city centre. Cyclists can now cycle freely into town without having to deal with cars and pedestrians.
If you're looking online, you can get a good deal on a bike delivered to your door from Hargroves Cycles.
The Metro runs between Wolverhampton and Birmingham and is a simple way to get around.
In the past few years, the metro system has been extended, so you can now get from Birmingham Snow Hill train station (the original end of the line), through the city centre to the recently redeveloped Grand Central station. There are plans to extend the list of destinations even further.
The price of the metro varies depending on your destination. An adult day return pass to all zones will cost £6.50. However, a single city hop ticket which allows you to get to most destinations in the city centre will only cost you £2.
There are long-term passes available for the Metro for one week, one month or one year. An annual pass will cost £820 which, if you are planning on using the Metro every day, will save you a considerable amount over the year.
Also, it is a good idea to look at the joint tickets on offer for the Metro and the buses. For up-to-date information on public transport in Birmingham, have a look at the Transport for Midlands Website.
Student nights in Birmingham
We know university is all about studying and getting that first-class degree, but that doesn't mean there's no time for partying, right? In fact, making it through a 9am lecture with a stonking hangover is an essential university experience.
In Birmingham, you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to nights out, whether you're into house music raves or cheesy sing-alongs.
Like most big cities, Birmingham has its Indie music scene, so if you're looking for somewhere to sing Mr Brightside at 3am, try these:
- Snobs – The ever-popular Snobs hosts nights on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Big Wednesday the longest running student night in Birmingham. It plays the latest in indie tunes alongside classic anthems with a mix of hip hop and dubstep thrown in for good measure. Entry from just £5.
- Uprawr – Uprawr hosts rock, punk and metal events and club nights throughout the year at The Asylum, which lies just outside the city centre towards the Jewellery Quarter.
- Eddies Rock Club – The Tunnel Club is home to Birmingham’s monthly rock and metal night, Eddies. Taking place on the last Saturday of the month, it's ideal for the more alternative crowd.
Pop and Retro
If you're into your pop music and cheesy dancing, then these are the clubs you want to be heading to:
- Popworld – This club hosts a range of student nights throughout the week including Zoo on Wednesdays. You’ll find drinks for £1.50 accompanied by no.1 hits all night.
- Nightingales – Thursdays are the day for students at the LGBT-friendly venue, situated in the middle of Birmingham’s gay village. Deals include free entry before 11pm and drinks for £2.
R&B, House and Hip-Hop
The urban genres are huge in Birmingham, with these being a couple of the most popular:
- SugarSuite – This bar on Broad Street is popular all week, but Fridays are the one for your hip-hop and R&B needs. Their resident DJs will play everything from vintage Biggie to the latest Drake track to keep you on your feet all night.
- Rosies – Mondays at Rosies are RNB. Ultimately Birminighams most popular venue with 5 different themed rooms to suit all music tastes.
House, Drum & Bass and Techno
Birmingham is no doubt a lead player in the dance scene, and is the original home of bassline music:
- Lab 11 – In the heart of Birmingham's warehouse district Digbeth, this venue is host to many events over the course of a term. If you’re looking for a gritty warehouse to dance all night in, this is the place for you.
- PRYZM – This is one of the best clubs in the UK for dance music and a great party atmosphere. It's like bringing Ibiza to the Midlands. However, it can be pretty expensive so save it for a special occasion.
- The Hare & Hounds – A venue offering the latest in headline DJs and underground artists. A little outside the city centre in Kings Heath but worth it. They have a wide range of artists playing there and the venue itself is very versatile, meaning it can host anything from a techno or disco night to a live band.
As well as student club nights, Birmingham is also home to a lively music scene, with a host of venues attracting all the big names, the next big things, and more local, independent musicians.
- O2 Academy – The academy is on Bristol Street and is the major gig venue in Birmingham. All of the biggest artists play here at all times throughout the year. However, the gigs can be expensive so check your bank balance before visiting.
- O2 Institute – The Academy’s smaller sister venue, in the vibrant student-friendly Digbeth area of Birmingham.
- Digbeth Arena – An open-air ‘arena’ (actually the old Rainbow venue car park) which plays host to touring bands, club nights and mini-festivals in the summer.
- The Mill – With a capacity of 750 for live music, The Mill is an up-and-coming venue which tends to feature smaller, more alternative bands.
Best places to eat out in Birmingham
Birmingham boasts some of the best food in the UK, and cuisines from all over the world. If you enjoy eating out in the evenings, here are some the places you should be heading to:
- Balti Triangle – Just south of the city centre, The Balti Triangle has the highest concentration of Balti houses in the city and serves up some of the best curries in the UK. Birmingham is said to be the birthplace of the Balti curry, so some of these curry houses are the oldest in the country. It's Indian cuisine at its best.
- Chinese Quarter – If you're not in the mood for Indian food, over in the Chinese Quarter there are plenty of Chinese restaurants and buffets to choose from – plus, the prices are very student budget friendly.
- Digbeth Dining Club – Winner of the Best Street Food Event at a recent iteration of the British Street Food Awards, Digbeth Dining Club is open every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, home to an assorted mix of independent street food and world cuisine outlets.
Things to do in Birmingham
Every city has its major attractions and entertainment hot spots, and Birmingham is no different. Here are just a few things to keep you busy once you've finished that deadline:
- Star City – Just 10 minutes from the city centre, this entertainment centre's main attraction is its 30 screen cinema, the biggest in the UK. It also houses a laser station and a 22-lane bowling alley. Parking is free and there are loads of food and drink venues, so why not make a night of it?
- The Bull Ring – With over 160 shops the Bullring is no doubt the retail centre of Birmingham. It boasts a flagship Selfridges among other stores, so if you fancy a bit of retail therapy, this is the place to shop to your heart's content.
- Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – If you love a bit of culture in your spare time, then the museum and art gallery is the place to be. With free entry, you can go as many times as you like during the year without worrying about your bank balance.
- Seasonal attractions – Birmingham has a great Christmas market starting in late November, which is a great way to get in the Christmas spirit. For bonfire night, again head over to any local park and there is most likely going to be a display there.
To get a real feel for the place, we'd recommend going on a university open day – but use our guide to keep costs low.