Leeds: Student City Guide
As Yorkshire's biggest city and the fastest-growing economy in the country, Leeds is an exciting place to live – but what's it really like for students? Our complete guide has the low-down...
Five universities, thriving nightlife, great job prospects and cheap Northern prices make Leeds a great city for students.
Although Leeds has a huge population, geographically it's a smaller city than the likes of Manchester and Liverpool – in fact, it's known for being 'the biggest small city you'll ever visit'.
This means it's easy to get to grips with Leeds if you're moving away from home for the first time. Here's what Leeds has to offer...
Leeds: Key facts
- Number of universities: 5
- Student population: 48,000+
- International students: 12,000+
- Average rent cost: £443 a month
- Average cost of a pint: £3.57
I really enjoyed my time at Leeds during my undergraduate degree. There’s a really friendly student environment all across the city, and it became a home away from home.
It’s quite a safe and welcoming place to live, and really easy to get around. I lived in Headingley when I moved out of halls, which is a great area for students, close to lots of shops and pubs, but a lot quieter than the city centre.
I would definitely recommend Leeds for new university students, I had some amazing experiences there.
Lucy, studied Biomedical Sciences at Leeds Beckett University
Everything you need to know about Leeds
Universities in Leeds
Hoping to study in Leeds? These are the five universities in and around the city, with key facts about each one:
The University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is one of the 18 research-intensive Russell Group unis and typically appears in the top 15 of the main UK university league tables.
It's the city's most well-known university, and as a research-led university, it has a focus on academic rather than vocational subjects here, and entry requirements are generally quite high.
The university is one of the largest in the country, with over 36,000 students, and it receives some of the highest numbers of applications every year, meaning some courses can be quite competitive to get on.
If you can't decide between a campus and a city university, Leeds Uni offers the best of both worlds. All buildings (and some halls of residence) are situated in one big campus in the north of the city, but the city centre is still only a 10-minute walk away.
It also boasts one of the best Students' Unions in the country, with over 300 clubs and societies, as well as a 360-seat student theatre, cafes, bars, music venues and a three-room nightclub which plays host to Fruity every Friday – an event guaranteed to become a major part of your uni experience.
Leeds Beckett University
The University of Leeds' main rival, Leeds Beckett is the city's second-biggest university with over 15,000 undergraduate students and around 5,000 postgraduate students. You might also know it as Leeds Metropolitan University, which was its name up until 2014 when it was rebranded.
Leeds Beckett is divided between two main campuses – one in the city centre, just a stone's throw away from the University of Leeds, and the other in a 100-acre park in Headingley, three miles north of the city.
Although it normally appears quite low down in university league tables, it's still a well-regarded, professional university boasting some excellent facilities.
Leeds Beckett is also big on sport, particularly rugby, and has a strong rivalry with the University of Leeds which comes to a head at the annual Leeds Varsity (Beckett usually win).
Leeds Trinity University
Leeds Trinity is a little-known university with an impressive ethos – it's the first university to incorporate work placements as part of every degree.
As universities go, it's on the small side, with less than 5,000 undergraduate students, and every student who graduates from Trinity has at least three months' of professional work experience under their belt, and the references and contacts which come with that.
Degree subjects include the likes of Media, Film, Criminology, Sport and Physical Education, Psychology and Primary Teaching (generally more vocational subjects).
Trinity is set apart from other Leeds universities (quite literally) because it's not actually situated in Leeds itself, but in a town six miles outside Leeds called Horsforth. Trains to Horsforth only take around 15 minutes from Leeds, and the university provides a free shuttle bus service to transport students from the train station to campus.
Leeds Arts University
Leeds Arts University is one of only a few specialist arts universities in the UK. Recently renamed from Leeds College of Art when it was granted university status, it offers degrees in subjects like Fashion Design, Photography, Fine Art and Animation.
With a population of under 2,000, it's a close-knit community and one of the smallest universities in the country, but has spawned famous alumni including contemporary artist Damien Hirst and famous sculptor Henry Moore.
It has two main buildings; one in the north of the city near the University of Leeds and the other slap bang in the city centre, next to Millennium Square.
Leeds Conservatoire is one of 11 music conservatoires in the UK, and has less than 2,000 students. In 2018 it was given its Higher Education status, meaning it now has degree-awarding power (previously degrees were validated by the University of Hull).
You'll find state of the art facilities, including the Skyline library, six recording studios (each with a mixing console), seven mixing rooms and six Apple Mac labs, all in its Quarry Hill campus in the east of the city.
If piano's your jam, it's the only conservatoire in England with All-Steinway School status – meaning 95% of their pianos are Steinways.
Where are the universities in Leeds?
This map shows the locations of each of Leeds' universities:
Cost of living in Leeds for students
As you'd imagine with it being a northern city, living costs in Leeds are pretty low – at least compared to London anyway.
In our latest Student Money Survey, we found out what an average student spends in Leeds, from rent and bills, to socialising and transport.
Our survey found that the average student rent in Leeds is £443. This is slightly higher than the national average – but bear in mind this can vary massively depending on whether you're living in halls or private housing.
Monthly student living expenses in Leeds
Here's how living costs in Leeds compares to the national average:
|Expense||Leeds average||National student average||Leeds compared to national average|
|Takeaways & eating out||£45||£49||-£4|
|Going out & socialising||£66||£59||+£7|
And the most important expense of all? Pints of beer should only set you back around £3.57 – that's around £2 cheaper than you would be paying in London. In fact, research suggests that Leeds is 16.98% cheaper than London overall.
If you want to go a step further, you can use our table of average student living expenses at each individual university to compare your university to the rest of the UK.
Where to live in Leeds
Halls of residence
All of the universities in Leeds have halls of residence available for students, which is typically where you will stay for at least your first year of study.
You'll find halls scattered all over the city – those in the centre or on campus tend to be more expensive than those further out. Common areas for university halls in Leeds include Burley, Headingley and Woodhouse.
Deciding which halls to go for can be a stressful experience, but there's no right or wrong answer – it's all down to personal preference. And remember, if the worst comes to worst, it's only for a year!
Like many UK cities, there are plenty of private halls of residence popping up in Leeds. If you don't manage to get a place in halls through your university, or don't want to move into private housing, you can opt for these instead. However, they tend to be much more expensive compared to renting in a house, so make sure you budget for it.
One of the main private halls is the towering Sky Plaza, the tallest building in Leeds, which has en-suite rooms for £164 a week.
There are two main areas of student housing in Leeds – Hyde Park and Headingley.
Hyde Park is closest to the city centre (around a 20-minute walk), and is particularly close to the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University (city campus).
You'll find some good pubs in the Hyde Park area (as well as the famous Brudenell Social Club) and a couple of Sainsbury's Locals and takeaways. However, it is student central, so be prepared for house parties and pre-drinks at the weekends.
Headingley tends to be a bit quieter than Hyde Park, but it's further away from the city centre (around a 40-45 minute walk or 20 minutes by bus). Here, you're close to Headingley town centre, with its independent shops and restaurants, Headingley Stadium, a big Sainsbury's and half the pubs on the Otley Run.
Burley Park is another popular area, situated vaguely in-between Headingley and Hyde Park, although it's not as well connected by bus as Headingley.
If you're looking for letting agents (and don't fancy getting ripped off) go through Unipol, as all the landlords and letting agents they work with must abide by the Unipol code of conduct designed to protect your rights as a tenant.
Transport in Leeds
Leeds is a pretty compact city and many areas are within walking distance of each other, or just a short bus/train ride away.
Make sure to check with your individual university about any other transport services they offer students. For example, The University of Leeds offers a £1 nightbus service that runs approximately every 30 minutes from 7pm-1am during term time, and will take students from the SU to their front door.
And, there are plenty of good options for public transport in the city...
Best ways to travel around Leeds as a student
Save money and time by using these forms of transport to get around Leeds:
- Bus – First Bus day tickets cost around £4.30, but they offer Unlimited Student Travel tickets (about £35 a month on a rolling ticket, £155 for one term or £340 for the year)
- Train – You can catch the train from Leeds' main station up to Burley Park or Headingley (two popular areas for student housing), and use your 16-25 Railcard for discounted tickets
- Taxi – As well as private hire taxis like Uber, students at the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University can use Amber Cars, give the taxi driver their student card as a deposit, and pay for the taxi at the SU the next day.
Note: It's worth waiting until you've arrived in Leeds before investing in a season travel ticket, as it will only save you money if you find you use that mode of transport a lot.
Employment opportunities in Leeds
According to our latest Student Money Survey, 62% of students turn to a part-time job for money at some point during their degree. If you think that will be you, then it's unlikely you'll be stuck for work somewhere like Leeds.
Don't forget to consider jobs at your university or Students' Union as well, as these will fit around your studies well.
Leeds has one of the UK's fastest-growing economies and its population has increased by over 150% in a decade. Its £64.6 billion economy is among the biggest in the UK outside London and is predicted to grow by 21% over the next 10 years.
Here are some key facts about employment prospects and the graduate job market in Leeds:
- The city's biggest economic areas are financial and business services
- Retail, leisure, construction, manufacturing and the creative and digital industries are also leading areas
- Asda Group, BT, Direct Line Group, First Direct, Centrica, Ventura and Yorkshire Bank are some of the city's biggest employers
- There are over 8,500 digital and tech businesses in Leeds
- Small and medium-sized enterprises account for half of the city's employment
- The University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett both have programmes and funding available to help students establish their own startup businesses.
In a nutshell, when you're looking for a graduate job, Leeds is a pretty good place to be.
Lifestyle in Leeds
Leeds is a super vibrant city – there's plenty to see and do, lots of events and festivals to attend. And, as it's situated in the heart of Yorkshire, you're only a short bus ride away from some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. Here's a quick rundown of what to expect...
One of Leeds' main selling points is its huge range of nightlife options. From trendy bars to epic club nights and fancy dress bar crawls – however you like to let off steam after those deadlines, Leeds has got it all.
For classier affairs, there's Call Lane and Merrion Street where you'll find a whole host of trendy cocktail bars and low-key clubs. Highlights include Jake's Bar, Call Lane Social (and its Tiki Hideaway), MOJO and Verve.
If you're a fan of cheesy sing-along classics, you have to go along to Fruity Friday at Leeds University's SU – it's a Leeds rite of passage. Plus, there's PRYZM in the city centre which has loads of different rooms and all the chart hits. For more alternative music, head to Wire or HiFi at the bottom end of the city – both cool underground clubs playing indie, retro and soul music.
For big-name DJs (and lots of glitter and bumbags) Canal Mills and Beaver Works are both in old converted warehouses on the outskirts of the city and will be right up your street. Or if you want to save on taxi fare there's Mint Club closer to home.
In Lower Briggate, you'll find a lively LGBTQ nightlife scene, with Viaduct Show Bar, Queens Court and Bar Fibre.
Finally, no Leeds university experience is complete without an Otley Run. The famous pub crawl takes in around 16 pubs, starting at the far end of Headingley and finishing around the Dry Dock near the city centre (if you make it that far). The only rule is you have to do it in fancy dress – the more extravagant the better.
Leeds has been referred to as the 'Knightsbridge of the North' as it's home to lots of designer stores and boutiques. Victoria Leeds, and Victoria Quarter arcade next door, are gorgeous to look at, but they don't really have student-budget shops.
Don't worry though – slap bang in the middle of the city is the Trinity Centre, a huge shopping centre with all your favourite brands, including a massive Primark shop. Every year, the Trinity Leeds Student Night gives you up to 50% off in most stores with a valid student card, so make sure you mark that in your calendar.
There's also Kirkgate Market, the original home of Marks and Spencer back in 1884, and the Corn Exchange, where you'll find quirky independent stores and vintage clothing.
If you're a foodie, and think your student budget is going to stretch to allow you to eat out while at uni, you'll be spoiled for choice with places to go. In the Trinity Centre, you'll find Trinity Kitchen, a food court with independent eateries which changes on a monthly basis.
For more upmarket restaurants, head to Greek Street where you'll find places like Gusto and Slug and Lettuce. Or, for your cheaper chains (Nandos, Pizza Hut, Frankie & Benny's etc.), there's Cardigan Fields.
For an effective hangover cure, an all-day breakfast from the Greasy Pig is a must-try. We recommend the Loaf of Breakfast (literally a full English stuffed inside a loaf of bread) or the Paralyser.
If you like to keep yourself busy at the weekend, there are loads of cultural sights and cheap activities to try in Leeds. In fact, the city was bidding to become the European Capital of Culture before Brexit put a spanner in the works.
Leeds plays host to some amazing events every year. Leeds Light Night in October is a great free arts and lights festival, and of course, there's Leeds Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in the UK.
Tourist attractions in Leeds
The main attractions in Leeds include the Royal Armouries Museum (see picture above), the gorgeous Roundhay Park and Kirkstall Abbey. There's also Tropical World, an impressive collection of tropical plants and animals (and high temperatures!), and the Emmerdale Studio Experience if you fancy visiting the set of one of the country's most popular soaps.
Closer to the city centre, there's the Thackray Medical Museum and Leeds Art Gallery, both of which are well worth a visit. For music and theatre, you've got the First Direct Arena and O2 Academy, and Leeds Grand Theatre and West Yorkshire Playhouse respectively, so you'll never be short of some evening entertainment.
Leeds United may not be as successful as they once were, but Leeds is still a big sporting city. Headingley Rugby Stadium is (as the name suggests) slap bang in the middle of the popular student area of Headingley, and you'll be able to see both Leeds Rhinos and Yorkshire Carnegie rugby league and union teams play there.
Olympic medal-winning triathletes, the Brownlee brothers, both studied at the University of Leeds, and their legacy has left a lasting impact. The uni recently opened the Brownlee Centre, the UK's first purpose-built triathlon training centre, situated next to the mile-long Bodington cycle circuit.
If you're a cycling fan, the Tour de Yorkshire makes an appearance in the city every year. Or, alternatively, you could take part in the Leeds Half Marathon, taking place every May.
In Leeds, you're unlikely to run out of things to do.
Interested in other unis in Northern England, too? Check out our Manchester city guide.