Leeds: Student City Guide
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...
Leeds has a reputation for being a fantastic student city - five universities, a thriving nightlife, great job prospects and cheap Northern prices make it an appealing option to the thousands of students who flock there each year.
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 - and don't worry, there are still four Wetherspoons. So without further ado, let's take a look at exactly what Leeds has to offer...
Leeds: Key facts
- Number of universities: 5
- Student population: 65,000+
- International students: 13,000+
- Average rent cost: £463 a month
- Average cost of a pint: £2.60
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
What’s on this page?
Universities in Leeds
Leeds is absolutely brimming with universities - meaning that if you're keen to move there for your degree, you'll have a quite a few different options to choose from.
Use the numbers below to identify each university on the map, or click the icon in the top left of the map to open the key.
The city's most well known university, the University of Leeds is one of the 18 research-intensive Russell Group unis and typically appears in the top 10 of the main UK university league tables.
As a research-led university, there's a focus on academic rather than vocational subjects here, and entry requirements are usually quite high.
The university is the fifth largest in the country, with over 34,000 students, but it's also one of the unis that receives the most 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' union 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 around 28,000 students. You might also know it as Leeds Metropolitan University, which was it's 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 Varsity derby (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 4,000 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 and the only one in the North. 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 College of Music
Leeds College of Music is one of nine music conservatoires in the UK, and has around 1,200 students. In 2018 it was given it's own 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 new Skyline library, five recording studios, seven mixing rooms, five surround sound 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 the UK with All-Steinway School status - meaning 95% of their pianos are Steinways.
Cost of living in Leeds for students
As you'd imagine with it being a northern city, Leeds has pretty cheap living costs - at least compared to London anyway.
In our latest Student Money Survey we found out what an average student in Leeds pays for everything from rent and bills, to socialising and transport.
Our survey found that the average student rent in Leeds is £463. 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.
Here's how living costs in Leeds compares to the national average:
Monthly student living expenses in Leeds
|Expense||Leeds average||National student average||Leeds compared to national average|
|Going out & socialising||£54||£49||+£5|
And the most important expense of all? Pints of beer should only set you back around £2.60 - 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 institution 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 halls 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, 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 £155 a week.
There's 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 there (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 little bit quieter than Hyde Park but it's further out 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 is.
If you're looking for a 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.
It's likely that if you do need to use public transport while living in Leeds, you'll mostly use the bus - most of which are run by First Bus. Day tickets cost around £4.30, but they offer Unlimited Student Travel tickets. These are definitely worth the investment if you're going to be using the bus every day.
You can pay £45 for unlimited monthly travel, £299 for the academic year or £145 for one term. However, it's worth waiting until you've arrived in Leeds and sussed the situation out for yourself before investing in an unlimited ticket, as it won't save you much money unless you're going to be using the bus a lot.
You can also catch the train from Leeds' main station up to Burley Park or Headingley (two popular areas for student housing) - don't forget to use your 16-25 Railcard for discounted tickets.
If you're travelling at night there's of course Uber, but the University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University have an arrangement with private hire taxi company Amber Cars. This means that if you're ever caught without cash or card, you can give the taxi driver your student card as a deposit instead. All you have to do is head to the SU the following day to pick up your card and pay your fare!
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 6.30pm-1am during term time, and will take students from the SU to their front door.
Employment opportunities in Leeds
According to our latest Student Money Survey, 67% 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.
In fact, research has shown that part-time jobs in Leeds are the most well-paid in the UK!
Don't forget to consider jobs at your university or students' union as well, as these will fit around your studies well.
Leeds has the UK's fastest-growing economy and its population has increased by over 150% in a decade. Its £64.6 billion economy is one of 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 job market in Leeds:
- Financial and business services are the city's biggest economic areas, employing around 343,000 people
- Retail, leisure, construction, manufacturing and the creative and digital industries are also growing rapidly
- It's the third largest manufacturing centre in the country, with over 26,000 people employed in the sector
- Asda Group, First Direct, Centrica, Ventura, BT, Direct Line Group and Yorkshire Bank are some of the city's biggest employers
- There are over 3,500 digital and tech businesses in Leeds
- HMRC is due to move 6,000 jobs to Leeds in 2020
- 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 an amazingly vibrant city - there's plenty to see and do, lots of events and festivals to attend and being 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 a million 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 and Church (literally an old church) 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 the price tags aren't particularly friendly for a student budget.
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. 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 of quirky independent eateries which changes on a monthly basis.
For more upmarket restaurants head to Greek Street where you'll find places like Gusto and the 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-visit. Try 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, Leeds has got loads of cultural sights and cheap activities for you to get yourself along to - in fact, the city was bidding to become the European Capital of Culture before Brexit put a spanner in the works.
Its main tourist attractions 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.
The city also plays host to some amazing events every year. Leeds Light Night in October is a free arts and lights festival that you cannot miss, plus of course there's Leeds Festival, one of the biggest music festivals in the UK.
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.
Famous 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. Alternatively you could take part in the Leeds Half Marathon, taking place every May.