10 of the best UK universities if you love the outdoors

By Sean Campbell• Last updated: Jan 4, 2024
10 of the best UK universities if you love the outdoors
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When we think of university life, we often tend to think of big city living. But the frenetic pace and crowded atmosphere of city life just isn’t for everyone. Fortunately, the UK has plenty of wonderful universities based in, or near to, the countryside. Here, you can still get a world class education, but with much more peace, and a great deal more fresh air and outdoor living in your downtime. 

Keele University, Staffordshire, England

Keele University's campus itself is widely recognised as one of the most beautiful in the UK. It’s positioned on a beautiful hill overlooking the northern town of Newcastle-under-Lyme (not to be confused with Newcastle-upon-Tyne...). Given its countryside location, Keele University is completely self-contained, with student accomodation, shops, healthcare and leisure facilities all available within the massive 620 acre campus. And if you feel the need to get out of campus into the great outdoors, the Peak District National Park is just under an hour away by car or bus. 

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Manchester Metropolitan University, England

Speaking of easy access to the Peak District, Manchester Metropolitan University is also just 20 miles (32km) away. With the city traffic, it’ll take you about 50 minutes to get there from campus, but you’ll end up a whole world away. The Peak District is famous for its beautiful hiking trails, picturesque limestone valleys, historical sites, and caves, the deepest of which goes 400 meters under the ground! Sure, if you attend Manchester Met you may still be based in the city, but at least the countryside is just a short commute away. 

Leeds Beckett University, West Yorkshire, England

The same can be said of Leeds Beckett University, which is also based in the city itself. But Leeds isn’t such a big and overwhelming place, and the incredible Yorkshire Dales National Park is just a quick 20 mile (still 32km) ride away. Serene and beautiful, the Yorshire Dales are famed for their rolling green hills and mountain peaks like Great Whernside, Ingleborough and Wild Boar Fell. Aside from the vast countryside, there’s also the likes of the natural limestone formation at Malham Cove, as well as Aysgarth Falls. Once again, even if you find yourself staying in the city of Leeds, the peace and calm of the Great British Countryside is well within reach. 

University of Stirling, Scotland

Moving further north into the wilder terrain of Scotland, the University of Sterling sits right on the banks of Airthrey Loch. Airthrey Castle, which dates back to the 18th century is right on campus too, so you can consider yourself well out of the modern buzz of a city. Stirling’s most famous point of interest is the 12th century built Stirling Castle, which rests atop a crag of volcanic rock. Outside of town, the breathtaking Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park is just over 30 minutes away, where you’ll have almost unlimited spaces to hike, mountain bike or even sail until it’s time to get back to class. 

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Royal Holloway (University of London), Egham, England

Even though it’s officially part of the University of London, and is just a 40 minute train ride from the city, the Royal Holloway Campus in Egham, Surrey offers a totally different experience from urban student life. The university building is widely touted as one of the country’s greatest examples of Victorian architecture. Meanwhile, the campus at large is absolutely stunning, located in a 160 acre parkland with all student amenities and entertainment options included. It was originally built to be an all-female college in 1886, but it’s been accepting all genders since the middle of the 20th century. 

University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness, Scotland

The furthest north we’ll go on this list, the University of Highlands and Islands is located in… you guessed it… the Highlands. Inverness is situated right on the coast and is Scotland’s largest highland city. We’re big fans of any city that has a preserved “old town”, and inverness has just that. Here you’ll find a huge cathedral, and an old fashioned Victorian Market. While the city itself is a cultural goldmine, the fabled Loch Ness lies just 30 minutes south. Listen, you might be quite a while trying to catch a glimpse of the famous, most likely fictitious, Loch Ness Monster, but the surrounding countryside is a real thing of beauty. 

Bangor University, Gwynedd, Wales

Bangor University is located in Gwynedd which is Wales’ oldest city, and is surrounded by the lush landscape on one side, and the Irish Sea on the other. Your outdoor adventure can begin right in Bangor itself, where you can walk along the 60 mile North Wales Path, which skirts the coastline all the way to the town of Prestatyn. Gwynned is also home to Snowdonia, a national park characterised by mountains and glaciers, and over 100 lakes. Mount Snowdon, its main attraction, is Wales’ highest peak at just over 1,000m, and on a clear day gives hikers a view all the way across the sea to Ireland. 

Ulster University, Coleraine, Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland is home to a few excellent universities, but when it comes to those with access to nature, they don’t come much better than the Ulster University in Coleraine. Coleraine sits along the wild and wind-battered Northern Irish Coast, which has come to the attention of the world recently for featuring heavily in the hit series Game of Thrones. The beaches of Portstewart and Portrush are just 10 - 15 minutes away from campus, while Coleraine itself is located along the 'Causeway Coastal Route', an area revered for its outstanding natural beauty. The route takes its name from the nearby Giant’s Causeway, a peculiar and quite unique rock formation surrounded by sheer cliffs and verdant foothills. 

University of Reading, Berkshire, England

Reading is an ancient market town in the southeast of England. The entire county of Berkshire is famed for the sheer number of quaint, slow moving rural villages it has, each offering a glimpse into the charms of the English countryside. The town of Reading, while historic and culture-laden itself, is situated right on the fringes of the North Wessex Downs, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The undulating landscape is peppered with picturesque villages, forests and winding canals. Meanwhile, some of the most famous landmarks in the area are the prehistoric-era Chalk Horses -- a number of mysterious, huge horse shaped figures which were hewn into the white chalk hillsides. 

University of Nottingham, East Midlands, England

Nottingham is well known for being the setting for the legends of Robin Hood, that charming rogue who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Most of the Robin Hood legends were centered around the city and his hideout in nearby Sherwood Forest. But even within the very campus of the University of Nottingham, students have access to an unusual amount of greenery, without even having to venture as far as the surrounding countryside. Stretching for 300 acres, the University Park campus has won scores of awards for its environmentally friendly spaces, as will as its sprawling gardens, trees and water features. In a sense, Nottingham University is its own rural oasis right in the middle of the city!

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Sean is a freelance writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.

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