Top universities for pretty campuses to chill out on
Location, location, location – plus cool architecture and lovely grounds make these campuses rather nice places for rest and recreation as well as places for study. They may be an oasis of calm in a capital city, a coastal sub-tropical paradise or have yesteryear charm. Whatever their appeal, they’ve got the chill-out factor.
Bath Spa University
What makes this campus a good place to hang out is that it’s old and charming, and becoming very new and disarming at the same time.
The grade 1 listed country house at the heart of Bath Spa University’s Newton Park is made of the same noble and relaxing Bath Stone that colours the distinctive architecture of the nearby city of Bath with its UNESCO World Heritage site status.
But next to this main building is a recently built, ultra-modern-looking centre that houses broadcast studios for the university’s many media students. Outside it is a twenty-first century spin on the open-air amphitheatre. Bring food and sit on its steps and chat – or watch some theatre, or the latest student music or dance when there’s an outdoor performance. The IT centre is in a 14th century tower, while creative writing students learn how to produce new fiction in the castle gatehouse.
The beautiful grounds are leased from the Duchy of Cornwall and were designed by Capability Brown, the world-famous landscape architect who also created the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. In turn, these are set among farmland and rolling hills.
Falmouth University's two campuses have the appeal of feeling like tasteful coastal holiday complexes. The university specialises in arts, craft and media courses and has student exhibitions on display around buildings, giving a creative vibe.
Both its two campuses have the sort of 19th century sub-tropical gardens that characterise the Cornish peninsula. We’re talking serious amounts of palms and rhododendron bushes to stroll through.
Its Penryn Campus – which is run jointly with the University of Exeter – mixes this style with space-age complexes and Scandinavian style wood-cladded student housing. There’s also a long row of student housing where the outside walls of each dwelling are painted in a separate bright colour, in the style that’s become trendy in port towns. The housing is on top of a hill with views of woods, fields and the Fal estuary; students living there can look out of their windows and toast the sun as it sets on the water.
Just off the M6, between Birmingham and Manchester, is Keele University.
If you enjoy unwinding by being in rural parkland then its campus has much to offer – 625 acres of rural grounds to be precise. To put that into context, Hyde Park in London is 350 acres large.
As well as parkland, the estate has lakes and woods. Its arboretum is rather lovely, with delights all year from flowering magnolias in the spring to flame-red maples in the autumn. There are Pagoda trees, redwoods and witch hazel; in pride of place is the largest collection of flowering cherry trees in the UK.
Also on the estate is Keele Hall, a red brick and turreted 19th century stately home, which now functions as the university conference centre.
It’s a great place for sitting on the grass and reading a text book, eating outdoors or strolling across the sun-dappled floor of its woodlands.
University of Roehampton, London
The great appeal of Roehampton’s campus is its elegance arising from a mixture of its parklands and the four Georgian buildings at the core of the complex. It’s relaxed in a posh, leafy London suburb way. Its 18th century buildings are different from those found on the campuses elsewhere in our list. Roehampton’s were built to exist in a great city, and there’s nothing of the country house about them. The most photographed is Whitelands – a former teacher training college bordering Richmond Park. It’s made of light stone and looks genteel. It’s the sort of place where you might expect students to stroll outside after taking mid-morning tea.
But, like many traditional campuses, it has its fair share of new and modern buildings.
It doesn’t have the grandest buildings of London’s campus universities; Royal Holloway’s are more imposing and palatial. But Roehampton’s campus has a touch of class and is a good place to hang out, particularly outdoors. And it’s close to a very pretty stretch of the Thames in south-west London, with the nearby Putney Bridge tube stop being only 23 minutes’ ride from Charing Cross.
University of Stirling
The campus of the University of Stirling is truly pretty, and a great place to picnic. Look north across the university grounds from the 18th century Airthrey Castle that now houses the institution’s international centre and you’ll see the campus loch and then wooded slopes that rise up to the Ochil Hills. These are a 25-mile-long range of steep-sided, round-topped and occasionally craggy hills.
Face the opposite direction to get a stunning view of the Wallace Monument, which looks like some Victorian, gothic stone space rocket but which is, in fact, a memorial to William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, who crushed the English army in the first battle of the Scottish War of Independence at nearby Stirling Bridge.
This is a modern campus with splashes of important history and lots of eye candy of the beautiful countryside variety. But it feels informal, so you feel entirely comfortable putting a blanket on the ground on the banks of the loch and lazing after study.
Swansea University (Bay Campus)
If you like really modern campuses you’ll appreciate Swansea University’s Bay Campus. It’s totally new and opened in September 2015. If you like being by the sea you’ll also like this campus. As its name suggests, it’s on the beach of one of Britain’s widest bays.
Bay Campus has big modern academic buildings, a contemporary, urban leisure and retail zone aimed at students, and a path through the campus to sand and sea.
The centrepiece of the campus is the Great Hall, which has lecture theatres and is also an arts centre with an 800-seat auditorium. Its balconies have views of the bay.
The 65-acre site is the home of the university’s engineering college and is on the eastern approach to Swansea.
And its coolest feature is that it’s the only university campus in the UK with its own promenade along a beach.