University cities are stuffed with wonders that can be found for free. To help students (and anyone else) uncover some wallet friendly surprises in their new home we’ve produced this series of City Art guides.

With hotspots curated by Lisa Freedman (of the Sunday Telegraph and Evening Standard’s ES magazine), alongside the artist design by Benedict Stenning (of mapmycity.co.uk), these guides  show world-class art that can be discovered by walking around five cities (London, Leeds, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Bristol), along with some quirky and good-value refreshment along the way. On the front page is an artistic map of the city for you that we have commissioned that’s actually good enough to frame in its own right.

City art guides

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Bristol

Lucky Bristol residents officially inhabit one of the country’s ‘most liveable cities’, a place once primarily known for heavy industry, now reinvented as a hub of culture and creativity.

And evidence of that rebirth can be seen outdoors throughout the city, where a dynamic policy of public art has been pursued, with 100 exciting new works added since the start of the millennium.

But responsibility for what’s out there doesn’t just rest with officialdom. Artists here have been making art public – in subversive and satirical fashion – long before the authorities stepped in. Bristol is, of course, the home of that ultimate street artist, Banksy, who started out here as a lad in the 80’s with a simple can of spray paint. His work can now be viewed throughout his home town, with a free walk to showcase the collection.

Edinburgh

Compact and easy to get about, Edinburgh is fun to explore on foot, making a spur of the moment detour – to examine a piece of sculpture, secret courtyard or striking design detail – all part of the adventure.

‘The Athens of the North’ – so-called because of its outstanding neo-classical architecture – undoubtedly deserves its reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Today, it’s one of the most cosmopolitan as well, with an array of luxury shopping and Michelin-starred restaurants.

But Edinburgh is also the ultimate student-friendly town and, for those on less substantial budgets, there’s an abundant supply of low-cost bars, restaurants and boutiques. 

Leeds

A Northern powerhouse, Leeds was once primarily known for its starring role in mining and manufacture. Today, it’s just as celebrated for its shopping, clubbing and art.

In the centre of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, the city houses two of the country’s most important collections of modern British sculpture: Leeds Art Gallery and The Henry Moore Institute. But for those who prefer to absorb their art on the hoof, there’s plenty to see outside the gallery gates, where public art ranges from the impressive and monumental to the striking but diminutive (check out the intriguing trail of owls ornamenting the city’s buildings on leedsowltrail.com).

Leeds University campus, too, is home to an impressive array of work, ranging from Eric Gill’s First World War memorial, dedicated in 1923, to the student-and-staff selected ‘A Spire’, by award-winning sculptor Simon Fujiwara, added in 2015 (its Public Art Trail can be found on the university website).

Liverpool

The city that gave us The Beatles has moved on from its gritty roots as a hub of industry and shipping to become one of the most dynamic centres of contemporary culture in Britain.

English Heritage considers Liverpool Britain’s finest Victorian city and, with over 2,500 listed buildings, it’s unsurprising that much of it is now a World Heritage site. And the city’s grand historic architecture is matched both by an exciting range of (free) museums and galleries and a rich tapestry of public art, from the civic and monumental to the iconic and innovative.

From any perspective, Liverpool is an affordable city, and, on top of as much free culture as you can absorb, you’ll find great markets, inexpensive shopping and cheap transport to take the grind out of daily life. If you’re planning to immerse yourself in its justifiably famous nightlife – in the centre of town, Lark Lane or the Baltic Triangle – you’ll also discover that cocktails, music and food are often served up with an appetising student discount.

London

London is one of the world’s great cultural capitals, and, if its streets aren’t exactly paved with gold, they’re certainly well stocked with public art of extraordinary quality.

No one could hope to exhaust its many pleasures, but a careful edit of what’s available will allow you to explore both the history of Britain and the history of a city that is a constant work in progress. Over the past decade particularly, public art has been used as a critical tool in ‘place-making’, helping establishing the identity of newly created districts, like Nine Elms and Greenwich Peninsula, as well as re-energising some of the oldest.

London is never going to be a budget town – and straying too far from the college bar rarely makes much sense – but eating out, carefully considered, won’t necessarily break the bank. Otherwise, a picnic in one of London’s magnificent parks – from Kensington to Greenwich, and Stratford to Battersea – is often the most cost-effective way to double your pleasure, with a free art gallery to accompany your sarnies.

Best Student Cities for cash strapped students

See how your town compares using our guide to the cheapest student living costs, where the student pound goes the furthest and discover the outright winners and losers.

For more tips and information on student spending from financial experts to bank account, credit card and student overdraft guides, check out our student finance hub.