Blown your student loan on books and beers? No problem. There are plenty of ways to see the best of Britain on a budget and with a bit of forward-planning it’s easy to sightsee on a shoestring in Britain’s biggest cities.
Where to stay: The University of Manchester’s Whitworth Park Halls offers rooms between June and September from £16. It’s just next door to the free-to-visit Whitworth Art Gallery and is a 15-minute bus ride from the city centre.
What to do: Get a free culture fix at the Manchester Art Gallery, the People’s History Museum or the Imperial War Museum. Nab a £5 student ticket to see a movie at HOME, the UK’s largest arts complex outside London, dedicated to contemporary art, theatre and film. The Deaf Institute is one of the city’s coolest music venues and offers free early entry to club nights.
Where to eat: Pick up cheap bites at Piccadilly’s street food market between Thursday and Saturday and have a picnic in the neighbouring Piccadilly Gardens. Siam Smiles is a no-frills Thai restaurant in a supermarket in Chinatown and Rudy’s, an industrial-style Italian joint in Ancoats serves authentic Neapolitan pizza.
Where to stay: In a fancy Victorian townhouse in the city’s West End, the Glasgow Youth Hostel, offers shared rooms from £14 per night.
What to do: Get a free art fix at the Kelvingrove Gallery or head outside to see striking street art by following the city’s self-guided mural trail. Catch a cheap comedy show at The Stand Comedy Club, where Tuesday night tickets cost £2 or nab gig tickets from £6 at King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, where Oasis were first discovered.
Where to eat: Start the day with a cheap chapatti wrap from the colourful Babu Bombay Street Kitchen. Fill up on traditional fish and chips at Old Salty’s, where the Monday to Friday lunch deal is a steal at £5, or head to Where the Monkey Sleeps for a grab-and-go haggis sandwich for less than £2.
Ashton Lane in Glasgow
Where to stay: The University of Bristol offers rooms to students from any educational establishment from £13 (shared room/bathroom) between July and September. The Hillside Woodside campus is right by the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
What to do: Climb Cabot Tower to see the lay of the land before embarking on a self-guided walking tour to follow in Banksy’s footsteps. Museums including M Shed and the Arnolini are free. The Cube is an arthouse cinema that offers tickets from £2. Check Headfirst Bristol for free and cheap gigs.
Where to eat: The Canteen in Stokes Croft combines affordable comfort food and free live music. For alfresco eats, grab a homemade veggie meal from Edna’s Kitchen, a popular kiosk in Castle Park. Line your stomach before a night out at Grillstock, an American-style diner that serves massive meat dishes.
Where to stay: Part of Queen’s University, the Elms Village campus is in a leafy spot around a mile outside Belfast city centre and offers rooms throughout the summer from £40 including breakfast.
What to do: Ulster Museum is an eccentric treasure trove that combines art, history and natural sciences exhibitions and is free to visit Tuesday to Sunday. Pop into the Oh Yeah Music Centre to catch a cheap cultural event or book early to secure a £4 ticket at the Queens Film Theatre every Monday.
Where to eat: Pick up affordable snacks at St George’s Market, a Victorian covered market close to the waterfront, and head to the City Hall gardens to eat alfresco. Common Grounds community café in Queens Quarter serves bargain brunches and fairtrade coffee and Maggie Mays is a student favourite for its extensive all-day breakfast menu.
Dunlace Castle in Belfast
Where to stay: While school’s out for summer, stay in one of London’s university halls of residence. Top colleges including UAL, Imperial College and UCL offer rooms in central locations from £18 per night.
What to do: See London on two wheels by hopping on a ‘Boris Bike’, part of the city’s popular cycle hire scheme. The first 30 minutes are free or 24-hour hire costs £2. Most of London’s museums and galleries are free to visit. Join a free street art walking tour of Shoreditch to see how artists like Banksy and Invader have made their mark on the neighbourhood. Check London Ears for upcoming cheap and free gigs across the city.
Where to eat: There are plenty of affordable Asian eats in the city. Soho is home to a number of Korean restaurants including Bi Bim Bap and Kingsland Road in Shoreditch is lined with Vietnamese options. Brick Lane is the centre of London’s Bangladeshi community and is packed full of budget curry houses that entice diners with free beers and poppadoms.
View from The Roof Gardens in Kensington
Where to stay: Students can stay at Cardiff University’s Senghennydd Court campus close to the National Museum and the city centre from £13 between June and September.
What to do: Catch a free performance on the Glanfa Stage at the Millennium centre, or check for upcoming free events at the Roald Dahl Plass, the public plaza just outside. The Glee Club in Cardiff Bay hosts the hugely popular Ignite Cardiff nights, a series of TED-style talks. Tickets are free but disappear quickly.
Where to eat: Enjoy waterfront views and pizzas from £3.25 at Pizza Pronto, a food shack in Cardiff Bay. Fill up on gourmet hot dogs at Hogwurst in Cathays, a lively student suburb of the city. Also in Cathays, Falafel Kitchen is a top pick for veggies. For something spicier, head to Kumar’s, a South Indian restaurant with a ‘bring-your-own-booze’ policy.
The Wales Millennium Centre in Wales.