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Student Guide - things to do in Preston City Centre

13 September 2023

Get a head start to your new term with some great places to visit, eat and drink across the city centre.

Preston is a friendly northern city with a relaxed feel, loads of Lancashire character and lots to see and do. Ranking in the top 20 best student cities for 2023, it makes a great place to be a student. 

Whether you're a fresher or returning student, get ideas on free or affordable activities in and around the city centre. Plus suggestions on some cool places to hangout with friends, eat, drink and listen to music. 

Free or low cost things to do

When it comes to activities and entertainment, Preston has a wide mix of things to keep you occupied over your semesters in the city.

Sun's out, fun's out

Young people sat on bench at Winckley Square Gardens

For outdoor lovers, Preston is packed with beautiful parks and nature reserves, such as Winckley Square Gardens, one of the North West's best examples of a Georgian Square, and Avenham and Miller Parks, Preston's Victorian Grade II listed urban oasis - perfect places for chilling out and getting closer to nature. For fitness enthusiasts, Moor Park is a haven for sports and activities. With facilities including a skatepark, tennis courts, basketball courts, football pitches, outdoor table tennis and more, it's a must for sport fans.

The infamous Guild Wheel is also a must outdoor activity if you love cycling or walking.  Whether you plan to take on the full 21 mile route or enjoy specific stretches through its various entry and exit points, it makes an interesting way to explore the various different landscapes that make this city what it is.

And for history buffs, why not explore Preston's past with one of city centre's heritage trails. Wind back the clock and discover the incredible lives of famous Prestonians, see key landmarks that have helped shape Preston and find out about the stories behind the city's statues and sculptures. Preston Docks is also a must visit. As well as taking a circular walk around its historic basin, the docks is also home to plenty of leisure venues such as Odeon Cinema, Ribble Steam Railway Museum (including vintage steam rides) and a mix of pubs and eats dotted around the marina.

If you love the beautiful game, Preston North End (PNE) are one of England's oldest football clubs with a history stretching back to 1880. Living in the city centre, means you're only a short walk away from Deepdale stadium, which holds title of being the oldest professional footballing site in continuous use in the world.

Rainy days

Indoor crazy golf

For those rainy days, the city has plenty to offer to keep you entertained. If art and culture is your bag, keep an eye out for all the latest exhibitions at The Birley, a unique art space for contemporary installations workshops and more, plus UCLan's PR1 Gallery showcasing fantastic exhibitions from undergraduate and post graduate students, staff, and alumni.

For gamers, head to Belong - a bespoke gaming arena as part of the GAME store. Whether you're a beginner or a hard-core gamer, you can battle it out with their high end PCs, PlayStations, Xboxes and VR equipment. Or for the ultimate virtual reality experience, drop in to Multiverse Virtual Reality. The arcade, close to the city centre, is packed with new worlds and adventures to tackle solo or with friends. Ride a virtual rollercoaster, battle the un-dead, or race a Grand Prix. With the experiences split into three zones, there's something for everyone.

For fun with friends, you can't go wrong with Level - Lancashire's leading entertainment complex. Set over 2 floors with bowling, laser tag, crazy golf, karaoke rooms, arcade games and more, it's a great place to visit with your uni mates. Another go to group activity is Escape Reality - rally together your pals, think outside the box and take on a set of challenges to break out of your chosen escape room within 60 minutes.

If you're looking for more of an adrenaline rush to burn off some energy, then why not head to Flip Out Trampoline Park for some alternative fitness fun.

Or, for those wanting to cosy up and grab some much needed chill time from studies, you can't go wrong with a good old traditional trip to the cinemas With Odeon and Vue located within a stones throw from the city centre, they make a great rainy day leisure option.

For other things to do and activity ideas, see our things to do section.

Shopping 

People walking down Fishergate

When it comes to retail, Preston is the perfect place to find what you need. With a bunch of famous high street brands such as H&M, New Look, Primark, TK Maxx and Waterstones, there's plenty of big names to visit.

If independent shops are more your bag, then the city centre has plenty of eclectic offerings down it's many charming side streets.

Wander down Winckley Street and you'll find The Secret Garden - a plant lovers haven. Or, for vintage clothing aficionados, head over to Retrogue Vintage Clothing on Cannon Street to check out their great selection of retro threads.

Just a short stroll from the high street, you'll find Preston Markets, which effortlessly combines the city's long-established and traditional traders with new and contemporary stalls and cafés. The result - a one-stop location for fresh, local food, quality independent retail and some great places to eat in or take away. 

An independent shopping outing wouldn't be complete without a visit to Action Records on Church Street. First established in 1979 and being at the forefront of the music trends ever since, they have a dedicated following of music lovers and for good reason.

On the way back to campus, why not stop off at Halewoods, a rare and used book store near campus on Friargate. The impressive shop is over 150 years old and a must visit for book fans.

Cool coffeehouses 

Close up of couple at Town House Coffee and Brew Bar

Looking for great coffee and cake in a fresh, edgy, chill setting? Then look no further than these cool urban cafe spots bringing all the vibes.

Jonah's Cafe

Located in Preston's Box Market, Jonah's serve up speciality coffee that packs the flavours and punch you need for your day.

The cosy and unique venue allows you to sit inside and take a break from shopping, or grab a coffee to go. And, if coffee isn't your thing, you can opt for a tasty hot chocolate as well as traditional or herbal tea.

The venue also serves a modest selection of breakfast and lunch options, changing frequently, as well as cakes and snacks to either eat in or take away. 

Cedarwood Coffee

Situated down Preston's picturesque and cobbled Winckley Street, Cedarwood Coffee makes the ideal spot to catch up with friends or recuperate after a day of shopping.

Not only are there speciality coffees for that perfect pick-me-up, there are also a selection of yummy cakes and refreshing beverages as well as a modest lunch menu with vegetarian options. Combine all these with fun, fresh decor and a comfortable laid back atmosphere and you've got a winner.

Town House Coffee and Brew Bar

Based down Preston Friargate, Town House Coffee and Brew Bar is perfect for casual drinks or a spot of lunch.

The comfy seats and fresh décor create a cosy and original place to enjoy fresh food - including breakfast, brunch, lunch, and cakes. The café's menu changes seasonally and features vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, with all ingredients being ethically and locally sourced. 

Cafuné

With views of the city's Flag Market, Cafuné brings the vibrant vibes and flavours of South America to Preston's city centre.

A coffee lover's paradise, the café serves a variety of pick-me-ups in all the expected - and unexpected - forms. There are even traditional South American teas to treat yourself to as well as decadent cakes and snacks.

For breakfast and lunch, you can discover an authentic South American themed menu serving a variety of options you won't find anywhere else. This includes vegetarian and vegan options that don't compromise on flavour. All this is available to eat in or take away.

Cherry Pie Coffee Shop

Cherry Pie Coffee Shop serves up some great coffee with an excellent choice of cold and toasted sandwiches, chips, jacket potatoes and a tasty selection of pastries and desserts. 

Combine this with their fresh cosy interior set up, offering both indoor and outdoor seating areas, and you've got yourself a stylish comfy corner to take some time out and watch the world go by.

For more coffee house and lunch spot ideas, see our cafes and coffeehouses section.

Evening eats

People in Lost Bar and Pizzeria courtyard

With plenty of vibrant independents offering something a little different to you're usual sit down meal set up, the hardest decision is which one to choose:

Tipsy Chef

Tucked down Lancaster Road, Tipsy Chef's recently opened bar and restaurant offers mouth watering street-food, crazy cocktails and cool beats. Whether you're a fan of boa buns bursting with flavour, juicy burgers stacked with gourmet toppings, zesty tacos, or indulgent loaded fries, their menu is sure to cure your cravings.

To sample their street menu during the day, head over to Preston Markets - Tipsy Chef.

Mowgli

Situated in Miller Arcade, a stunning Grade II listed Victorian building, the vibrant Mowgli Preston with its famous swing seats, hanging ropes and vines is the place to enjoy traditional Indian street food and unplug with friends. 

LOST bar and pizzeria

Tucked between Market Street West and Friargate, discover the hidden gem of LOST bar with its courtyard garden delights and mouth-watering Neapolitan-style pizza.

The venue is also a social, creative, and cultural space hosting a range of events including artisan makers markets, Social Sundays, live music, DJ's, workshops, wellness classes, and spoken word.

Forum

Located down the cobbled Winckley Street, near the picturesque Winckley Square, Forum makes the perfect place to enjoy some city centre drinks and quality food.

The lounge bar creates the perfect laid back atmosphere for drinks with friends or date nights. Sit back, relax, and sample some of their expertly mixed cocktails and quality beers.

La Neta

La Neta is a colourful restaurant serving fun and delicious Mexican dishes.

Not only will La Neta's menu get your stomach growling, they also serve up a generous amount of gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options. Team this with some cocktails and you have the ideal place for meeting up with friends.

Smashed 

Situated in  Miller Arcade, Smashed has an exciting collection of craft beers to sip and a hearty menu to tuck in to.

Step inside and you will be transported into a neon wonderland, complete with retro vibes and vintage gaming. Enjoy all your favourite childhood games on consoles like the Nintendo 64, complete with good food and drink - what more could you ask for?

To take a look at other great places to grab a bite to eat see our restaurants section.

Pubs, bars and clubs

Barman making a cocktail

Whether you're into traditional pubs, cocktail bars, or partying into the small hours, the city has a vibrant night out scene for students.

The Adelphi

Sitting bang in the middle of UCLAN's campus, The Adelphi is a real student mecca and for good reason. With all day served breakfast and value food that is guaranteed to fill you up.

The chilled atmosphere, comfy seating, TVs with live sports, a pool table, and a large outdoor seating area for those sunny days, makes it the perfect place for relaxing and catching up with friends.

The Ferret

Located on the outskirts of the city centre, The Ferret is the place to catch amazing live music - from rock, indie, and alternative artists spanning around the globe, to local talent at one of their open-mic nights.

Whatever you fancy, The Ferret's packed calendar of events and gigs is worth getting excited over. Whether it's a themed night based on your favourite indie TV shows or movies, or a comedy evening that'll have you in stitches, there is always something new and unique taking place. 

When it comes to music, The Ferret is a key venue in Preston and hosts live gigs throughout the week and on weekends. Catch your favourite bands, or check out new acts, and be sure to hit the dance floor in the process.

The Warehouse

'The Warehouse', provides something outside the mainstream music scene over its three floors of indie and rock music. First established in 1972, over the years its become a firm favourite amongst alternative indie rock music fans and is one of the longest running clubs in the UK.

1842

Dine, drink, and dance the night away in 1842. With live entertainment most weekends and resident DJ's setting the perfect ambience and party atmosphere on Friday and Saturday Nights. It's the ultimate, all encompassing experience to start and end your night out in the city.

For the gin enthusiast, make sure to venture to The Rabbit Hole, accessible through the rear of 1842. This dedicated outdoor gin garden stocks over 100 Gins and provides the perfect setting for catching up with friends and trying something new.

Blitz live music venue

Located just a stone's throw away from Preston Bus Station, and in the heart of the city's nightlife scene, Blitz is a music lover's paradise. From big names to up and coming artists, Blitz delivers. 

Together with Action Records, the venue hosts album launches, intimate gigs, and full-blown performances. So, whether you're after seeing your favourite artist, or checking out something new, Blitz is a must-visit for music fans.

Lonely People

Located in Preston city centre, down the picturesque Winckley Street, Lonely People is the perfect place for some evening drinks.

With its boutique interior and experimental cocktails, you can enjoy a fresh and unique atmosphere that caters perfectly to special occasions. This intimate bar sets the scene for catching up with friends or a date night with a touch of class.

Baker Street

Oozing with character and plenty of bespoke features, the newly renovated Baker Street, dating back to 1818, is spread over three floors.

With the bar open until late, you can sample their ample stock of craft beers and cocktails. Add live music and weekend DJs into the mix and you have the ideal place to catch up with friends and fit in some dancing.

For other cool places to drink, socialise and dance the night away see our bars and pubs section.

Clubs and societies

From art societies and walking clubs, to creative writing and photography, the city offers a mix of clubs to suit a variety of interest - making them a great place to meet new likeminded people. 

Take a look at our clubs and societies section to see what takes your fancy.

What's on this autumn?

To find out what's on this autumn take a look at our bustling events calendar.

Encounter Festival 2023 (15 - 17 September)

Timeless performers

Established in 2015 as a legacy of the famous Preston Guild celebrations, the Encounter Festival has succeeded in delivering a plethora of fascinating, profound, and exciting performances to Preston city centre. 

This year's festival is set to be just as extraordinary with free outdoor theatre shows, games and tunes at the The Flag Market Festival Hub, local heroes on the Community and Traditions Stage outside the Guild Hall and, as always, the  signature Torchlight Procession will bring music and dancing through the streets and into the city centre.

For more information about student life in Preston, including 360 tours of the city, visit UCLan - student life.

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