Going Higher: Northern exposure will have you partying

THERE IS fierce competition these days as to which is the most happening city in the north of England.

Manchester, pre-eminent for so long, has slipped down the league table of student esteem compiled by Red Mole. Perhaps the closure of the Hacienda has put paid to the remnants of "Madchester", where sixth-formers longed to go in the early Nineties, and parents hoped they would not. Or perhaps it is simply the fragmentation of a scene that for a while was coherent and cool.

But it is a moot point as to whether Leeds or Newcastle has seized Manchester's crown. The University of Leeds tops the Red Mole league for night-life, with the University of Northumbria in Newcastle in second place. Each city has its followers and they both pull in student revellers from neighbouring universities and colleges. But what is overwhelmingly clear from the Red Mole vote is that the northern universities as a whole dominate the night- life league. If you are looking for a good time, go north.

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne's two student union buildings are bang in the centre of the town which makes it easy to start off the evening sampling the lively entertainment and cheap beer there, before moving on to the city scene where dozens of bars and clubs can be found in the famous (or infamous) Bigg Market and the slightly more sophisticated Quayside area.

The union's own venue, Bassment, attracts major performers on the music scene and the Telewest Arena, opened in 1995, has a capacity of more than 10,000 for big-name international concerts. In October the city will play host to BBC Radio One's Sound City - a week-long festival of rock and pop hosted by Steve Lamacq and John Peel.

According to the Virgin Alternative Guide, Leeds is now a city for young thrusters with money in their pockets and mobile phones at their ears. But students can join in the fun too, although some clubs may be "dressy". Students may not be able to afford the cafe society and classy restaurants that have opened up around the Victorian city centre, but the two student unions, at Leeds and Leeds Met, offer cheap booze - four bars and a concert venue at Leeds uni - and a lively entertainment scene every night of the week.

There is a multitude of pubs worth visiting; try Whitelocks in Turks Head Yard or The Bingley Arms at Bardsey. And the club scene includes Nato in Boar Lane, Pleasure Rooms in the Grand Arcade, Warehouse in Somers Street and, most popular of all, the neighbours in Cookridge Street, Town and Country Club and The Underground.

Liverpool students reckon their city is not to be outdone for night-life and Cream at Nation pulls in punters from all over the North-west. The city has a lively pub, bar and restaurant scene where you may still find a pint for pounds 1 midweek, and the Liverpool Uni union has a 2,000-capacity venue at Mountford Hall.

Sheffield reckons it is a contender for entertainment honours, too. Sheffield University union bar offers the cheapest beer in the city and also owns two pubs - the Fox and Duck in the main student area of Broomhill and the Rising Sun at Fulwood. The SU also has its own purpose-built cinema. In the city itself it is reckoned that Sheffield can rival Leeds for night- life, with a growing range of clubs attracting top-class entertainment. Leadmill and Music Factory offer genuine warehouse venues. Most pubs and clubs have at least one cheap student night.

Then there is still Manchester, boasting the biggest student population in the north and a pub, club and entertainment scene to match. According to one aficionado, there has been a backlash against dressing up in Manchester clubs, leading to the growth of a following for drum and bass and jungle - trainers and combat pants are in at some venues. But take care - at others a strict door policy ensures that you will not get in unless you look good.

Popular clubs include Sankeys Soap in Ancoats, the biggest and busiest, with big names, a big door price and a strict dress code. The Boardwalk near Deansgate Station is allegedly not to be missed and the camp Paradise Factory near Canal Street has a popular Tuesday student night. The city centre boasts lots of trendy bars but good pubs are more common out in the student quarters of Fallowfield, Withington and Didsbury. Try the Red Lion, Withington or Jabez Clegg at Whitworth Park.

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