Wherever you're studying in the UK, you'll find plenty of great days out nearby, says Laura Smith

West Belfast: political trail

Northern Ireland might be best known for The Troubles, as the conflict became known, but, since the ceasefires, the area has blossomed with a new self-confidence. Nowhere is this truer than in Belfast, fast becoming a must-visit destination. The West Belfast and Shankhill Arts and Heritage Trail takes in the city's two communities - broadly Protestant and Catholic - and gives visitors a taste of their shared history, from the potato famine of the mid-19th century to today. See visitbelfast.com for more details.

Wales: Snowdonia National Park

If it's nature you're after, look no further than Snowdonia National Park, which surrounds Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales. Scramble up the slopes for a far-reaching view or, if you're not feeling energetic, take the mountain railway. The sea isn't far away and there's also excellent canoeing and white-water rafting, mountain biking and pony trekking in the park. For those who like to sit down, there are the vintage railways that used to ferry the region's mined copper, gold and slate to the coast. Just pack your waterproofs!

Cornwall: surfing

England might not be the first place you think of when you imagine learning to surf, but the white sandy beaches of Cornwall might persuade you otherwise. The Gwithian Academy of Surfing operates from the beautiful Gwithian beach, near the towns of Hayle and pretty St Ives, and teachers include the British Junior Team surf coach. Courses cost from £28 for a day to £120 for seven morning lessons; visit www.surfacademy.co.uk. The nearby Sand Sifter bar is great for a sundown hot chocolate or head to Hayle for a Cornish pasty.

Glasgow: nightlife

The city's club scene is legendary. It's also cheap, with many clubs offering discounted admission and cheaper drinks before 11pm to tempt in the punters. Expect to pay £3 to £5 entry. As well as being one of the city's best bars, The Arches ( www.thearches.co.uk) regularly pulls in top DJs, while for drum and bass and hip hop, try The Glasgow School of Art ( www.gsa.ac.uk). The city that's home to Snow Patrol is also Scotland's live music capital. Try King Tut's Wah Wah Hut ( www.kingtuts.co.uk) for indie and hip hop, or the Seventies kitsch club Nice 'n' Sleazy (nicensleazy.com) for all tastes.

North Yorkshire: Castle Howard

If you want to see how the other half lives, you'd have to try hard to find any stately home as opulent as the 300-year-old Castle Howard, outside York in North Yorkshire. Sounds boring? Imagine rolling hills stalked by colourful peacocks, grounds filled with lakes, temples and monuments, with the baroque grandeur of one of the world's most stunning buildings rising up to greet you. Check out the organic produce in the farm shop and the glassblowing workshop for gifts. A bus from York, 15 miles away, costs £4.50 and entry to the house and grounds is £9.50. Visit www.castlehoward.co.uk.

London: Portobello Market

For a snapshot of all that makes London so fabulous, visit Portobello Market in the west of the capital. Primarily an antiques and flea market, it has more than 2,000 stalls on Saturdays, selling everything from books to bric-a-brac and vintage clothing to trendy jewellery. Many stalls are also there during the week. In the middle there's a fruit and veg market, with added delights like Italian breads, olives, cheese and Caribbean take-away. You'll want to shop and eat all day. Get the tube to Ladbroke Grove and wander!