Where to Live

The best places to live in the UK

Whether you are looking for somewhere to further your career, raise a family, retire, or simply encounter nature, here are the best places to live in the UK.

Best place to live in UK
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Updated 20-5-2024

The United Kingdom may be small, but it certainly packs a punch when it comes to variety. This is largely owing to the fact that it is made up of four nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Moreover, each of these comes with its own distinct culture and identity, meaning that life in the UK can look very different depending on where you call home.

Needless to say, when it comes to finding a suitable place to live, there are plenty of options for expats. Whether you are looking to further your career in the big city, settle down in the suburbs, or retire in the countryside, you won’t struggle to find a place to call home.

To help you narrow down your options, this article includes the following information:

Crown Relocations

Crown Relocations is a leading global relocations specialist. They have been helping individuals and families relocate around the world for over 50 years. Their dedicated team provide transportation and a range of other services to assist people relocating internationally to and from the UK.

The best cities in the UK

International impressions of the UK may be dominated by its renowned capital. However, there are 75 cities in the UK that are not London. This includes 54 in England, eight in Scotland, seven in Wales, and six in Northern Ireland. Therefore, our list of the best cities in the UK is by no means exhaustive. It does, however, highlight some of the delights to be found outside the M25 motorway.

Birmingham

The UK’s second-largest city lies at the heart of England and often ranks as one of the best places to live in the UK. Moreover, it offers excellent transport links to all parts of the country. As of 2021, the population stands at 1.145 million and the city remains one of the most ethnically diverse in Europe. Indeed, more than 50% of its residents are of non-white origin. Needless to say, foreigners looking to settle in Birmingham will be made to feel welcome and find it easy to integrate into the local community.

Birmingham canal
The canals in Birmingham

Birmingham’s industrial heritage includes its 35 miles of canals which have been transformed to provide attractive locations for living, working, and dining. It is also a sporting hub and home to the National Exhibition Centre (NEC). This impressive two million-square-foot venue hosts numerous concerts, exhibitions, and events throughout the year.

Despite its impressive economic growth in recent years, Birmingham remains a much more affordable city than London. Indeed, there are plenty of enchanting neighborhoods for internationals looking to settle down in. These range from the leafy and affluent suburban area of Edgbaston and Harborne to the picturesque Bournville, which is home to the famous Cadbury chocolate

Edinburgh

Scotland’s capital is often hailed as one of the UK’s most historic and elegant cities. It is also an incredibly desirable place to call home, with the 2022 Time Out Index crowning it the best city in the world based on the responses of thousands of residents when questioned about their quality of life.

Edinburgh was also named the UK’s best place to live in a national survey conducted by the resident review site, HomeViews. Locals cited its green spaces, local amenities, safety, public transport, and great pubs and restaurants among its top attractions.

a view of the rooftops of typical houses in Forrest Road in Edinburgh
Typical houses in Forrest Road, Edinburgh (Photo: Westend61/Getty Images)

However, aside from the 550,000 residents who cherish the city for these reasons, Edinburgh is a tourism hot spot. Indeed, the world-renowned Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe Festival continue to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, who come to enjoy a mix of art, music, drama, and comedy.

Notably, while capital city house prices can make it expensive for buyers and renters, there are cheaper suburbs to enjoy. For instance, Marchmont and Bruntsfield offer spacious family living within easy access to the center. Alternatively, Edinburgh’s trendy seaside Portobello is only a short bus ride away and the ideal location for beach lovers.

Cardiff

International real estate consultancy Knight Frank lists six reasons why Cardiff is one of the UK’s best places to live. Top of the list is affordability, followed by shopping and leisure opportunities, access to green spaces, education, commuting, and digital connectivity.

Cardiff Caerdydd
Cardiff Bay

According to Rightmove, renters in the Welsh capital also pay 60% less than those in Greater London. However, they still enjoy an enviable lifestyle in what Rough Guides describes as “one of the coolest cities in the UK“.

The Principality Stadium is partly to thank for the city’s sparkling reputation. Located at the heart of the city, the unrivaled venue is the ideal place to watch world-class sport – or rugby if you are Welsh.

Rough Guides also praises Cardiff’s stellar nightlife and claims that the regeneration of the city’s historic docks is Europe’s finest. Given these factors, it is hardly surprising that the population of Cardiff grew by 4.7% between 2011 and 2021.

Belfast

It has been 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement brought an end to Northern Ireland’s sectarian violence. Nevertheless, some might be surprised to learn that Belfast’s subsequent revival has seen it named the UK’s friendliest and happiest city as well as one of its safest. That said, there are occasional reminders that dissident extremist groups have not entirely disappeared.

River Lagan with Custom House and the view of city center of Belfast in the background
River Lagan with the center of Belfast in the background (Photo: Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images)

According to international relocation experts MoveHub, the cost of living in Belfast is lower than in mainland Britain and significantly cheaper than in the UK’s other capital cities for both buyers and renters.

Although Belfast is not a large city – with just 330,000 residents – it is developing quickly. Indeed, it is now home to more than 1,000 overseas businesses. As a result, it offers great career and lifestyle opportunities for a growing international community.

Belfast also plays host to several major music, film, dance, and literature festivals each year, which have helped to put it firmly on the map. In fact, in 2021, it became one of 59 world UNESCO Cities of Music in celebration of its rich musical heritage.

Although it is part of the UK, the city has a unique mix of British and Irish cultures. This makes it a fascinating place to live and work. Some of the most popular neighborhoods include upmarket Castlereagh, which offers stunning countryside, the family-friendly Newtownbreda, the hip and trendy Queen’s Quarter, and the fast-developing Titanic Quarter and waterfront.

Glasgow

Once an overlooked industrial hub, Scotland’s largest city has reinvented itself in recent decades. Today, it is one of the UK’s hippest expat destinations with an impressive population of 612,000. Glasgow is a buzzing city where old meets new; from its stunning architectural gems to the modern River Clyde area which looks to the future.

Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art
Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA)

The city’s large student population and friendly locals make it a great place to live, with excellent dining, shopping, and partying. Its West End is particularly popular with students and young professionals alike, while the center offers a mix of modern and traditional homes. Meanwhile, the up-and-coming Queen’s Park area, which lies just south of the center, offers a more affordable option.

The city’s quirky metro system – which is nicknamed the Clockwork Orange – makes getting around easy. However, if you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, the spectacular Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are only 30km away. And if you are a soccer fan, you cannot miss the intense rivalry between the renowned club teams, Celtic and Rangers, which are collectively known as the Old Firm.

Manchester

Manchester is an economic powerhouse that continues to grow at an impressive rate. The city itself is home to more than 550,000 people. However, the Greater Manchester area is the UK’s second most populated urban conurbation after London with 2.55 million residents. This includes Salford, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, and Wigan.

Manchester is frequently named the UK’s most liveable city in The Economist’s Global Liveability Index. Indeed, it ranked 28th in the 2022 survey of 173 global cities, beating Barcelona, Madrid, Milan, New York, and even London. The index rates living conditions based on more than 30 factors and five categories, including stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

Manchester Salford Media City
Manchester Salford Media City

Manchester continues to attract international corporations and expats who are keen on taking advantage of its business and career opportunities and lifestyle. It is also home to four main universities, resulting in a student population of 99,000.

The city also has an international reputation for its museums, galleries, and the arts. These continue to attract visitors from all over the world who can easily access them by flying into Manchester Airport; the second biggest in the UK. Meanwhile, the AO Arena boasts the highest indoor seating capacity in the UK.

Manchester also has a justifiable claim of being the nation’s sporting capital. It is home to several impressive venues, including the Old Trafford Cricket Ground, the National Football Museum, and the City and United football clubs.

Where old meets new

From its Victorian Town Hall to the shimmering waterfront developments at Salford Quays, Manchester is a non-stop mix of old and new. You will find plenty of modern, high-rise apartments in the center around the Deansgate area. Meanwhile, the hipster-friendly Northern Quarter is scattered with old warehouses and loft spaces. Further out, leafy suburbs such as Withington and West Didsbury are surprisingly affordable and offer a good range of amenities.

Thanks to the Manchester tram network, the entire city is surprisingly accessible. And with the gloriously picturesque Peak District National Park on its doorstep, it’s no wonder it remains one of the best places to live in the UK.

Leeds

If you want to experience the iconic English countryside then Leeds might be the place for you. The largest city in the Yorkshire region is perfectly placed to explore the magnificent Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. A variety of historic and picturesque locations such as York, Ripon, Harrogate, and Richmond, are also nearby.

The skyline of Leeds
The skyline of Leeds

However, that’s not to say that Leeds is attractive only as a base to explore elsewhere. On the contrary, it is a vibrant city with more than 800,000 residents, making it the third largest in England. It has a deserved reputation for excellent shopping and leisure. Not only that, but its universities attract large numbers of students which in turn has stimulated a thriving nightlife.

The center boasts plenty of waterside living along the recently regenerated River Aire. Young professionals will also enjoy the youthful vibes of Headingly and Chapel Allerton. Further out, Roundhay is popular with families, and home to the vast Roundhay Park, which hosts concerts with some of the world’s biggest bands. Idyllic villages and market towns are also within commuting distance of Leeds.

Oxford and the Cotswolds

With a population of just 162,000, Oxford is a relatively small city. However, it certainly packs a punch thanks to its famous 12th-century university and the prestige it attracts. Add to that its proximity to the glorious honey-colored stone villages and rolling hills of the Cotswolds and it’s easy to understand why the City of Dreaming Spires is a favorite destination for expats.

Typical houses in Oxford, UK
Typical houses in Oxford

The city is home to 38 medieval colleges, each of which is a feast for the eyes and an educational center of excellence and ground-breaking research. For centuries, these have attracted some of the world’s greatest minds, and Oxford remains a magnet for high-flying academics and entrepreneurs who are keen to exploit the brain power on tap.

Various surveys rank Oxford as one of the best places to live in the UK, with access to high-quality culture and entertainment topping the list of reasons. However, this comes at a cost. Whether you are a buyer or a renter, Oxford is one of the most expensive locations in the country, with prices comparable to the most desirable parts of London.

From the intimate cafes of bohemian Jericho to the affluent streets of leafy family-favorite Headington, the whole city exudes an atmosphere of effortless English-ness. The nearby towns and villages of the Cotswolds are also a great place to settle if you are looking for a slice of rural English living within easy reach of Oxford and its urban attractions.

The best places to live in the UK

Naturally, what you might consider to be the best place to live in the UK will depend on your needs and preferences. Of course, the cost of buying or renting a property in the local market also plays an important role in deciding where to settle.

Fortunately, if you are looking to rent a place, there are several online portals that allow you to search for properties across the UK. Some of these include:

Where you choose to live will also depend on your circumstances, and below is an overview of the most suitable locations based on different search criteria.

If you have a family

For parents, having easy access to high-quality international schools might be a top priority when choosing a place to settle. If this is the case, then you will certainly want to live in or within commuting distance of London as the UK’s 27 international schools are all located in, or very close to, the capital.

If this is not essential, however, then the UK’s standardized system of free education should mean that you can find excellent schools wherever you choose to live. Schools are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). Moreover, anyone can view their reports online. Notably, schools with low rankings can be placed in special measures, with new headteachers drafted in to improve performance.

It is a similar story when it comes to healthcare in the UK. Standardized, high-quality free services are provided by the National Health Service (NHS) across the length and breadth of the country. Therefore, in theory, at least, no region should be better or worse than any other.

A hospital operated by the NHS in London, UK

Those looking to find the most family-friendly places to live in the UK will find a whole host of information online to help sway their decision. This includes official rankings for factors such as crime statistics, house prices, and quality of life. MoveHub also provides a guide to family-friendly UK cities, which lists the top five as Oxford, Bristol, Liverpool, Brighton, and Cardiff.

However, regardless of where you choose to settle, it is good to know that you will never be further than 70 miles from the coast and no more than a few miles from the open countryside which is assessable by public footpaths.

When you retire

According to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the top five most popular places to retire to in the UK are:

  • Dorset
  • Shropshire
  • Wiltshire
  • Cornwall
  • Northumberland
  • East Suffolk
  • Tendring, Essex
  • Cheshire East
  • East Devon
  • East Riding of Yorkshire

This list is hardly surprising, given that many people who are looking to retire wish to move away from the hustle and bustle of towns and cities and enjoy the peace and quiet of more rural areas. What’s more, these locations are known for their stunning natural beauty which is highly appealing to those looking to enjoy their extended free time.

The UK’s top multicultural hotspots

Some retirees might prefer to seek out locations where there are kindred spirits from their home countries and significant immigrant populations. The melting pot that is London is the obvious choice. Indeed, migration statistics published by the UK Government at the end of 2022 reveal that 37% of people who live in London were born overseas.

But there are other cities where immigrants make up a big slice of the people pie, too. These include Aberdeen, Birmingham, Leicester, Bradford, Sheffield, and the South East of England. On the other end of the scale, the North East of England has the lowest proportion of its population born abroad (5.8%), followed by Wales (6.5%), Northern Ireland (7.0%), and Scotland (9.3%).

Notably, because the UK is small and the climate is mild, the weather might not have the same bearing on retirement locations as in some other countries. However, despite these slight variations, is it generally warmer the further south you go. Scotland is also a few degrees colder than the rest of the UK and as a general rule, the west of the country has more rainfall than the east.

If you are single

In 2017, The Independent newspaper reported on a study of the best places to live in the UK if you are single. This was based on the average cost of being single, the proportion of the population who are single, and the percentage of residents aged 20 to 30.

two single people (a man and woman) relaxing and laughing while enjoying a drink in a beer garden
Photo: Nate Johnston/Unsplash

London did not fare well, coming in last out of 22 cities. However, this is perhaps not surprising given the high cost of living in the capital, when it comes to factors such as housing, eating out, and entertainment. On the contrary, Belfast topped the list, followed by Liverpool, Southampton, Birmingham, and Newcastle.

Singles looking for a good time might want to head for the cities which offer great nightlife and lots of opportunities to meet others with a similar outlook. With this in mind, the four national capitals – London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast – are perhaps the most obvious choices. That said, they are certainly not the only locations that can provide the sort of exciting diversions away from work that simply don’t exist in quieter, rural locations.

Brighton pier
Brighton Pier

Depending on their age, they might want to zone in on places with large student populations. For instance, the effervescent resort city of Brighton has a reputation for its eclectic nightlife and coastal charm. More than 11% of its population are students and almost 30% of them are international. It is also home to one of the UK’s largest LGBT communities. And thanks to frequent low-cost train connections, London is just over an hour away.

When you are on a budget

If you are on a budget, it is pretty safe to say that you should avoid not only London, but much of the South East corner of England, as housing costs are far higher there. In fact, the 2023 ONS report on housing affordability in England and Wales details the stark disparity between the capital and the rest of the country. It reveals that the most affordable area in London is less affordable than the least affordable area in the North East.

In November 2022, The Daily Mirror newspaper also reported that the average monthly rent for a property outside of London was £1,162, and £2,343 in Greater London. What’s more, this disparity continues to grow each year. According to the article, the cheapest location for renting a three-bedroom house is Stoke-on-Trent (£843 per month), followed by Hull (£862), Sunderland (£968), Bradford (£983), and Derby (£1,069).

Meanwhile, the residential property specialist HomeViews lists the top 10 cheapest places to live in the UK, based on a price-to-earnings ratio. This compares the average house price in an area with the average annual earnings of local residents. The winner is Londonderry in Northern Ireland, where the average house price is £155,917. This is followed by Carlisle (£165,006), Bradford (£149,507), Stirling (£212,908), Aberdeen (£197,299), and Glasgow (£209,072).

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cost of gas and electricity has rocketed in the UK. The ONS reports that electricity prices rose by 66.7% and gas prices by 129.4% in the 12 months to February 2023. As a result, the UK now has some of the world’s highest energy prices for domestic consumers. This is definitely something to consider if you are thinking of buying or renting a property in the country.

If you are looking for a job

As our article on findings jobs in the UK explains, the London job market is booming with 10 times more jobs on offer than the next best area of the country. However, there is more to consider than just raw data on the number of vacancies.

A landscape view of Central Business District (CBD) including the Gherkin
London Central Business District (CBD) (Photo: João Barbosa/Unsplash)

For instance, despite the abundance of work in the capital, the ONS revealed in its 2023 Labour market overview that the capital – along with the North East – has the highest unemployment rate in the country at 4.5%. This is higher than the national average of 3.7%.

The best cities for job opportunities

In February 2023, a comprehensive study by HR software provider Ciphr examined 50 UK cities and compared factors such as average earnings, the unemployment rate, and the number of job listings to identify those with the best employment opportunities. It also looked at each city’s cost of living, housing affordability, life satisfaction, and happiness. The cities that ranked the highest for job opportunities were Milton Keynes, Oxford, York, St Albans, and Norwich.

Milton Keynes scored consistently well across multiple criteria, with a high average median wage of £38,613. This is 17% above the UK average of £33,000. It also recorded a 9.4% salary growth over the previous 12 months, which is higher than the UK average of 5.7%. The city also has a relatively low unemployment rate of 2.8%, compared to the UK average of 3.7%. Needless to say, it is one of the best places to live in the UK if you are looking for work.

Based on Ciphr’s study, the top 15 UK cities for job opportunities are:

  • Milton Keynes (#1 for job opportunities)
  • Oxford (#1 for employment rate growth and happiness)
  • York
  • St Albans (#1 for highest average salary and lowest unemployment rate)
  • Norwich
  • Cambridge (#1 for job listings per person)
  • Colchester (#1 for salary growth)
  • Aberdeen
  • Bristol
  • Coventry
  • Leeds
  • Canterbury (#1 for life satisfaction)
  • Gloucester
  • Doncaster (#1 for housing affordability)
  • Wrexham

If you want to start your own business

The UK has a strong entrepreneurial culture and there is a lot of support on offer for new businesses across the country. In 2022, a record number of new companies were registered in the UK, with 93 being formed every hour during the first half of the year.

The government offers a broad range of assistance, including grants and tax relief, for start-ups and expanding businesses, as well as export support and funding to employ apprentices. Various other schemes are also available in regional locations and for different industry sectors.

Local authorities play an important role too by providing crucial support. They often work in partnership with chambers of trade and other influential partners to provide financial backing or premises.

The best cities for entrepreneurs

Each year, the news site, Startups, publishes an index that ranks the 25 best cities outside of London for starting a business. It comprises 42 research categories that cover everything from digital infrastructure to high street funding in order to determine the best city for new enterprises to thrive in.

In 2022, Sheffield topped the list after making the top 10 in four out of the five main research categories, including second for business support and third for talent. Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, and Leeds also made the top five.

Bristol
The colorful houses of Clifton in Bristol

Sheffield is particularly famous for its Innovation District which spans more than 20,000 acres and acts as a major driver of growth in the north of England and across the UK. As a university city, it is also home to thousands of highly skilled workers and graduates. This has helped to create a huge pool of talent for recruiters to pick from.

The neighboring Peak District National Park has also helped to attract employees looking to enjoy a healthy work-life balance with plenty of opportunities to explore the great outdoors. Needless to say, this is one of the best places to live in the UK if you want to start your own business and enjoy your downtime.

Places to avoid in the UK

Fortunately, the UK is one of Europe’s most ethnically diverse and tolerant nations with a well-established record of welcoming people of all races and religions from around the world. And while there are some rural communities where expats are rare, you are unlikely to face overt hostility anywhere.

The country is overwhelmingly safe and the crime rate, especially violent crime, is reassuringly low. For instance, in 2023, there were 0.24 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people in the UK. In the same year, there were 1.22 in Germany, 2.26 in Canada, 3.24 in France, 5.98 in South Africa, 10.89 in the United States, and 22.84 in Brazil.

The ONS publishes crime data for areas in England and Wales based on recorded crimes per 1,000 people, and the North East county of Cleveland topped the list in both 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, and Merseyside rounded out the top five.

Useful resources

  • GOV.UK – a government website that provides information on how to access finance available to support small businesses
  • Time Out – an article from 2022 on The best places to live in the UK
  • Office for National Statistics (ONS) – provides an overview of key statistics for the UK including population, employment, inflation, and GDP