Moving to the United Kingdom? Think outside the London box with our guide to the 10 best places to live in the UK. The United Kingdom is a land of contrasts. From the rugged highlands of Scotland to the sweeping turquoise bays of Cornwall, there is something to suit all tastes. For many, moving to the UK means settling in London, with its big-city bustle and enchanting neighbourhoods. However, some of the best places to live in the UK lie outside the capital.
Living out of London opens up a whole new world for UK-based ex-pats. Not only is the cost of living in the UK significantly cheaper outside the capital, but you’ll also be much closer to all that sumptuous British countryside. You’ll also be able to experience some of the many charming UK towns and cities, each with its unique energy and personality. To inspire you, here’s the lowdown on the 10 best places to live in the UK.
Despite being the UK’s second-largest city, Birmingham or Brum, as the locals affectionately call it, is not on the radar of many ex-pats moving to the UK. But it should be. Embedded in the city’s industrial heritage, Birmingham is a bustling, multi-cultural mix of museums, shopping, and canal-side dining. As many locals will happily remind you, the city has more kilometres of canals than Venice.
The size of Birmingham means there are plenty of affordable places for ex-pats to settle down, from the leafy Edgbaston and Harborne to the picturesque neighbourhoodod of Bournville; home of Cadbury chocolate. Canalside living can be found in the centre, too. Thanks to its location in the heart of the UK, Birmingham is also within easy access to many rural escapes, including Cannock Chase and the Malvern Hills.
Scotland’s largest city has reinvented itself over recent decades. Once an overlooked industrial hub, Glasgow is now one of the UK’s hippest ex-pat destinations. The buzzing city centre is crammed with architectural gems showcasing Glasgow’s heritage, while the modern River Clyde area looks to the future. The city’s big student population and friendly locals make Glasgow a great place to live, with excellent dining, shopping, and partying.
Glasgow’s West End neighbourhood is popular with students and young professionals alike, while in the centre you’ll find a mix of modern and traditional homes. More affordable is the up-and-coming Queen’s Park area, just south of the centre. The city’s quirky metro system – nicknamed ‘The Clockwork Orange’ – makes getting around easy. Outside the city, the spectacular Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park are only 30km away.
Oxford and the Cotswolds
For centuries, the dreaming spires of Oxford have enchanted some of the world’s greatest minds. And thanks to its famous university, Oxford remains one of the best places to live in the UK. Despite its relatively small size, Oxford packs a punch with the diversity of its neighbourhoods. From the cosy cafes of bohemian Jericho to affluent streets of leafy family-favourite Headington, the whole city exudes an atmosphere of effortless English-ness.
Head west from Oxford and you’ll soon find yourself in the charming Cotswolds, an area of picturesque rolling hills that takes in over 2,000 square kilometres. Quintessential villages scatter the landscape, each one built from the local honey-coloured stone. The Cotswolds is a great place to settle in if you’re looking for a slice of family-friendly rural English living within easy reach of Oxford and its urban attractions.
Stretched out along the south coast of England, this effervescent resort city has something for everyone. Brighton is packed full of things to see and do, from the eclectic streets of bohemian North Laine to the elegant regency homes that line the waterfront. The beach and pier are family favourites, while the city is also home to one of the UK’s largest LGBT communities. If that wasn’t enough, Brighton even has a local Premier League football club.
Its proximity to the capital often sees Brighton unfairly dubbed ‘London by the sea. However, it has plenty to offer ex-pats in its own right. Each of the city’s neighbourhoods has a surprisingly distinct feel, from the liberal Kemptown to the cosy hillside area of Hanover. More affordable homes can be found further west and can be easily accessed by local trains and buses.
The Welsh capital of Cardiff – or Caerdydd in the local Welsh language – is another city undergoing something of a rebirth. Recent regeneration attempts have helped make the city increasingly attractive to ex-pats arriving in the UK. In the city centre, shopping streets spread out from Cardiff Castle. Also in the centre is the Principality Stadium, a heaving arena where you can catch the national rugby team playing.
Despite being the Welsh capital, Cardiff is one of the most affordable places to live on this list. The compact nature of the city means that everywhere is easily accessible, giving you plenty of options. Leafy Pontcanna is popular with young professionals and families, while modern waterfront apartments can be found in Cardiff Bay. Cardiff is also great for outdoor activities, with the Brecon Beacons just a short drive north.
Draped over an ancient volcano, Scotland’s cosmopolitan capital is one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. It centres around Edinburgh Castle, perched high on a craggy outcrop in the heart of the city. The castle is surrounded by the atmospheric Old Town and the elegant Georgian New Town. Edinburgh is home to two world-famous festivals – the International Festival and the Fringe Festival – making it Scotland’s cultural capital.
Living in New Town can be expensive, however, there are plenty of more affordable neighbourhoods to choose from. Marchmont and Bruntsfield offer spacious family living with easy access to the centre. Alternatively, why not live near the beach? Edinburgh’s trendy seaside neighbourhood of Portobello is just a short bus ride from the heart of the action.
Reading and the Thames Valley
Nestled in the heart of the leafy Thames Valley, Reading is an increasingly popular option for ex-pats moving to the UK. The former industrial town has reinvented itself into a lively hub for shopping and leisure. This makes it popular with families. Reading is also just a 20-minute train ride from central London. The town will also be added to the capital’s tube network upon the completion of the Elizabeth Line.
House prices in Reading are generally more affordable than in other towns in the region, including fashionable Windsor and exclusive Ascot. However, the area has great connections to central London and excellent outdoor activities, including rowing and cycling. This makes the Thames Valley a good alternative for ex-pats looking to escape London’s crowds for calmer surroundings.
The self-styled capital of the north, Manchester is a city with a personality you can’t ignore. Famous for its industrial past, world-beating football teams, and musical heritage, Manchester is every inch the world city. The city is a non-stop mix of old and new; from its Victorian town hall to the shimmering waterfront developments at nearby Salford Quays. Just outside the city, you’ll find the expansive Peak District National Park.
In central Manchester, you’ll find plenty of high-rise living around the Deansgate area. In the hipster-friendly Northern Quarter, there are still warehouses and loft spaces. Further out, leafy suburbs like Withington and West Didsbury are surprisingly affordable and offer a good range of amenities. However, thanks to the Manchester tram network, the entire city is surprisingly accessible.
As the largest city in the Yorkshire region, no list of best places to live in the UK is complete without mentioning Leeds. Once an overlooked former mill town, these days Leeds is a youthful city that mixes Northern grit with glamorous cosmopolitan chic. Excellent shopping and leisure, world-famous universities, and easy access to the nearby Yorkshire Dales make Leeds the perfect place for ex-pats moving to the UK.
The city centre boasts plenty of waterside living along the recently regenerated River Aire. Young professionals will enjoy the youthful vibes of Headingley and Chapel Allerton. Further out, Roundhay is popular with families. The area is home to the vast Roundhay Park that stretches northwards. Outside Leeds, idyllic villages are within commuting distance of the city.
The port city of Bristol is quietly becoming one of the UK’s most sought-after cities for ex-pats and locals alike. The growing metropolis has something for everyone, mixing its heritage with modern living and vibrant cafe culture. If that’s not enough, Bristol is also the perfect place to live if you want to explore the West Country. From here you can enjoy everything from sweeping surfing beaches to picture-perfect fishing villages.
If you want to be at the heart of the action, city-centre living in Bristol often means harborside homes built on former wharves and dockyards. Clifton, to the west of the city, is the most exclusive part of town and popular with affluent families looking for more space. Back in town, the trendy area of Montpelier is a great place to settle if you’re looking for a lively neighbourhood.