Best Places to Live in the UK
With just over 90,000 square miles, the relatively small island nation of the United Kingdom is home to a flurry of fantastic cities. From the Scottish capital of Edinburgh in the north to the coastal city of Southampton on the south coast and everything in between, there are a plethora of cities that offer a cross-section of life in the UK, each with its own unique identity, history, and culture.
When it comes to deciding which city to live and work in within the UK, it’s important to find a city that works best for your needs. Whether it is finding the best city in the UK for families, for expats, for property sellers, or for students, there is a city for you. Let’s take a look at some of the best places to live and work in the UK and what each one can offer.
As the capital of England, London is the largest city in the UK and has grown into one the biggest cities in all of Europe. This vibrant and multicultural city is one the best cities in the UK for expats as it is home to large communities of adventurers who now call the UK home. Covering such a huge area, the city of London encapsulates British culture and is a city of a thousand experiences.
Regardless of what you’re looking for, London has something for everyone. The city is over 2000 years old and boasts a rich history. In addition to major landmarks such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and Big Ben, London has a good deal of museums, art galleries and historical sites to keep a London resident constantly entertained. The city also flaunts a number of beautiful gardens, parks and urban woodlands for an active outdoor lifestyle.
London is also a paradise for foodies with plenty of amazing bars, restaurants, eateries and food-trucks. It would take a lifetime to cover all the foodie things you can do in London.
Whether you’re seeking work, raising a family, or simply wish to find a little bit of home, London may be the city for you. A possible drawback to living in London is that this popularity has not grown without a rise in property prices, and London apartments can be quite expensive.
London also has many beautiful neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods, each offering their own distinctive style and character. If you’re moving to London, we’ve put together a great neighborhood guide that explores some of the city’s best places to live and work.
Pros of living in London
- A huge city with endless job opportunities.
- Home to many expat communities.
- Capital of the country, therefore it tends to have more funding.
- Excellent transport network.
- City of culture and history.
- Plenty of green spaces
Another of the UK’s major cities, Edinburgh, is the capital of the UK’s northern country, Scotland. Although Edinburgh is not the largest city in Scotland, it has long been Scotland’s cultural and spiritual heartland.
A port city, Edinburgh has the beauty of a seaside town, mixed in with the bustling vibrancy of a modern world city. With relevantly low crime rates and a high level of educational opportunities, Edinburgh is one of the best cities in the UK for families.
The city is well known in the UK as being home to famous cultural festivals such as the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh fringe. This, twinned with the castle, cathedral, and multiple art galleries, give Edinburgh a truly artistic and cultural feel that is palpable throughout the city.
Pros of living in Edinburgh
- Capital of Scotland, providing lots of opportunities.
- Cultural heartland of Scotland, home to many festivals.
- High level of education
- Ideal for families.
- Low level of crime compared to the rest of the country.
- Beautiful hiking trails in and around Edinburgh for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts
- Walkable city
- Excellent public transportation system
- Heaven for Harry Potter fans
Known as the ‘second city,’ Birmingham resides in The Midlands, geographically the center of England. Once the industrial heartland of the UK, Birmingham has developed into a multicultural modern metropolis and one that is in the process of a modern renaissance. With a booming ex-pat community, Birmingham is one of the best cities in the UK for people who are new to the country. Another factor that makes Birmingham an attractive place to live is a booming city economy without the hefty price tag.
Similar to London in job opportunities, leisure activities, and nightlife, Birmingham provides many newcomers with far more affordable housing than the capital. This rise in economic stature also makes Birmingham one of the best cities in the UK to form a successful career. Employees here can earn as much as they would from a London salary, for a whole 22% less in living expenses.
In addition, Birmingham and neighboring Warwick have some of UK’s most well-known universities making it an incredible city for student life.
Pros of living in Birmingham
- Central location in the UK.
- On the rise economically, creating far more jobs and opportunities.
- Cost of living lower than London with the same level of wages.
- Home to a thriving multicultural society and history.
- Excellent universities
- Great place for students
- Shopping hub
Another of the UK’s most famous cities, Manchester has been at the forefront of British culture and identity for decades. Home to the vibrancy that is often unmatched by anywhere else, Manchester is full of restaurants, nightlife, and shopping districts that can compete with the best. This outpouring of fun and life in Manchester not only makes it a great place to live but also one of the best cities in the UK for students.
Similar to Birmingham, Manchester has grown its economy through manufacturing and media, becoming a huge employer. Manchester manufacturing employs 1 in 10 people in the city, making it one of the biggest employers in the city. As the cost of living is far lower in Manchester than in the capital and employment is high, Manchester is an attractive place for those who want to forge a career while raising a family. The city also has a strong housing market that has remained largely unaffected by the pandemic. You’ll also find plenty of fully equipped properties and serviced apartments in Manchester for short term housing needs
Pros of living in Manchester
- High employment levels and low cost of living.
- Vibrant restaurants, retail, and nightlife.
- Great location for students and student life.
- A cradle of modern British culture.
- Great universities
- More relaxed pace of life
Only forty miles west of London, the city of Reading is an ideal place to live if you don’t want to be surrounded by the manic hustle and bustle of the capital yet still want to be within an hour’s drive of it. Its closeness to London makes Reading a great place to commute from if you’re striving for a career in the big city.
Apart from being close to London, Reading itself offers a lot of appeal in its own right. With large companies such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle having their UK bases here, job opportunities are far from thin on the ground.
Reading also plays host to a popular university – this in itself gives birth to a booming nightlife scene. The famous Reading festival draws in over 90,000 visitors every year, a testament to the city’s place in music and culture.
If you’re a family with school-going children, Reading would be an excellent option for you with 38 primary and 7 secondary schools.
Pros of living in Reading
- Proximity to London, only 30 minutes by train.
- Home to many multinational companies.
- Strong university presence.
- Booming nightlife and restaurant scene.
- Affordable housing
- Great schools
Located on the English south coast, Southampton has a long-standing naval and maritime history. Known as the city where the Titanic set sail and the home of Cowes Week – one of the oldest regattas in the world, there is a strong relationship between the city of Southampton and the sea. This makes the city an ideal location for those who love sailing, water sports, or simply enjoy living along the coast.
The city of Southampton is also home to two universities, welcoming over 30,000 students from across the globe. This eclectic mix of maritime history and modern multiculturalism gives Southampton a strong identity and one that makes it an appealing place to live and work.
Although the seafaring industry has largely disappeared in Southampton, it has still retained its “cruise capital of the UK” title, and with good reason. There are many opportunities to jump on a ferry to the Isle of Wight or beyond if you require a change of scenery.
Pros of living in Southampton
- Home to strong maritime culture.
- Beautiful coastlines south of the city.
- Two renowned universities.
- Affordable housing
- Slower pace of life
- Only an hour from London if you want the occasional big city experience
The largest city in Scotland, Glasgow has become one of the most popular places to live, not only in Scotland but in the entire UK. Although popularity has risen, the cost of living has remained relatively low, sitting at 10% cheaper than the rest of the United Kingdom.
Employment is also at a record high, with 1 in 4 people being employed in the public sector. Successful education is also high on the list in Glasgow, with half the working-age population with an A level or higher, making Glasgow an appealing place for families.
Although Scotland’s largest urban city, Glasgow also has Scotland’s First National Park, Loch Lomond, right on its doorstep. This perfect combination of inner-city living and picturesque Scottish landscapes makes it an awe-inspiring place to live.
Another attraction that brings many to settle in this Scottish city is its overwhelming legacy in sports. Home to one of the biggest rivalries in professional football and host to the commonwealth games, there’s always something for the avid sports fan in Glasgow.
Pros of living in Glasgow
- Cost of living cheaper than many large UK cities.
- High chance of employment.
- Education success at an all-time high.
- As the biggest Scottish city, opportunities are often easier to come by.
- Loch Lomond National Park right on the city’s doorstep
Located in the southeast of the UK, Bristol’s history is twinned seamlessly with that of England and its place on the world stage. Once renowned for its maritime trading shipbuilding, modern Bristol has gathered a reputation for being the place for start-up companies to call home. With education levels also at a national high, Bristol is an ideal place for both employees and employers.
Alongside Bristol’s urban status is a reputation of outstanding beauty that goes before it. Surrounded by the picturesque Gloucestershire and Somerset countryside, there is plenty of space to enjoy the joys of fresh air and open space.
This link to the countryside is complemented by Bristol’s status as being one of the most eco-friendly cities in the UK. This status was gained by having some of the best scores when it came to carbon emissions, recycling rates, and gas consumption.
Pros of living in Bristol
- City of rich maritime history and English culture.
- Fantastic business promises.
- Reputation for being one of the UK’s greenest cities.
- Close to many idyllic English countryside spots
- Top schools and universities
- Great options for hiking and outdoor activities
Arguably one of the UK’s most internationally famous cities, Liverpool has been on the list for best cities to live in the country for a while and to no surprise. For atmosphere and friendliness alone, Liverpool is famous the nation over.
With a strong sense of self and community, the people of Liverpool are known to be some of the most welcoming. Alongside the people of Liverpool, from the Beatles to the Liverpool football club, the culture and history of the city have woven themselves into the image Britain has long presented to the world.
Apart from the fantastic reputation, Liverpool also has some nitty-gritty facts that make it a popular place to settle. The cost of housing in the city is far less than you would usually expect from major British cities and the level of education is boosted by Liverpool’s two successful universities.
Liverpool’s location also allows quick access to the English northwest, connecting you swiftly to other cities such as Chester and Manchester. If you want to travel a little further, there’s always the city’s very own Liverpool John Lennon Airport.
Pros of living in Liverpool
- Vibrant atmosphere that is unmatched.
- Fantastic popular culture and history tied in with the city.
- Friendly people and a strong sense of community.
- Lower house prices compared to other major cities.
- Connections to other cities in the northwest.
The largest city in the county of Yorkshire, Leeds is the most northerly English city to make our list, and it truly belongs here. Home to some of the most extensive retailing outside the capital, Leeds is a shopaholic’s dream. Not only does this make it the place to shop, but it provides the large city with another factor to its booming economy.
Another draw to this northern metropolis is the county itself. The county of Yorkshire has some of the most breathtaking countryside and landscapes in the country, and Leeds is ideally situated amongst it all to provide a base for exploration.
Home to not one but three universities, the city of Leeds is a hub for higher education and draws thousands in from across the country and the world. This combination of a booming economy, picturesque landscapes of fresh air, and endless educational opportunities make Leeds one of the best cities in the UK for families.
Pros of living in Leeds
- Home to three universities.
- Has a booming retail and leisure sector.
- The largest city in Yorkshire, providing many opportunities.
- Epicenter to some of the most breathtaking views of Yorkshire countryside.
With an endless array of idyllic architecture and picturesque streets, Oxford encapsulates the quintessential English city. The city is known around the world as being the home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the world, Oxford University. The university has turned the city into a hub of not only education but of overall youthful student living. This knock-on effect has created a booming nightlife and leisure industry in the city, something that keeps the feel of the city alive.
Apart from the connections to the university, the landscape that surrounds the city is one of rolling hills and little rivers, idyllic for a day trip away from the modern city. Employment is at an all-time high, with huge companies such as BMW, BT, the charity Oxfam providing over 100,000 jobs and more. The charming balance of old and new make Oxford one of the most peaceful cities in which to live.
Why do we recommend Oxford?
- Home to a prestigious world-class university.
- It is adorned with awe-inspiring architecture.
- Close to peaceful Oxfordshire countryside.
- Employment is at a high with huge companies based here.
Another city known the world over as being home to one of the most prestigious universities, Cambridge has long been at the top of the list for places to live in the UK. Straddled along the River Cam, the city of Cambridge is one of the greenest cities in the UK. This idyllic greenness is what makes this quintessentially English city so popular with the many who decide to settle here. Much like Oxford, Cambridge has drawn much success from its world-class university, including high employment and a booming nightlife.
Gaining the nickname silicon fen, Cambridge has become a basis for tech giants such as Huawei and Microsoft Research, adding to the economy and overall employment standing. Another reason to call Cambridge home is its geographical location, only an hour’s train journey to London and likewise to East Anglia cities such as Norwich. Although having all the attributes of a bustling modern city, it is only a short distance to the city’s outer edges and beautiful Cambridgeshire countryside beyond.
Why do we recommend Cambridge?
- Beautiful landscapes and surrounding countryside.
- A booming economy and a wealth of employment opportunities.
- Home to one of the best universities in the world.
- Short connecting trains to London.
FAQs about cities in the United Kingdom
The UK is home to some of the best places in the world to raise a family. The country has a high quality education system, relatively low crime rate and plenty of job opportunities all over. Our top picks to raise a family are Oxford, Cambridge, Southampton, Reading, Manchester, Edinburgh and even London.
The UK is generally considered safe. Some of the safest cities in the UK include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Southampton, Aberdeen, Oxford, and Cambridge.
The United Kingdom has long been a preferred destination for international students. The best cities in the UK for students include London, Edinburgh, Manhester, Glasgow, Nottingham, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge.
Affordable cities in the UK include Glasgow, Coventry, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Brighton and Aberdeen.
London is hands down the most exciting place for digital nomads in the UK. The city offers a plethora of things to explore for history buffs, culture and music enthusiasts and food lovers. Other amazing options are Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oxford, Cambridge and the Cotswolds.
The best cities in the UK for retirement include Liverpool, Leicster, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Leeds and Cardiff.