The United Kingdom is a big and diverse country, but it has a small area with a large population, ranking fourth in Europe after Russia. This means there are many cities to choose from, each with its own special characteristics. So, how can expats decide which cities are the best for them to live in?
You might be thinking that choosing London is the easiest option since it’s well-known and has the highest number of immigrants compared to other cities in the U.K. Nevertheless, London is also expensive. There are several other cities that provide excellent healthcare, a high quality of life, and wonderful cultural attractions. In fact, you’ll find out that many cities are considered better than London for expats to relocate to. Keep reading to find out the top 10 best places to live in the United Kingdom and decide which one could be suitable for you.
Have you ever asked yourself what makes the United Kingdom unique?
England, which makes up about half of the U.K.’s landmass, is only one part of the United Kingdom. The U.K. also includes Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and some smaller islands. While people throughout the U.K. speak English, people in many regions speak other languages too, including Welsh, Scots, Ullans (Ulster-Scots), Gaelic, Irish, Cornish and Manx.
Also, English dialects differ greatly throughout the United Kingdom. So much, in fact, that someone from Glasgow and an individual from Cornwall might find it very difficult to understand each other! Be prepared to hear and learn to understand a lot of different ways of speaking English.
The United Kingdom is also famous — maybe even notorious! — for its oceanic climate, which means largely cool summers, mild winters, and few temperature extremes. Because the U.K. is a group of islands in the path of the warmer Gulf Stream, it rarely gets bitterly cold in spite of its northerly location. But overall, U.K. weather is known as cloudy, drizzly, and somewhat dreary. If you decide to move abroad to the U.K., don’t expect a lot of fun in the sun.
How to identified the best cities in the United Kingdom
What makes a city one of the best places to live in the United Kingdom? Of course, it differs depending on who you are and what you need from a place. Some immigrants are looking for the most innovative technology sectors to work in. Others want a wonderful place to raise a family. They might want a calm place to retire with good health care. Or perhaps they want somewhere with a lot of cultural attractions.
In order to rate each city, we extracted data from many sources. We looked at official U.K. government data for health care, migration patterns and school rankings. Cost of living and safety data both come from Numbeo. The UNESCO World Heritage listing showed us where the most important historical attractions are, while Citybase Apartments provided a valuable study of the cultural attractions of 63 U.K. cities.
Below is the list of the top 10 best cities to live in the U.K. Let’s read….
Manchester, a city of about half a million people, is prominent for a number of things. It was the first industrialized city, the first programmable computer was invented there, and Alan Turing, the mathematician who made that computer possible, was born there.
But a lot of people are perhaps more familiar with Manchester as a center of football (soccer) mania, as Manchester United was the U.K.’s first-ever professional football club.
The city is also famous for its massive music scene, which has produced bands from the Hollies to the Smiths, from Herman’s Hermits to Oasis. Manchester ranks one of the cities on this list for cultural attractions in general and has vibrant pub and club scenes.
But the real story in Manchester for expats is job opportunities. The city scores high on several lists of places to launch or advance your career. And with a cost of living significantly lower than London’s, Manchester offers an easier road, especially if you’re starting out in your career.
Manchester didn’t get a higher position on our list of best cities in the U.K. for a few reasons. Firstly, it has struggled with healthcare as people have had to wait longer for NHS services compared to other cities on the list. Secondly, it’s not as safe as most of the other cities, although U.K. cities are generally safer than cities in the United States. These factors caused Manchester to have a lower ranking on our list.
Aberdeen is a coastal town located in Scotland, and while it’s the northernmost city on this list, it still enjoys the U.K.’s oceanic climate with cool, rainy winters and mild summers. Because it’s so far north, Aberdeen also has long winter nights and long summer days — enjoying nearly 18 hours of daylight in the high summer.
Known as the “Granite City,” Aberdeen have many beautiful Victorian buildings made with the region’s glittering, mica-flecked granite. There’s a thriving street art culture there too, and the city hosts Scotland’s only street art festival, Nuart Aberdeen. Nature encircles Aberdeen, and greater Aberdeenshire has 263 castles, including interesting ruins to explore.
The seaside city’s main industries were once textiles, fishing and shipbuilding, but offshore oil became huge in the 1970s and remains a big part of the economy today. Unemployment is low, with five of Scotland’s 10 biggest businesses headquartered in Aberdeen. The cost of living is also one of the lowest on this list, which makes Aberdeen an easy place to live.
Where Aberdeen really shines is in its safety, health care, and green spaces. With several universities and highly ranked schools, Aberdeen draws many students and families to enjoy the temperate weather, safe streets and low cost of living.
Aberdeen is known for being very safe, having good healthcare, and having lots of parks and green areas. It has many universities and great schools, which is why lots of students and families choose to live there. The weather is nice, the streets are safe, and the cost of living is low in Aberdeen.
Bristol is a city located just west of London and across the River Severn from Wales. It used to be a busy port city and now it thrives in industries like creative media, electronics, and aerospace. In our rankings, Bristol usually placed somewhere in the middle for things like jobs, safety, and healthcare. However, the city has plenty of green spaces, cultural value, and is easy to get around by walking. It has been named the best city to live in the UK twice in recent years and won the European Green Capital Award in 2015. Bristol has a mild climate and lots of sunshine, making it an appealing place to settle.
Bristol is often considered the gateway to the Southwest of England, where you can find famous landscapes in both Wales and England. The city itself is surrounded by the Avon Green Belt, which is a project designed to protect against urban sprawl and preserve the environment. If you venture outside the city, you’ll come across countryside and farmland for miles beyond the city limits. Within the city, there is careful planning to make it pedestrian-friendly.
Bristol also has a vibrant arts and culture scene. It has its own branch of the Old Vic theater, numerous artworks by the famous graffiti artist Banksy (who is believed to be from Bristol), and the city has been recognized as a UNESCO City of Film due to its active film industry.
Oxford is a small city with a population of around 150,000 people. It’s most famous for being home to one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in the English-speaking world. People sometimes call it the City of Dreaming Spires because it has beautiful buildings from different time periods, starting from the Saxon era to modern times. The city’s long history and strong focus on education make it an ideal choice for expats who are intellectually curious.
Additionally, the well-established educational and publishing industries, Oxford is experiencing growth in the fields of information technology and science. There is also a long-standing car manufacturing industry that started with Morris Motors in 1910.
Oxford is one of the safest cities on our list and is great for walking. A large part of the city center is for pedestrians, and there are many parks and nature trails in the area. There are 28 nature reserves in or near the city, and like Bristol, Oxford has a green belt to protect against excessive development outside the city limits. However, this has led to higher housing costs, making the cost of living in Oxford a bit higher.
London is still a great city to live in, even though it’s not the only option in the United Kingdom. Many people from different countries move to London, creating vibrant expatriate communities.
There are also plenty of job opportunities in the city, which is why many foreigners choose to live there. London has excellent schools and is rich in history, with four UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It’s similar to other big cities around the world, like Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Shanghai. However, living in London can be expensive, as mentioned on our page about the cost of living in the city. Safety-wise, it’s not the safest place, but it’s still safer than Manchester and Birmingham.
If you want to experience living in a world-class city, London has it all. It has a long history that goes back to Roman times and is known for its royal ceremonies. London is a diverse city that keeps getting more diverse every day. It has great universities, fashionable clothing, amazing restaurants, a thriving theater scene, reliable public transportation, and some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Although it ranked sixth on our list, London is still one of the best places to live in the United Kingdom.
Southampton is a city by the sea that has been sending big ships into the English Channel for over 100 years. It’s famous for being the place where the Titanic ship started its journey in 1912, although that didn’t end well. But today, Southampton still loves its maritime culture. The city has been growing and changing, becoming a cool place with things to see and do. They’ve made the port into a tourist attraction with a museum called the Sea City Museum. Every September, they also have a special event called the Southampton Boat Show.
Southampton is the biggest city on the southern coast of England. It has a nicer and sunnier weather compared to many other cities in the UK. Living costs there are about 34% lower than in London. If you want, you can easily visit London because it’s just a two-hour train ride away. And if you want to take a break from the city and go to a nice beach, you can take a short ferry ride to the Isle of Wight.
But Southampton itself has lots of things to enjoy. It has really old walls from medieval times that are still there, and there are museums that show what life was like a long time ago, like the Tudor House Museum. The city also has great theater shows that come from London, and there are many art galleries. If you like nature and hiking, there’s a big park nearby called the New Forest National Park. People also say that Southampton has lots of good schools, which is great if you have a family.
Cambridge is a small city, like Oxford, located about 60 miles outside of London. It’s famous for having one of the most well-known universities in the United Kingdom. Unlike Oxford, Cambridge feels more like a town built around the university. The university in Cambridge is one of the best in the world and has beautiful buildings dating back to the 13th century. The university is the main focus and heart of the city.
Cambridge is a lively and youthful city because of its students and highly educated workforce. More than 40% of the people working in Cambridge have higher education qualifications, which is twice the national average. There are many job opportunities, especially in fields like software and bioscience. Cambridge is also known as Silicon Fen, where many new start-up companies, often coming from the university, are created.
Out of all the cities we studied, Cambridge ranked first in terms of safety. It’s a city that is easy to walk around, and it has a rich history. In a survey, Cambridge was voted as the top city for culture, considering things like the number of museums, theaters, galleries, and historic sites it has.
Glasgow is a big city located west of Edinburgh in Scotland. It’s the largest city in Scotland and the fourth largest in the whole United Kingdom. Glasgow is known for its industries, job opportunities, arts, parks, culture, and sports. It’s also a place where people speak and study Gaelic, a language mostly spoken in the Scottish Highlands.
Like Manchester, Glasgow was one of the first cities to have a lot of factories and industries. Many workers came here for jobs in shipbuilding, engineering, construction, textiles, and other manufacturing fields. Manufacturing is still important, but now there are also jobs in printing, publishing, finance, creative services, healthcare, software development, and biotechnology.
Glasgow is a happening place when it comes to work and job opportunities.
Just like Manchester, Glasgow has a thriving music scene. It has produced many bands and was recognized as a UNESCO City of Music in 2008. But Glasgow has even more to offer culturally. Many of Scotland’s national arts organizations are based here. You can enjoy opera, ballet, theater, symphonic music, visual arts, museums, sports, and vibrant nightlife.
Glasgow ranks high on our list of the best places to live in the United Kingdom for several reasons. The cost of living is low compared to other cities we looked at.
The healthcare system is terrific, and the air quality is high. There are also many green spaces to enjoy. Additionally, Glasgow is known for being welcoming to the LGBTQ community. In summary, people from Glasgow would proudly say that the quality of life there is “belter,” which means really good.
Birmingham may be the most surprising city on this list. Many people from other countries may not even know about it. However, this city in the middle of England is a great option for those who want the big-city experience like London, but without the high cost. Birmingham is known for its affordable living, even before we narrowed down the list. It offers similar advantages to living in London but without the high expenses.
For those who want to explore the United Kingdom, Birmingham is a fantastic home base. Its international airport makes it convenient for trips to Europe, and its central location means it’s easy to travel to other parts of the country.
Birmingham received top marks for healthcare, with its NHS system being more efficient compared to others in the country. The city also has plenty of green spaces, good walkability, and public transportation. It has many good schools and a unique cultural scene. Birmingham has an impressive number of canals, even more than Venice! It is home to the most Michelin-star restaurants outside of London. The city is known for iconic British foods like Cadbury chocolate and HP brown sauce. It is considered the birthplace of heavy metal music, with bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and part of Led Zeppelin originating here. Other famous bands like Duran Duran also come from Birmingham.
Also, the city has produced notable writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and W.H. Auden.
The only problem is that Birmingham received low marks for safety on our list. However, most of the crime is localized to specific neighborhoods and related to gang activity. This means that foreigners and expats are generally not targeted.
And the best city to live in the United Kingdom is… Edinburgh! It has been Scotland’s capital city since the 15th century. Edinburgh is famous for its beautiful buildings, exciting cultural festivals, and a combination of city conveniences and a small-town atmosphere. In our analysis, Edinburgh scored high in important factors like cost of living, job opportunities, healthcare, and safety. It is also home to several UNESCO world heritage sites, plenty of green spaces, low pollution levels, and, of course, whisky.
For expats who come to work, Edinburgh offers great opportunities. It ranked third in job availability in our research and has a strong economy, second only to London. Living costs are more than 30% lower than in London, making it an attractive option. Additionally, Edinburgh ranked second in both safety and healthcare.
If you’re interested in culture, history, or adventure, Edinburgh has plenty to offer. The city and its surroundings have clean air and lots of green spaces, including a green belt surrounding it. Many people enjoy hiking up the extinct volcano called “Arthur’s Seat,” located just a mile away from the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The castle is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Old and New Towns. In 2004, Edinburgh was named UNESCO’s first Literary City due to its many renowned writers, such as Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Irvine Welsh.
One of the most well-known aspects of Edinburgh’s cultural life is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, also known as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival or simply “Fringe.” It’s a month-long event filled with independent theater, music, dance, and comedy, taking place in hundreds of venues throughout the city every August.
Throughout the rest of the year, Edinburgh remains a city of great beauty, culture, and entertainment. That’s why it topped our list as the best place to live in the United Kingdom!