Which are the best places to live in the UK if you are relocating from overseas?
The United Kingdom is an ancient island nation with a rich history and diverse cities, towns, and villages. From the global metropolis of London to the relaxing seaside of the Pembrokeshire Coast, there is a place for everyone. The ideal place for you and your family certainly exists in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. Your preferences and needs for a place to live in the UK will depend on your particular situation, so keep in mind your lifestyle when considering a move to the United Kingdom. These considerations could include factors such as:
- Housing availability – buying or renting
- Job market
- School options
- Cultural events
- Nightlife, bars, and restaurants
- Travel connections
- Access to wildlife and nature
This article will outline some of the best, most interesting, and most beautiful places to consider if you are relocating. We will also provide some ideas about the vast differences among the locations in the four nations. Use this article as a starting point for researching your move to the UK, or to learn more about the diversity and history within the country.
London – Population: 14,257,962 (Metropolitan Area)
The City of London and the 32 London boroughs comprise one of the world’s greatest, most diverse, and influential cities. London is one of the largest global centres of finance, arts, media, and tourism. From the historic and bustling city streets of Westminster to family-friendly suburban neighbourhoods such as Richmond, there is a place for anyone and everyone who chooses to live in London. The sprawling Greater London area is widely accessible by an excellent system of public transit, including the London Underground and extensive bus routes. While London is considered one of the most expensive cities in terms of cost-of-living, salaries and wages are generally matched by employers and comparably affordable housing is possible to find for young professionals and families alike.
Bristol – Population: 1,006,600 (Metropolitan Area)
Located in the southwest of England on the banks of the River Avon, Bristol is a progressive and fun city. It is ideal for those who want the convenience and entertainment of city living whilst being close to nature, such as the Cotswolds and the seaside. The city has been voted one of the friendliest in the UK for several years in a row. As the home of the anonymous street artist Banksy, Bristol is famous for its street art and general artistic environment. Bristol is conveniently positioned across the River Severn from Wales and is connected via train to important hubs such as London and Cardiff.
Durham – Population: 48,069 (Urban Area)
Home to the ancient Durham Cathedral and 11th-century Durham Castle, this small northeastern city is a historic and charming place to live. The prestigious Durham University is based at the heart of the old city, providing an exciting and convivial atmosphere in this quiet corner of the green northern county. Durham was previously a mining area at the heart of the Industrial Revolution. With some of the most affordable housing options in a UK city and a safe environment for families to enjoy, Durham is a great base for commuters to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and elsewhere within County Durham.
Birmingham – Population: 3,683,000 (Metropolitan Area)
The city of Birmingham is commonly considered England’s ‘second city’ due to its status as a large metropolis comparable to London. This large and busy city is located in the West Midlands region of the UK, making it a great option for those who enjoy travelling around the country. Birmingham is highly diverse with the largest Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh communities in the whole of the UK. Previously home to hubs of engineering and manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution, today Birmingham is dominated by the service sector. Birmingham is home to the most parks in the whole of Europe, making it a pleasant and comfortable place to live amidst the urban sprawl.
York – Population: 210,618
Founded in 71 AD by the Roman Empire, York was an influential and powerful city for centuries. Featuring the impressive York Minster, York is full of ancient streets, buildings, and city walls that have been well preserved since the Middle Ages. The city is located within the largest British county of Yorkshire and is a short drive away from hills, moors, and the countryside. The University of York provides a significant young adult population within the southeastern district. York is the perfect place to live for a history buff who still values the amenities and convenience of a small city.
Manchester – Population: 3,348,274 (Metropolitan Area)
Manchester has all the charms of a large British metropolis while bringing a more laid-back and welcoming atmosphere than some of the comparably sized cities. Located in the northeast of England, the city is close to the breathtaking Peak District National Park, providing excellent access for both hillwalkers and swimmers. Manchester is known for its varied nightlife scene and world-class music venues such as the Manchester Arena – the largest in the whole of the UK and one of the largest in all of Europe. The city is also home to two of the most popular football teams in the world, Manchester United and Manchester City. The rivalry between the two teams provides an exciting atmosphere on match days. Finally, you will always be able to recognise the distinctive accent of Mancunians – a point of pride for its friendly residents.
Norwich – Population: 376,500 (Metropolitan Area)
The city of Norwich is an ideal home for history buffs and lovers of beautiful architecture. Considered the capital of the East of England, it has roots dating back to Anglo-Saxon times. The medieval city streets and buildings have been well-maintained over the centuries, such as the Norman-era Norwich Castle. Originally one of the primary trading centres since medieval England known for its role in the shoemaking industry, Norwich Market has provided outdoor stall shopping to residents and travellers alike for the past 900 years. There are also plentiful modern shopping centres and professional services industries within the city. Norwich is located close to the Norfolk Coast in a beautiful part of the country providing access to exotic wildlife and waterfronts.
The Cotswolds District – Population: 139,000
The sprawling Cotswolds District is one of the most picturesque and charming regions in England. Stretching from the south-central to south-west of the country, the rural beauty of the Cotswolds is marked by relatively small population numbers compared to its size. The entirety of the Cotswolds has been identified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty due to the ancient habitat and landscapes. Small towns and villages such as Cirencester, Tewkesbury, and Tetbury feature well-appointed market squares and picture-perfect preserved churches dating back many centuries. This is an ideal region for those seeking a slower, calmer life far from bustling cities and closer to nature.
Glasgow – Population: 1,861,315 (Metropolitan Area)
The city of Glasgow has the largest population in all of Scotland with approximately 1.8 million people residing in the metropolitan area. Located on the River Clyde, Glasgow is a vibrant, multi-cultural city known for being welcoming to students and immigrants from around the United Kingdom, Europe, and the world. Glasgow is a refreshing combination of modern and historic with world-class museums, galleries, restaurants, music venues, and parks that make for well-rounded city life. It has also been voted one of the world’s friendliest cities with down-to-earth locals eager to welcome newcomers. Glasgow is a great place to live for those who enjoy travel. The city is within a short drive of stunning natural beauty such as Loch Lomond, the Trossachs woodlands and hills, and the West Coast seaside. Due to the relatively small size of the Central Belt of Scotland, Glasgow is within a reasonable distance from cities such as Edinburgh and Stirling.
Oban – Population: 8,490 and up to 24,000 in summer
Oban is a seafront town on the Western coast of Scotland. While Oban is a small town, it is the largest on the West coast of Scotland. In the summer, the population nearly triples and allows for varied and bustling town life. The town is ideal for those who would enjoy easy access to the Inner Hebrides isles due to its convenient location on a key ferry port. The harbour is dotted with sailboats and larger passenger boats alike. It is a perfect place to live for lovers of nature and is close to some of Scotland’s most beautiful lochs, mountains, coastline, and castles.
Edinburgh – Population: 901,445 (Metropolitan Area)
The capital of Scotland is located in the historic city of Edinburgh. Located on the East coast of Scotland, Edinburgh is an important seat of the Scottish government and a key cultural gem within both Scotland and the UK. Each August, the city of Edinburgh is home to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Edinburgh International Festival bringing tourists and arts-lovers from around the world. The cobbled streets of the Royal Mile stretch from the 12th century Edinburgh Castle to the royal residence of the British Royal Family whilst in Scotland, Holyroodhouse Palace. Edinburgh features large parks, green spaces, and beaches amongst stunning ancient buildings. Finally, has a large student population in relation to its modest size and is a walkable, safe, and historic city.
Aberdeen – Population: 489,815 (Metropolitan Area)
Aberdeen is the northern-most large city in Scotland. It is located on the East coast of the country directly on the North Sea. Aberdeen has a mild climate and remains cool throughout the year. Many residents of Aberdeen work in the off-shore oil and gas sector, as the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1960s provided a major boost to the Scottish economy. The city is also one of the primary economic hubs within Scotland and is a business-friendly city. It is also a sport-centred city, with many of its residents avidly supporting both football, rugby, and golf throughout the year.
Dunfermline – Population: 53,100
The town of Dunfermline is both a charming location in its own right and an ideal commuter town into the capital of Edinburgh. It is located in the Kingdom of Fife slightly inland from the East coastline of Scotland and close to the Firth of Forth. Notably, it has comparably affordable and high-quality housing within a short distance from Edinburgh via train or motorway. Dunfermline also features a 12th century Church of Scotland Abbey and plenty of green space for families to enjoy.
Cardiff – Population: 1,097,000 (Metropolitan Area)
Cardiff is the largest city and capital of Wales, located on the waterfront of Cardiff Bay across from the English city of Bristol. It is within an hour of the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park and close to seaside towns. Cardiff is home to unique Welsh cultural and political institutions such as the Welsh Senedd (Parliament), Cardiff Castle, the ruined Llandaff Bishop’s Palace, and BBC Wales. Prior to the Norman and English conquests of Wales, Cardiff was the centre of Wales for centuries. Today, Cardiff is a bilingual city with many locals speaking both English and Welsh – all street signs and public services are accessible in both languages. It is a compact and easily accessible location with an emphasis on inclusion and cultural richness. The capital is a great place for families and young people to live in thriving Wales and could be a great option for you.
Newport – Population: 128,060 (Urban Area)
The city of Newport is located close to both Cardiff and Bristol, making it an ideal location for people on the move. Previously highly linked to the coal industry, the Newport of today is a thriving seafront engineering and manufacturing centre. It is an ideal small city in friendly South Wales for families, and close enough to Cardiff for commuters seeking alternative housing options. Newport also features interesting historical sites such as the impressively preserved 2nd century Caerleon Roman Fortress Baths and Newport Castle.
Swansea – Population: 462,000 (Metropolitan Area)
Swansea is the second-largest city in Wales on the southwest coast of the nation. Swansea is located directly on the Gower Peninsula – the first British location to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has all the benefits of a built-up Welsh urban area whilst simultaneously providing a long, sandy coastline. During the Industrial Revolution, Swansea was a hub of the copper industry. Today, it is a vibrant hub of Welsh culture and a true destination perfect for lovers of the sun and sea.
Belfast – Population: 671,559 (Metropolitan Area)
Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland located on the east coast of the nation. Though it gained infamy throughout the Troubles period of Irish and Northern Irish history, the conflict feels long ago in present-day Belfast – it is now a safe and enjoyable place to live. Belfast is known for its involvement in the shipbuilding industry and is full of docks and shipyards, including that of the Harland and Wolff shipyard where the HMS Titanic was built. Belfast is a creative hub for traditional music, creative murals dotted on walls throughout the city, and cultural events. Notably, Belfast has some of the least expensive housing and cost-of-living amongst UK cities making it a great option for those considering a big move. Overall, it is an economical and exciting cultural city with good travel links to elsewhere in Northern Ireland, Ireland, and mainland UK.
Bangor – Population: 61,011
A short distance from Belfast, Bangor is a small coastal town and an excellent commuter locale from the greater urban area. It provides a picturesque seafront location with new-build houses in a desirable location. During the summer months, Bangor is a thriving tourist resort town bustling with activity and boating events. If you are considering a move to Northern Ireland but want to live outside the bustling Belfast City area, Bangor could be an excellent choice for you and your whole family for a big move to the UK.
Best places to live in the UK FAQs
Where is the cheapest and safest place to live in the UK?
British cities are more expensive and less safe than British towns and rural areas. In general, the larger the city, the more expensive the housing and cost-of-living. Amongst cities, Glasgow, Belfast, and Durham are some of the least expensive cities in which to live. Both Birmingham and Cardiff top the ranks of safest cities in the UK. If you prefer rural living with cheap and safe housing, you might want to consider the North East and Scotland.
Which city in the UK has the lowest cost of living?
Amongst cities in the UK, Durham, Glasgow, and Belfast have some of the lowest costs of living. Broadly, cities in the North of England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are less expensive than cities in the South and Midlands of England and certain regions of Wales. You may want to consider commuter towns or less expensive regions to get the most value for your money.