It’s widely agreed that London is an extremely expensive city to visit and live in, but what about the rest of the UK? Well, the cost of living is considerably cheaper in literally every other city in the country, and usually by a considerable margin. In this post we’ll look at the cheapest cities to live in the UK and consider which are the best options for remote workers or students hoping to balance a high quality of life with affordable living.
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5 of the Best & Cheapest Cities to Live in the UK
The Welsh capital is a good starting point with living costs only around 65% of those in London. The biggest savings come in terms of accommodation with rental prices in London at least double what they are in Cardiff for comparable properties.
Like many of the cities on this countdown, Cardiff has shed its industrial reputation in recent years and reinvented itself as a place that has plenty to offer both visitors and residents alike, even ranking as one of the best destinations during the summer in the UK. The city of castles, set around a famous bay, is the perfect place for anyone looking to live somewhere with a genuine identity that sets it apart from many UK towns and cities that can be a bit ‘samey’.
As well as the opportunity to learn about Welsh culture and traditions, anyone looking to live on a tight budget will enjoy the fact that it’s also a popular student city. There are plenty of restaurants, bars and entertainment options that are geared more towards those with less cash to splash, meaning of the major cities, it’s certainly one of the cheapest places to live in the UK.
Estimated Living Costs – £1200/month*
* The cost of living estimates for the five cities featured in this post clearly will vary from person to person and are mostly designed as a guide and a means of comparison. They are aimed to represent a realistic figure for a single person, including the cost of renting accommodation and were updated in September 2022 to reflect significant increases in the cost of living in the UK over the past year.
Students and anyone willing to live in a flatshare or really watch what they spend, should be able to get by on a bit less. Those with more lavish lifestyles will most likely spend a lot more. Anyone planning on living alone and renting their own private apartment in some of the more expensive cities to rent such as London, may also need to increase the budget.
If you’re a fan of big city living but can’t afford to reside in London, then Birmingham is perhaps your next best bet. The UK’s second city has around 2.5 million people living in its metropolitan area and is home to a more diverse and more multicultural population than somewhere like Manchester or Liverpool.
From its famous Balti Triangle to the alternative bars and clubs of Digbeth and the up and coming Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham is certainly a city on the up and whoever you are, you should be able to find a little piece of it that suits you fine.
Birmingham’s location in the very heart of England and at the centre of the UK’s rail and bus networks is also a major advantage. It’s only around 90 minutes by train to London and fares are very affordable if booked in advance, while you can get to most of the major northern cities in around two hours, making it a good base for anyone looking to travel a lot and explore the UK.
Estimated Living Costs – £1200/month
If you prefer the pace of life a bit slower, and your cities a bit smaller and quieter, then you’ll struggle to find many better places in the UK than Norwich. While not quite on the coast, nestled in picturesque Norfolk there are all kinds of opportunities for getting out of town and into the beautiful countryside and nearby coastline.
Norwich itself has plenty of history and charm to it, having existed for more than 800 years. It was one of the most important cities in England during medieval times but these days it has been overtaken in terms of size and stature by a large number of midland and northern towns which boomed during the industrial revolution.
The main disadvantage is that Norwich is quite isolated and it’s a bit cut off from other parts of the country with no motorway and relatively slow transport links. For some, that’s part of its charm. If it’s a concern, then it is worth remembering that England is only a small country and if you’re used to travelling large distances to get from A to B, it shouldn’t be a major issue.
Estimated Living Costs – £1200/month
Manchester is perhaps marginally the most expensive of the five cities featured here, but is still considerably cheaper to live in than London. It’s also more affordable than the likes of Bristol and Oxford, and overall you’d have to say it has much more going on.
The Northern powerhouse continues to grow in popularity with young Brits and people from abroad looking to live in a lively city with a strong identity that is closely linked to its music heritage and football scene. The sense that Manchester really is going places is palpable, with new high rise buildings popping up all over the place to accommodate the city’s businesses and new residents looking to be part of the action.
Prices are rising in Manchester but for now living costs remain affordable and are only slightly more than the equivalent in almost every other city in Northern England. For many people, that’s certainly a price worth paying given all the advantages that come with living in such a vibrant place.
Estimated Living Costs – £1300/month
If you’d rather live somewhere a bit smaller, consider Chester. It’s conveniently located only around 40 miles southwest of Manchester and just 15 miles south of Liverpool and is a popular destination for people from both cities looking for somewhere a bit quieter and arguably nicer to live.
Indeed many have relocated here during the pandemic with remote working the norm for many even as life returns to normal.Living costs have increased a fair bit here in the past couple of years as a result, at an even greater pace than in most British cities during this time when the country is gripped by a cost of living crisis.
With an extensive history that dates back to its foundation by the Romans, Chester boasts many ancient buildings and its infrastructure has been well-preserved. Today there’s a nice blend of old and new with fashionable bars, shops and restaurants found within the old walled city.
Estimated Living Costs – £1300/month
Cost of Living in the UK – Cities Compared (2022 Estimates)
For the table below (and figures above), we’ve used numbeo’s cost calculator as a guide to work out the estimated cost of living in 20 cities in the United Kingdom, as of September 2022. As you can clearly see, there is a huge spike in costs when it comes to London and in truth the southeast of England in general. However if you’re planning to find a job or have one lined up, you should factor in the much increased earnings potential in the capital.
Students, remote workers and digital nomads may be wise to consider cities at the lower end of the list although just about everywhere outside of London is affordable by comparison. There’s not much difference in living costs between cities in the other regions of the UK although you can squeeze out a bit more value in Northern Ireland and parts of Wales.
Remember that the estimated monthly figures themselves are designed to be just a guide as each person’s living and spending habits are different. They are intended to cover the cost of renting accommodation and all living expenses.
City Estimated Cost of Living (Monthly in £) London 1850 Brighton 1500 Oxford 1500 Bristol 1350 Chester 1300 Manchester 1300 Edinburgh 1250 Birmingham 1200 Glasgow 1200 Cardiff 1200 Liverpool 1200 Nottingham 1200 Norwich 1200 Leeds 1200 Sheffield 1150 Newcastle 1150 Belfast 1150 Exeter 1150 Swansea 1100 Derry 1000
This list consists of almost every major city in the UK and a selection of smaller ones which feature because they tend to rank well in quality of life rankings or are generally viewed as more popular destinations to visit and live in. We’ve also tried to feature cities from all the main English regions with two Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish cities also included to give as diverse a picture as possible.
Overall, it’s fair to say that the UK is an expensive country and living costs are rising! However there are more expensive countries in the world and most of these cities compare favourably to even the cheapest places to live in Canada for example.
It’s also worth noting that none of these budgets for living in the UK take into consideration the cost of health or travel insurance. These costs will vary considerably according to your individual circumstances and whether you will have access to the NHS. Short-term digital nomads and remote workers may wish to check out SafetyWing who offer flexible Nomad Insurance from $42 per 4 week period as well as more extensive Remote Health plans which even work in your own country.
This post on the cheapest cities to live in the UK was last updated in September 2022.
Comments and questions are welcome. However please note we are not experts on UK immigration laws (which are still evolving following Brexit). It’s also quite hard to answer questions on local job markets/study options. You may have more luck on other forums or groups specific to moving to the UK from abroad.
5 British Cities that are cheap to live in & offer a high Quality of Life