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.
At the bottom of the page, you can also see an updated cost of living comparison focused on British cities. Figures were last updated in May 2023, taking into account the current cost of living crisis in the UK that has seen prices soar.
5 of the Best & Cheapest Cities to Live in the UK
The Welsh capital is a good starting point with living costs only around 60% of those in London as of 2023. 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.
Living Cost Index – £1300/month
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 (with high speed lines currently being built that will slash that travel time to under an hour) and fares are very affordable if booked in advance, while you can get to most of the major northern cities in around two hours. That all makes it a good central base for anyone looking to travel a lot and explore the UK.
Living Cost Index – £1350/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 living in the US for example where you always need to travel large distances to get from A to B, it shouldn’t be a major issue.
Living Cost Index – £1350/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, Brighton 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 other major cities 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, although you may want to consider living in one of the surrounding towns in Greater Manchester if you really want to cut living costs as much as possible.
Living Cost Index – £1450/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 some people relocated here during the pandemic to escape the bigger Northern cities with remote working now possible in many UK workplaces. 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 other British cities.
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 which has one of the most charming centres in the country.
Living Cost Index – £1450/month
UK Cost of Living Calculation Explained
For the information above and table below, we’ve used numbeo’s cost calculator as a guide to work out an estimated cost of living index for cities in the United Kingdom, as of May 2023. However the exact cost of living will clearly vary from person to person and figures are mostly designed as a guide and a means of comparison. They are aimed to represent a possible figure for all living expenses for a single person, including the cost of renting accommodation.
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 significantly.
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. Get a quote in less than a minute from SafetyWing for an idea of how much this may cost if you require travel medical insurance.
2023 Cost of Living in the UK – Cities Compared
|City||Cost of Living Index (Monthly in £)|
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. The rest of the country is much more affordable, although still far more costly than the cheapest places to live in Europe.
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. 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.
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 many of these cities compare favourably to even the cheapest places to live in Canada for example.
This post on the cheapest cities to live in the UK was last updated in May 2023. 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.