Moving to the UK? Five Alternatives to London You Should Consider
In 2015, I was in Paris with two colleagues on a research trip. During the day, we busied ourselves with fieldwork, while in the evenings we explored the city. One night, as we wandered through Montmartre, we decided to stop at this little restaurant called Aux Trois Petits Cochons for what turned out to be an utterly superb dinner. Once he found out our nationality, our waiter – an enthusiastic young guy with a passion for electronica – told us with typical Francophone verve how moving to the UK was a great desire of his. Where was he headed? “London!” We confessed our surprise at his choice. Given his passion for music and his modest budget, we could think of several other regional centres in the UK that might have suited him better as a place to start out.
As Britain’s largest city, and a world class centre for almost everything, London is often the first choice when non-UK nationals are thinking of moving to the UK. But it is also frenetic, crowded, and extremely expensive, with commutes from the affordable parts of the city to the centre taking almost an hour. It is an open secret within the UK that, although London without doubt has the most going on, the quality of life in other parts of the country is rather better. Below, we profile just five of the UK’s regional cities, from one small area. They’re all along the M4 corridor – a spoke of development linking London to the West of England and Wales. Depending upon what you’re looking for in a place to live and work, one of them might be worth checking out if you’re considering moving to the UK.
Reading (pronounced, “Red-ing”) is the largest settlement without city-status in England. Although technically a town, Reading is a major hub for retail, transport, insurance and IT companies, with a population of over 230,000 people and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the entire country – so there’s plenty of jobs on offer. It is also less than half an hour away from London, and has easy rail access to the North, South and West; so if you’re keen to explore the rest of the country, Reading makes for a great base. Reading Festival – one of the biggest musical festivals on the UK circuit – is held here every year, and the city centre is full of bars and restaurants; so there’s plenty to do on your doorstep too.
“Well-connected, Fun and Full of opportunity”
If you’ve got enough of a budget to live in London, but want somewhere with a truly spectacular quality of life, then Bath is the city for you. Because of its Georgian architecture and its Roman ruins, the entire city is a world heritage site – and the Avon valley in which it sits has some of Britain’s most beautiful rolling countryside. It hosts two universities, a vibrant cultural scene, and some of the best shopping in the west of England; all within an area the size of a single London borough.
“Cultural, Sophisticated and Commercial”
Swindon is the county town of Wiltshire, and has a bit of a bad reputation for being a nondescript sort of place. But this unassuming town was a major hub for the development of Britain’s Railway network, and so today it has a handsome stock of Victorian industrial heritage. It’s also the base for many of Britain’s main cultural bodies – such as the National Trust and English Heritage – as well as being a mere stone’s throw away from the dramatic, prehistoric landscapes of Avebury and Salisbury Plain. To top it all, the cost of living is still very affordable, despite being about an hour away from central London. Moving to the UK need not break the bank.
“Up-and-coming, Affordable and a Centre for Heritage”
Cardiff (Caerdydd) is the capital of Wales (Cymru), and is the country’s commercial, cultural and political centre. The old centre around (another) medieval castle hosts some of Wales’ best shopping and bars, where you’ll find many people speaking Welsh (Cymraeg), a language that has an ancient and august literary tradition. Once a busy port, Cardiff Bay is now a bustling waterfront district – home to the Welsh Assembly, galleries, the BBC’s drama village, and Cardiff International Sports Village. Cardiff has been the European City of Sport twice, with the city regularly hosting international sporting events due to its excellent facilities and many stadia. If you’re keen on sport, particularly rugby, there’s few better places to set up than Cardiff.
“Sporting, Shopping and Political hub”
Just down the road from Bath is Bristol, a city that was recently ranked by the Sunday Times as the best place to live in the UK – as you can see from the quote below. Deemed a “small city that feels like a big city” in a recent BBC article, Bristol is a place that combines diversity and a strong community spirit. It also has a thriving music scene, tonnes of high-tech and creative jobs, and some extremely dramatic scenery – including the iconic Avon Gorge. From the idyllic streets of Clifton, to the colourful street art of Stokes Croft, Bristol has a character all its own.
“Cool, classy, and supremely creative”
If you’re considering moving to the UK, picking a town or city is likely very high on your agenda. As you can see from the list above, there are plenty of alternatives to living in the capital. Find a spare few days and go and check out what makes them unique, you’ll probably never look back.
If you’re considering moving from the UK to another country, have a look at this.