The real cost of living in UK cities

Today we’re taking a look at the cost of living in the UK’s major cities. If you’re thinking about getting a degree and living in either London, Manchester or Birmingham, then we’ve got you covered with the real cost of living in these cities, up-to-date figures and important comparisons that will help you take the right decision. 


Starting with the biggie, London’s cost of living is currently estimated at around £1K per month, excluding rent, according to Numbeo. While accommodation is clearly among the top expenses of living in the capital of the UK, we have covered this aspect in our article on cheapest rents in London. Moreover, paying for a living space can vary substantially, depending on the number of people being housed, the area, the amenities, etc. Besides accommodation, one of the most important monthly expenses is the money that is spent on food. That is especially valid if you prefer eating out, as an inexpensive meal at a regular restaurant can set you back almost £20, while the cost of a three-course meal for two people at a mid-range restaurant rises up to £70. 

Transportation is another important expenditure for the residents of London, and while the iconic tube is an easy way to get around, people often need to also use other means of public transport. Fares depend on the time and zone, as well as travelcards, but this serves as a good general guide. With regard to utilities, residents usually pay around £200 per month for electricity, cooling, heating, water and garbage services, as well as around £30 for an internet package. Finally, entertainment and leisure obviously depend on what you’re into, but a monthly gym membership will set you back around £40, one seat at a cinema hall costs £14 approximately, while drinking a cocktail in a bar will probably have a £13 price tag attached to it.

2. Birmingham

In the case of the UK’s second largest city, monthly costs for a single person will hover around £670, excluding rent. Everything seems a bit cheaper around here and that is why the cost of living in Birmingham is 34% cheaper than that of London. Monthly utilities are not much cheaper here, but you will clearly see significant changes in costs related to transportation, groceries and leisure. The regular price for a monthly transportation pass does not exceed £60, a meal at an inexpensive restaurant will not cost more than £12, and a three course meal for two people at a good spot will set you back around £50. 

Groceries are somewhat cheaper too, obviously depending on where you choose to do your shopping, but sports and leisure costs significantly less, as a monthly fee for a fitness club is only £25-30 on average, and a ticket to the cinema costs around £10. Going out for drinks is also considerably cheaper, as a beer in the neighbourhood pub is worth £4 and a cocktail in a downtown club comes with an £8 price tag. Seeing that the average salary in Birmingham hovers around £2,370, after tax, the cost of living here is regarded as more than decent. Finally, if you’re looking for a bustling urban vibe, know that Birmingham has the youngest population in Europe, with under 25s representing almost 40% of the total population.

3. Manchester

Moving farther north, Manchester is known for its affordable living, being cheaper than 52% of other Western European cities. Manchester is a liveable city with a modern cosmopolitan vibe and a thriving culture. All this does come at a certain price, but that price is, in fact, approximately 30% lower than in London. Monthly costs for a single person, excluding rent, hover around £740, and while food prices are extremely similar to those of the UK’s capital, there are considerable disparities in other areas, including transportation and entertainment, not to mention housing. 

You will have to pay £70 for a monthly transportation pass, £200 for basic utilities excluding an internet package, and £14 for the average taxi trip. The cost of eating out is not necessarily lower that in other cities, but a cinema seat will only cost you £9 and a monthly gym membership – £25. Your regular pint of beer does not exceed £5 and the price of a cocktail enjoyed in a downtown hotspot will cost about £9. Overall, Manchester is regarded as a big city that comes without London’s price tag, and a student-friendly area. In 2022, Time Out Index named it the least expensive world city, as only 10% of residents believed living there was expensive. 

This information should get you prepared and informed with respect to what you’re signing up for, but don’t forget that students can access substantial maintenance loans that can help with several expenses outside university. Plus, we can help you access these funds!