If you’re thinking of moving house and are not restricted by location, the latest Sunday Times guide to the top places to live in the UK might offer some inspiration.
Judges travelled the country, assessing a list of 72 locations chosen to represent the best of Britain in the annual Best Places to Live publication. They examined factors including schools, transport, broadband speeds, cultural opportunities, access to green spaces, and the appearance of the high street.
And they named Wadhurst, a market town in east Sussex, as the best place to live in the UK. Wadhurst, with its population of under 5,000, is the smallest overall winner in the 11-year history of the best places to live guide.
The perfect place to live
Judges chose Wadhurst for its `good schools, convenient transport connections, an amazingly well-stocked high street and stunning scenery’. They say it offers:
Pretty much everything needed for modern life in miniature. The stars of the show are the stalwarts who keep the place vibrant, especially the Wadham Warriors, which began life in 2004 as a group of dads fundraising for the primary school and now raise money for the whole village. Adding to its attractions are activities for children, the farmers’ market and clubs, classes, and community cinema at the Community Hall.
Wadhurst’s attractions include community cinema screenings, a monthly farmers market, tai chi or karate classes, a range of groups such as astronomy and amateur dramatics, and football, bowls, and cricket clubs. It’s under an hour from London by rail and 45 mins from the south coast, making it appealing to young professionals and families.
It boasts a good range of shops and includes a Post Office counter, a Co-Op, a butcher, a florist, a homeware shop, a dog groomer, an optician, a GP and dentist surgery, a physiotherapist, a pharmacy, a bookshop, an art gallery and library. Wadhurst properties are restricted to superfast broadband through the phone lines; rural properties have Openreach full fibre or slow broadband.
Houses cost an average of £630,000, with smaller properties and flats costing from £300,000, and four-bedroom houses priced from £800,000 upwards. Wadhurst has a dark skies designation meaning there are restrictions on street and house lighting.
Wadhurst benefits from all the amenities of bigger towns in an area of rolling hills and quaint villages, making it the perfect place for modern living.
Judging criteria for finding the best places to live
Helen Davies, editor of The Sunday Times Home section and Best Places to Live said:
When times are tough, where we live matters more than ever. Attractive surroundings, good neighbours, and a comfortable home are the best defences when the stresses of modern life seem overwhelming.
This guide is a celebration of towns, cities, and villages that are each a fantastic place to live in 2023 from Orkney to Felixstowe, the Chew Valley to Manchester city centre. Whether you’re downsizing, trading up, or getting onto the property ladder, there will be somewhere to suit you. Data may measure quantity, but it can’t measure quality.
While our research is rigorous, our choices have to be subjective. Our expert judging panel has been out and about from Abergavenny to Folkestone, Orkney to Penzance, and Belfast, visiting every location, taking in the atmosphere, and chatting to locals about what makes their place so special.
Regarding the importance of schools and transport in making a good place to live, Helen Davies added:
We assess the latest inspection reports for local schools and use The Sunday Times Parent Power guide. Online, we include the date of inspection for outstanding schools, which are rarely assessed. There can be a big difference between outstanding in 2012 and outstanding in 2022.
We pore over road, rail and tram connections — and not just to London. Local shortcuts and cost-saving tricks are included if possible. And we highlight where you can live car-free and those places making an effort with cycleways, scooters, ebike schemes and clean air zones.
More desirable places to live in the UK
This year’s guide, which was published in the Sunday Times on March 26th, has more entries than ever; new locations making their debut include Poundbury, the Dorchester village created by King Charles which marks its 30th anniversary this year. Despite early critics accusing it of being a toy town, the guide praises it for its affordable homes, renewable energy and walkable layout.
Also making a first-time appearance are several seaside towns that are now on the way up and include Folkstone in Kent, Barmouth in Wales, Felixstowe in Suffolk, Penzance in Cornwall, and Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear. Cities with an industrial past such as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Newcastle reappear in the guide, perhaps demonstrating that the flight to the countryside witnessed during Covid-19 is definitely over: the convenience, job opportunities and cultural attractions of city life are back in fashion.
The guide is sponsored by Halifax which provided the average house price for each location. Kim Kinnaird, the director of Halifax Mortgages, said:
We know it’s where you live that really makes somewhere feel like ‘home’. What people look for when choosing where to live is a very personal choice. We know that the housing market can sometimes feel daunting when there are so many locations and things to consider. But looking at these fantastic locations is a great start, with options for different budgets and family situations, alongside an exciting blend of urban and rural living.
Previous winners of the Best Places to Live in Britain title are: Stamford, Lincolnshire (2013); Skipton, North Yorkshire (2014); Newnham, Cambridge (2015); Winchester, Hampshire (2016); Bristol (2017), York (2018), Salisbury, Wiltshire (2019), Altrincham, Cheshire (2020) Stroud, Gloucestershire (2021) and Ilkley, West Yorkshire (2022).
The guide also selected 10 regional winners which are:
EAST OF ENGLAND
Saffron Walden, Essex
This historic market town is now attracting young families, drawn by its excellent schools, and as a result, new bars, shops and restaurants are opening. There’s an emphasis on local produce here, and the weekly market is a highlight, helping make it one of the most desirable places to live in the UK according to the list. The average property price here is £567,000.
Its green spaces and independent shops secured a place in the list for this lively north London suburb which has a vibrant market-town feel. The streets surrounding the central clock tower are home to a melting pot of cafes, bars and restaurants. There are grand Victorian and Edwardian houses, plenty of parks, two cinemas, sports clubs and a swimming pool. A striking feature of local life is a friendliness that’s often absent in the capital – judges noted that people say hello to each other on the street. Houses here cost an average of £750,000.
Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, West Midlands
Already known as The Silicon Spa, this town is a centre for digital industries and it’s about to get a boost from the launch of a Creative Quarter. Combining period charm with modern innovation, Leamington Spa also has beautiful parks, excellent transport links, great schools and a town centre with interesting independent shops and cafes. The average property price is £386,000.
Donaghadee, Co Down
The benefits of living by the sea in a friendly community are attracting commuters from Belfast to this colourful seaside town which enjoys spectacular views. It’s also been getting attention from viewers of the BBC daytime TV drama Hope Street. This small town’s lively inhabitants come out in force for the summer and Christmas festivals. The average property costs £207,000, making this the most affordable place in the regional top 10.
NORTH & NORTHEAST
Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear
Rapidly improving after years of decline, Whitley Bay boasts a beautiful beach perfect for a relaxing stroll, and good connections to the industrial town of Newcastle for work opportunities. The housing market here offers good value and Park View has become one of the best independent shopping streets in the country, featuring an artisan bakery and microbrewery, along with more traditional shops including a shoe repairer and butcher, all helping to make it a great place to live. Property prices average £302,000.
Judges found a sense of optimism about the port city of Liverpool, from its hosting Eurovision to its development as a centre for science and tech and major projects such as new film studios and the Everton Stadium. Once a major seaport with an important maritime history – the Titanic set sail from its docks – today Liverpool is an exciting city that’s home to many young professionals and offers great employment opportunities. It’s the largest city in the top 10, and one of the most vibrant UK cities, known as a top spot for live music venues and its friendly locals. The guide tips the top districts in the city as Waterloo for the seaside, sunsets and independent shops, and Toxteth for its cultural and community vibe. Liverpool is also appealing for its well-priced housing: the average property price is £225,400.
This Scottish location offers stunning Highland scenery and chic Scandi-style sophistication. Key attractions include Aran Bakery and the fashionable general store Lon, both run by Flora Shedden, the former Great British Bake Off contestant. Nature lovers are well provided for with the Hermitage Forest close by and another highlight is the Field, an inspiring community organic veg garden. Property prices in this Scottish town average £357,000.
Chichester, West Sussex
Refined Chichester has a rich history and benefits from easy access to the South Downs and Chichester Harbour. It gets a place among the UK’s best places to live due to its excellent schools and road links while The Festival Theatre and Pallant Gallery provide cultural offerings. Chichester has the accolade of having welcomed the highest number of Ukrainian refugees per head in the country. The average property price is £457,000.
Enjoying a beautiful historic backdrop, this town is known as the capital of the Cotswolds. It holds regular markets, has a thriving high street and beautiful parks, making it a great place to live. The volunteer-run heated outdoor swimming pool is a particular highlight, and a programme of cultural events takes place at the Barn Theatre and the New Brewery Arts Centre. House prices average £492,500.
Set in the beautiful Vale of Clwyd, historic Ruthin has lots going on despite its small-town appearance. It’s home to lots of independent businesses and is one of the most affordable places to buy a house on the list. The market hall is a focal point for food and craft markets and pop-up restaurants, and the old courthouse is now a visitor hub and co-working space. The local area is extremely rural and a great place for walkers. The average property price here is £321,000