London was exciting when you first moved there after graduation. You wanted to be part of a world-class city and enjoy everything it has to offer. But unlike those who still love it and accept its imperfections, you've grown to hate it.
We get it. London is expensive and busy, and just to get anywhere can be a slog. And with an often transient population, it's no wonder you're ready for a change. But where to go instead? There are plenty of options, for sure. Over the next few months, we're going to explore some alternatives cities to London, kicking off with Manchester.
Manchester is on top of our list, not because we're based here, but because it really is a fantastic alternative to London. There's room to breathe. People are relaxed. It's friendly. It offers an excellent quality of life. This is a place that really comes together and has admirable community spirit – just look at how Manchester responded to recent atrocities.
Sure, it rains a lot. And it'll never be London. But there are many reasons why Manchester has become a realistic alternative to the UK's capital.
Manchester to live
If the expense of London is the main reason for your move, then you'll be happy to know that the cost of living in Manchester is much more affordable.
But guess what, the best-kept secret is out – people are moving here like never before. Manchester is in the midst of its biggest boom since the Victorian era. And with a flourishing skyline, the city centre is now home to over 530,000 people.
However, if you're looking to get on the property ladder, the average house price in Manchester is £177,597, according to Zoopla, which is a massive difference to property in London.
In the city centre, you can rent a two-bed apartment for under a grand. Check out Ancoats and the Northern Quarter for some options. Or there's Castlefield if you want to be near the quiet canals.
Need more space? You have the popular (and expensive) suburbs in south Manchester – Didsbury, West Didsbury, Chorlton (all connected by the Manchester Metrolink) and The Heatons (connected by a train line – it takes less than 10 minutes to Manchester Piccadilly).
To the north, which is more affordable, you have Prestwich and Bury. Much further out, you get more property for your money with some decent transport links – take a look at Ramsbottom in the north or places like Macclesfield to the south.
Manchester for work
If you're a freelancer or independent being squeezed out of the capital because of extortionate rents, then Manchester won't disappoint – it has heaps of affordable studios. Start with M ONE Studios, just off Oxford Road.
Looking to continue your studies somewhere? We've got world-class universities: Manchester University counts 25 Nobel Prize winners amongst its staff and students, both past and present. We also have a Shillington campus in Manchester, for those of you looking to study graphic design.
If you're looking for a job, Manchester has a wealth of award-winning design, advertising, digital, marketing and creative studios and agencies – Code ComputerLove, The Chase, Glorious Creative, Flow, Citypress... Plus it's home to ITV and BBC, not to mention all the other huge employers who base themselves here.
Manchester for arts and culture
There's the new £110m arts space on the horizon, on the old Granada Studios site, promising to be "the best arts venue in the world. It's also going to become a permanent base for the biennial Manchester International Festival in 2019.
There's The Whitworth, which also recently enjoyed a £15million redevelopment, set in the beautiful grounds of Whitworth Park. Manchester Art Gallery is also a city treasure – we especially love that they're open late on Thursday evenings. For you science lovers, Museum of Science & Industry is a must – we recently enjoyed the latest Robots exhibition.
Aside from being the sporting capital of the UK (City or United anyone?), music and entertainment are just as vibrant as it was back in the days of acid house, the Hacienda and Oasis.
Every November, the entire city centre is taken over by the world-class Manchester Christmas Markets. From Albert Square to Cathedral Gardens to King Street and Market Street – we love popping to them after work to enjoy some mulled wine and sausages, and the atmosphere never disappoints.
Manchester for the Great Outdoors
For those of you escaping the Smoke for some fresher air and greener surroundings, Manchester is also surrounded by beautiful countryside. You have the Lake District on one side, the Peak District on the other. North Wales isn't far either (the 'Cheshire Set' have second homes in Abersoch).
We don't have anywhere near enough parks in our city centre (don't mention Piccadilly Gardens to us, it'll just make us angry). But the suburbs offer plenty of greenery (Didsbury is especially spoilt – Fletcher Moss Botanical Garden, Didsbury Park and Marie Louise Gardens), and the famous Heaton Park isn't far out of the centre – it's considered to be the biggest and best in the North West.
There are loads of National Trust properties nearby, such as Tatton Park in Knutsford and Dunham Massey near Altrincham. There's also beautiful Lyme Park near Stockport.
And if you love road cycling, then the Cheshire lanes south of the city will bring you many hours, and miles, of joy, with the Peak District being in easy reach for those of you who like pain. Check out Manchester Wheelers if you're looking to join a club – check out the video below to learn more about the women's side.
What people say about Manchester
"I still love London, but it's definitely changing for the worse in terms of affordability and homogeneity in certain areas," says James Armstrong, a motion graphics designer who moved to Manchester from London in May. "We still wanted to live in a city that had plenty to offer culturally, as well somewhere that would be totally new to us.
"We're living in Chorlton as we have a dog so wanted to be as close to green spaces as possible rather than right in the middle of town. But with the tram it's still accessible, and a million times more pleasant than the Tube!"
Ben Tallon, an illustrator and host of popular podcast – Arrest All Mimics, also just moved north: "I returned to Manchester because I feel there's more soul on a scale that doesn't eat you alive. London is brilliant and the buzz is something I'm still in love with, but the weeks fly by and your feet don't touch the floor.
"We're all busy and the scale of it can leave you with a packed calendar, but an unpleasant bout of anonymity. Here in Manchester, I am able to find city centre studio space and crucially, time to think and digest the world around me. My creativity has returned and it feels great.
"In London, I feel gentrification is a real problem. Affordable creative workspace for independent artists and designers in anywhere remotely central is scarce and that made me sad. I'm not alone in leaving the city and I just hope the government realise the value, both culturally and economically, of the creative industry in a country so heralded for its innovation before London loses something irreplaceable."
Mark Richardson of Superfried moved to Manchester from London last summer. "I don’t want to slam London, it's an amazing city, it's where I was born and it provided me with opportunities I could not have found anywhere else in the UK. However, London is hard work. I found myself married with two children living in a flat frustrated with all of the negatives, no longer enjoying or taking advantage of the benefits.
"Our priorities had shifted. A bit of a cliché, but bars and restaurants had mysteriously dropped off the list which now said school, house, garden! Fortunately we were both self-employed so location was less relevant. With my wife originating from Manchester, and it being the second city with great schools, culturally strong, loads to do and awesome for design – it was an obvious choice.
"Since arriving last year I have met more people within my sector than during the rest of my career combined, and I can honestly say I have not looked back. Everything is just easier here and we have been made to feel very welcome."
Main image: Courtesy of Adobe Stock