What is the cost of living in Bristol, UK? Is it a safe place, are the locals friendly, is it great for business? In this article, I endeavour to answer all these questions and by the end, you should be able to figure out what is really like to live in Bristol. If you are interested in the general life in the whole of the country, please read our expat guide to moving to the UK.
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A short introduction to Bristol
Bristol is located in the South West of England and it's the 10th largest city in the UK. Many come to London to enjoy a trip to Britain, hence few people are aware of what a great city Bristol really is. I fell in love with Bristol the very first time I visited this city and have been living here ever since (5 years now). Do I think it's a great place to live? Absolutely, it has been voted as the UK's most livable city for several years in a row. It’s a brilliant place for startups and entrepreneurs and ticks all the boxes if you are a young professional wanting to live in a culturally diverse society. Besides, there are so many things to do in Bristol.
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I lived in Manchester for three years prior to moving to Bristol and have been travelling all across the UK for more than 7 years now. For a while, I’ve been opened to relocating to a different British city, but I’m yet to find a better place. Bristol remains my favourite. There are several reasons why Bristol is awesome: it has a range of hip cafes and restaurants, is home to some of the world’s coolest festivals, has a seriously epic nightlife, great music scene, tons of parks, green spaces, world-renowned Universities and most of its inhabitants have voted against Brexit. Apart from London, Bristol seems like an obvious choice if you wish to live in the UK.
People from Bristol are known as Bristolians. Bristol has adopted a modern economy which is built around creative media, IT, electronics and aerospace. It has been voted the best city for entrepreneurs (Startup Cities Index 2015), the best city in Britain to live in (Sunday Times 2015) and has been named the EU’s European Green Capital (2015).
There is a strong sense of community in Bristol. People are generally friendly and willing to help. When you enter a shop, locals are likely to engage in conversation and ask you questions. In certain neighbourhoods, people really come together and pursue community activities. In various places around Bristol, you will find that neighbours become good friends and can rely on each other in times of distress.
Gloucester Road is one of the best places to understand the younger generations. You will find several boutiques, shops, restaurants, bars and cafes where locals like to hang out. It’s a great place to buy groceries and support local businesses. Bristolians are quite vehement about helping locals thrive, hence many will happily go out of their way to shop in local, organic stores as opposed to massive supermarket chains.
In general, Bristolians are very friendly and open to having a chat and a pint in the local pubs. It’s customary to go out for a drink with friends and colleagues after work, on a Friday.
Bristol for startups
Bristol has been named “Silicon Gorge” and this is because not only it’s the fastest-growing startup hub outside of London, but home to countless tech companies and startups. It is known to be the go-to place if you wish to invest or establish a tech-related business. Bristol has long been a creative city, with major music and art scenes, now being named the best city to run a business in the UK according to Startup Cities Index 2015.
Internet in Bristol
There is good and bad news about the internet in Bristol. There are several places in and around Bristol which don’t have access to high-speed internet. This is incredibly annoying, especially when you find the house of your dream and realise there is simply no available internet connection. In densely populated areas you can find BT and Virgin Media which offer up to 80MB, respectively up to 120MB internet. Expect to pay around £40/month to get connected. I still find it crazy to find areas with no proper internet connection.
Cafes and restaurants
Bristol is a very hipster city which quickly adopts the newest trends. It’s one of the best places to find cool, artsy coffee shops. Gloucester Road is definitely a great place to start. There are myriad of restaurants across Bristol, and there are tons of fusion cuisines available. If you fancy Japanese food, Thai, Korean or any other type of food, chances are, you will find it in Bristol.
Food and groceries
There are several supermarkets in Bristol and many local, independent shops. There are several markets with fresh produce open throughout the week, located all across the city. To support your local businesses, best to find an indie shop. They usually sell better quality ingredients. There are plenty of butcher shops, fruit and vegetable stalls and international stores with European goods. There is also a major Asian superstore where you can find plenty of related ingredients. The quality of food is generally good and the prices are relatively low. I do a shopping list with 3 meals a day for 2 adults. Based on the recipes I come up with in advance, I craft a list of ingredients and try my best not to buy more than what’s on the list. This is a great way to plan your meals in advance, save money and have a healthier lifestyle (no more random pizza ordering or crisps munching for no reason). We have a varied diet which includes mainly fruit, vegetables and lots of seafood. We only buy fresh produce and find that we spend roughly £140 per week. That’s £10 per adult, per day. Considering that we eat good quality food, I find this more than reasonable. This can vary depending on diets, choices of supermarkets and of course lifestyle.
Bristol is in a key location if you are a fan of the outdoors. I’ve written an article about how to find Zen places in Bristol if you want to get a more in-depth understanding of the surrounding areas. There are several forests, trails and green spaces all across the city. Bristol is very close to Somerset, a great place for nature lovers. Less than an hour away is Wales, with great walking and hiking opportunities, including the Forest of Dean and the Brecon Beacons. To the North, you can access Snowdonia as well as other forests such as Woodchester, one of my favourite green spaces with plenty of walking trails.
Cost of living in Bristol
Having lived in Manchester for 3 years, I think it’s fair to say that Bristol is not a cheap city to live in. What you save on food, you pay towards rent. A one-bedroom flat in the city centre can easily reach £900. However, if you are happy to commute to work, you can find a 2 bedroom house with a garden for the same price, somewhere outside the city centre.
As with every city, there are good and bad areas to live in. I generally prefer North and West of Bristol because of its quieter neighbourhoods. To check out renting opportunities, I suggest you check Zoopla (you can check the area stats and the local info which tells you a bit about the neighbourhood. Make sure you avoid areas with lots of socially rented houses. Check the local crime rate and also check the newspapers people read) or Rightmove (great to check if the area has a good internet connection). You can also try and find shared accommodation in a student or professional house share. Best place to find these is Gumtree. If you can’t afford to rent on your own, this is a great way to start. Rent can be as cheap as £500 per month, bills included.
Know that there are high agency fees to be paid when you decide to move houses in Bristol. Expect to pay anything from £100 to £300 per applicant. You usually need another £80 - £180 to have your inventory done and your deposit put in a safe government ran deposit scheme. You will need to provide one month rent in advance, as well as a (refundable) deposit (usually 6 weeks worth of rent).
When you move out, there is a (usually under £100) checkout fee to be paid to the agency to do the checkout for you. If the house is not left in good condition, your deposit may not be returned in full and held to cover the costs of repairs. This is communicated to you upon checkout and can be challenged in court if you disagree with anything.
Essentially you need quite a large chunk of money to move here. Bills are to be paid on top of your rental. I recommend renting a property which has central gas, this will save you lots of money in the long run. Before moving in, check the energy rating performance of a house. Aim for B or C. Anything beyond that means very expensive monthly bills.
Here is what you usually need to consider as bills per month: Council Tax, Electricity, Water, Gas, Internet. I pay about £300 on top of my rent to cover all the bills.
Bristol has a relatively mild climate and great air quality. As with most British cities, you will find that it rains a lot, summers and winters are both mild and wet. There is very rarely snow here in Bristol. Although the climate is not ideal for sun lovers, it has its advantages. For example, you don’t have to spend lots of money to change your car tyres from season to season. This also applies to clothes as you don’t need expensive winter gear. Essentially, Bristol has continuous autumn with some cold or sunny spells. Don’t be put off outdoors activities if it rains. Grab your wellies, a good rain poncho and off you go. The British countryside is just as epic even when it’s pouring.
Proximity to London
Because I travel a lot, I need to be close to London. By car, it takes about 2 hours to get to Heathrow which is good enough for me. You have access to the M4 motorway which takes you straight into London. You can, of course, get coaches or trains, however, they are a bit more expensive than having two adults sharing a car.
Owning a car
Getting around in Bristol can get expensive. Most people tend to cycle in this city which is pretty great. However, when you need to travel outside of Bristol, having a car can come in handy. Owning a car in Britain is actually is pricey. There are several things you need to consider. Firstly, you need to pay monthly compulsory insurance which is usually £70-100 per month. Secondly, you need to perform a yearly MOT with the car, a test which ensures your car is safe to be on the roads. If you fail, you need to invest money into repairing the car, otherwise, you won’t be allowed to drive. You need a pay a yearly road tax, which varies depending on your car. Buying a car is generally cheap in the UK, it's the maintenance that costs. Petrol is fairly expensive, but if you invest in a good eco-car, you end up saving quite a lot in the long run.
Finally, after work and expenditure, it comes a time when the Bristolian needs to let the hair down and enjoy life. Bristol is well known for having amazing festivals, ranging from Love Saves the Day, to the internationally renowned Balloon Fiesta through to the Harbourside Festival. There is always something going on, a party, a concert, a new exhibition. It’s a really great place to meet new people, form life-long friendships and taste what fun is all about. Bristol is home to some really great ciders, ales and beers.
Unfortunately, since the Brexit, the idea of Visas has become a bit iffy. For now, the UK is still part of the EU, hence people from the European Union can freely live and work in Bristol. As this is about to change, I’m reluctant to offer more advice on the matter.
People in Bristol speak English. There are several communities which speak various other languages and myriad centres where you can learn a new language yourself. As mentioned before, Bristol is a diverse community. Bristol does have its own dialect but if you are well versed in English, you should have no issues communicating with locals.
Bristol has its own airport, Bristol International. There are regular buses connecting the city centre to the airport. Alternatively, you can access Cardiff, Birmingham, London Heathrow, London Luton, London Gatwick and London Stansted. I usually fly from London as it is much cheaper.
As with any British city, Bristol has good and bad areas. I generally feel safe in Bristol. Of course, always use common sense, avoid dark places at night and stay clear of bad neighbourhoods. With time, you will get to learn what areas to avoid, however as a rule of thumb, you can have a look on Zoopla and check area stats. Stay away from neighbourhoods with high social rented housing. Check the local info for the crime stats, housing, employment, interests and newspapers.
There are plenty of shopping opportunities in Bristol. You can go to the city centre where you’ll find Cabot Circus and the Broadmead area. Alternatively, you can visit the Cribbs Causeway Shopping Mall. There are various small, medium and large shops, independent boutiques and supermarkets all across the city. For a fun experience, visit the Gloucester Road. For further shopping experiences, you can go to Cardiff or Birmingham, as both cities have really large shopping malls.
Bristol, as any British city, has the NHS which offers free medical services to its residents. You need to have a National Insurance number and a UK address to be able to register with a local General Practitioner (GP). There are a few hospitals in Bristol, all with good conditions and equipment. Usually, you will get good medical care in Bristol, although expect long waiting times for an appointment. If you have an emergency, you can go to the hospital (Accidents and Emergencies section), call an NHS hotline for immediate support or visit a walk-in centre which is free for all (even for those with no NI number).
There are discussions about privatising the NHS, although people in the UK oppose the idea.
In conclusion, Bristol is a brilliant place for entrepreneurs, young professionals and families. It has been voted as the best city to live in the UK. It has tonnes of green spaces, walking paths for outdoors lovers and many cycle trails. There is a strong sense of community and a great diverse culinary scene. Bristol has a long and flourishing history and is renowned for its fantastic art and music. Bristol is one of the few cities which voted stay in the EU referendum.
Overall, Bristol receives a 9.2/10 Life Score from Nomad List. So, move to Bristol and let’s grab a pint together.
For more info, read How I fell in love with Bristol.
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below and I will be happy to update this article or answer any question you may have.