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Last updated: 2 November 2022

The UK's Best Cities for Starting Your Career Outside of London

What Are the Top UK Cities to Work as a Graduate in 2018?

Over the past decade, the number of graduates in the UK has shown a steady increase. Each year, these young professionals are moving from their homes and university towns to vibrant cities to start their careers.

Maintaining a high quality of life while building a career can be tricky. Cities like Manchester promise high employment opportunities, other cities like Edinburgh stand out for promoting a healthy work-life balance. But sometimes smaller cities can get a combination of these factors just right.

Considering all the elements that come into play when decoding this can be overwhelming and confusing, but Market Inspector compared 44 UK cities across 13 key dimensions divided in three categories that focuses on the business ecosystem, quality of life, and leisure and culture.

London is undoubtedly the UK city that offers more career opportunities. The vivid economic, cultural, and social activity of the capital would have helped London to have high score in most of the indicators. The differences between London and the rest of cities are too big to measure under the same conditions. The complexity of the capital hinders the realisation of an equal comparison. Thereby, London has been excluded from the analysis acknowledging that it is the one that offers most opportunities, but under the fact of being the bustling capital of the United Kingdom.

To highlight the best cities to start your career as a fresh graduate (other than London), Market Inspector has conducted a study with a comprehensive scoring system. The elements involved in this study are:


Pin 11Manchester
Pin 22nd and 3rdEdinburgh and Cambridge
Pin 34th to 12thBelfast, Milton Keynes, Derby, Reading, Glasgow, Leeds, Birmingham, Southampton, Brighton.
Pin 413th to 20thBristol, Liverpool, Aberdeen, Oxford, Sheffield, Blackpool, Dundee, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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Top 20 UK Cities to Get a Job as a Fresh Graduate Other than London

The Market Inspector Score takes into account the the three categories in a different way as explained in the methodology. That score is the factor that indicates the total score in the ranking. The table belowe shows the top 20 UK cities outside of London that offer a blend of the most important city qualities for millenials. These are ranked by Market Inspector Score, but can be also listed by the different categories scores.

1. Manchester

Manchester is the place where graduates have the greatest amount of job opportunities with many possibilities to enjoy a good work-life balance. Finding a graduate job in the city is relatively easy as there are 6.47 jobs per 1,000 inhabitants. This has been key to securing the number one spot in the rankings.

Moreover, Manchester comes in top 5 places with most startups created. In 2017, there were more than ten new businesses created for every 1,000 Mancunians. This led to Manchester being amongst the best three cities within technological innovation.

The indicator of business ecosystem gives deep insights about how the city is evolving and defining itself. Entrepreneurship is a metric indicating hustle and freshness which, together with graduates job openings, establishes an optimistic and thriving environment. However, in order to be an attractive city, this must be combined with the quality of life and the range of social activities one can enjoy during leisure time. In this sense, Manchester has a fairly affordable rent for single furnished rooms, with a monthly average of £317.

Besides that, Manchester has a brimming nightlife and pub culture, with the largest amount of these locals per square mile. Furthermore, it’s also the city with most green spaces which enable graduates to enjoy a wide range of activities after work and on weekends.

2. Edinburgh

Edinburgh occupies the second position in the ranking thanks to its promising job market with booming tech companies and high starting salaries, but also because of its leisure and cultural activities.

The capital of Scotland is becoming an attractive place for young tech entrepreneurs. The technology entrepreneurship scene has been outstanding the last years. Approximately 3,055 startups were created in 2017, which is almost 7 new businesses for every 1,000 inhabitants. Despite Edinburgh is not amongst the top 5 cities with the most entrepreneurs, interestingly enough the city has been able to lead the technological innovation amongst the cities of the ranking, only closely followed by Manchester. Although Edinburgh has the highest rent of all the listed cities with an average of £508 per month, and it does not score highly in terms of number of graduate job openings, the weekly average salary of £598 is one of the five highest on the list. Therefore, due to its very high score in the average salary metric, Edinburgh’s business ecosystem is balanced out and came out as one of the highest ranked cities.

In the area of culture and leisure, Edinburgh does not have any competitors. The Scottish capital leads this category with more museums and sightseeing opportunities. There are almost two museums and four sights and landmarks to visit within 5 km2.

3. Cambridge

Cambridge has traditionally been a student city where famous thinkers from different fields have studied. The university and student life tradition has shaped the city and all it has to offer, transforming it into the third best city for graduates today.

When it comes to job openings at a graduate level, there are 3.2 positions for every 1,000 inhabitants. Cambridge is positioned right after Manchester with a big difference from the third city with more job offers for graduates. The student environment has also driven the city to be one of the main centres of entrepreneurship in the UK. In 2017, Cambridge saw the creation of more startups than Manchester and Edinburgh, with 21.5 new businesses for every 1,000 persons. The city is only exceeded by Belfast, which has the highest score with 38.5 new startups for every 1,000 inhabitants. These figures have rendered Cambridge as a city full of opportunities for graduates looking for a starting point and those who want to begin their career as entrepreneurs.

Besides this, one of the factors that enhances Cambridge’s attractiveness is the high salaries. Cambridge has the third highest weekly salary after Milton Keynes and Reading, with an average of £609. This, coupled with the affordable average rent level of £346 per month, makes Cambridge one of the most financially attractive cities for graduates in the UK.

Moreover, Cambridge is the second most tolerant city in the top ten, with 962 hate crime offences and incidents registered in 2017, which was only exceeded by the city of Derby with 599 incidents. Regarding culture and leisure, Cambridge scores highly and ranks third for the most sightseeing opportunities and landmarks to visit, with 3.7 historical and cultural sites for every 5 km2.

Overall, the balanced score between all the indicators has established Cambridge as the third most attractive city for graduates in terms of business ecosystem, quality of life, and culture and leisure.

Relevant Findings

Whereas the top cities registered a balance between business ecosystem, quality of life, and culture and leisure opportunities, other locations scored lower in the certain characteristics that are worth being highlighted.

There are cities in the top ten that are the best ones in terms of quality of life or culture and leisure but do not reach the first positions due to the imbalance in the business ecosystem indicators.

This is the case with Derby, which is placed only sixth in the rankings, however, it is one of the best cities with the best quality of life due to its the lowest average rent of £232 per month; furthermore, it is the most tolerant city with only 599 cases of hate crime registered in 2017, and even the least polluted on the list.

Similarly, Belfast has been unveiled as the best city for entrepreneurial graduates. In 2017, an overwhelming amount of 38.5 startups per 1,000 inhabitants were launched in the city. During the first stages of entrepreneurs’ careers, living costs represent one of the most common concerns. Belfast also has the second lowest rent, with an average of £258 per month, helping it become so popular with entrepreneurs.

Market Inspector


The research has the aim to find the most attractive UK city for graduates. In this sense, the analysis has started off by identifying the interests of this demographic group based on independent researches and reports. After this, 13 indicators has been established to measure the factors that make a city a perfect fit for graduated people. Once all the data was gathered, it had to be normalised due to its different measuring types and dimensions.

We use the word “graduates” to refer to those who have left education with higher education and degrees. Since the vast majority of UK high education students are under the age of 30, most of graduates are considered millennials.

The total amount of cities that we analysed were chosen from the 64 cities considered primary urban areas by Centre for Cities. The categorisation by primary urban areas provides a wide picture about economic activity of the city which is the main focus of this research. Besides that, the cities that made it to the final analysis were those that fulfilled the minimum standards for each indicator. In this regard, each indicator is based on relevant research and reports that follow strict requirements to gather and analyse their data in order to build their rankings. Therefore, this research takes into account cities that have been analysed in this relevant literature and are part of the 64 primary urban areas highlighted by Centre for Cities.

We grouped those factors in three main dimensions after determining what city qualities are important to millennials. This has been mainly based on Nestpick’s extensive research that considers several indicators of interest to this demographic group.

Business Ecosystem

We gave 60% weight to this dimension as the study is to highlight the best cities for graduates, which inherently analyses the career potential of a city, and ensures that the top cities will propel professional success over time.

    • Average weekly workplace earnings: Before relocating, fresh graduates consider potential salary opportunities as one of the most crucial factors (Source: Centre for Cities).
    • Graduate opening per 1,000 inhabitants: Millennials tend to gravitate towards cities with more employment opportunities. (Source: Glassdoor)
    • Tech innovation index: As our target group consist of digital natives, a strong tech innovation scene can offer a unique appeal to them. Moreover, development in this field can lead to more job opportunities in the future. (Source: ODI Leeds)
    • New startups per 1,000 inhabitants: One of the characteristics of this age group is that they are attracted to cities with higher startup funding. (Source:, DueDil, Inform Direct Report)

Quality of Life

This category has a 30% weight in the overall ranking calculation. Quality of life indicators are the second most relevant factors for graduates. Thus, factors such as rent, pollution, hate crime, and nature and parks provide evidence about quality of life graduates can achieve in a city.

    • Hate crime: The tolerance of a city is measured by the hate crime statistics available. These take into account offences, incidents, and crimes that were caused under hate motivations categorised in five types: racismdisabilityreligion and faithsexual orientation, and transgender. The data available is provided by England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland separately, so changes in the recording and portrayal of the data from country to country must be acknowledged. (Source:, PSNI,, COPFS)
    • Pollution: This indicates the air contamination status of the city and therefore gives an insight into the levels of healthiness and environmental friendliness of the city. Pollution rates are becoming a problem in several cities around Europe and leading a healthy lifestyle is important to the targeted demographic. (Source: AQICN)
    • Average rent: Affordable housing is one of the trending topics for millennials, and with lower rent, a city could potentially be more attractive for a recent graduate. In this case single furnished rooms have been taken into account. 
    • Nature and parks: This is the number of green spaces in each city. These enable people to practice a wide range of activities that enhance health and life quality. A city with green spaces offers a positive contrast in order to find the best work-life balance. (Source: TripAdvisor)

Leisure and Culture

Leisure and culture activities occupy the free time of graduates. However, this research has considered of high importance business ecosystem indicators and quality of life. Therefore, this category weighted 10% in the overall calculation. Although having a city with high scores in leisure and culture does not directly help graduates to start their career, these are secondary factors that are taken into account when move in to a new city.

    • Cost per pint: This indicates the average cost per pint in each city which gives an insight into how much it would cost to spend one’s free time with one of the most common leisure activities in the UK. The targeted group is price-sensitive and this is why we measure this indicator by affordability.
    • Pubs per square mile: Millennials are one of the driving forces of the nightlife and a large selection of pubs allows to have more opportunities to enjoy leisure time.
    • Museums and galleries; sights and landmarks; concerts and shows: The number of museums, galleries, sightseeing places, and live shows per 5 km2. A city with lively cultural scene increases its attractiveness for this demographic. (Source: TripAdvisor)


In order to standardise our results and create a comprehensive list, we have ranked all factors on a scale from 0 to 10. We obtained the score by applying the following standardisation formula to the raw data:

Scorei = (xi - min) / (max - min)

Then, we weighed three key dimensions to compile the final Market Inspector score, which cities were eventually ranked by.


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