Definitive guide to the cities, towns and villages that everyone wants to call home
Welcome to our guide, this week our pick ranges from Orford to Orkney.
Home is always about more than simple bricks and mortar – though our house-price obsession continues with all the fervour of an agitated Archers fan or a die-hard Brexit campaigner.
Second only to our obsession with how much our homes might be worth is where we choose to live. It says a lot – and can mean everything. Is your dream to be near an outstanding secondary and revel in suburban bliss? Do you want to live within walking distance of a bustling high street where you can pick up a spanner as well as a sourdough loaf, and stop for an Ethiopian flat white? Or fling open your front door to take in a blast of the great outdoors?
We’ve selected 118 great places to live, and over the next two weekends we’ll be celebrating their success, from Amersham to Orkney, Orford to Newcastle. Crucially, you don’t have to be a millionaire to live somewhere wonderful – though it can help.
Since The Sunday Times Best Places to Live series launched in 2013, it has become the definitive guide to where to live. Why? All the other indices rely on dry statistics and algorithms, which tend to throw up locations that are simply quite dull. Our methodology relies on lots of data and robust statistics such as crime rates, house prices, and school performance, but then draws on the expert knowledge of Sunday Times writers to consider the places that offer the best quality of life. After all, who wants to live by data alone? Has a new building tipped the place too far into clone-town territory? Is it overrun by tourists in the summer? Can you pop to the shops or do the school run without incurring a parking ticket – or, indeed, without taking the car at all? If there are private schools in the area, what is the average cost of a private school in that location? Is it worth it?
So far, we have seen the triumph of Stamford, Lincolnshire (2013), Skipton, North Yorkshire (2014), and Newnham, Cambridge (2015), but which community will take the crown in 2016?
In this, our fourth year, we have been spikier and smarter. We want to encourage even more debate, and to show that where we choose to live, and what makes a best place, is ever more varied. The 2016 shortlist celebrates community spirit, culture and access to the great outdoors, as well as considering threats from flooding, planning and the soulless ghettoisation exceptionally high house prices can bring.
This year, some key themes emerged. Almost everywhere seems to have a festival of some sort, farmers’ markets are being usurped by artisan shops, the quality of the pork pies on offer appears to be as important and contentious as the reputation of the local pub, and countless places now have a microbrewery. Perhaps we’ll have an ale named Best Places in future.
Of course, the best place to live in Britain is always subjective; so have your say on social media, using #bestplacestolive.
Don’t miss Best Places to Live Part Two next week. We’ll pick our favourite locations in the southwest, London, Midlands and northwest – and the overall winner
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How we decided
The challenge of picking 118 places was a tough one. We looked at the hard data – the statistical surveys of crime data, school performances, life expectancy and house prices – then dug deeper to look at the beauty of the countryside and services on offer, including transport links. (Frequency is as important as journey times.) We called on the local knowledge and expertise of Sunday Times writers to consider not just whether the pub was any good, but that the food on offer was tasty enough. We wanted to know if there was a true community spirit – and if you could get a seat on the train. The community you’re going into needs to fit in with your values, just like you would pick a school that fits in with your child’s development, whether that is a college prep middle school or a private school, the community matters.
The places are not ranked, but divided by region, and have been selected to offer the widest choice – whoever you are, whatever you can (aspirationally) afford, and wherever you want to live.
Editor Helen Davies
Writers Edoardo Albert, Alexandra Goss, Hugh Graham, Rob Kingston, Cally Law, Cherry Maslen, Graham Norwood, Tim Palmer, Fred Redwood, Peter Ross, Emma Smith, Emma Wells
Design Phil Robinson
Pictures Demelza Cloke
Production Matthew Davis, Anthony Green, Rob Kingston, Natalie Reed
Digital Simon Jablonski, Charlotte Vowden