Updated 23 March 2022
‘Where should I retire?’ is closely related to the question ‘What shall I do when I retire?’ and even ‘When and why should I retire?’ It all depends on your vision of retirement. Are you planning on spending lots of time with family? Are you going to turn suddenly into an ‘old person’ or will you simply be ‘Me, but with more free time’?
Yes, we can all expect to slow down as we mature, but there’s no abrupt metamorphosis into someone who enjoys golf, bingo or stately homes if those don’t float your boat now. (A boat, on the other hand…) Think about what you enjoy at the moment, and see if you can picture yourself in any of the places we’ve explored. A great many people have found these the ideal places to settle down – will you?
Tucked away in the east of England, Suffolk is known for its sleepy chocolate box villages, but also for its still-trendy seaside towns and pretty coastline – a favourite for artists due to the special quality of the light off the sea. It’s ideal for those looking for a retirement that’s quiet without being dull, and the towns of Bury St Edmunds (the county’s central market town) and Ipswich are close at hand, with Cambridge just a 45-minute drive away.
Lots of retirees have children with grandchildren living in and around London. So if you need to get into the capital regularly, neighbouring Essex could be a great place to live. It may not seem the obvious choice with its reputation as a ‘party county’, but closer inspection reveals countless pretty villages such as Tillingham and Castle Hedingham, while the estuary coast has a brooding beauty of its own. You can reach Central London in 30 minutes by train from various towns. Of course, such close proximity doesn’t come cheap, with detached houses selling for over £500,000 on average.
Sussex is also close to London, and can boast great swathes of open scenery to enjoy – such as the South Downs right on your doorstep. You’ll pay a premium to enjoy the best of both worlds, though, with average house prices upwards of £375,000.
If you’ve always dreamed of retiring near the sea, Brighton and surrounding towns offer an excellent quality of life. You’ll have endless pebbled beaches for brisk walks and lots of cafes and restaurants to enjoy along the way. Unlike many ‘sleepy seaside towns’ Brighton has never lost its trendy dynamism, so is a popular choice for those who still feel young in spirit. The town is also reasonably close to London, being only an hour away by train. House prices are relatively high in Brighton, fetching around £450,000.
For a retirement that really does feel like a holiday, opt for Dorset. The coastline is warm, beautiful and sandy, so (provided the weather holds up) there are times of the year where it can feel like you’re retiring to Australia without the associated costs and hassle, or leaving family behind. Just be prepared to shop around for good value for money when it comes to property.
Another coastal favourite is Devon, where beaches and spectacular inland countryside collide. You’ll have two coastlines and two national parks, Dartmoor and Exmoor, to explore. Some of the best coastal retirement towns include Torquay and Exeter but also hidden gems such as Sidmouth and Beer (the source of most of Britain’s cathedral stone), which nevertheless remain lively even off-season. The county’s northern coastline is the cheaper of the two, with house prices around the £300,000 mark.
To lap up South Devon’s charm but for a fraction of the price, opt for Plymouth where average house prices are just over £200,000. In return for your money, you’ll get coastal views, harbourside cafes and restaurants, lots of parks and close proximity to the Tamar Valley and Dartmoor for long walks.
Another coastal retiree hotspot is Pembrokeshire in south west Wales. The coastline itself is a national park, and it has truly beautiful scenery. House prices here are much cheaper than elsewhere in the UK at an average of just over £200,000. Tenby and St Davids will provide all the amenities you need.
One of the UK’s most famous national parks, the Lake District, is an adventure haven for retirees looking to spend lots of their time in the great outdoors. Whether you’re into walking, climbing, fell running, wild swimming, canoeing, kayaking, sailing or writing epic Romantic poetry, you can get stuck in here. There are also lots of stile-free routes that are accessible for the less mobile.
The UK’s largest county and (according to the inhabitants, anyway) the most beautiful too, Yorkshire has plenty of retirement options. And if it’s countryside you’re looking for, both of its national parks will suit you. You don’t have to be Cathy or Heathcliff to revel in the rolling hills and pretty villages, the rugged landscapes of the Moors or the dramatic coastline – which includes the eerie ruins of Whitby Abbey, fictional home of Dracula. For a sweet spot that allows you to enjoy both parks, you may want to settle somewhere in-between, such as Ripon, Northallerton or Darlington.
Tucked between Sheffield and Manchester, the Peak District is a haven for retirees needing to get to the city to see family but who are looking for a quieter lifestyle in a national park. Despite the name, the ‘peaks’ here are more low rolling hills than the mountains of the Lake District, though there are plenty of challenges for the energetic walker. For the more relaxed, there are countless charming lovely villages in which to base yourself, such as Bakewell (famous for its tarts), Hathersage and Castleton. Or if you want more going on, opt for the spa town of Buxton, just outside the national park.
Back to Yorkshire for the best of both city and country living: the ancient town of York is hard to beat for sheer versatility. It’s a pretty city with historic streets to wander, yet it’s close to the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors. House prices are around the £300,000 mark, which is considerably cheaper than other celebrated UK cities, making it a firm choice as one of the best places to retire to in England.
If you’re looking for a similar experience offered by York, but need to be further south to be closer to family, Bath could suit you. Its Georgian architecture and Roman roots make it a charming place for history lovers, yet it’s close to the Cotswolds for pretty walks. You will pay more for property in the area, with average house prices over £500,000.
Often, family and friends may be spread across the country, making it sensible to choose somewhere central in which to retire. Oxfordshire is on the expensive side, but for your money, you’ll be within a two-hour drive of Cambridge, Bristol, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, the South Coast and more. Plus, you’ll have Oxford and lots of historic surrounding villages for days out closer to home.
Lincolnshire is also relatively central, but house prices are quite low, at just below £200,000 on average. Though it doesn’t go on about it, it’s actually the second largest county in the UK, spanning as far south as Stamford all the way up to Grimsby, and it has lots of quiet towns in between for a relaxing retirement. From various Lincolnshire locations, you can reach Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham, Derby, Birmingham, Leicester and more well within a two-hour drive.
Moving over to Wales, Cardiff is neatly positioned on the edge of South West England to provide easy access to both. From Cardiff, you can reach Swansea to the west and Bristol to the east in well under an hour. The city itself has plenty going on and is surrounded by beautiful countryside with the Gower Peninsula, Brecon Beacons and Wye Valley all within easy reach. Average house prices are around the £250,000 mark, making it an affordable option too.
Looking north to Scotland now, Glasgow may seem a less obvious choice – but is all the better for it. More central than the capital Edinburgh, and certainly cheaper (with house prices around £200,000), it nevertheless has excellent connections to Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee and more. Nor should you let the gritty TV crime dramas put you off – the real Glasgow is surrounded by stunning countryside and some lovely villages such as Bishopton, Bridge of Weir, Lochwinnoc and Houston (no, not that one). The city itself is pretty impressive too. And if you like golf, there are around 40 courses to keep you busy.
Another one for golf aficionados, Fife is an ideal retirement location for those who enjoy fresh air, long walks and hitting things with sticks. The area is also known for its beautiful landscape and is the home of St Andrews, so you can also look forward to walks and relaxed days out as well. It’s just 50 minutes from Edinburgh and 30 minutes from Dundee, making it convenient for those with family across Scotland too.
For low house prices, the North East often comes out on top. If you want to get more for your money when you move, Durham could fit the bill. Average house prices are under £200,000 but you won’t need to compromise – the city is one of England’s most beautiful. Great transport links mean you can reach Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Darlington in just 15 minutes, while Edinburgh is under two hours’ away. You’ll also have the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors and the coastline close by for days out.
Sneaking in at number 20 is a place you might not have considered, but which offers many of the attractions found in the rest of the top 20 but at a fraction of the cost. Average house prices are just over £160,000 and, in return for your money, you get plenty of amenities in the historic city, the coastal town of Morecambe nearby, and on your doorstep the Forest of Bowland (essentially an offshoot of the Yorkshire Dales and just as picturesque). This North West city is also just over an hour away from both Liverpool and Manchester, making it convenient for quick connections across the country.
Choosing where you retire is one of the more enjoyable aspects of planning your later years. Before you make the big move, you need to make sure your pension and other finances are in order, which can be a lengthy process. It’s always recommended that you talk through your options with a financial adviser before making any big decisions.