Slough used to be a subject of mockery, but it has recently overcome that reputation for three clear reasons: fast access to London, high employment and excellent schools. The town, which is home of the Mars Bar, and gave birth to the zebra crossing as well as the wheelie bin, is just 28 mins from central London. It is on the Elizabeth Line, which opens there by next spring. It’s also set to be the location of the world’s second largest data centre hub. This, combined with proximity to Heathrow, means there has been a surfeit of employment opportunities. It’s also a centre for academic excellence (coming first in our ranking) with 20 schools rated outstanding or good.
Laughed at a decade ago for building a Hollywood-style welcome sign as part of a campaign to upgrade its image, this Essex town has long been a favourite with those commuting into the City (in 36 minutes, via three stations) while taking advantage of considerably lower house prices than its more rural neighbours. The East Square 10-screen cinema, part of a £24m complex, is set to open this summer. In the meantime, the Festival Leisure Park, dubbed “Bas Vegas” by locals (it was once slated as a location for a casino) is a centre of social gatherings and there’s lots of green space including Northlands Park.
Laindon, which is to the west of Basildon, has fast access to central London and five schools rated outstanding or good by Ofsted. But the town centre has suffered from people heading elsewhere to do their shopping, and a £50m plan to regenerate the centre and replace the former High Road shopping centre has been mired in years of delays.
Maidenhead is a clear winner of the Elizabeth Line. When services beyond Paddington begin by next spring, the journey from Maidenhead to central London will be just 20 mins (although we have used the current times here). The downside is that many have cottoned on to this early and, as a result, house prices have soared. The town, which sits on the river Thames, is popular with young professionals, families and retirees. It makes for a strong community spirit but puts yet more pressure on the housing market. A local niggle is the quality of shopping, with many preferring to go to nearby Henley or Marlow.
With its Norman castle, ancient cathedral and views over the river Medway, this is one of north Kent’s prettiest towns with plenty of period properties in the Roman centre. While its wealth suffered when the naval dockyard closed and it struggled to find a new economic foothold, today it’s regarded as the jewel in Medway’s crown. In recent years, the historic and cobbled high street has attracted a varied array of shops, cafes and restaurants and some popular markets, as well as an annual festival celebrating Charles Dickens, whose childhood in the town inspired some of his great works.
While the centre and the surrounding area is often regarded as run down – with associated crime rates – more loyal fans point to the Chatham Dockyard and Dockside, with its cinema and restaurants, as signs that it is starting to improve. It’s also something of a haven of academia: there are no fewer than 16 schools rated outstanding or good within a three-mile radius of the town centre, putting this Kentish town on a par with Cambridge and Brighton. For downtime, it’s also home to Buckmore Park Kart circuit, an iconic outdoor go-karting circuit where both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button practised as children.
This town came top for life satisfaction in 2021, with golf courses aplenty, lots of green space and fast trains to London Waterloo. The area is also undergoing a large programme of regeneration, largely focussed on the central Victoria Square. The New Victoria Theatre attracts West End productions and there is a plethora of high street shops and restaurants (including, of course, the infamous branch of Pizza Express) as well as a cinema. As a place it is useful, practical and accessible, but the town isn’t going to win any architectural prizes.
Famous for its docks which were first constructed between 1884 and 1886, and which have been extensively modernised since, Tilbury is the main container port of the Port of London. It took that crown from the Docklands of London whose waters proved too shallow and congested to handle the larger ships that needed to be unloaded. Today, where Tilbury does well on house prices (it’s the fourth cheapest in our ranking) and access to central London (in 43 mins), there are deterrents. It had a crime rate of 125 per 1,000 people in 2021.
To the north west of Grays town centre, much of it built on an old chalk quarry, this 600-acre town was developed in the late 1980s, with the train station opening in 1995. The relatively affordable new houses and proximity to London meant it was quickly popular with City workers, and it is near the Lakeside shopping centre. Chafford Hundred is a popular spot among buyers who are prepared to look a bit further out of London for better value properties. It comes top of the list (alongside Grays and Tilbury Town) for the cheapest flexi-season ticket, for those working part of the week at home. The town is home to five good or outstanding schools, including Harris Academy Chafford Hundred.
Houses are more affordable here than in many commuter towns and flexi season tickets are the cheapest of all the locations on our list. However, congestion is a problem, and traffic around the town can get backed up for miles, although you can be at Lakeside shopping centre or the M25 very quickly. Change in the town could be afoot with plans announced last year to transform Grays with a £25m injection, creating a new beach destination and maritime activity centre.
With a travel time of 23 minutes to St Pancras, this town offers the third fastest commute to central London. Surprisingly, and despite its inauspicious name, the Kentish town boasts some stunning architecture with higgledy streets and 18th century buildings. Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan, chief of the council of tribes in Virginia, met her end here in 1617, en route back home to America. Today, what you can’t find in the centre of town is probably available in the shopping centre behemoth that is Bluewater, a 10-minute drive down the road. Another plus is access to the open countryside, as well as walks along the river and wider Kentish coastline.
Like many of the other Medway towns, Gillingham doesn’t conjure the most positive feelings among those who grew up there, with crime a concern. Like neighbouring Chatham it has strong maritime and military connections, epitomised by the Royal Engineers Museum. The town fell into economic decline in the 1980s when the dockyard closed and today much of the focus is on the business park. However, it is popular with families, with 14 schools rated either good or outstanding within a 3-mile radius, and the wide open spaces of the North Downs are on its doorstep.
One of the key new towns built following the end of the Second World War, today some feel Hatfield bears the scars of outdated 1960s architecture. But fans point to its good schools (two are rated outstanding), restaurants, pubs, and the shops and cinema at The Galleria, its shopping centre. The fact that it’s home to Hertfordshire University ensures that there’s a large population of young students living in the town from the UK and overseas. The Hatfield 2030 project, a renewal project pushed by local organisations, could soon change the look and feel of the town.
This cathedral mini-city has long been a popular commuter spot for those working in London. Fast train services to St Pancras take 21 mins, making it the second-fastest commute on our list. That, coupled with its green, open spaces and its historic centre have sent house prices soaring in recent years. It has a lively twice-weekly market, good pubs, theatres, restaurants and a leisure centre with a pool. St Albans is regularly listed as one of the top education hotspots outside the capital. Two secondary schools, Loreto and St Albans Girls, tend to draw parents with children of school age to buy within their respective catchment areas.
Founded in 1920 as one of England’s two official garden cities (alongside Letchworth Garden City), Welwyn was designed to create a thriving industrial community with peaceful surrounding countryside. Trains to London are fast, with the journey taking 29 mins. The main shopping hub is the Howard Centre, and the 126-acre Stanborough Park offers sailing, kayaking and paddle boarding on two lakes.
The home of the Derby offers the cheapest annual season ticket of all our commuter towns, at £3,188 for a 37 min journey into central London. It ticks off a number of suburban must-haves: tree-lined streets of detached and semi-detached houses with gardens, a selection of good schools, and the necessary shops and services including a covered shopping mall, and various markets. The 600 acres of the racecourse are open to the public, although racehorses have priority access before midday. There’s plenty more green space including Epsom Common and Horton Country Park, which has a children’s farm, riding school and golf club.
With its Grade II listed clock tower and 1960s shopping precincts, Stevenage was Britain’s first new town and has the scars to prove it. However, it’s currently the beneficiary of a £1bn regeneration project and is due to get a £10m technology education hub and a new town centre garden square. The old town has cobbled streets, a historic high street and pubs (and more expensive houses) while the new town boasts the UK’s first pedestrianised town centre and cheaper homes. Stevenage offers the third fastest journey into central London.
Despite its unfashionable reputation, Luton offers a short train journey to London and has easy access to acres of countryside in the Chiltern Hills. And for those who want to travel further, the town’s airport is on the doorstep. Local culture spots include the Luton Library Theatre which opened in 1962 and The Hat Factory (a reference to the town’s hat-making past). It will also receive an injection of £20m of government money from its levelling up fund to go towards development and regeneration.
Located between Pitsea and Leigh-on-Sea, Benfleet has been described as the most undervalued commuter town in Essex. Trains to Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street take approximately 42 mins and run frequently during rush hour. The town has the usual selection of shops and services, but most will use the larger shopping centres in nearby Southend and Basildon, as well as retail parks on the outskirts of town. Nature lovers will head to the RSPB-owned Bowers March, an ancient landscape between Benfleet and Pitsea, which offers four miles of trails to explore.
Set in the rolling hills of rural west Kent but with an easy commute into London and a lively social scene, it’s no surprise that this town often crops up among the best places to live. The high street has the usual selection of chains plus a smattering of more interesting and independent shops. Popular with parents, especially among those who favour the grammar system, there are lots of school choices. It has its own annexe of the Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School and a new branch of the Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys which opened last September, alongside bus and train links to other grammars in the area. In addition to Cannon Street, Sevenoaks has a direct connection to Charing Cross.
It doesn’t take long for people to mention crime rates when Southend comes up in conversation. But there are plenty of plus points for this newly-anointed city. The pier, an iconic landmark in Essex, is the longest pleasure pier in the world and the sand and shingle beach is a popular destination for families and day trippers alike. There are nine schools rated outstanding or good within a 3-mile radius, while the town centre is currently having a £2.5m makeover. For those working from home, Southend is on track to become one of the first “Gigabit cities” outside London by the end of this year.
Offering the third-cheapest annual season ticket for a 37-minute journey into the capital, this is one of Surrey’s best value commutes. Trains go direct to Brighton for days out at the beach, and it’s just 20 minute from Box Hill, part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town centre has its detractors, who say it is dated, but the towns of Reigate and Crawley are a short drive away and have a greater selection of cafes and shops, as well as cinemas and a more lively nightlife. The town also has direct connections with London Victoria and London Bridge.
Before the development of the Elizabeth Line, commuting from Shenfield into the City has always been quick. The 29 min journey to Liverpool Street has long made it a favourite commuter town. But now the whole of London has opened up, although until later this year you will need to change at Liverpool Street to access the West End, Paddington and Heathrow on the line. The Broadway serves as the local shopping area while the High Street has further options. Courage, the brewing family, donated land for the town’s cricket club, along with a nature conservation area known as The Butterfly Meadow.
The frequency of trains departing to London make this a very easy commute, but the fact that there are nine schools rated outstanding or good in the area is another major draw for families. The town has earned the moniker “Boringstoke”, however. Fans say this isn’t fair: Festival Place is a lively shopping centre and there are multiple green spaces including Eastrop Park in the town centre and larger Stratton Park and Crabtree Plantation a little further out. To the west lie the North Wessex Downs, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The town also hosts an annual festival.
Well connected to London St Pancras and also offering easy access to Luton Airport and the M1 motorway, Bedford is extremely accessible. If the Varsity line (also known as East West Rail) connecting Oxford to Cambridge is ever built, it will go through the town. It hosts the Bedford River Festival every other July, which takes advantage of its position on the river Ouse and offers live entertainment, activities and dragon boat races. Bedford was once known as Little Italy after thousands of immigrants from the south of the country arrived in the 1950s in search of work at the local brick companies.
Living near Ashford International is about practical choices: London lies in one direction (it might be standing room only on the train, mind), and France is in the other. Be warned, the journey is expensive: an annual season ticket costs over £8,000. There are some lovely surrounding villages, including Wye, Appledore and Biddenden, and Folkestone is nearby which has more character and a larger choice of independent shops and restaurants. The town of Ashford was largely developed in the 1960s, and it has a large cinema complex, shops, cafes and a market and is fully pedestrianised. It boasts the most listed buildings and conservation areas in Kent, and a low crime rate.
With a theatre, university, several museums, the world-famous Reading Festival, twice-a-month farmers’ markets and lots of shops, Reading has plenty going for it – as long as you forgive the town’s architecture. The town centre has been dressed up thanks, in part, to the arrival of the Elizabeth Line. There’s also the Biscuit Factory, a new cinema, and there will be job opportunities in Thames Valley Park and Shinfield Studios which, when they open, will be the UK’s biggest film and television studio. It’s also accessible: frequent trains to London take 26 mins, while Heathrow and Gatwick are a short drive away.
Officially known as Staines-upon-Thames, it is very accessible thanks to the proximity of the M3 and M25 motorways and Heathrow Airport, which lies on its northern outskirts. Trains to London take 40 mins and the annual season ticket, at £3,788, is the second cheapest in our list. Staines market, which dates back to 1218 and sells an eclectic mix of wares, is a fixture alongside two main shopping centres: Two Rivers, which was built in the 1990s and credited with transforming the town, and Elmsleigh. Local green spaces include Runnymede and Windsor Great Park.
The UK’s oldest town, Colchester offers commuters the best of both worlds: a regular train service to the City (in 54 mins, so it’s not the fastest), a pretty centre with lots of independent shops and restaurants, and rural living. Colchester also boasts good schools, theatres, a zoo and an award-winning park. However, it all comes at a price. The annual season ticket is among the most expensive, at over £7,000.
Home of the reality TV series The Only Way is Essex, the town has grown in popularity in recent years. Access to both the M25 motorway and the A12 connecting London to Chelmsford is easy. But this autumn, once connecting tunnels are completed, residents will most likely choose to commute to the capital from nearby Shenfield on the Elizabeth Line, which will take about 23 mins to Liverpool Street. There’s plenty to do outdoors with children including the Gruffalo Trail in Thorndon Park and the Stick Man Play Trail in Weald Park. Meanwhile, the town’s ski and snowboard centre overlooks more than 54 acres of woodland. * Flexi tickets between Brentwood and London are not available, but a monthly season ticket is still competitive with other towns on our list.
Once a somewhat sleepy university city in miniature form, the digital, science and pharmaceutical parks that surround Cambridge (together dubbed Silicon Fen) mean that it’s developed into a high-tech hub. Cambridge is also something of a cycling capital, with 80 miles of designated lanes and paths. Trains to London take 55 mins, it is packed with shops, pubs and restaurants, and there are world-famous views to enjoy along The Backs, the Grade I listed park which takes in King’s College chapel. The city also tops the education charts with 16 schools rated outstanding or good within three miles of the centre. The city also has a direct connection to London Liverpool Street.
Property prices make Sittingbourne competitive: it’s the second cheapest commuter town to buy a property in, with the average price standing at £262,700. What was once a large industrial town which provided many of the bricks for London’s 19th century expansion, it’s now changed into a commuter suburb. Former quarries have been developed into new homes and St Mary’s Island, an erstwhile dumping ground for Chatham Dockyard, has been developed into a new waterfront neighbourhood. Be aware, however, that it’s not the fastest commute to the capital, with journeys taking 58 mins.
While it might not win any beauty contests when compared with its county cousins, Didcot offers great rail connections (not just to London but to Swindon and Bristol too) as well as access to the A34. It also has a good selection of shops and restaurants (including a few independents). The town has changed considerably in recent decades with an influx of new housing, and the demolition of the cooling towers at Didcot Power Station. There are plenty of things to do, including a cinema, alongside a theatre and the Cornerstone Arts Centre which opened in 2008. The countryside around the town offers great walks, particularly along the Ridgeway, plus good pubs and farm shops.
Set between London and Brighton with Gatwick Airport only 30 mins up the road, this Sussex town has been a popular commuter spot for decades. It came third (after Woking and Cambridge) for life satisfaction in 2021. The town stands on the edge of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Ashdown Forest is within easy reach. Most of the town’s shops, cafes and restaurants are found on The Broadway, which is also where the nightlife takes place. There isn’t a huge choice of great schools but two are rated as outstanding or good within a three-mile radius of the town. Haywards Heath also has direct connections to London Bridge and London Blackfriars.
Peterborough has the cheapest house prices of commuter towns on our list. But you will have to pay more for the 51 min journey into London, which is the most expensive; an annual season ticket costs £9,500. However, it fares better for schools: there are 12 rated outstanding or good within a three-mile radius. Like others on the list, it is set to benefit from a regeneration package. Announced in 2020, the £600m plan aims to provide new houses as well as culture and retail attractions in the heart of the city. The Key Theatre, which opened in the 1970s, was saved from closure earlier this year, while for those in search of nature, the Fens are on the town’s doorstep.
Properties here are good value: with an average house price of just over £267,000, it is the third-cheapest commutable hotspot. Its location makes it convenient for those commuting not just to the capital; it will take just over an hour to London Marylebone, but both Birmingham and Oxford are closer (45 mins and 20 mins respectively). It is a market town, with the usual high street names, plus it has the Gateway, a large shopping centre.
The city has 10 good or outstanding-rated schools and the season ticket cost of £6,696 is at the upper end of the expensive scale but by no means at the top. But house prices are the major stumbling block with Oxford: with an average second hand sale price of nearly £877,000, it’s the most expensive commuter spot. The city wins on other aspects, including quality of life, employment opportunities, top-ranking healthcare, and having plenty to do and see in free time. Those in search of greenery won’t have to go far with Port Meadow and University Parks.
Its seaside location, excellent school choices, regular train service to London Victoria (when it’s operating correctly), diverse and open-minded community, lively shops, cafés and restaurants and the fact that it’s at the foot of the South Downs mean that the lifestyle in Brighton is hard to beat. With average house prices standing at just shy of £452,000, it’s in the upper end. Preston Park is the city’s largest with 63 acres and has a charming local neighbourhood. The UK’s first national open water swimming centre of excellence, a new beachfront 50m lido, is opening soon. The town also has direct connections to London Bridge and Blackfriars.
With pretty streets of historic houses and independent shops, the seaside within easy distance and the South Downs on the doorstep, Lewes is a popular choice for commuters. It is particularly popular among those who want to engage with an active community, as there are more than 600 clubs and societies in Lewes. Culturally minded (Glyndebourne is just down the road, as is Charleston, the country home of the Bloomsbury set), there is an award-winning arthouse cinema, Depot, and an active branch of U3A (University of the Third Age). For bracing swims, Pells Pool is the oldest freshwater swimming pool in the country and is almost 50m long.