I've lived in Birmingham and London - the costs aren't as different as you might think

“How much is a pint down there these days?” - as a native southerner living in Birmingham, I got very used to answering this question. Much in the same way that a Fredo chocolate bar is used as the nation’s yardstick to measure inflation, the cost of a pint of beer has long been considered a marker of just how expensive London is compared to the rest of the country.

And I’ll be the first to accept that in many ways, it is. London is a notoriously pricey city, not just in the UK but globally. However, I’ve also noticed prices creeping up in the Second City at an alarming rate.

Whether it’s your weekly food shop, gas and electric bills, or a ticket to go and watch your favourite football team, the cost of living in Birmingham has sky-rocketed in recent years. But how do the two cities compare?

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Housing costs

The major difference between London and Birmingham, when it comes to the cost of living, is undoubtedly the cost of housing. Whether you’re renting or buying, the property market in London has become increasingly unaffordable for many people - especially younger generations.

Of course, rents vary across the city but, on average, Londoners pay a whopping £2,121 per month on rent - compared to £1,213 per month in Birmingham.

Brummies pay an average of £1,213-a-month on rent.
Brummies pay an average of £1,213-a-month on rent. -Credit:Getty Images

In my own personal experience, £1,200 is enough to rent a spacious two-bed flat in the desirable Jewellery Quarter area of the city, just minutes from the city centre with a 24-hour concierge and residents gym. In London, it’s only just enough to afford a cramped studio flat on the outskirts of the city, with your bed effectively in your kitchen.

The average price of buying a property in Brum currently stands at around £273,000, according to Rightmove. In London, it’s a staggering £701,280 - but it’s important to note that this number is heavily skewed by the number of high-end homes in London that exist only for the super-wealthy. In reality, a typical London home will set you back anywhere between £350-600k.

House prices in both cities are being pushed up by the process of gentrification - a process which can be seen in parts of Birmingham, but nowhere near at the scale seen in London.

Food and Drink

As previously mentioned, the price of alcohol is a hot topic among my peers. Since moving to Birmingham over six years ago, I too was of the belief that a night out in Brum was much cheaper than London.

But after recently forking out £7.40 (yes, seven pound and forty pence) for a pint of Peroni in the famous Old Joint Stock, I was flummoxed. Yes, it’s a fantastic pub right in the centre of the city, but never have I paid more than £7 for a pint in London, even in the most pretentious of craft breweries.

I will admit, however, that it’s much easier to find a cheap boozer in Birmingham than in London, where the majority of pubs - Wetherspoons excluded - will charge upwards of a fiver for a beer.

A £7+ pint in the Old Joint Stock got me thinking about price differences between London and Birmingham.
A £7+ pint in the Old Joint Stock got me thinking about price differences between London and Birmingham. -Credit:Graham Young / BirminghamLive

In terms of eating out, it’s very hard to judge how the two cities compare. Both cities are blessed with a number of amazing restaurants, but also plenty of cheap and affordable eateries too. In my experience eating out in both cities, there is no major difference in restaurant prices - unless, of course, you want to splash out on a £600+ steak, garnished with golden flakes by internet sensation Salt Bae. But that’s never been my cup of tea.

Transport

With London being a much bigger city than Birmingham, you’d expect transport to be more expensive, which it is, but only very slightly. An all day bus ticket in London currently costs £5.25 - compared to £4.50 in Birmingham.

Looking at the rail network, a peak-time adult pay-as-you-go fare on the Tube from the outskirts into the centre of London currently costs around £2.80. In comparison, a similar-length journey from Solihull into the centre of Birmingham costs £4.60 without a rail card.

You can travel into central London for just under £3 in London.
You can travel into central London for just under £3 in London. -Credit:AP

For motorists, London is slightly more expensive when it comes to insurance. A typical quote in London, according to car insurance group QuoteZone, is around £733 a year - compared to £569 in the West Midlands. Much like in Birmingham, drivers face additional clean air charges - £12.50 a day in London and £8 in Birmingham.

Going out

When it comes to leisure, both cities offer some great options. If you’re looking for cinema tickets, local picture houses in both cities are likely to offer similar prices of between £8-12 a ticket. However, venturing into the city centre is a different experience, with some London cinemas charging close to £20 for the latest blockbuster hits.

In terms of cultural attractions, London is typically more expensive. Tickets to the London Eye or Tower of London can range from £20-30 - compared to just £10-15 for places like the ThinkTank science museum or the Back to Backs. However, both cities have plenty of attractions that can be visited free of charge.

Entry to the Back to Backs is considerably cheaper than many London attractions.
Entry to the Back to Backs is considerably cheaper than many London attractions. -Credit:Birmingham live

A changing picture

All in all, London is still considerably more expensive than the Second City - which won’t surprise many people. The biggest difference is, by far, the amount it costs to rent or buy a property - where the two cities still feel like worlds apart.

However, I believe the gap between the two cities is narrowing - not that London is getting any cheaper though mind. As Birmingham evolves and grows, and the city attracts more visitors and residents, prices will rise too. It’ll be a long time before you’re paying £1,300-a-month for a studio apartment in Birmingham, but I believe my £7.40 beer might be a sign of things to come.