The best UK cities for independent businesses

The independent shopping scene across the UK is vibrant, varied, and well-established. Shopping independently not only allows you to support small, local businesses, but it also means you’ll be able to purchase unique, one-of-a-kind products. With this in mind, we wanted to see which cities are best for small businesses. 

By looking at the top ten industries for independent businesses and examining how many there are in each city, along with their average review score, we’ve compiled a list of the top ten locations in the UK. Each location was assigned a final index score and ranked appropriately.

The top cities for independent businesses in the UK

The below cities have buzzing independent shopping scenes, and each one boasts a range of unique boutiques, bookshops, and homeware stores. These cities are among some of the best to establish yourself as an independent business owner, and they provide the perfect environment in which you can thrive and grow.

First up for the UK is, perhaps unsurprisingly, London, which has a total score of 13.45. London is packed with historic antique stores, as well as many new independent restaurants and cafes. It’s home to the most independent coffee shops, and with as many as 166, it may well be the perfect place to head if you’re dreaming of opening your own. Although England’s capital features various high street and flagship stores, its streets are also packed with quirky one-of-a-kind shops. You can head to areas such as Shoreditch, Notting Hill, or Marylebone if you’re searching for unique items in the city. 

Next up on our UK list is Bristol, which follows closely behind with a score of 12.05. Bristol has a similarly vibrant independent shopping scene, where you can find stores specialising in everything from plants and jewellery to artisan coffee. Many of Bristol’s shopping streets are adorned with independent boutiques, and if you’re searching for distinctive items in the city, head to The Galleries or The Arcade. Bristol also ranks particularly high for the number of independent takeaways, with as many as 143 dotted around the city. 

Birmingham claims the third spot on the list, with a total score of 11.55. The independent business scene in Birmingham is rapidly growing, and shoppers are spoilt for choice with a range of regal looking arcades. The great Western Arcade and Piccadilly Arcade feature an array of small independent stores waiting to be explored. Bristol is also high up on our list for the number of independent barbers, with as many as 198 in the city. While the demand for barbers is clearly high, this could also mean stiffer competition if you’re thinking of setting up your own. 

In the penultimate spot for the UK is Glasgow, which has a total score of 11.45. Glasgow is home to a thriving creative scene, and its independent shops reflect this liveliness. If you take a stroll down The Hidden Lane for instance, you’ll discover a mix of independent studio shops selling fashion, art, and homeware. Glasgow also has an impressive 102 independent bakeries, and there’s a high demand for sweet treats in the city. 

Last up on our list for the UK is Leeds, with a total score of 11.35. There’s no shortage of independent businesses in Leeds, and there’s multiple unique stores scattered around the city. The Corn Exchange is perhaps the central hub for independent shopping in Leeds, with its impressive collection of unique vendors, independent jewellers, and record stores. Leeds is also home to 140 independent nail salons, and although it doesn’t claim the top spot on our list, demand there is still high. Leeds might therefore be the perfect place to put down roots for your own nail salon business. 

So, there we have it, the best cities for independent businesses in the UK. Independent shopping is cherished in these cities, and each one has a vibrant and distinct retail scene. They have the perfect conditions for independent businesses to flourish, and shoppers seem eager to both support and reap the benefits from smaller merchants. 

If you’re interested in taking the leap into entrepreneurship, you might want to consider one of the above locations – and don’t forget to explore our guides exploring all you need to know about starting a business


The data was pulled from Google Maps in January 2024. Please note, “independent” refers to three or fewer of the same independent stores across the United Kingdom/ each city. Chains and franchises have not been included in the ranking. 

The methodology involves ranking 80 cities in the UK based on their suitability for independent businesses by gathering data on 18 factors per location, normalizing these factors to scores between 0 and 1, summing the normalized values, and subsequently ranking the locations from high to low based on their total score. Factors such as the number of businesses and their average reviews are considered, with higher numbers garnering higher scores and lower numbers receiving lower scores in each category.

SumUp Team