Small businesses account for 99.9% of businesses in the UK. To say they are the nation’s backbone is an understatement.
When tourists visit the UK, or Brits opt for a staycation, visiting unique independent restaurants and shops is often a key item on the itinerary. This allows people to get a better local experience, and find hidden gems they may never have found if they only ate and shopped in malls and chain-led high streets.
We ourselves work with hundreds of thousands of small businesses around the world and we want to champion them when we can.
In this analysis, we’ve reviewed over 17,240 small businesses in 50 of the largest cities in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to see who has the most independent businesses to choose from and who has the highest-quality choices in the nation.
- Brighton and Hove offers the most independent businesses in the UK, with 21 businesses per 10,000 people to choose from, rated an average of 4.62 out of 5.
- Derry/Londonderry has the UK’s second-most independent businesses per capita 10,000 (19.6) and the most independent art/pottery businesses (1.41 per 10,000), as well as the second-highest number of independent restaurants (6.83 per 10,000).
- Edinburgh has the most independent restaurants in the UK, offering 7.05 restaurants per 10,000 people, rated an average of 4.41 out of 5 stars on Google Maps.
- Edinburgh also has the most independent cafés and coffee shops in the UK, with an average 7.83 on offer per 10,000 people, rated 4.51 out of 5 stars.
- Brighton and Hove also has the most independent record stores (0.87) and clothing stores (0.66) per 10,000 residents in the UK.
Norwich and Swindon have the highest-rated independent businesses in the UK, rated an average of 4.65 out of 5 on Google Maps.
The best cities in the UK for independent businesses
The study reviewed independent restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, book shops, clothing shops, bakeries, record stores, and art studios/shops. Taking into account all of these categories, Brighton and Hove offers the most independent businesses in the UK, with 21 businesses per 10,000 people, rated an average of 4.62 out of 5.
While Brighton and Hove have the most proportional to their population, London, as you may expect, has the most overall independent businesses, over 2,600 were analysed in this study based on the aforementioned business types. Proportionally, however, the capital has 3 independent businesses per capita 10,000, the second lowest in the UK behind Portsmouth (2.8).
The top ten cities that offer the most independent businesses for visitors in the UK can be seen below:
|Rank||City||Independent Businesses Per Capita 10,000||Average Rating of All Independents|
|1||Brighton and Hove||21.0||4.62|
Norwich and Swindon had the joint-highest-rated independent businesses on average, scoring 4.65 out of 5, whilst offering 18.4 and 9.6 independent businesses per 10,000 people respectively.
Below we’ve broken down the individual categories of independent businesses and how cities scored around the UK.
Restaurant chains can be useful for tourists with allergies or dietary requirements, or even fussy children, as the menus will be the same in any city in the country. However, to experience what a city truly has to offer, it’s best to try an independent restaurant and maybe find a new favourite dish.
The study found that Edinburgh is the best city for people looking for an independent foodie night out, with 7.05 restaurants per 10,000 people, followed by Derry/Londonderry (6.83), and Belfast (6.64). Derry/Londonderry also had the highest-rated independent restaurant scene in the UK, with the city’s eateries rated an average of 4.5 out of 5.
Looking at the data without accounting for population, we can see that London has 3.3 times more independent restaurants (1,132) than its nearest competitor, Edinburgh (344). However, with the sheer number of people that live in and visit London, getting a table at these restaurants is statistically much more challenging.
Cities with the most independent restaurants
|City||Independent Restaurants (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
Cafés and coffee shops
The number of coffee chain outlets in the UK is expected to exceed 10,000 by the end of 2026.  The country is in the midst of a coffee chain boom, which can mean smaller independent cafés and coffee shops face tougher competition to grab the attention of morning caffeine hunters.
The best city to get your independent caffeine fix was found to be Edinburgh which has approximately 7.83 cafés and coffee shops per 10,000 people, rated an average of 4.51 stars out of 5. Second to Scotland’s capital is Brighton and Hove, home to 7.56 cafés and coffee shops per 10,000 residents, rated a slightly higher 4.55 out of 5 stars on Google Maps.
While Liverpool has a much lower 3.61 independent cafés per 10,000 residents, the city does have the highest-rated places to grab a coffee in the UK, rated an impressive 4.99 stars out of 5.
Portsmouth had the fewest independent cafés per 10,000 residents (0.8), with London the next worst (1.09). The capital did however have 2.5 times more overall independent coffee shops to choose from than the nearest competitor, Edinburgh.
Below are the top five cities for independent cafés and coffee shops in the UK when accounting for population.
Cities with the most independent cafés and coffee shops
|City||Independent Cafés/Coffee Shops (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
|Brighton and Hove||7.56||4.55|
While there are thousands of bakery chain outlets in the UK, tourists and locals alike sometimes want to try something different that they can’t get in every other city.
The best city for independent bakeries was found to be Bangor, Northern Ireland, where residents have almost 3 (2.96) independent bakeries per 10,000 people. These sweet treats are also rated a respectable 4.56 out of 5 on Google Maps too.
The city that had the highest-rated independent bakeries was Barry, Wales where the local stores are rated an average of 4.9 out of 5.
Cities with the most independent bakeries
|City||Independent Bakeries (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
|Brighton and Hove||1.98||4.54|
Vinyls are seeing a resurgence, with British music lovers buying 23.2% more vinyl albums in 2021 than 2020. Estimates say 2022 will be the first year in decades that vinyls will outsell CDs. 
Those on the hunt for vinyls to add to their collection when visiting a new UK city should head to Brighton and Hove where there are approximately 0.87 independent record stores for every 10,000 residents. You can see the top five cities for independent record stores below.
Cities with the most independent record stores
|City||Independent Record Stores (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
|Brighton and Hove||0.87||4.4|
In 2022 there were more independent bookshops than there had been in a decade, the UK loves to read and the industry is growing despite the economic challenges of the 2020s.
Norwich was found to offer the most independent bookstores in the UK, at 1.02 per 10,000 people, followed by Brighton and Hove (0.87 per 10,000) and Bournemouth (0.75 per 10,000).
Huddersfield, however, had the highest-rated independent bookstores in the country rated an average of 4.95 out of 5 stars.
Cities with the most independent book shops
|City||Independent Book Shops |
(per capita 10,000)
|Brighton and Hove||0.87||4.71|
Most shoppers in the UK can find the same clothing brands online and in bigger city shopping centres. But what people can’t get their hands on is independently made and unique fashion items from boutique stores hidden away in cities up and down the country.
The UK city that had the most independent clothing stores was Brighton and Hove with 0.66 stores per 10,000 residents, rated an average of 4.82 out of a possible 5 stars.
In second place is Norwich with 0.61 stores per 10,000 people, having an average rating of 4.69. You can see the top five cities for independent clothing stores below.
Cities with the most independent clothing retailers
|City||Independent Clothing Stores (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
|Brighton and Hove||0.66||4.82|
Art and pottery businesses
When visiting a new city local artists can offer unique crafts you won’t find anywhere else which makes for a perfect souvenir or new decoration at home.
The city which had the most independent art studios and places to buy art and crafts was Derry/Londonderry having 1.41 art/pottery organisations, followed by Brighton and Hove (1.28 per 10,000).
Cities with the most independent art and pottery studios/shops
|City||Independent Art/Pottery Businesses (per capita 10,000)||Rating|
|Brighton and Hove||1.28||4.90|
Data was taken from Google Maps on 13/10/22 across 50 cities in the UK. Businesses were removed from the analysis if they were a part of a large business chain, or had more than 3 locations. Some businesses were manually reviewed by visiting their website to review their locations, most were removed based on the name and URL present if it matched large chain brands, or was repeated more than 3 times in the dataset.
Businesses that cannot be visited in person and those that were listed as ‘permanently closed’ on Google Maps, were removed from the analysis.
The average rating per business category ignores businesses that had fewer than 10 reviews for the business.
The 50 cities across the UK were chosen as the 35 biggest in England, 5 from Scotland, 5 from Wales, and 5 from Northern Ireland based on population. Population figures for cities came from the Office for National Statistics, National Records of Scotland, and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
- The Federation of Small Businesses, ‘UK Small Business Statistics’ (https://www.fsb.org.uk/uk-small-business-statistics.html)
- World Coffee Portal, ‘UK coffee chains achieve £1.3bn sales rebound as outlets exceed pre-Covid levels’ (https://www.worldcoffeeportal.com/getdoc/c5070c79-bb75-4e7d-a6f9-758ebc257775/UK-coffee-chains-achieve-%C2%A31-3bn-sales-rebound-as-o)
- NME, ‘UK vinyl sales set to overtake CDs in 2022’ (https://www.nme.com/news/music/uk-vinyl-sales-set-to-overtake-cds-in-2022-3163798)
- The Bookseller, Indie bookshop numbers rise for fifth consecutive year, BA figures show’ (https://www.thebookseller.com/news/ba-bookshop-membership-grows-fifth-year-survey-finds-1298190)
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