Birmingham is Britain’s second-largest city and is located in the West Midlands region northwest of London. In the 1800′s, the city was known as the ‘Workshop of the World’ as it was here that the Industrial Revolution began. Birmingham attracted merchants and workers from around Britain as industries blossomed. A whole network of canals was dug for the transportation of goods and the city become the focal point of a wealthy region.
In the late-20th century, Birmingham underwent a metamorphosis as manufacturing made way for services. Whole swathes of the city were redeveloped – old factories and warehouses were transformed into stylish apartments, office blocks and centres of art.
The transformation continues till this day. The canals have been rejuvenated and are now a tranquil sight in this bustling city. The gorgeous heritage buildings that line long stretches of the canals now house a wide variety of restaurants, shops and cafés. The city’s grand Victorian monuments have been lovingly restored and a massive scheme to redevelop the city’s historic core, the Bull Ring, has given the city centre an unmistakable international flair.
Birmingham is absolutely worth a visit for a few days. The city is very compact, making it easy to get around on foot. There are many stunning old and modern architectural gems to admire, museums and markets to wander around in, charming cafés and pubs to stop for a breather, and a multi-faceted culinary scene to tease your senses.
If you’re visiting Birmingham for the first time, here are ten things to do to get a good feel of this fascinating city.
1. Visit a few of the magnificent museums and art galleries. The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG) provides interesting insights into the city’s rich history. The building’s imposing exterior forms a sharp contrast to its bright, colourful interior. The gorgeous staircases, stunning ceilings and fascinating exhibits will keep you occupied for a bit. Another great museum is the Barber Institute (at the University of Birmingham), one of the city’s finest Art Deco buildings, with its collection of Monets, Manets and Renoirs. Or you could visit the beautiful Aston Hall, just outside the city. For something more contemporary, head to the Ikon Gallery and the Custard Factory.
2. Have your picture taken with the great, big bull at the front of the Bull Ring shopping centre. The bull is the symbol of Birmingham. Find out why at the BMAG.
3. Walk around the eye-catching Selfridges building. This iconic building is covered with 16,000+ silver-coloured discs. Watch how its shape changes as you circle the building. Then step inside and marvel at the interior, with its breathtaking central atrium. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the jelly bean bull on the ground floor!
4. Wander around the markets located adjacent to the Bull Ring. My favourite is the Rag Market. It’s an intriguing mish-mash of ‘rags’, cosmetics, hosiery and other merchandise. It’s also a wonderful place to watch the colourful vendors and their haggling customers.
5. Take a leisurely stroll along the canals in the late-afternoon/early-evening. Let the calm water and charming scenes soothe your senses, say ‘hi’ to the resident geese or stop for a pint at one of the many canalside pubs. You can also opt to join a canal cruise on one of the narrow boats. The cruises depart from Brindleyplace.
6. Birmingham is a haven for shopaholics. There’s the Jewellery Quarter with its wide array of jewellers (the Jewellery Quarter Museum is absolutely worth a stop), the huge malls at the Bull Ring (including Selfridges), New Street with its mainstream fashion stores and the gorgeous MailBox building with its upmarket boutiques.
7. Brummies love food. Every two stores is an eatery so it’s not difficult to find a place to eat. Choosing one is the hard part. If you love curries, head out to the Balti Triangle. Balti is a spicy dish perfected in Birmingham. There are more than 50 restaurants that serve this must-try dish in the Balti Triangle. It’s difficult to choose so just follow your instincts!
8. Attend a pantomime performance at the Hippodrome. This is a truly local experience that will leave you in stitches! Oh, and get some panto ‘attributes’ from the vendors at the entrance of the Hippodrome. Feeling thirsty afterwards? Head to one of the local pubs across the street for a pint!
9. Join the tour of the BBC Studios at the Mailbox building. The tour provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of broadcasting (both television and radio). The longest British radio drama series, the Archers, is produced here, as well as other regional radio and television programmes. During the tour, you’ll also be invited to present your own BBC News programme; a really fun experience!
10. Walk around the city centre and admire the gorgeous Victorian architecture. Some of the most precious examples can be found in the Church Street neighbourhood. While you’re in the area, pop into the Cathedral to admire the lovely Baroque architecture and the beautiful stained glass windows.
Birmingham also makes a great base from which to explore the many attractions in the region. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston are just a short hop away. One of England’s most stunning medieval castles, Warwick Castle can also be found in the vicinity. And, for the fans of Shakespeare, a visit to Straftford-Upon-Avon, just outside Birmingham, is an absolute must!
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IMAGES VIA: Keith Jenkins