Once at the gritty heart of the industrial revolution and known as the City of 1000 Trades as well as the Workshop of the World, Birmingham – like Manchester and Liverpool – has undergone a revolution of a different kind in the past 20 years.
Many of the nondescript buildings that gave Birmingham a poor reputation post-World War II have been replaced, while heritage features such as the city’s canal network and key remaining Victorian architecture have been retained and restored.
The result is a city acknowledged throughout Britain for some of the best shopping outside London, excellent restaurants and night life and first-class museums and galleries.
The West Midlands is about as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England but that hasn’t stopped Birmingham hosting one of the country’s best oceanic attractions. The National Sea Life Centre offers a host of displays and a 4D cinema experience which literally adds a physical dimension to 3D.
If you have a sweet tooth don’t miss Cadbury World, a celebration of one of Birmingham’s iconic brands with a history dating back to the 1820s. If culture, art and science are your thing, call into Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Chamberlain Square, or head to the Millennium Point complex that houses Thinktank, the city’s award-winning science museum.
Eat and Drink
Birmingham is as famous for its curries as it is for a new wave of restaurants at the forefront of modern British cuisine. Balti curry, now a favourite across Britain, was invented here in the 1970s after a wave of immigration from Kashmir, and a geographic area of Birmingham in the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley districts is known as the Balti Triangle for its restaurants and Asian retail stores. The Triangle is a visitor attraction in its own right.
At the other end of the culinary scale, there are mid and high-end restaurants either side of Queensway and in and around Broad Street. Broad Street is also home to the greatest concentration of bars and clubs.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of places to stay catering for all tastes and budgets. You will find many international brands in Birmingham, from mid-range to five-star. Most are within easy striking distance of the main railway station, New Street, and the major Bullring retail complex, with others close to the Millennium Centre or, in the other direction, Broad Street.
Further out, there are others places to stay along Hagley Road or, for travel convenience, close to Birmingham International Airport. Visitors wishing to self-cater will find several serviced apartment options.
The Bullring is undoubtedly the retail heart of Birmingham. The district was once notorious for its architectural austerity but has undergone a radical makeover in recent years. The original 1960s shopping centre was demolished and replaced with one of the UK’s largest shopping complexes – 160 retail stores, including a Selfridge’s department store.
Renovations to the nearby New Street station provide a home for Grand Central Birmingham with 60 premium stores, including a John Lewis department store. Other centres include the Mailbox and Pavilions on High Street. For more boutique retail in a heritage environment, visit the Great Western Arcade off Colmore Row, near the cathedral.
Birmingham Like a Local
The Custard Factory, a collection of restored factory buildings a short walk from the Bullring, is all at once a creative space, shopping centre and event venue. The buildings, dating back more than 100 years, were once the centre of manufacture for the famous Bird’s custard. Now they are home to not only Birmingham’s cutting-edge creatives but also passionate independent retailers selling everything from vintage clothing, cosmetics, art and craft to homewares, jewellery and traditional sweets.