This huge city was at the heart of the industrial revolution and was known in Victorian times as the ‘City of 1000 trades’. It also has a huge system of canals where barges full of goods were pulled by shire horses from one part of the city to another. Nowadays it is more of a cultural and shopping destination, with museums, galleries, hundreds of shops, and even more places to eat. The city centre has been revamped and the canals cleaned up making it a great place for a weekend break. Visitors certainly won’t be short of things to see and do in Birmingham and there are also a number of yearly events. For instance, in June there is the Birmingham Caribbean Festival; in July the International Jazz & Blues Festival; and in September the Midlands Whisky Festival.
Things to See and Do
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – This large museum will teach visitors all they need to know about Birmingham’s industrial history and afterwards enjoy browsing pre-Raphaelite paintings as well as whatever temporary exhibitions are on display. Entry: Free
Cadbury World – A fun and delicious tour of the famous chocolate factory is a must-do for anyone with a sweet tooth. Entry: around US$25
Aston Hall – Built in the early 1600s, this Jacobean mansion has been restored to its former glory and is now open for visitors to wander round the period rooms and admire the artwork on display, as well as damage from canons from the English civil war. Entry: Free
Barber Institute of Fine Arts – This imposing building houses a small art gallery full of famous pieces and there are often piano concerts or opera in the evenings. Entry: Free
Sarehole Mill – Visit this grade II listed water-mill dating back over 250 years and still in working condition. Entry: about US$10
Thinktank – A great day out for kids and adults alike, this interactive science museum offers many collections, as well as a planetarium and an outdoor science garden. Entry: around US$20
Birmingham Botanical Gardens – The gardens are a joy to walk around at any time of year and the stunning glasshouses are home to plants and flowers you have probably never even heard of let alone set your eyes on before. There is also a butterfly house. Entry: around US$11
Backpackers – Birmingham Central Backpackers offer not only free breakfast but also an evening buffet as well as a common room that used to be a pub and wide range of evening entertainment including movies, computer consoles and a cosy fireplace if you just want to curl up and read a book. Dorms start from around US$25 a night.
Boutique – Guests will never need to leave Hotel du Vin which has sumptuous rooms, a choice of eating breakfast or lunch al fresco (weather permitting) in the courtyard with a retractable roof, and dinner in the charming bistro. There is also a wine bar and a pub to enjoy a tipple before or after dinner. Rooms from about US$200 a night.
Apartment – For something a bit different, hire a swanky apartment for your stay and feel like a proper local. Staying Cool offers beautiful apartments from around US$300 a night at the top of one of Birmingham’s iconic buildings, the Rotunda.
Birmingham airport is located just outside the city but visitors can take an express train that whizzes them into the centre of the city in ten minutes for around US$12 one way. There is also a bus that operates 24 hours and is cheaper but takes longer.
Trains – The three train stations in the city centre are New Street, Snow Hill, and Moor Street, offering long-distance services to London and the rest of the country, as well as shorter journeys around the West Midlands. Tickets costs approx. US$8 for a return to a nearby town.
Buses – There is an extensive bus system that serves the city centre and beyond and is operated by National Express West Midlands. For approximately US$6 you can pick up a day pass and travel as much as you like.
Tram – Birmingham’s tram service, known as The Metro, is still being built but a few lines are in service and can be used with the US$6 bus pass from National Express West Midlands.
Taxis – Hail a black cab on the street or call for a private service, Brumtaxis and BHX Travel are both good companies. Be prepared for long waiting times on Friday and Saturday nights unless you book in advance.
Balti – This Indian-inspired dish was invented in Birmingham, and to try it, just head to the ‘Balti triangle’ in Sparkbrook with over 50 Indian restaurants to choose from. A good one to try is Shababs with an unbelievably large menu, great service, and funky décor. Price guide: Budget
Café – The Canalside Café is a lovely little place to visit when the sun shines to enjoy being beside the water and watch the barges go by. Price guide: Budget.
Gastropub – The Rectory Bar & Grill is the perfect place for lunch, dinner, or a night out. The modern British menu offers sandwiches, small plates and mains, plus a reasonably-priced set menu. Price guide: Budget to mid-range
Pub – The Queens Arms is a great place to enjoy a pint and watch some sport. They also have a great pub quiz every Thursday that you can enter for around US$1.50 and possibly win some nice prizes.
Cocktails – If you think you’re cool enough, head to the rather pretentious Bamboo for expensive drinks in a swanky setting.
Live Music – The Jam House is a great venue to dance the night away to whatever lively crowd-pleasing band happens to be on stage and also offers some great food choices.
Club – For a proper student experience, check out Snobs which has a variety of different rooms and DJs and offers US$1.50 shooters on Wednesdays.
Shopping and Markets
High Street – The huge new Bullring shopping centre is full of all different high street brands as well as some designer shops and a large Selfridges.
Jewellery – Head to the Jewellery Quarter north of the city to browse around many independent jewellery stores and repair workshops.
Market – The Bullring indoor market is located next to the huge shopping centre and has over 80 stalls selling everything from household items and second hand clothes to meat and poultry and is well worth a wander to get a feel of the real Birmingham.