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Bullring in Birmingham
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The 10 best attractions in Birmingham

Need some inspiration? The best attractions in Birmingham range from controv retail mecca to choc lover’s heaven

By Huw Oliver
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Want to get to the heart of what it means to live in Brum? Our run-down of the best attractions in Birmingham should help. Britain’s second city has emerged from its industrial past to become a thriving cultural beacon – with iconic architecture to match. From the Library of Birmingham, basically a museum of books that gives you access to unrivalled panoramic views from its Skyline Viewpoint, to the Jewellery Quarter, an industry hub filled with bars, art galleries, restaurants and more, this city is home to wide array of must-see sights. Here’s where to start.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Birmingham

Best attractions in Birmingham

1
Birmingham Symphony Hall
Photograph: Shutterstock

Birmingham Symphony Hall

Music

Resplendent yet accessible, the Symphony Hall is the model of the ideal modern concert space – and it’s likely the hundreds of thousands who attend around 320 events there each year agree. If you’re only in Brum for the day, try to catch one of the CBSO’s lunchtime concerts or, for demonstrations and to gain backstage access, join one of the hall’s monthly tours, available through the THSH Box Office.

2
Bullring
Photograph: Shutterstock

The Bullring

Shopping

If retail therapy isn’t your idea of a fun day out, the Bullring is probably best avoided. For everyone else, welcome to Brum’s thriving shopping hub, which has been in its current bedazzling form since 2004. Names such as Michael Kors, Whistles and Kurt Geiger make happy bedfellows with Bullring behemoth Selfridges.

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3
National Sea Life Centre

National Sea Life Centre

Attractions Zoos and aquariums

If the National Sea Life Centre’s million-litre underwater tank isn’t impressive enough, it also features more than a thousand creatures – including giant turtles, otters and seahorses – to keep you transfixed. And don’t forget the penguins. Who doesn’t love penguins? Not bad for a city that’s very, very landlocked.

4
Cadbury World
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Cadbury World

Museums

For the best views of Brum’s very own chocolate factory, arrive by train (13 minutes from New Street) and take a deep breath. During our favourite part of the factory’s chocolate production cycle, a sweet haze envelopes the red-brick, old-world Bournville village. Designed and built for the workers of what was the centre of England’s chocolate empire, it’s the main subject of Cadbury World. 

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5
Winterbourne House & Garden
Photograph: Courtesy TripAdvisor.com

Winterbourne House & Garden

Museums

Just three miles from Brum’s city centre, the Edwardian splendour of Winterbourne House and gardens offers frazzled city dwellers a real escape. Set within seven acres of botanical gardens – including a woodland walk, more than 6,000 species of plants and a Japanese bridge – the house is a treasure chest of trinkets and antiques. 

6
Mailbox

Mailbox

Shopping Shopping centres

Since its major refurbishment a few years back, Mailbox offers even more entertainment than ever for those who like to shop, drink and play. On the retail side, Harvey Nichols is joined by Emporio Armani in a fashion strut-off of monumental proportions.

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7
Library of Birmingham
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Library of Birmingham

Art

Forget everything you thought you knew about municipal libraries. Well, not quite everything – you can expect a whole heap of books. But forget everything else. Once you’ve decided whether you’re a lover or hater of the Library of Birmingham’s angular exterior, dive in. Take the elevator straight up to the Skyline Viewpoint, which presides over the city from 51 metres above street level and offers those in the know unrivalled panoramic views (the very best of which are at dusk).

8
Jewellery Quarter
Photograph: Sal Maxuda

The Jewellery Quarter

Museums

The Jewellery Quarter’s march toward greatness shows no signs of slowing down, and it’s well worth an afternoon sojourn or an evening spent lapping up its increasingly popular hospitality. By day, arrive at pretty St. Paul’s Square and take in the latest exhibition at the RBSA. Hit archway must-try Peel & Stone to refuel, then choose between a guided tour of the Museum of Jewellery or the Pen Museum for your afternoon’s entertainment. 

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9
Gas Street Basin
Photograph: Sal Maxuda

Gas Street Basin & Brindleyplace

Museums

Once a busy port, Gas Street Basin now attracts locals and tourists alike with its bright canal boats, first-rate wandering territory and laid-back cafés and restaurants. Nothing tops a meandering stroll followed by a generous brunch at neighbourhood favourite Ju Ju’s. If you’ve made it as far as Gas Street Basin, you’re seconds from city stalwart Brindleyplace. We challenge any visitor to fail to find exactly what they fancy in the food department.

10
Villa Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

Villa Park

Museums

If you’re a sports nerd you’ll want to book tickets to see Aston Villa play here. But even if you don’t visit during football season, why not book a tour of the stadium? Take the long walk through the tunnel and muddy your footwear on Aston Villa’s hallowed turf, before trying out the manager’s pitch-side seat. 

Worked up an appetite?

The 23 absolute best restaurants in Birmingham

Restaurants

For every culture and nationality that lives side-by-side in this extraordinary, resilient and welcoming city, there are new openings and exciting delicacies to try at every turn. And this goes far beyond Birmingham’s wealth of brilliant Indian restaurants – though they rank among Britain’s best.

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