As the UK’s second biggest city, Birmingham has emerged from its industrial past to become a thriving cultural beacon, with plenty of top-notch, must-see attactions. There are plenty of obvious things to do in Birmingham, from a stroll around the canals of Brindleyplace, a real Cinderella part of town, to endless shopping sprees in the gargantuan Bullring shopping centre. But this run-down of truly local Birmingham attractions will help you really get to the heart of what it means to live in Brum (a nickname derived from the city’s old name, Brummagem).
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, the city is home to a wide array of cultural experiences that have put it on the map as a hot-bed of individualism and experimentation.
Best attractions in Birmingham
Resplendent yet accessible, the Symphony Hall is the model of a perfect modern concert space – and it’s likely the hundreds of thousands who attend around 320 events there each year agree. If you are only in Brum for the day, try to catch one of the CBSO’s relaxing lunchtime concerts or, for demonstrations and to gain backstage access, join one of the hall’s monthly tours, available through the THSH Box Office.
If retail therapy isn’t your idea of a good day out, the Bullring is probably best avoided. For everyone else, welcome to Brum’s frenetic 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.
Just three miles from Brum’s fulcrum, the Edwardian splendour of Winterbourne House and gardens offers frazzled city dwellers a historic escape. Set within seven acres of botanical gardens – which include a woodland walk, over 6,000 species of plants and a Japanese bridge – the house is a treasure chest of trinkets and antiques.
Birmingham is among the most landlocked cities in England – but it seems no one has told this to the National Sea Life Centre. If its 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?
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 is the main subject of Cadbury World.
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 are a lover or a 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).
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, and shoes and handbags abound at the Mailbox’s flagship fashion icons.
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 by way of refuel, then pick between a guided tour of the Museum of Jewellery or the creation of your own nib at the Pen Museum for your afternoon’s entertainment.
If you’re a sports nerd you’ll want to book tickets to see Aston Villa play a match at Villa Park. But even if you don’t visit during the football season, booking a tour of the stadium is a good option. 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.
Once a busy port, Gas Street Basin now attracts locals and tourists alike with its colourful 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 JuJus. If you’ve made it as far as Gas Street Basin, you’re seconds from city stalwart Brindleyplace. We defy any visitor to fail to find exactly what they fancy in the food department.