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 attactions on offer. So whether you're hunting for shiny trinkets at Birmingham's best museums, fulfilling your childhood fantasy by visiting a chocolate factory, or revelling in the masterpieces at some of our best art galleries, we've got you covered. Explore and enjoy.
Resplendent yet accessible, the Symphony Hall is the model of a perfect modern concert space – and it’s likely the 370,00 people who collectively 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 is not 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.
A brash concrete neon metropolis that you just have to embrace, Star City features a range of activities that’ll keep you occupied whatever your tastes. Get warmed up at the 22-lane bowling alley, or try a round of mini-golf at at England’s largest indoor complex that’ll leave you drowning your sorrows in something obscenely sweet from the Tiki Cafe and pondering how it is physically possible to pot the final hole.
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).
The Mailbox’s extensive refurbishment is coming to fruition, and word on the street is that there'll be more entertainment than ever before 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 experiencing 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.
Plan ahead, and you could catch a big name Premiership tie at Villa Park, where tickets are more easily secured than at most top-tier grounds. If you have something slightly less high octane in mind, or if it’s out of season, booking a stadium tour 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.