Birmingham (map) is Britain’s second-largest city and is located in the West Midlands region northwest of London. On my visit to this city, I didn’t know what to expect but I quickly discovered many things to do in Birmingham for visitors.
Birmingham – the ‘Workshop of the World’
In the 1800’s, the city was known as the ‘Workshop of the World’ as it was here that the Industrial Revolution began. Birmingham attracted merchants and workers from around Britain as industries blossomed. A whole network of canals was dug for the transportation of goods and the city become the focal point of a wealthy region.
In the late-20th century, Birmingham underwent a metamorphosis as manufacturing made way for services. Whole swathes of the city were redeveloped – old factories and warehouses were transformed into stylish apartments, office blocks and centres of art.
The transformation continues till this day. The canals have been rejuvenated and are now a tranquil sight in this bustling city. The gorgeous heritage buildings that line long stretches of the canals now house a wide variety of restaurants, shops and cafés. The city’s grand Victorian monuments have been lovingly restored and a massive scheme to redevelop the city’s historic core, the Bull Ring, has given the city centre an unmistakable international flair.
Birmingham is absolutely worth a visit for a few days. The city is very compact, making it easy to get around on foot. There are many stunning old and modern architectural gems to admire, museums and markets to wander around in, charming cafés and pubs to stop for a breather, and a multi-faceted culinary scene to tease your senses.
Ten things to do in Birmingham
1. Visit the magnificent museums and art galleries
The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery or BMAG provides interesting insights into the city’s rich history. The building’s imposing exterior forms a sharp contrast to its bright, colourful interior. The gorgeous staircases, stunning ceilings and fascinating exhibits will keep you occupied for a bit.
Another great museum is the Barber Institute (at the University of Birmingham), one of the city’s finest Art Deco buildings, with its collection of Monets, Manets and Renoirs. Or you could visit the beautiful Aston Hall, just outside the city. For something more contemporary, head to the Ikon Gallery and the Custard Factory.
2. Admire the eclectic architecture
Birmingham’s current cityscape was created in the past few centuries, especially after the Industrial Revolution. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Georgian, Victorian, Baroque and Neoclassical styles were popular. In the mid-19th century, the Gothic Revival style made its appearance. Many of these influences can still be seen till this day. Gorgeous examples of Victorian architecture can be found in the Church Street neighbourhood. While you’re in the area, pop into the Cathedral to admire the lovely Baroque architecture and the beautiful stained glass windows.
3. Visit the Selfridges building
This iconic building is covered with 16,000+ silver-coloured discs. Watch how its shape changes as you circle the building. Then step inside and marvel at the interior, with its breathtaking central atrium. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the jelly bean bull on the ground floor!
4. Wander around the markets
You’ll find a variety of markets adjacent to the Bull Ring. My favourite is the Rag Market. It’s an intriguing mish-mash of ‘rags’, cosmetics, hosiery and other merchandise. It’s also a wonderful place to watch the colourful vendors and their haggling customers.
5. Stroll along the canals
Go on a leisurely stroll along the canals in the late-afternoon/early-evening. Let the calm water and charming scenes soothe your senses and stop for a pint at one of the many canalside pubs. You can also opt to join a canal cruise on one of the narrow boats. The cruises depart from Brindley Place (map).
6. Go shopping!
There’s the Jewellery Quarter with its wide array of jewellers (the Jewellery Quarter Museum is absolutely worth a stop), the huge malls at the Bull Ring (including Selfridges), New Street with its mainstream fashion stores and the gorgeous MailBox building with its upmarket boutiques.
7. Try a balti!
Every two stores is an eatery so it’s not difficult to find a place to eat. Choosing one is the hard part. If you love curries, head out to the Balti Triangle (map). Balti is a spicy dish perfected in Birmingham and is a dish you must have at least once during your visit. There are more than 50 restaurants that serve this must-try dish in the Balti Triangle. It’s difficult to choose so just follow your instincts!
8. See a pantomime performance at the Hippodrome
This is a truly local experience that will leave you in stitches! Oh, and get some panto ‘attributes’ from the vendors at the entrance of the Hippodrome. 🙂 Feeling thirsty afterwards? Head to one of the local pubs across the street for a pint!
9. Tour the BBC Studios
The tour of the BBC Studios at The Mailbox building provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of broadcasting (both television and radio). The longest British radio drama series, the Archers, is produced here, as well as other regional radio and television programmes. During the tour, you’ll also be invited to present your own BBC News programme; a really fun experience!
10. Venture beyond Birmingham
Birmingham also makes a great base from which to explore the many attractions in the region. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston are just a short hop away. One of England’s most stunning medieval castles, Warwick Castle can also be found in the vicinity. And, for the fans of Shakespeare, a visit to Straftford-Upon-Avon, just outside Birmingham, is an absolute must!