Once heart of the Britain's industrial revolution spawning nicknames including the “city of a thousand trades” and “workshop of the world”, these days the colloquially known “Brum” is a much different place. Recent years have seen the city shake the shackles of its industrial past and replace much of its drab post-war architecture. The past decade or so has also seen Birmingham enjoy resurgence as a popular shopping and cultural destination. Great for those wanting to discover classic England while still enjoying the perks of a cosmopolitan city, Britain's second largest city is further down the list when it comes to visitor numbers, but those in the know will tell you Birmingham is a travel destination like no other.
While it doesn't boast a long list of postcard-worthy tourist attractions, there's still a lot of things to see and do in Birmingham. As well as playing host to some fantastic galleries and museums including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham is also where you'll find some of the best food and nightlife in the Midlands. The largely pedestrianised city centre is the ideal place to start discovering Birmingham while you meander along the city's many canals. The city's flagship attraction is undoubtedly the National Sea Life Centre, which houses over 60 displays with everything from green sea turtles to black tip reef sharks.
Foodies are in for a treat in Birmingham, home to some of the best food and nightlife in the Midlands. From sleek modern British cuisine to continental European and plenty of flavoursome Indian, you'll find it all in Birmingham. Some key 'eat streets' include Broad Street, St. Paul's Square and the 'Balti Triangle' – England's home of curry. St. Paul's Square is the most up-market of the restaurants precincts and is where you will find Birmingham's premier jazz club, Jam House. The later the better when it comes to visiting Broad Street, Birmingham's liveliest street after dark thanks to its large number of clubs and bars. Nearby Brindley place provides a more refined alternative, while Hurst Street is another vibrant area of town and home to a large number of gay-friendly venues.
Where to Stay
People travelling to Birmingham on a budget were once relegated to suburban hotels, but recent years have seen a steady growth in centrally located hotel offerings friendly on the hip pocket. Close to Bullring Shopping Centre and Birmingham New Street Station is where you'll find greatest concentration of places to stay in Birmingham with Ibis, Holiday Inn and Travelodge the pick of the affordable chain hotels. For a few more pounds you can stay at one of the modern apartments at the curiously named Staying Cool at the Rotunda, while those willing to splurge a little will find maximum comfort at Hotel du Vin and Hotel Indigo.
Birmingham is really starting to take off as a shopping destination, attracting bargain hunters from all over the Midlands. The first port of call for most credit card yielders is Bullring – one of the largest shopping centres in the UK, home to over 160 shops including the iconic Selfridges department store. A more historic alternative for dropping coin is the majestic Great Western Arcade, with many independent stores and with a history dating back to 1876. Birmingham's High Street takes a backseat to Birmingham's New Street, which is a match for any High Street in Britain. Keep an eye on local event calendars for the New Street Farmer's Market dates.
Birmingham Like a Local
Spending some time like a local in Birmingham encompasses many more traditions than sampling the Cadbury's chocolate or going to an Aston Villa football game – although these are both up there on the enjoyment scale! Some more distinctly "Brummy" traditions are to smother your pub meat-pie with the local HP sauce while listening to music by local favourites UB40 and Black Sabbath, or while reading a book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Once you've got these local traditions in order you might even befriend someone willing to take you for a ride in their locally manufactured Mini car. To Cadbury's World, perhaps?