Although bestowed with the back-handed compliment of the UK’s “Second City” behind London, Birmingham is a city which stands out on its own. It has a story, a style and a soul that is uniquely “Brummie”, with all the cosmopolitanism that entails. Few other UK cities can lay claim to a Chinatown, for example, while also being the birthplace of such well-known Indian foods as the Balti. If you’re making a visit to Birmingham, you will find that there’s something there to interest you; plus a whole range of things you didn’t realise would.
1. Indulge your sweet tooth at Cadbury World
Birmingham is home to one of the most prestigious chocolate creators in the world, and the Cadbury World museum pays tribute to this. With exhibits on the company’s history, its manufacturing process and the opportunity to peruse the world’s largest Cadbury’s shop, this chocoholic’s heaven (16.75 GBP for adults, 12.30 for kids or about 22/17 USD) is a vital pilgrimage for sweet lovers of all ages. And yes, of course, you get free chocolate as part of the entry fee.
Address: Linden Rd, Bournville, Birmingham B30 1JR
Website: Cadbury World
2. Shop 'til you drop at the Bull Ring
If you’re looking for a monument both to Birmingham’s history and future, then the Bullring shopping centre is a perfect example. The name may come from its origins as a cattle market in the 12th Century. Now, however, it is a glimmering, futuristic shopping centre - updated from the Brutalist structure it was upon its opening in the 1960s. With names such as Selfridges and Forever 21, it’s one of the busiest shopping centres in Britain and the thriving hub of Birmingham. Popular attractions include Spiceal Street, a monument to Birmingham’s culinary cosmopolitanism.
Address: Bullring Shopping Centre Bullring, Birmingham B5 4BU
Website: Bull Ring
3. Experience the life aquatic at the National Sea Life Centre
The largest aquatic life display in Britain, Birmingham’s National Sea Life Centre is home to more than 600 exhibits and over 2,000 creatures. Everyone will have their favourite exhibit, although the baby penguins seem to be most popular among kids. Admission is 12.75 GBP if booked online - that’s around 15 USD - and for that, you’ll get to experience a long underwater tunnel that offers an unparalleled perspective of the numerous shark and marine life attractions.
National Sea Life Centre
Address: The Waters Edge, 3 Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HL
Website: National Sea Life Centre
4. Avoid the hordes, see the hoard at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
If noisy, busy attractions are your thing, Birmingham has those. If you want something quieter, then the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a trip worth taking. Most famously, it is home to the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest single find of Anglo-Saxon gold, believed to be worth more than 3million GBP (more than 4.5million USD). Alongside the hoard, you will also find collections of international importance, showcasing pre-Raphaelite art and more. Entry is free, although some exhibitions may charge.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Address: Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH
Website: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
5. Witness modern history at the Birmingham Back to Backs
The rapid industrial expansion of Britain in the 19th Century brought with it a wave of urbanisation, which required the speedy building of high-volume accommodation. The result was these houses, built “back to back” with shared courtyards to house workers in the newly-built factories. The housing stood until the 1960s when it was declared unfit for human habitation. All but these few houses at Inge Street were demolished for public safety. These stand as a monument to the time and are worth a visit.
Birmingham Back to Backs
Address: 50-54 Inge St, Birmingham B5 4TE
Website: Birmingham Back to Backs
6. Acknowledge the Golden Age of the Silver Screen at the Electric Cinema
Britain’s oldest working cinema, the Electric at Station Street in Birmingham, is a slice of history all to itself. It opened in 1909 and although closed due to dereliction for a period between 2003-4, it has been open almost continuously, showing new releases and arthouse classics for over a century.
Address: 47-49 Station St, Birmingham B5 4DY
Website: Electric Cinema
7. Unearth a gem of an experience at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
The Smith and Pepper jewellery factory in Birmingham closed in 1981. On its final day, come closing time, the owners simply locked the doors and left it as it was. Almost four decades later it remains in that form as part of one of Birmingham’s most unique attractions. Indeed, behind Rome’s Colosseum and London’s National Gallery, it is considered to be Europe’s third-best free tourist attraction. In the heart of Hockley - home to Birmingham’s enduring jewellery trade - this is an attraction you must not miss.
Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
Address: 75-80 Vyse St, Birmingham B18 6HA
Website: Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
8. Let the rubber meet the road at the National Motorcycle Museum
In commemoration of Britain’s proud history of building motorcycles and Birmingham’s own invaluable role in the UK’s automotive industry, the National Motorcycle Museum plays host to the world’s largest collection of British bikes. Taking in more than a quarter of a million visitors every year, this can’t-miss attraction stays open for all but three days of the year - the 24th to the 26th of December.
National Motorcycle Museum
Address: Coventry Road, Bickenhill, Solihull B92 0EJ
Website: National Motorcycle Museum
9. Travel into Space at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
The Science Museum, in the Digbeth area of the city, is a particularly excellent experience for any kids in your party. There’s a lot to learn here, including some excellent exhibits on the solar system. Also of interest, however, (particularly to the historian in you) might be the Spitfire Exhibition on Level 1.
Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
Address: Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham, B4 7XG
Website: Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
10. Take a few peaceful moments at Birmingham Botanical Gardens
While all of the learning, science and dynamism of Birmingham’s attractions are well worth getting to grips with, it’s always nice to have a little more serenity to look forward to. Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens are a perfect place for calm after the stimulation of previous attractions. Spread over 15 acres, four separate glasshouses are home to exhibits of tropical, subtropical and arid flora. With rare plants and trees also to be found around the grounds, the 7.50 GBP entry fee (9 USD) is great value for money.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Address: Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3TR
Website: Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Brilliant, beautiful, bewildering Birmingham!
Although Birmingham may not get the attention that the capital, London gets, its status as one of the UK’s must-see destinations cannot be denied. From diverse museums to world-class shopping and some invaluable spots for a beautiful peaceful moment or two, Birmingham is a trip you will not regret making.