Top things to do in Britain’s second City, Birmingham
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 attractions 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
Birmingham Symphony Hall
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 England’s largest indoor complex and finish off with something obscenely sweet from the Tiki Cafe
Winterbourne House & Garden
Just three miles from Birmingham’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.
National Sea Life Centre
Birmingham is among the most landlocked cities in England – but it seems no one has told this to the National Sea Life Centre. If it’s 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.
Cadbury is a name that’s known all over the world, and it’s no secret that its chocolate products are still made in Birmingham, in the heart of the UK. You can even take a peek behind the scenes of the famous Bournville factory at Cadbury World UK in Birmingham.
Library of Birmingham
Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library has transformed the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in the UK. Of these, over 400,000 books are available on the Library’s public floors.
With outstanding resources and access to expert help, the Library is a centre of excellence for literacy, research, study, skills development, health information, creative expression and entrepreneurship.
At 31,000 sq. metres it is around 20% larger than the old Central Library building and is the largest public library in Europe.
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
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.
The oft-quoted ‘more canals than Venice’ Birmingham’s canals are not to be missed. The canal quarter is a real Cinderella part of town, having been hugely redeveloped and with lots of restaurants and bars there is always plenty to see and do.
National Motorcycle Museum
Bickenhill Museum has more than 1,000 different motorcycles, dating all the way back to an 1898 Beeston Humber Tricycle. Plus, there are plenty of pretty serious modern superbikes, for those more partial to today’s two-wheelers.