Explore Birmingham

Birmingham Travel Guide

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham is shaking off its dreary reputation as a manufacturing city to reveal a modern, cosmopolitan hub. Situated in the geographical heart of England, the UK's second-largest metropolis is a mixed bag of cultures, dotted with a colourful array of continental eateries, modern shopping arcades, sweeping plazas and vibrant markets.<br /><br /> Much of the area now covered by sprawling Birmingham was originally the northern corner of the ancient Forest of Arden. Birmingham came to life in the mid-1800s as a major manufacturing town owing to the large deposits of exploitable coal and iron nearby. Despite heavy bomb damage during World War II's 'Birmingham Blitz', much industrial heritage is still present in 'Britain's canal city', which has even more waterways than Venice. Built over 200 years ago, the canals, which once bore the raw materials that would spawn the Industrial Revolution, are now principally used for pleasure, and provide a moody backdrop to the historic buildings, restaurants and pubs that are situated alongside the water, most notably at charming Brindley Place and the Gas Street Basin.<br /><br /> Birthplace of the likes of JRR Tolkien, Robert Plant, Black Sabbath and The Streets, the Brummies have done their fair share in creative contribution. An impressive live music scene now illuminates the evenings and an exhaustive listing of events can be found in the free fortnightly publication, The Fly.<br /><br />

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Address: Birmingham

Praised by as 'one of the finest small art galleries in Europe', the vivid red walls of the enchanting Barber Institute of Fine Arts are adorned with some of the most celebrated art from the 13th to 20th centuries. Browsing the robust artworks, visitors are treated to the timeless talents of the old masters and modern pioneers such as Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Degas. Offering a fascinating collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures, history enthusiasts can also venture into a bygone age at the coin gallery, which hosts one of Europe's finest collections of Byzantine coins. The Barber Institute's Gallery Shop is a worthy stopover for some souvenirs and gallery-related literature.<br /><br />

Alton Towers

Address: Birmingham

Alton Towers is the UK's premier theme park aimed at the thrill-seeking and young-at-heart, and can be a welcome excursion for those who have overdosed on the culture and tranquillity of the Cotswolds. Rides with names such as Nemesis, The Blade, Submission and Ripsaw are definitely not for the faint-hearted, but the park does cater for the whole family with an adventure land and farmyard for younger visitors, as well as a hugely popular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ride. For those exhausted by the day's antics, Alton Towers operates its own hotel, and there are plenty of spots to grab a bite to eat.<br /><br />

Balti Triangle

Address: Birmingham

Any visit to Birmingham is not complete without visiting the city's 'curry capital' and sampling its unique Balti fare. Originating from the large Kashmiri population, the Balti dish was officially discovered in 1976. The word 'balti' means 'bucket', and refers to the round-bottomed pan, similar to a wok, in which the dish is served. A mouth-watering stir-fried curry with an amalgamation of spices, fresh herbs and tantalising masalas, newcomers should forget their knives and forks and mop up the sauce with a wad of aromatic naan bread. Located in the Sparkbrook area, ten minutes from the city centre, the Balti Triangle boasts over 50 restaurants dedicated to Eastern cuisine and a smattering of shops, ranging from Asian clothes and fashion to exotic foods and Bollywood merchandise.<br /><br />

Selfridges Store

Address: Birmingham

A Birmingham landmark, the Selfridges store at the Bull Ring Market boasts a stylish design, proving that contemporary architecture can thrive outside trendy London. Designed by Future Systems' architects, the knobbly silver façade was inspired by Paco Rabanne's chain mail dresses. Constructed with concrete, which was then painted a glowing blue and adorned with 16,000 polished aluminum disks to create a mottled outer 'skin', the contemporary construction cost just over one million US dollars to build. Transforming Birmingham's urban fabric, the store draws thousands of visitors each week to witness its bizarre design and browse the designer goodies inside.<br /><br />

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Address: Birmingham

Boasting part of the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings in the world, the breathtaking works of luminaries such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones can be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The spectacular Waterhall Gallery of Modern Art is littered with impressionist masterpieces and is not to be missed on any trip to Birmingham; while the same can be said of the Greek, Roman and Ancient Near East Gallery, which never ceases to please. With fine art from the 14th century onwards and an impressive collection of archaeological finds documenting 400,000 years of history, culturally-minded visitors will be entranced. The Edwardian Tea Room provides a cosy space to discuss what you saw in the 40 galleries of this remarkable museum and serves warm beverages, light snacks and scrumptious cakes. Entrance to the permanent collection is free.<br /><br />

Drayton Manor Theme Park

Address: Birmingham

A short drive from Birmingham's city centre, the Drayton Manor Theme Park offers an exhilarating alternative to shopping and sightseeing. Loaded with more than 50 rides offering high-octane thrills, the English media has lauded the park as having 'Britain's scariest rides'. Visitors can drop 177 feet (54m) from the world's first stand-up tower, take a watery plunge in a rescue boat down a slippery 180º platform, fly around one of the parks two swirling rollercoasters, or tackle the rapids with friends at Splash Canyon. Family fun at Drayton Manor Theme Park has not been short-circuited either, as a wide variety of child-friendly rides are provided. The Thomas Land area (based on Thomas the Tank Engine) is wildly popular amongst younger visitors.<br /><br />

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