Complete travel guide to Birmingham, UK. Part 1 - Places to see
Birmingham is one of the underrated cities in the UK, with more things to do than one can imagine, so I am writing a complete guide to Birmingham, in 2 parts, to help all the people who are visiting for the first time. I have been living here for 1 year already so I can take you to a lot of places to see in the city, but I imagine that for people visiting for a couple of days, a long list will not necessarily be the most helpful thing. So, to help visitors to see our beautiful city, I compiled a list with top things to see for a first-time visitor of Birmingham, with some extras for people spending more than 2-3 days here.
Because a lot of places to see are in the city centre, I created a map with a route from the starting point to the ending point so you can see everything around, without going back and forth, as I did in the beginning. It is a route easy to do by walking, but in order to enjoy everything around, I suggest doing it in 2 days, not only one. If you are interested in reading more about Birmingham, I would recommend getting the Lonely Planet England guide, where you can get the whole guide or just the Birmingham chapter.
Must see places in Birmingham that I personally suggest (for more information about each place I will link their own websites in the titles):
Digbeth was known as the industrial quarter of Birmingham, but now is the home of street art and graffiti, a creative and cultural area with pubs and shops surrounded by breath-taking art. It’s my favourite spot in the whole city, that’s one of the reasons is the first on the list, and I could spend hours admiring the art and take photos there.
This new shopping area is the most crowded place in the city centre, mostly because is composed by: a big shopping centre, including Selfridges that people are attracted to, not only for shopping but for the unique design of the building; the Grand Central, the biggest train station in Birmingham, that has an amazing design, with shops and restaurants to enjoy while waiting for the train; the markets with fruits, vegetable and stands; the Saint Martin Church which is a piece of art, the original parish church and it creates a unique view, an old church between 2 newly designed parts of the shopping centre.
If you get to Bullring is a must to take a photo with the bull in front of the shopping centre, just between Zara and Hollister.
Chinatown is one of the most alive places in the city centre, surrounded by Asian shops, restaurants, architecture, building facades and decorations typical to the Asian community and is definitely a place that will give you a little taste of China. For a Chinese food lover like is a paradise, to eat proper food made by Chinese people and also, the shops help you find a lot of unusual ingredients if you like cooking at home.
Anywhere you go around the city centre you will find beautiful arcades that hide authentic shops and places to eat. The design of this arcades is unique and different for every one of them, and the best part is that the shops and pubs are not big chains, but small businesses that you can’t find on the high street.
The Council House situated in Victoria Square is the focal point of Birmingham’s city centre. The building is designed in a Victorian Gothic style, with the statue of Queen Victoria standing just in front. The whole place is rich in architecture, and it shows the character of the old Birmingham before all the new buildings started to appear everywhere around. I love to see the old side of Birmingham before they began to build all the new companies around and I think Victoria Square and Gas Street Basin are the best places to see the character of the city.
If you are into culture or art, this is the place to get lost for a couple of hours. The Museum has a lot of expositions from the Pre-Raphaelites, the Staffordshire Hoard, the history of Birmingham, to different objects and arts from cultures like the Greek, Romans and Ancient Egypt. I would definitely recommend after your visit, to stop for a coffee or tea in the Edwardian Tearooms, the design is so impressive and authentic, sometimes it’s even hard to find an empty table.
One of the good things about Birmingham is that you can find a lot of things to see in a walking distance, like The Library of Birmingham. The Library was recently built, it has a stunning and modern design and even a better view of the city when you go on top, on one of the terraces.
8. The canals
I know it’s not a proper attraction, but did you know that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice? The best part is that you can have a stroll around the city centre on the side of the canals, it’s full of history (the old buildings in the city centre) and fun (you will find everywhere pubs and clubs, boat trips and people having fun). It is definitely one of the best places for holiday photos!
National Sea Life Centre is a big aquarium with 60 displays, situated in Brindley place, an area with pubs and restaurant. It is a lovely place to spend time, especially with the family, I am sure the children will absolutely love the place. They also offer different experiences all year round.
The Jewellery Quarter is heaven for jewellery lovers, either shoppers or creators, with a lot of shops with high-quality jewellery and an old look of the streets and buildings that keeps the character of the city. You can also find in this area the Jewellery Museum and the Pen Museum.
11. Aston hall
Aston Hall is a top-rated attraction in Birmingham, because of the style that it has, created in Jacobean style, rich in culture and history. The house now features period rooms with stunning furniture, recreated interiors and paintings from Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. It is also surrounded by a big park perfect for a stroll after visiting the main attraction and a lot of great spots for taking perfect photos.
If you love flowers and nature as much as I do, this is the best place to visit in Birmingham. They offer stunning glasshouses showing tropical rainforest to arid desert, playground, tearoom and garden gift shop all surrounded by some of the most beautiful gardens in the UK.
13. Canon Hill Park
This is my personal favourite park in Birmingham, for two reasons: 1. It is stunning, especially in the spring-summer season, when it’s full of flowers, and 2. You can find anything you want in one park, from a small pond where you can take boat trips, to places to play different sports, to the MAC (Midlands Art Centre hosting theatre, dance, music and comedy performances, plus cinema and workshops) and the small coffee shop inside.
14. Cadbury World
Located in Bournville, at the Victorian Chocolate factory, it is half an hour from the city centre, but the experience is worth the time. Chocolate? I mean, to be honest now, who doesn’t like chocolate? The tour is very informative and interactive, and you get to taste a lot of chocolate. Book a tour of the chocolate factory and enjoy some free chocolate and a crazy experience. Even if it’s basically designed for children, me and my friends enjoyed it more than the kids there! It’s easier if you book your tickets in advance and you have guaranteed entry.
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(if you spend more than 2-3 days in Birmingham, I have some extras just for you):
1. Black Country living museum - an open-air museum of rebuilt historic buildings in Dudley.
2. Thinktank museum – a science museum located in the Millennium Point, offering ten galleries of historical artefacts, modern interactive and fantastic futuristic facts
3. Dudley Castle and zoo – Itis an great place to spend the day, having to go through a zoo to get to the Castle and the view is forth the trip
4. Wildlife Conservation – a place with a unique collection of animals from across the world, including Red Pandas, lemurs, reptiles, meerkats, otters, birds, wallabies and a large collection of monkeys.
5. Kingsbury water park – just outside of Birmingham, this water park has 15 lakes in the park, and it’s renowned for its birdlife, and it’s very popular between bird watchers.
6. English heritage – Follow the English Heritage around the West Midlands for beautiful gardens and fairy-tale castles, spectacular ruins and Roman cities.
7. Edgbaston Reservoir – It is a beautiful park with great views for a walk but also, the reservoir is used for leisure activities including sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking and rowing.
There are a lot more interesting places in the city, but these are my favourites, and I thought of sharing it with you. For most of the paid attractions I would definitely recommend booking the tickets in advance because, in the UK, it makes your life easier, by making sure you will get to see the place and not have to wait hours in cues.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of the guide, in the second part of the guide you can find information about accommodation, transport, eating, shopping and most instagrammable places in the city.