It was as the voted the top city in the World for a visit by Rough Guide (2015) and the New York Magazine (2013), it is the 4th most visited UK city by overseas visitors (behind London, Edinburgh and Manchester) and it is where I now call home.
In this, my first post of the “Best of Birmingham” series, I would like to tell you why you should visit this great city. So here goes, 5 reasons why you should visit Birmingham, straight from a local.
1. The Chocolate Factory
We have a real live chocolate factory! The Cadbury factory was opened in 1879 by the Cadbury brothers (George and Richard), and it still produces chocolates here today. Its visitor attraction “Cadbury World” is one of the most popular attractions in Birmingham, if not the UK.
Here you can learn about how chocolate was discovered by Aztecs and brought over to Europe by the Spaniards, how it became popular in Europe and the history of Cadbury. Whilst it is not a factory tour, you can get peek at the packing lines through the glass. There is also a chocolate making experience, a museum about the story of Cadbury and the Bournville and a 4-D cinema experience. Cadbury World is an attraction made with kids in mind. There’s a lot of interactive learning, play areas, and of course, plenty of chocolate. I’ve visited here more times than I can count and always come out feeling over-saturated with chocolate (if such a thing was possible!)
The factory is known for its philanthropic owners as much as for chocolate. George and Richard Cadbury developed a whole village entirely for their workers, so everyone could have a good standard of living. Today, the area is a sought after suburb of Birmingham, thanks to the Bournville Trust that works to preserve the area and its character. The leafy roads and parks here are always good for a nice walk if you want to burn off all the excess chocolate.
2. The Jewellery Quarter
We have a part of the city that is dedicated to making jewellery. The Jewellery Quarter is said to be Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery businesses, and is said to produce 40% of all the jewellery made in the UK. There was a decline of the jewellery trade in Birmingham in 20th century, but now the area is enjoying a well deserved regeneration thanks to investments. The quarter still well known for its jewellery shops, but also has a number of trendy eateries, pubs and bars.
It is still an excellent place to buy handmade jewellery, or commission something to celebrate that special occasion or in my case, get a broken clock fixed. There is also the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, which tells the story of jewellery production in Birmingham over the last 200 years as well as exploring the Jewellery Quarter as it is today.
So, next time you are in the market for that special gift or engagement ring, why not come to Birmingham for a weekend and browse the Jewellery Quarter?
If you are a culture vulture, Birmingham really packs a punch.
There’s the Birmingham Symphony Hall – a purpose built 2000 seat concert hall and home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It is widely considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the World.
The Library of Birmingham, opened in 2013 is the largest public library in the UK. Spanning 10 floors (including one underground) it houses over 800,000 books. But the building itself is an architectural marvel, with sweeping escalators, glass lifts, roof gardens and viewing galleries.
If you are a museum buff, there’s the Birmingham Museum and Art Galley, which could give Tate Britain a run for its money. It is currently home to the famous “Staffordshire Hoard”. If you want something less mainstream, there’s the museum of the Jewellery Quarter (see above), the Think Tank Science Museum, The Pen Museum (yes, a museum about pens), The Coffin Works (where you can see how Coffin furniture is made) and Birmingham Back to Backs (Birmingham’s last surviving Back to Back houses, now turned into a museum).
If you are a patron of the Theatre, then Birmingham offers up a host of big and small theatres – The Hippodrome, The New Alexandra Theatre and the Birmingham REP, to name a few.
What’s more, all these venues are within a few minutes walk from each other, so if you wanted, you could visit the Museum and Library in the morning, take a matinee performance at one of the theatres and catch a concert in the evening at the Symphony Hall. Think how cultured you will be by the end of that day!
4. Great food (and drink)
Name a cuisine and Birmingham will have a decent restaurant serving it. The city is rapidly developing a name for fine dining with 4 Michelin starred restaurants. But for me, the real draw is the number of reasonably priced eateries, offering both quality and variety. Ofcourse, Birmingham is synonymous with the famous Balti. If you are a fan of curry, then there is simply nowhere better in the country for it. The city centre houses several excellent Indian restaurants, but for a real authentic Brummie experience, you need to head to the Balti triangle.
And of course, for drinks, there’s also a lot of cosy pubs and bars, serving everything from gin to fine wines to ales. Read more about my favourite places to eat and drink in Birmingham.
Over the last 10 years, Birmingham has developed a name as a shopping mecca. There’s the Bullring – one of the largest shopping centres in Europe, The Grand Central (opened just over a year ago) – home to number of flagship stores outside of London, The Mailbox – if you are a fan of designer shops, and Resorts World (on the outskirts of Birmingham) – for outlet shopping.
Bonus reason: It’s easy to get to
Birmingham is right in the middle of the country and have excellent transport links to pretty much anywhere in the UK. You can get here by car, coach, bus, train, tram, plane and even canal! The centre of Birmingham is less than 2 hours by car from London, Manchester, Bristol, Sheffield, Cambridge and Shrewsbury. It’s serviced by two major railway stations (Birmingham New Street and Birmingham Moor Street) and has a rapidly expanding international airport.
So, why not break the journey here if you are going North to South or East to West or vice versa, and see what the city has in store for you?
So there it is. Why I think Birmingham is a great place to visit (and live of course!). I hope this will tempt you to visit our fair city. If you have questions or comments, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below or get in touch via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
About “Best of Birmingham”: I’ve lived in Birmingham for 16 years and proud to call this city home. I’ve been writing about far flung corners of the World so far, I thought its high time that I wrote about what’s right on my door step. Over this series of posts, I hope to explore more of my home city and share with you the best things that Birmingham has to offer.