Destination UK: Why Not Choose… Birmingham?
Birmingham, the UK’s second-largest city, rose from the ashes again at the end of the Second World War. Discover the unique destiny of a dynamic and cosmopolitan city that was little more than a village in the Middle Ages.
Unexpected cultural and historical riches
Birmingham city centre is crammed with sites worth seeing or visiting. Start off in Victoria Square, where the unusual City Hall stands like a Roman temple, then go to Saint Philip's cathedral, the seat of the bishop of Birmingham.
The city is home to some unbelievable museums. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in Chamberlain Squares houses a huge collection of works from every period of history, from ancient Greece and Rome, to paintings by Canaletto, Turner, Hogarth, Constable and Rubens. Lovers of modern art should not miss the Ikon Gallery. In the Lapworth Museum of Geology on Birmingham University campus, you can admire some impressive collections of geological maps, minerals and fossilised animals. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts boasts a fine collection of western art, from the 13th century to modern times.
If you prefer wandering through grand shopping centres rather than art galleries, then Birmingham has plenty to offer. You will find all the leading brands in the Bullring, while the majestic Mailbox on the banks of a canal, is packed with luxury stores and bars. And if you’re looking for a lively quarter, full of trendy bars and where you can enjoy dinner on a terrace on the banks of the canal, then the Gas Street Basin is the right place for you.
And why not take a tour of the city on a barge while you’re there? You’ll be surprised to learn that Birmingham has more canals than Venice!
Two districts located on either side of the city centre are well worth a visit. The Jewellery Quarter in the north-west is the historical home of the city’s jewellery trade. You will find plenty of top-quality hand-made jewellery and you can also visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.
The atmosphere in Digbeth, to the east, is radically different, with its music, fashion, sculptures, paintings and street art .
If you have the time to leave the city centre, the Black Country Living Museum, with its authentic reproduction of a 19th century village, is well worth a visit. Another place of interest for history lovers is Blakesley Hall, which was built in 1590 and is one of the rare Tudor buildings still standing. The architecture of this wooden farm is typical of the period.
And if you’re looking for some nature, then head for the Lickeys, a chain of hills 18 km south-west of the city.
Top 10 Must-Sees
Saint Philip’s cathedral: built in 1715, the cathedral’s austere façade is brought to life by the exuberantly concave West Tower, topped by a dome and lantern, and the baroque West Door that combines a multitude of styles. The gigantic stained glass windows inside, painted by Burne-Jones, depict the nativity, the crucifixion, the ascension and the last judgement.
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: located in the heart of the city, this museum hosts the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world, plus numerous works illustrating world history. Don’t miss the Staffordshire Hoard, which is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found.
The Library of Birmingham: the Library of Birmingham, which moved into a brand new building in Centenary Square in 2013, cleverly combines the conventional role of a library with that of a museum, hosting works dating back to the 16th century. Don’t miss the room full of objects evoking the works of William Shakespeare.
Gas Street Basin: swans and ducks can be seen on the green waters of this basin, surrounded by restored 18th and 19th century houses. This former industrial district is now popular with walkers and is home to numerous restaurants and cafés.
The Ikon Gallery: this gallery, located in a reconstructed neo-Gothic school, is the nerve centre of Birmingham’s art scene, combining the passion of the avant-garde with a will to make modern art more accessible.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts: Botticelli, Degas, Van Gogh, Magritte, Manet, Monet, Rubens, Turner, Courbet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso... And many more! This museum hosts a unique collection of works by the great masters from all over Europe, from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Located on the Birmingham University campus, it is one of the finest art galleries in the region.
The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter: this museum, which is in a former jeweller’s workshop, reveals the secrets of the city’s former goldsmiths by retracing 200 years of history. And you can put your theoretical learnings into practice by making your own jewellery.
The Black Country Living Museum: this fascinating open-air museum is a genuine village that illustrates more than 300 years of the region’s history. You can even see the village baker demonstrating his trade. In the morning, he prepares and kneads the dough, and then he bakes the bread in the coal-fired ovens in the afternoon.
Birmingham Back to Backs: take a look at the city in 1840 and then fast-forward to the 1970s. The last remaining back-to-back houses from this period can be found in Inge Street and Hurst Street. A surprising trip back into the 19th century.
Sarehole Mill: one of the two remaining mills in Birmingham. Today, this mill has been made famous by J.R.R. Tolkien, who spent a part of his youth in the region. The writer drew inspiration from his childhood memories to create his Middle Earth in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Birmingham is famous for Cadbury’s chocolate (you can visit the museum), its HP Sauce, but mainly for its curries. Head for the Indian and Pakistani district in the Balti Triangle, where you can enjoy some of the best curries in the world! The curries are served in a steel bowl called a balti, and they come with a gigantic naan. Delicious!
March: The Midlands Whisky Festival
During this unique event, whiskey lovers and producers come together for tasting sessions, master classes, etc.
June: The Lord Mayor’s Show
One of the most popular local events that attracts thousands of people every year. The reigning Lord Mayor bids farewell, and the new Lord Mayor is introduced. The show is also an opportunity to collect funds for the Lord Mayor’s Charity.
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