Birmingham Guide

In its humble beginnings, Birmingham was a 6th century farming hamlet located on the banks of the River Rea. The first record of the twon was in the Domesday Book of 1086, when it was a village worth a mere 20 shillings. By the 12th century the city started down its path to success. It was given a royal charter to house a market, which is still known today as the Bull Ring. It became a major market town and supplier of iron ore and coal. Its natural resources allowed it to become established in the metalworking industry. In the 17th century it was renowned for its small arms and by the time the Industrial Revolution rolled around, Birmingham was the place to be. The city continued to flourish until it suffered massive damages during the “Birmingham Blitz” of World War II. The city was largely redeveloped in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Today the town is a cultural melting pot. Thanks to the many ethnicities found here, there are many diverse places of interest which has lead Birmingham to become a tourist hotspot.

When to go

Birmingham has what is known as a temperate maritime climate. It averages about 6°C (43°F) in January and doesn’t go much higher than 20.6°C (69°F) in July. It doesn’t experience extremes although occasional tornadoes and summer heat waves have been increasing in frequency in recently. While the surrounding suburbs do experience a quite a bit of snow and frigid winter temps, the city itself is largely effected by the urban heat island, meaning its temps are significantly higher than surrounding areas.

Since Birmingham has over 3,200 ha (8,000 acres) of open space, some would consider the spring months the best times to go, when the parks are in full bloom. There are also countless events from May through August; just another reason to go when the weather warms up.

Getting there

The best way to reach Birmingham is via the Birmingham International Airport. It offers dozens of direct flights from every major European city and also has an exotic flight or two from the likes of New York City, Toronto, Dubai and Delhi.

The airport train takes travelers to the New Street Station in Birmingham roughly every 10 minutes. It opens at 6:15am and closed at 11:15pm. Since the airport is 8 kilometers from center city, the ride is about 10 – 20 minutes long and costs £3 each way.

The bus service 900 goes approximately every half hour to Birmingham and Coventry from 6:10am – midnight. The trip takes roughly 25 minutes and costs £1.50 each way.

Taxis are abundant at the airport and will take you wherever you need to go in the city. A taxi ride is about 20 minutes and will cost £20.

Birmingham plays a major part in Britain’s rail network. It has regular half hour trips from Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield from its three stations at New Street, Snow Hill and Moor Street.

Coaches services come around nearly every half an hour from London and other major cities mentioned above every two hours. The main coach station is Digbeth Coach Station on Oxford Street. Megabus services London only while National Express goes to all major cities.

Birmingham is surrounded by motorways, the most universal of which is M42. From the north, south, and west commuters should use the A-roads. From the east use the M6.

Getting around

Birmingham is well connected by train. There are stops at Moor Street, Snow Hill and the Jewelry Quarter among a handful of others.

Several bus companies have laid claim to the city including the National Express West Midlands, Pete’s Travel and Birmingham Coach Company. There is no real main station. Buses merely stop at locations throughout including Bull Street, Colmore Row, Corporation Street and Stephenston Street. Maps are available at libraries, tourist information areas and the Network West Midlands office at the New Street Station. Most single fares cost £1.50 while a day-saver pass can be bought for £3.

The city is also semi-bike friendly. There are plenty of places to lock bikes and with a little luck, it makes commuting a whole lot quicker than waiting in traffic. Bikes are recommended for the canal network, parks and countryside in particular.

There are a handful of car parks around the city, although it is not particularly driver friendly. The cost is usually £1.50. Rental cars can also be sought out at Avis, Budget, Enterprise, and Hertz locations around the city.

Taxis are also all over the city and make frequent stops at the New Street Station. Be prepared, on weekends there is usually a taxi shortage, especially in booming areas like Broad street. Some of the more popular services are Sky Radio, Birmingham Taxi Co-Operative, Castle Cars and Elite Radio Cars.

Birmingham also has a solo metro line that runs from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton. It runs from 6:30am – 11:30pm and costs about £2 for a single ride or £4.50 for a day pass.

Because of the canals, water buses and taxis can be found in the Gas Street Basin underneath Broad Street. Prices vary on where you want to go.

Event calendar

January – Boat Show: Following December’s local boat parade, the boat show hosts an international crowd that brings the latest in boats, fishing gear, guides and other similar items. The show goes from January through February and each day a different prize is given away. The boat show is held at the BJCC Arena. Hours run Wednesday and Thursday from 4:00pm – 9:30pm, Friday and Saturday from 12:00pm – 10:00pm, and Sunday until 5:00pm. Admission is £9 for adults. Children 13 and under are free with adult accompaniment.

February – The French Property Exhibition: How many of us have dreamed of living the rustic life in a Provence lavender field? Apparently thousands since that many and then some flock to the French Property Exhibition that is held annually at the NEC. The event prepares those who want to take the leap and helps set them up with realtors, moving companies, local banks, and more.

March – Crufts: Over 20,000 of the world’s prime canines come to the NEC to see who is the fairest dog of them all. There are hundreds of stalls featuring exhibits, art, celebrity speakers, and doggie demonstrations. Crufts is open from 8:15am – 7:30pm. Admission varies.

April – ONB Magic City Art Connection: Linn Park transforms into a colossal art gallery each spring. A large variety of works is available with the main point of inspiring the local Birmingham art community. There are also judged competitions, music, stalls, food, an Imagination Festival geared towards children, lectures, and workshops. The fair opens from 10:00am – 6:00pm. Admission is free.

May - Do Dah Day Festival: Held in the historic Caldwell and Rhodes Park, this free parade and outdoor music festival attractions about 40,000 people each year. All proceeds go to the greater good; the Greater Birmingham Humane Society and the Emergency Animal Rescue Service.

June - Summer BBC Good Food Festival: Like the name implies celebrity chefs from Europe come to display the best they have to offer. It is the only festival of its kind in Birmingham, dedicated solely to food and drink and more than 250 stalls will be displayed. The Good Food fest is held at the National Exhibition Center (NEC) from 9:30am – 5:30pm on June 11 each year. Admission varies.

July – Street Life Show: The Street Life Show discovers what’s hot and what’s not in Birmingham. It targets a young, urban audience who pulls out all the stops in street cars, music, and dance. The show is held the first weekend of July annually from 10:00am – 6:00pm. Admission varies.

August – Birmingham Carnival: This annual August fete starts at Oxhill Road and winds its way to the after party in Perry Park. Music and plenty of fireworks go off well into evening hours. The parade starts at 12:30pm and the park party ends at 9:00pm, though many spectators then crowd nearby bars to continue the celebration. Admission is free.

September – The Evening Mail Comedy Festival: Though this festival is relatively new, each year it continues to gain momentum while bringing along new talent as well as recognizable faces. The laughter roars at different venues throughout the month. Admission varies.

October – Bluff Park Art Show: Almost at its bicentennial birthday, the art show has grown into a legendary event for local artists. There is a colossal art show, market, children’s area, music and food court. The show takes place at Bluff Park from 9:00am – 5:00pm. Admission is free.

November – Bonfire Night: In celebration of Guy Fawkes Night, two massive fireworks displays take place on November 3 and 4 each year. Afterwards a bonfire is lit at Pype Hayes Park that brings in nearly 30,000 people. Both displays are £3.50, children £2.50 and a family pack is £12. The first display on November 3 is at Pype Hayes at 5:00pm, while the second is at Alexander Stadium at 5:15pm, 7:15pm, and again at 9:15pm.

December - Broad Street Canal Boat Light Parade: The city’s central most canal lights up from NIA to the Mailbox while beautifully decorated boats float past bystanders. Many local businesses including the Girl Guides, theatres and restaurants sponsor a boat each year. The parade kicks off at 5:30pm. Admission is free.

Attractions and things to do

Birmingham has endless things to see. There are about a dozen or so excellent museums and galleries including Aston Hall, Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Cadbury World, IKON Gallery, Sarehole Mill, Soho House and the newest, Thinktank.

The city also has plenty of green space, over 3,200 ha of it in fact! The many parks include the Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses, Nature Center, Cannon Hill Park, Lickey Hills Country Park, National Sea Life Centre, RSPB Sandwell Valley, Sutton Park and Woodgate Valley Country Park.

And because of the broad heritages that make up the city culture, there are plenty of religious buildings to see including the Buddhist Centre, Central Mosque, Central Synagogue, Peace Pagoda, Sikh Temple, St. Chad’s Cathedral, St. Philip’s Cathedral and the Shree Geeta Bhawan.

If your more into sports, not a problem. Villa Park, St. Andrews, Edgbaston Cricket Ground, and Alexander Stadium are just one of the many places you can exercise or take in a game or two.

Shopping

Birmingham has really come into its own shopping wise. The ancient Bull Ring is the largest shopping center that is surrounded by smaller ones including the Pavillions, The Mailbox and the Pallasades. Most of these and other good shopping are located on New Street, High Street and Corporation Street.

The Farmer’s Market is also on New Street and is held the first and third Wednesday’s of the month.

Restaurants

Birmingham has a large student population that has little budget with hungry stomachs. Therefore there are plenty of budget and mid-range eateries to be found here that cost anywhere from £1 – £20. Try Café One, Canalside Café, Edwardian Team Room, Mr. Egg, Big Wok, Café IKON, Café Soya, Chung Ying Garden, Hudson’s, Pasta di Piazza, The Green Room, V2 and Wagamama.

If you’ve got money to spare try these gastronomical delights that cost from £15 - £60: Aria, Metro Bar & Grill, Opus, and the Jam House.

Theatre / Entertainment

There are countless cinemas and theatres like the Electric Cinema, Midlands Art Center, IMAX, AMC, Cineworld, Odeon, Vue, Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Crescent Theatre, Old Rep Theatre and Repertory Theatre. Cinemas cost about £5.50 on average while a theatre performance will be anywhere from £3 - £50.

A majority of major events are hosted at the National Exhibition Centre, national Indoor Arena, NEC Arena and the International Convention center. Prices range from no admission to about £50 depending on the event.

Nightlife

The music and nightlife is as vivacious and mixed as the people. Nearly any night of the week, there is bound to be something going on somewhere in Birmingham.

Some favorite rock and indie clubs include Barfly, Carling Academy, Flapper and Firkin, and The Jug of Ale. Admission is about £6 - £20 depending on the act.

Modern and chamber music is often staged weekly at the CBSO Centre and costs about £5 - £12. A handful of classic shows go off at Symphony Hall each week for about £5.

There are also plenty of clubs and bars to discover. Be warned that dress codes vary so where a hat is fine for one, you can be turned away at the door by another. Try to put a little bit off effort and comb your hair, put away your t-shirts and put on a nice pair of shoes. You should be reasonably dressed for almost any venue if you follow these rules.

The city Centre has many bars including favorites like Bull, Figure of Eight, Old Fox, Old Royal and Wetherspoon’s. Arcadian, which is also known as Chinatown, has the “seen and be seen” club Bamboo in its region. Broad Street is the biggest party street and abounds with club-goers to bars like Revolution, The Works, The Pitcher and Piano and the Prince of Wales. Digbeth hosts many Irish pubs if you’re looking for a rowdy time including Anchor, Woodman and the Medicine Bar. Hurst Street has a lively gay scene, while St. Paul’s Square is a more upscale place to be and holds The Jam House, the best jazz club in town.

 

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