10 reasons to visit Birmingham, Britain's second city

Mar 09, 22
10 reasons to visit Birmingham, Britain's second city

TinyMart is sharing this content, the original was posted on Lonely Planet by  James March 7 February 2019, Lonely Planet Writer So please click here to go there
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Birmingham has never been a city to show off, despite its fascinating history, unique architecture and arguably the finest gastronomy in the UK outside of London. With a new high-speed rail connection and the Commonwealth Games on the horizon, its modesty is being put to the test as Britain’s second city becomes a place that gets better and better. Here are 10 reasons to visit it now.

The soaring roof of Grand Central, Birmingham
Grand Central shopping and transport hub is a suitably impressive welcome to Birmingham © James March / Lonely Planet

Grand Central

Birmingham is constantly evolving, and perhaps no experience exemplifies that more than standing on the upper floor of Grand Central looking out into the vast atrium of New Street Station as the world rushes on below. What was a tired, grim train station has gone through a remarkable £600 million facelift over five years to become a major transport and shopping hub with over 60 outlets in a grandiose space that is bathed in natural light from above. As distinctive from the outside as it is inside, it’s the place that many people first see when they arrive in the city and acts as a great introduction to Birmingham.

A work station in the Jewellery Quarter Museum, Birmingham.
Learn about Birmingham's industrial past at the Jewellery Quarter Museum © James March / Lonely Planet

Jewellery Quarter Museum

Birmingham was known as ‘the city of a thousand trades’ during the Industrial Revolution, and its Jewellery Quarter was a prominent manufacturing hub. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is a wonderful time capsule, an immaculately preserved workshop that is a visceral manifestation of what life was like for the employees who toiled away for years in gruelling conditions so their creations could be sold around the world. Its remarkable story and live demonstrations make it a special place to learn about how Birmingham came to be the city it is today.

An 18th-century church stands at the centre of St Paul's Squre.
Peaceful, pretty St Paul's Square is a tranquil spot in the centre of Birmingham © James March / Lonely Planet

St Paul’s Square

Also in the Jewellery Quarter, just a short walk from the bustle of the city centre, this secluded Georgian square provides one of Birmingham’s most elegant settings. It’s surrounded on all four sides by tree-lined streets featuring wine bars, cafes and gin parlours, and has the handsome St Paul’s Church residing in the centre. The rolling lawns become a hive of gentle activity in the summer months.

Roadside sign promoting Digbeth Dining Club's street food market.
Follow the sign for some international street food delights © James March / Lonely Planet

Digbeth Dining Club

Birmingham boasts four Michelin Star restaurants, but really its gastronomic epicentre is the Digbeth Dining Club, an award-winning street food event that has been running regularly since 2012. It takes place every weekend underneath the stately Victorian railway arches of Lower Trinity Street in Digbeth, a cultural hotspot just south of the city centre. Birmingham’s independent food scene is something locals have become fiercely proud of, and here dozens of stalls showcase some of the most creative dishes the region has to offer amid a busy, hedonistic atmosphere soundtracked by live bands and DJs.

Wooden hallway at Aston Hall.
If these floorboards in Aston Hall could talk, they'd have 400 years of stories to tell © James March / Lonely Planet

Aston Hall

Aston Hall is a beautiful curiosity; a 400-year-old Jacobean mansion with exquisitely manicured gardens located in a gritty inner-city suburb. Built originally as a status symbol for the enigmatic Sir Thomas Holte, it has welcomed the likes of Charles I and Queen Victoria as guests and was attacked during the English Civil War. It still bears cannonball-shaped scars on the main staircase. A museum since 1858, visitors today can enjoy strolling through the ornate rooms and majestic Long Gallery.

The exterior of The Electric cinema.
The historic, beautiful Electric cinema is a treat for movie fans © James March / Lonely Planet

The Electric Cinema

Historic charm is on display everywhere at The Electric, the UK’s oldest working cinema. Dating from 1909 and just a few steps from New Street Station, its charming Art Deco exterior is unmissable. The two auditoriums contain luxury sofas, have waiter service and are fully licensed. Christmas is a particular delight, with classic festive films and special theme nights accompanied by seasonal food and drink. There are plenty of cinemas in Birmingham, but there are none as iconic or alluring as this one.

A balti curry.
Birmingham's culinary pride and joy is the curry known as a balti © James March / Lonely Planet

The Balti Triangle

Birmingham’s food scene has broadened immeasurably in recent years with a staggering amount of choice available now to consumers, but there’s still one dish synonymous with the city: the balti. A type of curry cooked quickly with the freshest ingredients over a searing hot flame, it was developed by the local Pakistani community over forty years ago, and it’s only right that it should be eaten in its spiritual home to be truly appreciated. That home is the Balti Triangle, a frantic and friendly neighbourhood of shops and restaurants two miles south of the city, where Adil's was a pioneer of the scene, and is still a good option out of the many in the area.

The grounds of Cannon Hill Park.
Of Birmingham's many parks, Cannon Hill is one of the best © James March / Lonely Planet

Cannon Hill Park

Of the many green spaces in Birmingham (more than any other equivalent-sized European city), Cannon Hill Park is perhaps the most compelling, thanks to its lush setting and wide variety of things to do. Only two miles from the city centre, the park is home to an arts centre, a wildlife conservation park, tennis courts, crazy golf, a boating lake and much more. Throughout the summer, there are open-air cinema screenings as well as theatrical and musical performances in its quaint amphitheatre. Once the outdoor fun is over, the colourful bars and cafes of bohemian Moseley are only a short walk away.

The Art Deco entrance to the Barber Institue of Art.
Step inside the small but perfectly formed Barber Institute for some world-class art © James March / Lonely Planet

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is a small but hugely rewarding gallery housed in a splendid Art Deco building in the serene grounds of the University of Birmingham. Just a short train ride from the hum of the city, it boasts an impressive collection of work for its humble size, including pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Turner and Canaletto. It’s free to enter, and only a ten-minute walk from University train station.

Flowers and plants in the rooftop garden of Birmingham Library.
Birmingham's rooftop garden is a surprising, welcome retreat from the busy streets below © James March / Lonely PLanet

The Secret Garden – Library of Birmingham

Time matters little in the Secret Garden, a tranquil outdoor haven located on the seventh floor of the distinctive Library of Birmingham. Opened to great fanfare in 2013 to replace its now-demolished and unloved predecessor, the library has myriad reasons to visit, but the Secret Garden is perhaps the finest. This quiet green spot is a great place to bring a book on a warm day, high above the din and commotion of the city below. It also offers great views of Birmingham, a metropolis in flux, with a skyline that seemingly shoots new branches every passing year.

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