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Birmingham

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Travel Guide Europe United Kingdom England West Midlands Birmingham

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Introduction

Birmingham Wheel

Birmingham Wheel

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Birmingham certainly isn't everyone's first choice as a tourist destination, and to an outsider it's easy to see why - a sprawling conurbation with a concrete centre. Diverse, lively and friendly, Brummies are proudly defensive of their city, and there are some nice patches, particularly away from the obvious centre.

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Neighbourhoods

The City of Birmingham metropolitan borough as it stands today encompasses a very large array of former towns and villages surrounding the original town of Birmingham, that have been incorporated into it over the years. Some of the more known districts and wards of Birmingham include Aston (home to the Aston Hall and Aston Villa football team) Edgbaston (where the main campus of University of Birmingham is located), Longbridge (with the MG factory) and Selly Oak (secondary campus and student town). The city centre of Birmingham officially falls into the ward of Ladywood, which itself has little to do with the actual centre. Other areas in the metropolitan borough include Perry Barr, Sutton Coldfield and Moseley.

The centre of Birmingham is confined by a motorway ringroad officially called A4540, also called the Middle Ring Road. There was also the Inner Ring Road, or rod 4400, which was viewed as an urban planning failure and parts of it were dismantled and redeveloped. The extant part is now road A38 and runs across the city centre, partially underground. The very central point of Birmingham is arguably marked by the huge New Street railway station, with tracks leading to it bisecting the centre. Next to the New Street station is the huge Bullring shopping centre, which is also an orientation beacon and leads up all the way to another railway station called Moor Street.

The Birmingham city centre can be divided into several areas of different characteristics:

  • Core City Centre - extends northwestwards of the New Street station, inside the confines of the A38 and includes much of the surviving pre-war historic buildings of Birmingham, a number of important institutions and the historically prime addresses such as New Street or Colmore Row
  • Westside - extend southwest of New Street and beyond the former Inner Ringroad, and includes much of the remaining canals in central Birmingham. Alongside them much new development took place in recent decades, including civic buildings such as the International Congress Centre or Library of Birmingham, as well as multi-functional commercial projects such as Brindleyplace or The Mailbox
  • Eastside - the area southeastwards of the New Street station, or more precisely behind the nearby Moor Street station. This formerly industrial area which included the long-disused Curzon Station as well now contains large swathes of unused, cleared land that undergoes redevelopment as parts of large urban planning projects. Some of them are already finished, but many are still to commence, giving this part of town a modern yet unfinished appearance
  • Southside - the part southeast of New Street station retains a more traditional ambiance with small buildings along narrow streets. Parts of it are occupied by Birmingham's Gay Village and Chinese Quarter.
  • Deritend and Digbeth - the area directly eastwards of the Bullring centre contains much industrial and pre-industrial architectural heritage, and it has become a hub for everything creative and a rather pleasant area, which also includes Birmingham's Irish Quarter.
  • Jewellery Quarter - true to its name, workshops in the quarter still produce 40% of UK's jewellery, and it includes the country's largest Assay Office. As such, it retained its 19th century appearance lost by other industrial parts of Birmingham and became a tourist attraction itself.
  • Gun Quarter - north of Jewellery Quarter and for decades known for firearms manufacturing, but now not seeing much commercial or municipal interest and of little interest to tourists as well.
  • Moseley is a suburb- Much of Moseley Village dates from Victorian times and is a conservation area. There is also a dovecote which pre-dates this at Moseley Hall hospital, on Alcester Road. It is occasionally open to the public on certain Sundays during the year. Take the number 50 bus from the city centre - it goes straight down Moseley Road (A435) to Moseley village. The journey takes about 15 minutes. Alternatively, take the number 1 or 35 buses which stop by Cannon Hill Park Gooch Street

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Sights and Activities

Birmingham doesn't have a reputation for being especially picturesque, but there is a lot of interesting architecture in the city centre that the shops and crowds sometimes obscure. For such a (relatively) large population centre, the countryside (in the form of country parks) is surprisingly close.

  • Aston Hall
  • Barber Institute of Fine Arts
  • Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
  • Royal Birmingham Society of Artists
  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
  • Birmingham Botanical Gardens & Glasshouses
  • Birmingham Cathedral

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Events and Festivals

Halloween

Now a similar celebration to the ones held in the US, Halloween is the perfect excuse to dress up as anything and everything and act out your childhood fantasies. Plenty of establishments throw costume parties and you are bound to see more than your fair share of drunken zombies crawling through the streets until the early hours of the night, throwing inhibition to the wind.

Guy Fawkes Night

Strangely enough, the English festival on November 5 celebrates the failed attempts of terrorist Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament in 1605. Each year, impressive bonfires are constructed in public arenas and traditionally burn effigies of Fawkes on top. Huge firework displays can be seen throughout the country in park areas and backyards alike.

New Year’s Eve

One of the calendar’s most fun loving evenings sees English people spilling out of pubs, clubs, and house parties on every street corner as they celebrate the past 12 months and welcome in a new year. London, in particular, is a great place to spend the evening, counting down the remaining seconds of the year outside the capital’s famous clock tower, Big Ben.

May Day

For centuries, May Day has been celebrated in England on the first of the month. While not quite as popular as they once were, the festivities today are locally-orientated and centred around the symbolic Maypole, and includes Morris dancing and the crowning of a May Queen. The festival is thought to date back to the pagan beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons.

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Weather

Birmingham has a temperate maritime climate, like much of the British Isles, with average maximum temperatures in summer (July) being around 21.3 °C; and in winter (January) around 6.7 °C. Between 1971 and 2000 the warmest day of the year on average was 28.8 °C and the coldest night typically fell to -9.0 °C. Some 11.2 days each year rose to a temperature of 25.1 °C or above and 51.6 nights reported an air frost. The highest recorded temperature, set during August 1990, was 34.9 °C.

Like most other large cities, Birmingham has a considerable urban heat island effect. During the coldest night recorded, 14 January 1982, the temperature fell to -20.8 °C at Birmingham Airport on the city's eastern edge, but just -12.9 °C at Edgbaston, near the city centre.

Birmingham is a snowy city relative to other large UK conurbations, due to its inland location and comparatively high elevation. Between 1961 and 1990 Birmingham Airport averaged 13.0 days of snow lying annually, compared to 5.33 at London Heathrow. Snow showers often pass through the city via the Cheshire gap on north westerly airstreams, but can also come off the North Sea from north easterly airstreams.

Extreme weather is rare but the city has been known to experience tornados - the most recent being in July 2005 in the south of the city, damaging homes and businesses in the area.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max6 °C6.2 °C8.9 °C11.9 °C15.3 °C18.8 °C20.6 °C20.1 °C17.6 °C13.8 °C9.2 °C7.1 °C
Avg Min0.3 °C0.1 °C1.5 °C3.3 °C6 °C9.2 °C11.1 °C10.8 °C8.8 °C6.2 °C2.9 °C1.3 °C
Rainfall56 mm48 mm52 mm48 mm55 mm57 mm47 mm67 mm54 mm53 mm59 mm66 mm
Rain Days16.712.815.914.115.212.611.713.512.413.415.515.7

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Getting There

By Plane

Birmingham International Airport (BHX) is located about 6 miles (10 kilometres) southeast of Birmingham and, after several airports in London and Manchester Airport, is one of the busiest airports in the UK.

To/from the airport

  • Rail: Birmingham International station is on the West Coast Main Line between Birmingham and London. London Midland and Virgin Trains operate from Birmingham New Street station to Birmingham International station approximately every ten minutes, with a journey time of around ten minutes. There are up to two services per hour to and from London Euston, the journey time being around 70 minutes.
  • Bus: National Express West Midlands has many buses calling at Birmingham Airport, with the main ones being the 900 to Birmingham city centre and Coventry, and the 966 to Erdington and Solihull. Other smaller operators also call at the airport. Bus stops are situated outside Terminal One. National Express Coaches operate various long distance coaches calling at Birmingham Airport on the way to or from Birmingham Coach Station, such as the 777 and the 422.
  • Car: Birmingham Airport is accessible from the north and south via Junction Six of the M42 motorway. From Birmingham city centre, the A45 runs directly to the airport. Taxis and rental cars are widely available at the airport.

By Train

All areas of Britain are well-served, with half-hourly services (M-Sa daytime) from Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield and stations in between.

By Car

Birmingham is well sign-posted and surrounded by motorways; the M42, the M5, and the M6 which includes the infamous Spaghetti Junction (Gravelly Hill Interchange). The M5 will take you to the south-west, either the M42 then M40 or the M6 then M1 will take you to London and the south-east. In the other direction the M1 will take you to Leeds and the north-east. The M6 will also take you towards the north-west, Manchester and Scotland, or, via the M54, to north Wales.

By Bus

There are half-hourly (or more frequent) services from London, and services from most major cities (including Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Oxford and Sheffield) every two hours.

By Boat

Due to its industrial heritage, Birmingham has an extensive canal network and is on both the "Worcester & Birmingham" and "Grand Union" canals. Visitors travelling by narrowboat can choose from several tourist moorings, managed privately or by Canal & River Trust. Although the moorings are very busy in spring and summer, call ahead for availability.

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Getting Around

By Car

Birmingham's city centre is partially pedestrianised and has several unintuitive one-way systems. A car is a viable way of getting around the city and other areas, but a good map or sat-nav is essential.

Birmingham City Council produces a map of city centre car parks (available from tourist information offices). Expect to pay £1-1.50 per hour in Pay & Display areas and more on street meters. Parking attendants patrol popular areas regularly, so expect a fine if you return late or a clamp if you're parked illegally.

Car hire is possible both in the city centre and at the airport.

By Public Transport

Bus, Train and Metro all come under the authority of Network West Midlands (Part of Centro, the PTE of Birmingham and surrounding area), their website is the best source for all information required on public transport in the region.

All areas of Birmingham are well-served by bus routes, operated almost exclusively by National Express West Midlands (NXWM) with some competition from smaller providers, notably Diamond Buses.

There is no central bus station for local services. Buses depart instead from one or more of five interchanges in the city centre (principally Bull Street/Priory Queensway, Snow Hill, Moor Street, Paradise Circus and New Street). Bus stop maps are available from libraries, tourist information offices and the Network West Midlands (NWM) office at New Street Station.

There is an extensive overland rail network serving most of Birmingham and the West Midlands area, operated mainly by London Midland.

Birmingham has a single tram line, the Midland Metro, running between Bull Street and Wolverhampton, via the Jewellery Quarter, West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Bilston. Plans are afoot to extend the service to Five Ways, via the City Centre and along Broad Street.

The Metro runs from roughly 6:30am–11:30pm Monday-Saturday, and 8:00am-11:00pm Sundays and bank holidays. Fares vary with distance, but expect to pay around £2 for a single, £3.50 for a return and £4.50 for a day pass (combined bus/train/Metro passes are also available). Full route, timetable and fare information is listed on the Midland Metro website, and there is additional information on the NWM website.

Water buses and taxis operate out of the canal offices in Gas Street Basin (underneath Broad Street). They also provide tours of the area. Obviously, they are limited to the local canals and are significantly slower than other forms of transport.

By Foot

Birmingham's City Centre is partially pedestrianised, and most things to see and do can be reached on foot. Birmingham walking directions can be planned online with the walkit.com walking route planner.

Visitors would enjoy the delightful walk from the International Convention Centre (ICC) and the Symphony Hall on the top of Broad Street to the Bull Ring shopping complex, which takes around twenty minutes and may involve only one easy surface road-crossing. From the ICC, you walk east by the Repertory Theatre and Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square; then through the Paradise Forum to Chamberlain Square; with the Museum and Art Gallery to your left and the Class I listed building, the Town Hall, on your right, you make your way to the spacious Victoria Square. At Victoria Square, you will find the Town Hall to the west, the Council Offices to the north, and the Post Office to the South; the path you want to the Bull Ring is east, down New Street, which is a pedestrianized street lined with shops, stores, and kiosks. About five blocks down New Street, you will come to a signal at Corporation Street, the only road crossing you need to make on this walk. A few blocks later, New Street will turn into Rotunda Square. Bearing south towards St. Martin's Church, you will find the 21st-century Bull Ring Shopping Complex to your left and right.

Birmingham has a large canal network. In the city centre, extensive development has enhanced the environment and level of amenities around these canals, making them excellent pedestrian routes in their own right. Visitors would enjoy the peaceful ten-minute car-free canal stroll from Brindleyplace, National Sea Life Centre, and Sherborne Wharf, all next to the ICC, eastward under Broad Street, through the Gas Street Basin, to The Mailbox (the former Royal Mail's Birmingham head office turned into shops and restaurants).

Other walks in the City Centre include the wheelchair accessible summer Floral trail from The Mailbox to St Paul's Square, which in turn is the beginning point of another walk, the historic Jewellery Quarter in Bloom trail, where one can visit the Chamberlain Clock or St Paul's Church.

By Bike

Birmingham City Council produces an excellent cycling and walking map of the area. You can pick one up from any local library, tourist information office, leisure centre or bike shop.

Birmingham is not a particularly cycle-friendly city, especially when compared to the rest of Europe, but it is possible to get around without too much trouble. There are plenty of places to lock a bike up in the city centre, but few cycle lanes and lots of pedestrians. Unless you are touring the UK, the best use for a bike in Birmingham is to explore the extensive local canal network, such as the canal trail leading to the historic New Smethwick Pumping Station.

Road and cycle path maintenance in the area is far from perfect, and it is not uncommon for trees and parked cars to obstruct the right-of-way. The standard of driving is as bad as in other cities, so exercise extreme caution on main roads and at night. The canal network can be accessed in the city centre from the Broad Street/Gas Street area, or at most road crossings elsewhere. The towpath is generally well-maintained to within a few miles of the city, and after that tends to be packed earth with plenty of mud and embedded bricks. A permit from British Waterways (free) is needed for towpath cycling.

The Sustrans National Cycle Network Route 5 (Oxford to Derby) passes through Birmingham from the south to the northwest. The local stretch is known as the Rea Valley Route, there is also the Cole Valley Route to the east.

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Eat

Birmingham is the balti capital of England, as the balti was invented here in 1977. The much-promoted "balti triangle" covers around 50 restaurants on Ladypool Road and Stratford Road in Sparkbrook (often referred to as Little Somalia), about 3 kilometres south of the city centre. Travel West Midlands has a deal with eight of the larger eateries whereby you can get a 15% discount for travelling by bus, pick up a Balti Triangle by Bus leaflet for full details. A taxi to the area will take around 10 minutes and cost £5. Although the area looks a bit run-down, there is little crime as the abundance of restaurants ensure that the streets are always busy.

Birmingham has a large student population, and the usual cottage industries have sprung up in campus areas to cater for their lack of cash. There are around a dozen cheap eateries in the Selly Oak area of Bristol Road, mainly Indian but also Chinese, Italian and English.

The usual fast food chains, kebab shops and burger vans are also scattered around the city and surrounding areas.

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Drink

If you are looking for the average drink, virtually any pub or bar will do. If you are a real ale aficionado, there are several excellent pubs to visit, where dress restrictions do not usually apply. Highlights include The Wellington (Bennets Hill), The Shakeseare (Summer Row), another The Shakeseare (Lower Temple Street), The Old Contemptables (Edmund Street, near Snow Hill Station), and the Post Office Vaults (New Street).

In the middle of Birmingham's rather small Chinatown, this is an open at the centre shopping arcade which is mostly used by Chinese super markets and restaurants. Right in the middle though, its all bars. It tends to be a bit quieter and less rowdy that broad street and has some of the better clubs in the city. The dress code around here is extremely strict in regard to logos on clothes, they are a definite no!

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Work

The vast number of shops, bars and restaurants in the city centre means that there is rarely a shortage of menial job vacancies. You will often see positions for minimum wage service or retail positions advertised in windows. There are also a lot of temping agencies able to find temporary office, driving and other jobs for travellers packing suits and CVs.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet cafés can be found in many cities and towns. All UK public libraries provide access, often branded as "People's Network", usually at no or little charge, though there is usually a time limit. Some hotels/hostels also offer internet access, including wifi, but most times at a cost. Using the internet on your personal phone can become expensive very quickly, with carriers charging 100's of times the local rate for data. To avoid these expensive roaming charges, you can hunt for wifi at a local cafe or hotel, or rent a mobile hotspot via several providers including DATAPiXY, and XCOM Global.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country calling code to the United Kingdom is: 44. To make an international call from the United Kingdom, the code is: 00

In case of emergency, call 999 or 112 from any phone. Such calls are free and will be answered by an emergency services operator who will ask you for your location, and the service(s) you need (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard or mountain rescue). You can call this number from any mobile telephone as well, even if you do not have roaming.

Although the number is declining, you can still find payphones in many public areas, especially stations, airports etc. You can usually pay with cash and sometimes by creditcard or, for international calls, special phonecards are still available.

Mobile phones are heavily used. The main networks are T-Mobile, Vodafone, Orange and O2. 3G data services are available, usually priced per megabyte and coverage is usually very good in the UK, however it may lack in rural areas. Roaming on your personal phone plan can be expensive. To manage costs, consider purchasing a local UK SIM card for your phone. Several companies offer local SIM cards including Telestial, and CellularAbroad.

Post

The Royal Mail provides postal services in the United Kingdom. The Royal Mail's store fronts are called Post Office and offer services ranging from sending letters and packages to foreign currency exchange. Use the branch locator to find the nearest Post Office branch. There will be at least one post office in any town/city and there are quite often post offices in larger villages. It's common for a post office to be incorporated into a grocery store, where there will be a small counter located at the back of the store for dealing with post related matters. All post offices are marked with signs that say 'post office' in red lettering. Post boxes can be found at any post office and standalone large red post boxes on the streets or red boxes in the sides of public buildings.
For sending packages overseas, it might be a good idea to check prices and services with international companies like TNT, UPS or DHL.

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Quick Facts

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County
West Midlands
Post Code
B
Dial Code
0121
Coordinates
  • Latitude: 52.483003
  • Longitude: -1.89356

Accommodation in Birmingham

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