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Birmingham, a bustling city in the middle of the English countryside, often competes with Manchester as England’s second city to London. Birmingham has its own quirks and charms, though, and is a must-see on any tourist agenda. Here are some suggestions on the best that Birmingham has to offer.
Did you know that Birmingham has more canals than Venice? A city at the heart of the industrial age, many canals were used for transportation in and out of the city. At the height of their era, canals covered more than 175 miles throughout the surrounding Birmingham countryside. Today 111 miles of the same canals are home to recreational boating and walkers. Check out this guide to Birmingham canals – it includes events information, maps, and other helpful recommendations. You will likely start and/or end your journey at the “central station” of the canal network, the Gas Street Basin. This street was the first in Birmingham to have gas lighting and in recent years has undergone a transformation to be one of the city’s social hot spots. Get a good view of the canals over one of the many footbridges, then tuck in for a meal at any of the plethora of pubs and restaurants, such as the Tap and Spile
Victoria Square is well over a hundred years old, named after Queen Victoria in 1901, just twelve days before her death. From a grassy slope to the site of a church to a busy traffic circle, the square has seen many stages of its life before becoming a pedestrian mecca. Completely remodeled back in 1993, now it is a favorite spot for most locals to sit and enjoy a day in the Birmingham sun. The square, flanked by the Town Hall (a concert venue) and the Council House (home to the city council); contains several major pieces of public art, including one of Europe’s largest water fountains, affectionately named ‘The Floozie in the Jacuzzi’. If you can tear yourself away from the scene, head around the corner to the Victoria Square Cafe for tasty fry-ups, teas, and coffees.
50 Pinfold Street
Tel: 121 643 1467
The arts are very well represented in Birmingham – world-class, in fact. From the Barber Institute to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to the modern art pieces at IKON, you’ll easily find a few collections to occupy an afternoon or two. As elsewhere in England, most galleries are free although there can be charges for special exhibitions. The architecture itself at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – particularly the Aston Hall, now 400 years old – is so stunning that the venue is often booked out for weddings and corporate functions. Birmingham is also well known in music circles – it is considered the birthplace of heavy metal music and in contrast, hosts the Birmingham Jazz Festival, the UK’s biggest jazz festival every July.
Birmingham is also the home to the much-beloved British brand, Cadbury’s Chocolate. You can explore their confectionary goodness at the company’s Cadbury World attraction. You’ll get free samples, naturally, during the tour but check out the rejects in the gift shop – nobody should turn down cheap and tasty chocolate! If you can’t find what you’re looking for at Cadbury World, head to the shopping strip and stop by the Hotel Chocolate Store to stock up on their luxurious handmade delicacies.
Round off a busy day of exploring Birmingham by heading down to the ‘balti triangle’, the areas of Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath, and Moseley. Here you’ll find some of the best balti (outside of Pakistan, I presume) restaurants in the world. You can easily get here from the city centre via taxi; come a bit early and explore some of the area’s shops and specialty stores. A good recommendation would be Shimla Pinks