England’s second-largest city is a cultural melting pot, with the best food and nightlife in the region and shopping is another major attraction here. While the city may not be as picturesque as some other places in UK, it offers plenty of entertainment for the family.
In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s India’s Great Britain – The Bollywood Way we recommend the top experiences for first-time visitors.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Start off your day in the city centre, dropping into Victoria Square and the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. It houses an impressive collection of ancient treasures and Victorian art, including an important collection of major Pre-Raphaelite works. The museum’s latest arrival is part of the Staffordshire Hoard, a treasure trove of 7th-century Anglo-Saxon gold, unearthed in a field near Lichfield in 2009. There are also a number of interactive exhibits for kids, and you can indulge in a cream tea in the elegant Edwardian Tea room.
Birmingham has been a major player on the British jewellery scene since the 17th century. Stretching north from the last Georgian square in Birmingham, the Jewellery Quarter still produces 40% of the jewellery manufactured in the UK, and dozens of workshops are open to the public. The tourist office provides a free booklet, Jewellery Quarter: The Essential Guide, describing the main workshops and showrooms, or you can take a virtual tour at www.jewelleryquarter.net
National Sea Life Centre
Go west through Centenary Square to reach the Birmingham Canals, where you can spend an hour or two at the National Sea Life Centre. This is the largest inland aquarium in England, and the tanks teem with exotic marine life. During the school holidays, the queues can stretch around several blocks – buy tickets online ahead of time for fast-track entry. Art lovers should visit the nearby Ikon Gallery for cutting-edge conceptual art exhibited in a converted Gothic schoolhouse.
Thinktank is an ambitious attempt to make science accessible to children (and anyone else with an interest in levers, pulleys and bubbling test tubes). It’s a 10-minute walk northeast of the centre, surrounded by the footprints of vanished factories, the Millennium Point development area. There’s also a digital Planetarium, covered by the same ticket, and an IMAX cinema that screens the latest blockbusters should you and the kids want a break from being educated.
Spend a day exploring the next best thing to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Cadbury World is in the village of Bournville. This sweet-toothed attraction aims to educate visitors about the history of cocoa and the Cadbury family, but sweetens the deal with free samples, displays of chocolate making machines, and chocolate-themed rides. Opening hours vary through the year and bookings are essential.
If curry is the unofficial national dish of England, then the balti is its finest local interpretation. First cooked up in the curry houses of Sparkbrook in southern Birmingham, this one-pot curry is prepared in a cast-iron wok with plenty of onion and chilli. Tracing its origins back to Baltistan in northern Pakistan, the balti is traditionally served with a giant crispy naan that’s big enough to feed the whole table. The best place to sample this Brummie delicacy is in the so-called Balti Triangle about 4km southeast of the centre, formed by Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane and Stratford Road. Expect to pay £7 to £9 for a balti and rice or naan in the Balti Triangle. Most eateries do not serve booze.
Shopping at the Bullring, Mailbox & Custard Factory
Shopping is one of Birmingham’s major draws and you can easily spend half a day browsing the vast range of stores in the sprawling malls. Must-visits are Mailbox – a buzzing mixture of designer boutiques and smart restaurants – and Bullring, which features a space-age Selfridges building and hundreds of outlets. The Custard Factory is less than a 10-minute walk from the Bullring and features funky niche shops dotted between an arts and media centre.