City in the spotlight: Birmingham

21 Feb 2017
Sabiha Teladia Programme Officer
Birmingham canal at night

A winding network of canals, great food, beautiful countryside, and more culture than you can shake a stick at - it's Birmingham!

Programme officer Sabiha gives us her Birmingham top ten...


Nestled in the heart of England, and often described as the second city of the UK, is Birmingham. The city grew in importance during the Industrial Revolution, attracting the thinkers of the time, including the pioneers who invented gas lighting and the steam engine. This fostered the incredible development of the city, with Birmingham trebling its population in the 50 years to 1841.

‘Brum’, as it’s colloquially known, has a network of canals (that some may say would rival Venice) and a thriving cultural and student scene. Birmingham is served well by its location, and not just for the expansion of the city and its close proximity to London. It is also surrounded by the beautiful countryside of its neighbours: Shropshire, the Staffordshire Peak District, and Shakespeare’s Warwickshire.

Birmingham old and new

The residents of Birmingham, ‘Brummies’, also have a reputation for having a distinct accent. It’s not a popular accent among the British but foreign visitors love it. More recently, the city has undergone major development. Having grown up in the Midlands, with Birmingham only a half-hour away from my hometown, I’ve always enjoyed visiting the city. Here are some fun facts about Brum and some reasons why you should visit one of my favourite cities while you’re in the UK:

  1. Lord of the Rings author, J.R.R. Tolkien, lived in Birmingham and used the landscape as inspiration for his famous books. The village of Sarehole is said to be the inspiration for Hobbiton and the Shire. You can visit the Sarehole Mill, a 250-year-old watermill, and bake your own pizza using Sarehole Mill’s own stone-ground flour!
    Sarehole Mill near Birmingham
  2. A cluster of buildings dedicated to the arts, culture, and education. And just ten minutes’ walk from the main station - what more could you ask for? There is the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for those who want to catch a theatre production, or the Symphony Hall, a concert venue that’s home to the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Central Library (see point 3). There’s also the Hippodrome, a theatre which hosts touring West End shows, plays, and is home to the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
  3. The Central Library, the largest public library in the UK is an essential feature in Birmingham’s community life. It has had had a recent uplift and has attracted 2.5 million people annually since it reopened.
    Birmingham Central Library
  4. The Custard Factory is one of the creative hubs of Birmingham. Set in restored Victorian factory space, it houses creative business, independent shops, and bars. IKON, Birmingham’s leading contemporary art gallery, contains a singing lift designed by Turner Prize-winning artist and musician Martin Creed.
  5. You may have seen the iconic Bull Ring building, featuring a disc-filled curved building. It covers the Selfridges flagship store of the shopping centre. Within walking distance, you can visit Brum’s vibrant markets, selling anything from fruit and vegetables from around the world to reams of all kinds of fabric to create your own outfit.
  6. Birmingham is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country and has attracted people from all corners of the world.
  7. Aston Hall is a seventeenth century, Grade I listed mansion which has been resorted to its former grandeur. You can visit the home that received royalty and was besieged during the English Civil War.
  8. The Birmingham Canal Navigations system adds up to 100 miles of canals and is one of the most intricate canal networks in the world. Take a walk alongside one of the canals to the Jewellery Quarter, a designated conservation area dating back over 250 years.
    Canal walks sign
    Birmingham canal at night
  9. Birmingham’s food scene could compete with London’s. With Michelin-starred fine dining, superb South Asian restaurants, popular chain restaurants, and independent, locally-run family favourites – there’s something for everyone.
  10. Bring out the child in you and visit Cadbury’s World and go on a chocolate adventure at the home of Cadbury’s, the chocolate manufacturer.

If you want to know more about Birmingham, take a look at VisitBritain's guide to Britain's second largest city.


Sarehole Mill photo courtesy of Elliott Brown, Library of Birmingham by Luke's photos, Birmingham Canals by Bob Hall. Shared with CC 2.0 license.