London to Birmingham by Train, Bus and Car

Birmingham New Street
••• Birmingham New Street Station. Tony C French/Getty Images

Birmingham is about 120 miles Northwest of London, a motorway drive of about two and a half hours. Take the train and you can cut an hour off the trip leaving you lots of extra time to discover what a surprising urban destination this Midlands city is. 

By Train

Birmingham New Street Station, rebuilt and opened to the public in September 2015, is a huge, bright destination where you can shop in some of Britain's top stores until 8pm(the biggest John Lewis outside of London, for example) and dine until 11p.m.

Redevelopment aside, the station, in the center of Birmingham, remains a major hub, connecting London and the Southeast to Wales, the West Midlands and the Northwest. There are frequent trains to and from London Euston and London Marylebone stations. Virgin Trains operates the service from Euston into Birmingham New Street. Chiltern Railways runs a slightly slower, comparably priced service to nearby Birmingham Moor Street Station. There is a pedestrian tunnel between the two stations.

The journey takes about an 1hr 25min. In one of the oddities of the UK rail system, it is usually cheaper to buy two one-way (single) tickets than to buy a round-trip (return) ticket. In December 2016, two advance-fare, off-peak singles cost £6 each for a total of £12  (bought as little as three days in advance) compared to a normal round trip ticket which started at more than £28.

UK Travel Tips - To keep costs down:

  1. Buy your tickets well in advance and book a specific train. A one-way,  "Anytime" ticket bought on the day of travel for this trip cost £49, while a ticket booked a few weeks in advance for a specific train was only £6. You can book online, directly with the rail companies running the service. The National Rail Enquiries website will guide you to the online ticket seller.
  2. Avoid traveling at peak travel times. For London to Birmingham, that would be between 8am and 9am.
  3. If you can't decide which combination of times and tickets will save you the most, use the National Rail Enquiries Fare Finder, a feature that searches for the lowest fares. If you can be a bit flexible about your time of travel, that often helps when working with the fare finder.
  4. If you are heading for Birmingham for an exhibition at the NEC, use Birmingham International Station, instead of New Street. The fares are about the same.

By Bus

Buses from London to Birmingham take between 2hr 40min and 3hr 15min. There are hourly buses between Victoria Coach Station in London and Birmingham Central Coach Station.

Standard round trip fare (in December 2016) is about £40 for an open return ticket - in other words a round trip ticket without a specific return trip booked. Book for a specific time and you can save quite a lot. An advance purchase, return ticket can be had for as little as £4 each way when booked online for a specific time.

By Car

Birmingham is 119 miles northwest of London, via the M1 and M6 motorways. It takes at least 2hr 30min to drive when there is no traffic and fuel in the UK is expensive - probably about twice what you are used to in North America. 

If you are new to driving in the UK, I would twice before hopping in a car to drive to Birmingham. The city's position at the hub of a number of important motorway routes, as well as the pattern of development of its downtown area in the 1960s and 1970s, make it a difficult place to drive - even for UK drivers who are used to driving on the left. Trains or buses are a better option for visitors and, once you arrive, the city's local transportation is excellent.