Your Trip to Birmingham, England: The Complete Guide

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Birmingham, located in the West Midlands, is sometimes known as England's second city. Located about two hours north of London by train, the city is known both for its industrial history and thriving food and drink scene. Beyond its storied past, Birmingham has a lot to offer travelers, from vibrant museums to family-friendly attractions to eclectic neighborhoods. It's easy to get to from London or Manchester, and it's a great place to spend a few days. While Birmingham may be slightly less familiar to some travelers, it continues to be the U.K.'s fourth most-popular destination.

Because of its central location, Birmingham is also the ideal gateway to other U.K. destinations, including Stratford-upon-Avon, Coventry and the Cotswolds. Whether you're stopping through Birmingham as part of a larger U.K. trip or making it your ultimate destination, there are a few things to keep in mind while planning.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: Like in most of England, the weather in Birmingham is moderate most of the year. That said, spring and fall can be the most pleasant times to visit, especially if you can plan your trip while students are still in school. To avoid crowds, aim to spend time in Birmingham in the late fall. Always bring an umbrella or a raincoat, and dress in layers, even when traveling in the summertime.

Language: English, although numerous other languages, including Spanish, French, and Arabic, are spoken throughout England.

Currency: England's official currency is the pound sterling (GBP), which is more commonly called "the pound."

Getting Around: Buses and trams, operated by Network West Midlands, are the main mode of public transportation in Birmingham, and there are also regional trains that connect the general area of England. Taxis and Ubers are plentiful, as well. Some travelers may opt to rent a car, especially if Birmingham is only one stop on a more involved itinerary.

Travel Tip: Birmingham is a fairly walkable city, with many of the most popular attractions located close together in the city center. Instead of renting a car or paying for taxis, consider taking the time to explore on foot. If you don't have cell phone service in the U.K., ask the hotel concierge for a map of downtown.

Things to Do

Birmingham has a lot of history and the city is a vibrant destination for travelers of all ages and interests. There are numerous museums, including the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and Cadbury World is a popular visitor attraction that details the history, process and legacy of Cadbury chocolate. Nearby, the Shakespeare Express vintage train carries visitors between Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace, and Birmingham. Because Birmingham is located centrally in England, there are a lot of great day trips available from the city, including to Warwick Castle and the Peak District, a vast national park known for its walking and hiking trails.

  • Tour Aston Hall, a 17th century historic manor house with over 30 rooms and vast gardens to explore.
  • Immerse yourself in the past at the Black Country Living Museum, an open-air living museum that details the area's history.
  • Stroll around the Gas Street Basin, a central neighborhood filled with local pubs, cocktail bars, restaurants, and shops.

For more, explore the top 10 things to do in Birmingham.

Birmingham Cityscape, England, UK

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What to Eat and Drink

Birmingham may not be famous for its cuisine, but the city has a strong culinary scene with lots of innovative restaurants. It is also known as the birthplace of Birmingham balti, a Pakistani curry that's made using the balti method of cooking, which can be found in the Balti Triangle. Whether you're looking for some traditional pub fare, a full English breakfast or a groundbreaking new restaurant, Birmingham has a lot to offer.

Like most English cities, Birmingham is also well-known for its historic pubs, which can be found both in the city center and in local neighborhoods like the Jewellery Quarter. There is also a thriving cocktail scene, with numerous award-winning cocktail bars dotted throughout the Gas Street Basin and the downtown area.

In terms of local dishes, Birmingham boasts a few menu items that might feel a bit foreign to visitors, but which are very much worth a try. Look for savory duck and peas, an old-fashioned English dish that involves meatballs wrapped in bacon, and pork scratchings, which supposedly originated in Birmingham. And, of course, don't forget to reserve a table for a classic afternoon tea experience.

For more, explore the best foods to try in Birmingham.

Where to Stay

Most travelers will opt to book a hotel or an Airbnb in the city center of Birmingham, which includes the Gas Street Basin. Most of the popular hotels are located downtown, which gives you easy access to the big shopping malls, like the Bullring, and to the train stations. Staying in the city center also puts many of Birmingham's attractions and museums within walking distance. For a more local feel, venture out into the surrounding neighborhoods, like the Jewellery Quarter, Digbeth or Edgbaston.

Those who prefer to be closer to the airport should look for a hotel in or near Resorts World, a shopping complex located adjacent to Birmingham International Airport.

For more, explore the best hotels in Birmingham.

Facade of Birmingham Council House

Allan Baxter/Getty Images

Getting There

Birmingham is very connected, so travelers can arrive to the city in a variety of ways. Those coming from London, can hop on a train from Euston or Marylebone for a two-hour journey north. Trains run frequently and off-peak times are often more affordable. Buses are also available between London and Birmingham. Birmingham International Airport is fairly large, so travelers may fly in to Birmingham, often connecting via London or another European city. More adventurous travelers may want to rent a car and drive to Birmingham from one of the U.K.'s airports. Be sure to opt for a GPS in your rental car to help navigate the roads and highways around England. Having a car is a great way to take advantage of local day trips, or to extend your vacation into a U.K. road trip.

Culture and Customs

Birmingham has a similar culture to London or Manchester, and there are a few differences between English and American culture that visitors should keep in mind. One key difference is how to tip while visiting Birmingham. Restaurants and bars will include a service charge (usually 12.5 percent) on the bill, so there's no need to leave extra cash, although you can drop a few extra pounds if the service was particularly great. When grabbing a drink at a pub, leave a pound or two tip for each round you buy.

British culture is fairly reserved. When using public transportation or visiting museums, make sure to keep your voice low and be polite. Brits also appreciate a good queue, so be sure never to skip the line or push your way to the front. Note that all these rules go out the window during a soccer match, which can get very rowdy when watching either in person or in a pub.

Money Saving Tips

  • Birmingham has a lot of free events and attractions available throughout the year. A few popular things to do that won't cost anything include the Shrewsbury River Walk, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the Lichfield Cathedral.
  • Download Walk Run Cycle Birmingham, a free app of self-guided walking, running and cycling routes to showcase the best of Birmingham.
  • Pack a picnic and enjoy one of Birmingham's many parks, including Cannon Hill Park and Woodgate Valley Country Park. Look for take-away options like Pret a Manger or Marks & Spencer for affordable picnic food and sandwiches.
  • Experience the best of Birmingham's street food at one of the city's many the street food collectives, like Digbeth Dining Club, which has numerous sites around town. The stalls offer a variety of cuisines at budget-friendly prices, making it a great option to save some cash.
Article Sources
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  1. Visit Britain. "Inbound Town Data."

  2. Visit Birmingham. "Balti Triangle."

  3. Visit Birmingham. "Free."

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