Sightseeing in Birmingham

Perhaps surprisingly Birmingham does have a castle and a few truly ancient buildings alongside a lot of other attractions for visitors to see. The image of Birmingham as a dull industrialised city dominated by the car is simply no longer true. Gone are the crumbling factories, warehouses and monstrous concrete blocks, which have been replaced with modern and stylish buildings and now form the bedrock of a rejuvenated and vibrant city. Birmingham has also made the most of the heritage it does owe to the industrial age, which alongside the introduction and development of exciting new attractions, gives visitors to the city plenty to choose from.

One of the countries, as well as Birmingham’s, top tourist attractions is Cadbury World, which tells the story of chocolate in the UK and the Cadbury Company in Birmingham.  Cadbury World is suitable for all ages, and is both fun and educational. Part of the visit is to go on the tour of the factory, some of which is walked and for other parts you’re transported around in small vehicles along a programmed route. As well as there being a Cadbury shop to visit there are ‘free’ samples as you go around on the tour. The city has a Birmingham Railway Museum at Tyseley, which has vintage steam locomotives and a locomotive shed dating back to 1908. You can also organise a trip by steam train from Birmingham to Stratford-Upon-Avon. The ThinkTank Museum, at Millennium Point is the location for the city’s Science museum which includes a Planetarium. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is in the Birmingham University campus. It won the Gallery of the Year award in 2004 and apart from displaying works of art is used for musical concerts. A less likely place than Birmingham to find a Sea Life Centre is hard to imagine. However, behind the ICC, at Brindley Place is the National Sea Life Centre. Its 60 displays cover all marine life from Sharks to Jellyfish, as well as some mammals such as Sae Otters.

Owned by the National Trust, Birmingham has preserved some Back-to-Back Houses, on Hurst Street, from the 19th century showing how the workers in the early industrial revolution would have lived. The canals were the motorways of the early industrial revolution and Birmingham sits at the heart of the regions network of canals. With more kilometres of canals than Venice, there are plenty of walks and guided tours along them. The best starting point is to go to the Gas Street Basin, behind the ICC and NIA. Completely revamped in the 1990s Victoria Square, in front of the Town Hall, is now a modern piazza style meeting place in the city. The first time they’re seen, The Iron Man and the Floozie in the Jacuzzi are always certain to be the topic of conversation. Centenary Square, in front of the ICC, Symphony Hall and the Repertory Theatre on Broad Street, is the newest public space in the city centre. It is another popular meeting place and is often used as a venue for outdoor concerts and events.

The jewel in the crown of Birmingham’s museums has to be the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which is on Chamberlain Square behind the Town Hall. The Art Gallery has the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world, alongside Old Masters and Impressionists. The pre-Raphaelite collection includes works by: Ford Maddox Brown, Burne-Jones, Rossetti, Millais and Holman Hunt. The Museum itself houses archaeological exhibitions as well as natural and social history displays. The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter is exactly as the name implies. Housed in what was the Smith & Pepper jewellery factory on Vyse Street, it provides a snap-shot of working conditions and practices around the middle of the 20th century. Many of the machinery and tools that were in use when the factory closed down pre-date the 20th century, with some artefacts on display going back 200 years.

Aston Hall is one of the city’s older buildings; it is known that a manor has been on this site since 1386. The present 400 year old mansion sits in 21 hectares of parkland next to Aston Villa football club and has some fine Jacobean plasterwork and a 120m Long Gallery decorated with 17th century tapestries. On its outside walls you can still see the marks left by bullets and cannonballs from the English Civil War. Owned by Matthew Boulton, a member of the Lunar Society, Soho House was the first centrally heated home in the country as well as being a hot-house of ideas in the industrial revolution! Sarehole Mill, in the suburb of Hall Green, is popular as a museum to show how a mill would have operated and because of its connection with J R Tolkein, author of The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.  Whilst almost hidden away in the suburb of the same name is Birmingham’s Weoley Castle. In truth not much remains of what was really more of a fortified 13th century moated manor house. However, excavations have shown evidence of an earlier 11th century castle on the site. Selly Manor and Blakesley Hall are two of Birmingham’s older buildings that visitors may well find interesting. Finally, you will need to contact the Museums Collection Centre to arrange a visit, but if you’re fortunate enough for them to have an open day when you can be there, you’ll see a fascinating collection of items that periodically appear in the city’s various museums.

Moving not too far outside of the city there are many nearby attractions. At Solihull is the National Motorcycle Museum, whilst historic Warwick Castle can be reached in about 45 minutes as can Stratford-Upon-Avon, with all its associations and history of William Shakespeare  and the Shakespeare Theatre.

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