Take a tour
You can, of course, take one of the walking tour organised by Birmingham Tours, but if you prefer to see things under your own steam, here’s a handy itinerary. Pick up a map from the Tourist Centre behind New Street Station by the Rotunda and, while you’re there, take a look at the Rotunda itself. Built in the mid 60s as high-rise office space and once the defining iconic image of Birmingham, it’s recently had a makeover to turn it into luxury city living apartments.
To the right there’s the gleaming disc splendour of Selfridges, so you may as well give into shopaholic temptation now. Since you’re in the Bullring, it’s obligatory to have a photo taken with the bronze bull sculpture at its entrance. There’s plenty of other public sculptures, including one of the late great Brummie comedian, Tony Hancock, at Priory Circus, but you really must see Anthony Gormley’s Iron:Man which juts out of the concrete in Victoria Square and, nearby, the four sculptures by Dhruva Mistry, the largest of which is known affectionately as The Floozie in The Jacuzzi. That bloke lounging on the steps? That’s 19th-century political reformer, Thomas Attwood.
Soak up some culture
From here lose yourself in the Museum and Art Gallery with the largest pre-Raphaelite collection in the country. Grab a cuppa in the genteel Edwardian Tea Rooms or stroll across to Broad Street for lunch at one of the vibrant cafe-bars at Brindleyplace or the Mailbox. Then either satisfy the appetite for contemporary art at the splendid former 19th-century school that is now Brindleyplace’s Ikon Gallery or head to Temple Row for spiritual nourishment with 18th-century baroque splendour and Burne-Jones stained glass windows of St Philips Cathedral.
If you’re still hungry for local history, take a steady walk to the Jewellery Quarter, home to the world’s most highly skilled jewellery makers for over 250 years with both a museum and still thriving designers’ workshops. While there, check out the little known Pen Museum in the Renaissance-style Argent Centre, a reminder that for a century the city was the nib of the world’s pen trade.
Now grab a cab to Soho House in Handsworth, the former home of Industrial Revolution pioneer Matthew Boulton. His contribution is celebrated, along with James Watt and William Murdoch, with a statue in Broad St, known locally as either The Golden Boys after its colour, or The Carpet Salesmen for reasons you can work out yourself. To see the day out, take in one of city’s many theatre productions or, for the more energetic, there’s the clubs and bars pumping out banging tunes around Broad Street and Digbeth.
Michelin star meals
If you’re eating out, there’s everything from Michelin-starred gourmet to grab and go, but you shouldn’t visit without trying a balti in the city where it was born. Most agree the Al Frash is the best there is; just hail a cab and let your senses do the rest.
The Black Country
If you decide to spend your weekend in the Black Country rather than the second city, start the day off soaking up the region’s history and heritage at the Black Country Living Museum in Tipton, which includes a recreation of two Black Country streets, one from the 30s and one from the Victorian era, along with a host of other buildings that mark the industrial past. There’s a chainmaker’s, a schoolhouse, cinema, back to backs, Methodist chapel, Worker’s Institute and even an old fashioned fair. Ride a trolley bus, explore the introductory exhibition and then grab a beer at the Bottle & Glass pub to swill down some of the best fish and chips you’ll taste.
After lunch, stroll across past the Builder’s Yard to the canal and book a 45-minute trip through the limestone tunnels on one of the narrowboats operated by Dudley Canal Trust, see the amazing light and music show and learn how to leg it. If you want to spend longer on the water, nip round to the Trust’s Portal building on Birmingham New Road where you can book a two-hour trip through the entire 2,888 metres of the Dudley Tunnel, a three-hour, open-water trip or, if you want to make as day of it, the full six hours taking in two tunnels and two locks. Stay in tune with nature and take a stroll round Baggeridge Country Park, formerly a colliery, landscaped by Capability Brown or the Wren’s Nest, designated a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, the site of some 700 fossils, 86 can be found nowhere else on Earth.
Then, if you’re a football fan, make a pilgrimage to the town centre and the statue in honour of local lad Duncan Edwards, one of Manchester United’s famous Busby Babes who died when their plane crashed in Munich in 1958. After that, round off the day by heading back to Tipton and facing the Desperate Dan Cow Pie Challenge at the world famous Mad O’Rourke’s Pie Factory.
If you decide to spend your weekend in the Black Country rather than the second city, start the day off soaking up the region’s history and heritage at the Black Country Living Museum in Tipton, a recreation of two Black Country streets, one from the 30s and one from the Victorian era, along with a host of other buildings that mark the industrial past
A stroll around the Botanical Gardens
Let Mother Nature ease you into the morning with a trip to the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston which, aside from the rolling lawns and woodland walk, include a cacti garden, hot humid tropical and subtropical houses and a wonderfully fragrant Orangery-styled Mediterranean house.
Since you’re in the area, it’s not far to the Barber Institute, often called Birmingham’s best kept secret but better described as ‘one of the finest small art galleries in Europe’, the Art Deco building has works by pretty much every Old Master and Impressionist you can name. If you need more communing with nature, just around the corner is Winterbourne Botanic Gardens, a six-acre Edwardian arts and crafts-style garden complete with a woven living hazelnut tunnel.
Further reviving leafiness is on hand at Cannon Hill Park in Edgbaston with its boating lake or the Shire Country Park or Moseley Bog close to Tolkien’s childhood hunting grounds at Sarehole Mill. Not open to the public, but Hobbit fans should at least see Perrott’s Folly in Ladywood. Built in 1758, the architectural oddity was, along with the nearby Waterworks tower, the inspiration for the Two Towers.
For the afternoon, follow a heritage trail around Digbeth, the site of Birmingham’s birth. One begins at the Old Crown pub which, dating back to the 1300s is one of the city’s oldest secular building, while the other passes the Victorian factory where Typhoo Tea, itself created in Birmingham, was produced. To see the city centre from a completely different perspective, take a towpath walk around Gas Street Basin and some 15 miles worth of canals, once the lifeblood of the city’s industry, where the past merges with the new urban living developments.
A meal at the Cube
Finally, watch the sun go down over the skyline with a nightcap in one of the many canal side bars or gaze over the city from Marco Pierre White’s 25th floor rooftop bar and steakhouse at The Cube.
The Black Country
Make your second day in the Black Country a culture day starting out with a visit to the home of glassmaking in Stourbridge with the stunning examples of craftsmanship at the Red House Cone before taking in the various collections at Wolverhampton Museum and Art Gallery and the New Art Gallery in Walsall. While there, drop in to the Leather Museum and learn how the town was the centre of the country’s leather industry, then maybe chill out for the afternoon with a stroll around Walsall Arboretum, a Victorian public park or travel out to Tividale and discover Shri Venkateswara (Balaji) Temple, the fully operational recreation of a Hindu temple in the heart of the Black Country. Then, see the night out with some Black Country real ale at Ma Pardoes in Netherton or, if your senses can stand it, try sinking a pint while experiencing the optical illusions of the Crooked House in Hinley.
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