Birmingham, England – Impressions

Birmingham is known by some as the second city as it’s the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Situated in the West Midlands of England, Birmingham is just over 200km (125 mi) North West of London.

Although there is evidence of human’s in the area up to about 10,000 years ago, Birmingham, or Beormingahām as it was known, was said to have been established in the late 6th century. And with train tickets from London only £5.50 each way, it deserved a long weekend to explore what the city has to offer. St Martin in the Bullring…

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Bullring and Grand Central
Right near Birmingham Moor Street Station, these two separate indoor malls are joined by a series of sky bridges that cut through the nearby TK Maxx building to make one large indoor mall. The Bullring is named after the major commercial area of the city and is in a distinctive building. The connected Grand Central mall is just as large and is a distinct building of its own.

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Bullring Rag Market
Similar to the original markets which spawned the Bullring commercial region, the Rag Market is an area of fruit and vegetable stalls mixed with clothing and other general knickknacks in small booths. When compared to the upmarket style of the markets in York or some areas of London, you will understand where the name Rag Markets come from. While they certainly are not pretty, there are plentiful bargains here.

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Custard Factory
What’s now known as the Custard Factory, is an area of creative and digital businesses in a set of very colourful buildings that was once the Bird’s Custard Factory from the 1840s. It now contains many small shops, offices, galleries, theatres and eateries.

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Victoria Square
Under the statue of Queen Victoria, this public pedestrian square is surrounded by the Birmingham Town Hall, Council House and Chamberlain Square.

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Saint Philips Cathedral
the seat of the bishop of Birmingham, Saint Philips Cathedral, it is the third smallest in the UK. Compared to the Cathedral in York, it’s tiny, but still contains unique stained glass windows yet only a short 300-year history, including being damaged in World War II bombings.

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Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a villa built in the early 1600s that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in Villa Park, which, for those with a knowledge of sports, specifically Football,  is home to Aston Villa football team and their stadium, right next door. Unfortunately, the villa museum is not open on match days which just happened to be the day I stopped by for a visit.

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Gas Street Basin
An attractive section of canals in the network that flows throughout Birmingham, similar to many other UK cities. The surrounding area contains bars, cafes and several attractions such as the National Seal Life Centre and Birmingham’s Legoland.

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IKON Gallery
While waiting for my entrance time of the National Sea Life Centre, I popped into the local IKON gallery to check out a couple of the exhibitions. The IKON gallery is a world acclaimed art gallery spread over three levels just off the Gas Street Basin area. While it is fairly small, the three exhibitions were an interesting change of pace in this fast paced city.

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National Sea Life Centre
The National Sea Life Centre is an aquarium in Central Birmingham showcasing over 2000 different sea animals from various places around the world, from the Antarctic, across many of the continents. The aquarium is entirely set inside in a four-story building that leads you through a series of displays climbing step by step to the top, before catching a lift, or stairs, into the basement where there is a tunnel through a larger pool. Amazing displays show all sorts of creatures, from sharks to sea horses, penguins to jellyfish.

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Cadbury World
Cadbury World is an exhibition built beside the main Cadbury factory in Bournville which is a town originally built for the workers of the Cadbury factory. The Cadbury World exhibition is only one of two in the world, the other being in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 90-minute long attraction goes through the history of the Cadbury empire and documents many parts of the chocolate making process, including chocolate Easter egg manufacture. It is an interesting place to learn the history of chocolate and the region, and not just for the kids.

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Dudley Castle and Zoo
On the outskirts of Greater Birmingham is the township of Dudley, and on a hill above it is the ruins of the Dudley castle. Dudley Castle was built in 1070 by a Norman knight not long after the Norman conquests. I travelled for an hour out to Dudley to investigate the castle only to find that it was part of a zoo with a steeper entrance fee than I had hoped. And, as it was late in the day and I likely wouldn’t have enough time to make the visit worth the entrance fee, I took a bad photo and caught a tram back to the Birmingham city centre.

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Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk
On my wanders around the city I noted many pieces of graffiti, but not until writing this did I discover there was an actual walk relating to a graffiti art. I would loved to have spent some time following this around the city as the few pieces I saw were amazing.

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Too Much to See
One long weekend was not enough to get to all the things I had hoped to see. Here are a few things I didn’t get to…

Thinktank Museum – Birmingham’s Science Museum.
Cannon Hill Park – The city’s most popular park spanning 250 acres.
Botanical Gardens – Gardens of a Botanical nature
The Coffin Works – A museum in the process of making coffins.

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Overall Impressions
Birmingham is a large thriving city only indeed second in the UK to London. The central city has so much foot traffic most days it could be considered reminiscent of Brixton or Oxford Street. But it is still different to the larger London, in that it is less cosmopolitan. And, only two hours away by train, it is definitely worth a visit.

The World Wanderer

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