Known as England’s ‘Second City’, Birmingham is the largest city in England after London. It’s also known as the ‘City of a Thousand Trades’, due to its status as the world’s first manufacturing town. Aside from this, people may be surprised by just how much Birmingham has going for it, and all the things that Birmingham is famous for.
Birmingham is famous for not only its manufacturing roots; it’s also well-known for its heritage in the world of food and cuisine, legendary rock music, bustling night-life, sprawling canal networks, and huge cultural impact. Birmingham has a cultural significance that spans literature, art, TV, food, music, and beyond.
Often overlooked for other Great British cities, Birmingham is actually a thriving metropolitan city with a lot to offer all visitors, from beauty spots to a bustling city center. In this list of 15 things that Birmingham is known for, you’ll discover the very best about Birmingham – the UK’s most underrated city!
1. Cadbury World
If you were to ask any Brit what their favourite brand of chocolate was, the likelihood is that their response would be “Cadbury’s”. Also, if you were to ask any Brummie (that’s someone from Birmingham) what they thought their city of Birmingham is most famous for, they would probably also reply “Cadbury’s”. Such is the significance of this delicious brand of chocolate.
The company was founded in 1824 by John Cadbury, a Quaker who began selling tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate on the streets of Birmingham. Fast forward to today, and the success of this entrepreneurial Quaker has seen Cadbury transform the neighborhood of Bournville, and the entire city of Birmingham, forever.
Since 1990, people have been able to flock from all over the world to Cadbury World on a chocolate pilgrimage to see how their favorite confectionery is made. Of course, Cadbury World is a must-visit for anyone spending time in Birmingham. Prepare yourself for a day full of fun and education, where a history lesson is accompanied by tasters of the chocolate along the production line, and a bag full of their best-selling chocolate bars to snack on as you take the tour.
2. Peaky Blinders
Perhaps the second thing that Birmingham is famous for is the modern phenomenon of the TV show Peaky Blinders that has taken the nation, and parts of the world, by storm.
The BBC has recently shone a light on the rich history of Birmingham with its hit-success of a TV series Peaky Blinders, telling the story of a real gang that operated on the streets of Birmingham in the early 20th century. With such high profile actors as Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy playing big roles in the TV show, Peaky Blinders has captured the imagination of millions and, for the first time, put Birmingham in the limelight. Naturally, this has led to a surge of Peaky Blinders themed attractions popping up around the city, with bars and clubs offering Peaky Blinders themed nights, Peaky Blinders tours of Birmingham, and even breweries and distilleries creating special Peaky Blinders beers and gins.
If you’re already an avid watcher of the show, or want to learn more about Birmingham’s grisly criminal underworld, there is an abundance of Peaky Blinders events, attractions, and bars that you can check out, from the BBC studio in the city center to its surrounding neighborhoods.
3. Birmingham Bullring
Today, Birmingham Bullring is one of the largest shopping centers in the UK but, historically, it was an outdoor public arena used for bull-baiting, a popular sport in the city at the time. It is this history that, obviously, gave the place its name, as well as the iconic statue of the bull in the heart of the bullring – a popular tourist attraction that is often seasonally dressed up.
Home to one of only four Selfridges stores in the UK, you can’t miss this luxury department store due to its strikingly modern, freeform architecture as pictured above. Inside, you can find a selection of some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, cosmetics, and an excellent food court area with food stalls and eateries spanning the globe in cuisines.
As for the rest of the Bullring shopping center, you can enjoy a serious spree in this place alone. You’ll find huge stores for some of the most popular brands, such as Topshop, River Island, and Victoria’s Secret, as well as another department store, cosmetics shops, high street fashion favorites and much, much more. If you want to indulge yourself with some retail therapy, there are few cities better equipped than Birmingham.
4. More canals than Venice
Yes, it’s true. Birmingham really does have more canals than Venice. In fact, it is this seriously extensive network of waterways that allowed Birmingham to become the world’s first manufacturing city, and helped it rise to such prominence as a city.
These days, however, the canals are a much more peaceful place where you’ll find groups of people taking a stroll on a gorgeous day, or enjoying an after-work pint at a waterside pub.
In Brindleyplace and The Mailbox, you’ll discover a whole host of excellent restaurants, specializing in tapas, Brazilian food, steak, Italian cuisine, and much more. Even better, but you’ll also find loads of bars, from the most traditional English pub to the most sophisticated cocktail bar. Even Bill Clinton enjoyed a pint at a canalside pub when he visited Birmingham in 1998!
5. Youngest city in Europe
Birmingham is officially the youngest city in Europe, as roughly 40% of their population is aged 25 and below. What’s more, there are five universities in Birmingham, so it’s no surprise that this huge student population adds to Birmingham’s thriving nightlife scene.
Thanks to Birmingham’s youthful population, it means that there is no shortage of fun things to do on an evening in Birmingham. You may fancy taking to Broad Street, Birmingham’s central hub for nightclubs, where you’ll find a huge range of establishments to party. Boasting chain clubs and independent clubs, as well as a selection of bars lining the street, Broad Street is always party central.
If clubs aren’t really your thing, you’re still spoiled for choice when it comes to bars. Near the cathedral, you’ll find a collection of excellent cocktail bars, ranging from the cozy to the elegant, and so it’s easy to pass an evening enjoying a selection of delicious cocktails in a relaxed setting, in the heart of Birmingham city center.
Still not persuaded? If you’re in search of a more traditional British pub experience, you’ll have no trouble finding one of these either, as Birmingham is positively brimming with independent pubs serving local ales and typical British ‘pub grub’.
Birmingham’s thriving music scene goes hand in hand with its youthful population, as Birmingham is famous for a large number of iconic music venues. However, Birmingham has also earned its place in the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame thanks to its connections to some of the music industry’s biggest names.
Birmingham is the birthplace of the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne, as well as the other members of Black Sabbath. In fact, during the late 20th century, Birmingham was famous for creating some of the biggest-selling artists in the world, including Duran Duran, UB40, Electric Light Orchestra, The Moody Blues, The Streets, Dexys Midnight Runners and loads more. In more recent years, Birmingham has had more of an ‘underground’ resurgence with its B-Town music scene giving rise to bands such as Peace, Swim Deep, and JAWS – a welcome movement for much of the city’s young alternative crowd.
As well as the city’s cultural importance in creating iconic musicians, the city is also home to a number of incredible music venues, from the huge Barclaycard and Resorts World arenas, to the smaller O2 Academy, O2 Institute and Sunflower Lounge. Birmingham truly is a city where music is the constant beat of the crowd.
7. Michelin Star dining
Outside of London, Birmingham has the highest amount of Michelin star restaurants in the UK, making Birmingham one of the country’s gastronomic capitals.
Birmingham’s Michelin star establishments range from contemporary British cuisine, to oyster bars and refined Indian dining – all of which reflects the gastronomic culture of the city of Birmingham on a grand scale. If you’re looking for somewhere special to eat out whilst you’re in Birmingham, you really are spoiled for choice from its array of fine dining options. Pick from the iconic Purnell’s, owned by chef Glynn Purnell, a Birmingham boy born and bred, for his exquisite ‘Brummie Tapas’, or perhaps Opheem, for a sophisticated Indian dining experience, again with a locally born chef.
However, if Michelin star food is a bit out of your price range, that won’t stop you from experiencing some excellent food whilst in Birmingham! If you want brunch, try Medicine in the heart of the city centre, for brunch classics cooked to perfection, as well as delicious coffee and freshly baked cakes and bread. Birmingham is also the home of a new branch of Dishoom – an Indian restaurant that has taken London by storm – where you can sample what is widely revered as some of the best Indian food in the UK.
8. World’s largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is more than just a cursory city centre gallery, it’s actually a place of significant artistic and historic importance that is home to the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world.
Not many people will know that the best of Birmingham also includes a huge artistic tradition, making it a wonderful place for a city break for art aficionados as well. In the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, you could spend an entire day wandering through the corridors of this beautifully maintained old building, soaking up the world’s largest collection of pre-Raphaelite art, as well as a number of other exhibits showcasing a range of different artistic media, from movements throughout the course of time.
If contemporary art is more your thing, then you can head to the IKON gallery in the Brindleyplace area of Birmingham to explore some of the world’s most exciting artworks from recent years, all housed in a beautiful neo-gothic Grade II listed building. To add to Birmingham’s cultural tradition, it’s clear to see that Birmingham is famous for a record breaking art collection.
The Sunday Times named Digbeth the coolest neighborhood in the UK in 2018, and it’s not hard to see why. This little part of Birmingham, just a short stroll from the city center, is the part of the city where all the cool kids hang out. When you’re spending some time in Birmingham, Digbeth is well worth a visit if you want to escape the polished elegance of the city, and experience the trendy independence of this neighborhood.
Venture into Digbeth, and you’ll find a host of cool hangout spots, from independent cafés to music venues. The Old Crown pub in Digbeth is one of the oldest pubs in Britain and is a great place to experience a traditional British pub. However, go outside and you’ll find a spacious and modern beer garden, perfect for a drink in the sun.
Just around the corner from this historic pub is what’s known as the Custard Factory: a former factory that has now become an adult playground, with street food markets, trendy bars, crazy golf course, and independent cinema.
10. The largest library in Europe
The newly built Library of Birmingham officially opened its doors in 2013, and ever since has been the largest library in Europe. Not only has it become a striking and important monument on Birmingham’s skyline, but it further demonstrates the cultural importance of a city like Birmingham.
Connected to the Birmingham Rep Theatre, this huge library is home to a number of large and very important collections, including the UK’s most important collection of Shakespeare’s works in the historic Shakespeare Memorial Room. As well as the thousands of books spanning numerous floors, the library is a perfect place to get a view of the Birmingham skyline from its outdoor viewing platform, or grab a bite from its on-site cafe.
In 2014, the Birmingham Library was the 10th most visited tourist attraction in the UK, so you know that it’s well worth a visit if you want to see the best of Birmingham.
11. Largest open space in Europe
Not only is Birmingham a sprawling metropolis and the second biggest city in the UK, but it is also one of the greenest! In fact, Birmingham is classified as having the largest open space in Europe relative to its size – it has 200 more parks than Paris!
Throughout the city, there are a number of large parks and beauty spots that make for a perfect escape to some greenery when you’ve had enough of its concrete jungle.
Handsworth Park and Cannon Hill Park are both spacious, Victorian-era parks that attract throngs of people for picnics and festivals in the good summer weather. There is also Woodgate Valley Country Park that boats over 450 acres of natural beauty in the guise of meadows, ponds, and woodland.
12. Birmingham Hippodrome
The Birmingham Hippodrome is the UK’s busiest and most popular theatre, attracting over 600,000 spectators a year.
The theatre itself is located in the heart of Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter, and is the home of the Birmingham Royal Ballet company. As well as being the perfect place to watch some breathtaking ballet, it also welcomes in regular opera companies, pantomimes, and travelling West End hit shows, such as Grease, Hairspray, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Wicked, Annie, and many more.
If you consider yourself a thespian, then the Birmingham Hippodrome is another reason why you should consider visiting Birmingham, and take part in its theatrical heritage.
13. Grand Central New Street Station
Not to be confused with the iconic Grand Central Station in New York City, Birmingham actually has its own train station that is known as Grand Central, although its real name is Birmingham New Street station. Grand Central is actually the shopping centre located above Birmingham New Street that was developed in 2016.
Connected to Birmingham Bullring by a walkway, Birmingham’s answer to Grand Central was a welcome addition to the city, updating the former train station, Birmingham’s primary train station, and bringing with it a selection of new establishments. With a brand new John Lewis department store, and a number of smaller shops and a plethora of dining options, Birmingham has become pretty famous for having one of the most dynamic train stations in the UK. It’s easy to spend an entire day at Grand Central alone, once you’ve made your way around the shops and decided on somewhere to delicious to eat.
14. Home of the Balti
Not only is Birmingham famous for being the chocolate capital of the UK, but it is also the curry capital of the UK, and deservedly so.
Just like other world famous foods, such as Parma ham or Stilton cheese, the balti was granted EU Protected Name status in 2015, meaning that any balti that has been cooked authentically should be referred to as a Birmingham balti. The name balti actually refers to the ‘balty’ (meaning ‘bucket’ in Urdu) that the curry is cooked in, and is so linked with Birmingham because it was invented by the city’s Pakistani chefs sometime in the 1970s. Ever since, Birmingham is renowned nationwide as the home of the authentic balti, and one of the best cities in the UK to dine out on Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisine.
In fact, there is even a specific neighborhood in Birmingham, between the areas of Sparkbrook, Sparkhill and Balsall Heath, named the Balti Triangle, where you can find some of the city’s most authentic Balti houses, and even the restaurant, Adil’s, that lays claim to having created the first-ever authentic balti.
15. The UK’s largest German Christmas Market
Every Christmas, Birmingham attracts thousands to its city center so they can come and see the largest Christmas market in the UK and, actually, the largest German Christmas market in Europe outside of Germany and Austria. In fact, the Birmingham Christmas market is even bigger than the one in Berlin – no wonder Birmingham is famous for its Christmas spirit!
Spanning all the way from the Bullring, down New Street, and up until the Birmingham town hall, the streets are lined with adorable, wooden huts selling a selection of trinkets, jewellery, toys, accessories, and, of course, food and drink. Birmingham’s Christmas market truly is something you have to experience if you are visiting the city during the Christmas season. Stroll along, day or night, with a delicious bratwurst or fresh crêpe, before making a pit stop at one of the bar stalls for a frosty stein of German beer, or a warming mug of mulled wine or delicious Austrian hot chocolate. Of course, there are also all the smells of Christmas in the air, the aromas of grilled meat, crispy potatoes, spicy cinnamon, and sugary gingerbread, and the sounds of German brass bands and Christmas carols mingling with the laughter of the crowd.
These are just 15 things that Birmingham is famous for – we’ve barely scratched the surface – but they should be enough to encourage you to pay this city a visit when you’re travelling around the British Isles.