Apparently over the years there’s been quite the handbags at dawn hissy fit going on between Birmingham and the capital of the north-west, Manchester, over which city should be able to claim the title of Britain’s second capital. To which we say pfffffft. It’s going to make us sound like weary parents who pull apart their fighting offspring and tell them there was no need to rip the teddy bear’s head off and incidentally we love them both the same, but really, who cares? They’re both fab cities. And here we are, covering them both in our city guides for Freedom2Explore. Manchester here. Birmingham below.
Birmingham does seem to get a bit of a short shrift when it comes to being recognised as one of the UK’s major cities – we bet you didn’t know, for example, that it’s the most populated city outside London, ahead of Manchester in third place? Neither did we, yet again, until we looked it up. We also found out that Brum was called the first manufacturing town in the world in the eighteenth century, that it’s the biggest centre of higher education outside London, with three universities and two university colleges, and that there’s a redevelopment plot afoot to aim to make Birmingham one of the world’s top twenty most liveable cities. And it was the home of both Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, and where JRR Tolkien grew up, which has quickly elevated it to our list of favourite British cities ever.
So what are you going to do on your now pencilled in trip to Birmingham? Loads. There’s the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Barber Institute of Fine Arts for one, er, three, which are all world famous. You could explore the city’s industrial heritage – during the Industrial Revolution people in Birmingham registered three times as many patents for new inventions than anywhere else in the country. (Yes, including London.) You could wander along the canals or through some of Birmingham’s eight thousand acres of green space – try Sutton Park*, which is the biggest urban nature reserve in Europe, the Victorian Birmingham Botanical Gardens*, the Lickey Hills Country Park* or Cannon Hill Park*, which also has the Birmingham Nature Centre*.
You’re unlikely to see Black Sabbath again in Birmingham (boo that we missed their 2012 gig), but the musical heritage of Brum is said to rival Liverpool’s and there are plenty of concert venues around the city where you can get your groove on. There’s the famous and imaginatively named National Indoor Arena*, the Adrian Boult Hall, the CBSO Centre and the O2 Academy* for contemporary music gigs, while classical peeps can see Birmingham’s city orchestra at Symphony Hall* or the chamber orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall*.
For theatre, the main venue is the Rep or Birmingham Repertory Theatre* which has seen acclaimed actors over the years such as Lawrence Olivier and Albert Finney, the political Banner Theatre*, the experimental theatre Stan’s Café*, and the Alexandra Theatre* and the Birmingham Hippodrome which both put on big name touring performances.
Going to a museum or art gallery? Like London and Manchester, there’s loads to see in Birmingham across all genres of art and most periods of history. Start off at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery* with Old Masters paintings, seventeenth century Italian paintings and Europe’s collection of ceramics and fine metalwork. Then make your way to ThinkTank, Birmingham’s science museum, Cadbury World, telling the history of the company and chocolate (mmm…chocolate), the National Sea Life Centre, the Ikon Gallery* with displays of contemporary art, and historic building such as Aston Hall* and Blakesley Hall*.
Sadly we’re out of room on this one, but check out our other Birmingham articles and let us know your favourite Brum things to see and do in the forums. And remember, Birmingham, Manchester, we love you both the same. So there.