Birmingham is Britain’s second largest city, and its location in the West Midlands makes it a great place to start exploring the many tourist attractions to be enjoyed in the Cotswolds and Malvern Hills, especially by canal. The canals of Birmingham were a by-product of the industrial revolution that saw the city’s boom, and today this vast network of canals is mainly used for pleasure boating.
The city actually has more canals than Venice, one of the best free things to do in Birmingham is to explore the preserved canals and historic buildings of the iconic Gas Street Basin. Today, the city is best known for its jewelry and food, as well as for its many cultural activities and festivals, such as the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in Europe. Just 20 miles south-east of Birmingham is Coventry, the center of the British automotive industry and a delightful day trip destination. Massive bombing in 1940 destroyed much of the city, including the old Coventry Cathedral, the ruins of which were incorporated into the new cathedral. Today, the beautiful open plazas, wide streets and pedestrian areas of Coventry are worth a visit and offer many fun activities, including good shops and restaurants. To make sure you can cram as much as possible into the travel routes of your England Midlands, be sure to check out our long list of the top attractions in Birmingham and Coventry.
1. Victoria Square & Birmingham City Center
The heart of Birmingham revolves around the Victoria Square pedestrian area and can be explored via the Birmingham City Center Path. Along the way, you will discover the attractive old town hall, built in 1832 and a masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Resembling a Roman temple, this impressive structure includes 40 Corinthian columns adorned with Anglesey marble and has been the center of the city’s music scene since it hosted Elijah Mendelssohn’s first performance in 1847.
Today, its impressive Symphony Hall, with its world-class acoustics and superb auditorium, regularly features prominent singers and performers and is also home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. The forecourt is adorned with two memorials, one to Queen Victoria and the other to inventor James Watt, while the Renaissance-style Council House (1874), with its famous “Big Brum” clock (an expression slang for Birmingham) is nearby. Other sites in the Old City to visit include the Chamberlain Square for pedestrians and the Central Library, which houses the largest collection of Shakespeares outside the United States (50,000 volumes in 90 languages).
A short walk northeast of the city center is the fascinating Coffin Museum, which showcases the history and traditions of casket making and funerals, which is worth including in your travel itinerary to Birmingham.
2. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, opened in 1885, is considered one of the most beautiful museums of this type outside London. Its artistic treasures include a collection of works by Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as works of art from the 17th to the 19th century and sculptures by Rodin and the James Tower.
There are also interesting exhibits related to the history of the city, including archaeological finds dating back to the Stone Age, as well as the impressive Pinto collection, with more than 6,000 toys and other wooden objects. A gift shop is located on site, and if you are interested in a great tea experience, the exquisite Edwardian tearooms are worth a visit.
If you have time in your schedule, visit the Ikon Gallery, a contemporary art museum located in a heritage building that deserves to be explored.
Another great tourist attraction (although unrelated to the arts) is the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Spread over 15 acres, these 19th-century gardens are easy to access from the city center and are home to countless species. He is particularly known for his collection of bonsai trees, one of which is over 250 years old, and tropical birds. There is also a butterfly house, a gift shop and a tea room on site.
3. Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
Families traveling with young budding scientists won’t want to miss Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum. This award-winning museum includes a large number of fascinating science-related exhibits, many of which are practical and interactive.
Highlights include an impressive collection of steam engines, from locomotives to tractors, as well as industrial machinery, many of which are linked to the important role of Birmingham as an industrial center over the centuries.
Other fun displays include a chocolate wrapping machine; the Spitfire Gallery, with its authentic planes from the Second World War (including one of the 10,000 locally produced Spitfires); the Science Garden, with its human-sized hamster wheel; and the Thinktank planetarium, with its fascinating visits to the stars and planets.
4. National Sea Life Centre Birmingham
One of Birmingham’s most visited tourist attractions, the National SEA LIFE Center is home to over 60 impressive exhibits related to marine life. The pride of the place goes to the gigantic one million liter aquarium of the aquarium, with its unique underwater tunnel, which allows visitors an uninterrupted view of the diversity of marine life on display, including everything from sharks reef with giant tortoises.
In total, some 2,000 critters inhabit the aquarium, including many rare seahorses, giant octopuses, lobsters, crabs, stingrays, as well as otters (watch out for mango and Starsky!). The stars of the attraction, however, are undoubtedly the penguins. Housed in the impressive Penguin Ice Adventure habitat, these fascinating creatures are fun to watch while they frolic. A 4-D cinema is also on site and offers regular educational programming. If time and budget allow, book one of the fun behind the scenes or penguin feeding experiences. Another attraction focused on creatures is the Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, a small zoo that is home to a variety of animals, including red pandas, lemurs and meerkats.
5. Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
The jewelry district is a district of Birmingham that is steeped in tradition. Here, more than 200 jewelry and goldsmith workshops produce 40% of British jewelry, mainly near the clock tower at the corner of Vyse and Frederick streets and around the Georgian church of Saint Paul.
Be sure to visit the area’s best tourist site, the Museum of the Jewelery Quarter, which offers an insider’s look at the business of the fascinating Smith & Pepper Factory. Also worth a visit is the nearby Hall of Memory across from Baskerville House, erected in 1925 to commemorate the 14,000 city men who lost their lives during the First World War, and St. Paul’s Square with its beautiful church. If time permits, be sure to visit the Pen Museum. Located in the former pen factory of the jewelry district, this first-rate museum presents the city’s ancient role as a home for the manufacture of pens and the history of writing instruments. Particular pleasure is having the possibility of making your own steel nib using the same machines and techniques used in the 19th century. The Victorian reproduction classroom is also fun, where guests can practice their calligraphy using traditional feathers.
6. Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
Located near the University of Birmingham, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts houses an excellent collection of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Highlights include masterpieces by Botticelli, Bellini, Tintoretto, Rubens, Rembrandt, Watteau, Manet, Monet, Gainsborough, Constable and Degas. The building itself should also be explored, especially for its excellent statue of George I.
If time permits, consult the institute’s program for classical midday and evening concerts. Guided tours are available, and a shop and café are located on site.
7. Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham’s Back to Backs attraction is worth a visit and is easily accessible on foot from the city center. It is a unique collection of small back-to-back houses that were once so prolific throughout the city. Built around a central courtyard – in this case, Court 15 – in the mid-19th century, these houses offer a unique insight into the often difficult conditions in which the working classes lived.
Interesting exhibits also provide insight into the important contribution of these workers to urban life. Other highlights include a traditional confectionery from the 1930s, as well as a souvenir shop, or take part in one of the fun workshops regularly organized here. For a first-rate tourist experience, consider booking one of the attraction’s two chalets for one night. Entrance is by guided tour only.
8. Cadbury World, Bournville
At Cadbury’s manufacturing site in Bournville, a short drive from Birmingham, Cadbury World is one of the region’s largest (and most popular) attractions, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors each year. With a focus on fun, visitors learn about the history of chocolate and the manufacturing process through a number of excellent thematic interactive exhibits.
Along the way, customers learn about the history of Cadbury, one of the largest confectionery stores in the world, while having the chance to enjoy theme park-type attractions suitable for families. A highlight is exploring the Bull Street attraction with replicas of stores reminiscent of the 1820s. Also be sure to try your hand at making your own confectionery, as well as shopping at Cadbury’s largest confectionery in the world.
Then make sure you spend some time exploring the perfect village of Bournville itself, built by the Cadbury family after 1860 specifically to house their large workforce.
9. Coventry Transport Museum
The Coventry Transport Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of road transport in Britain. Be prepared to stay awhile, however, as it is a huge museum. Highlights include an impressive collection of over 300 cycles, 120 motorcycles and over 250 cars and commercial vehicles, many of which were linked to Coventry’s rich past as the center of the British motor vehicle manufacturing industry.
Notable collections include royal limousines; cars from the 40s, 50s and 60s; as well as many fun interactive educational displays. A special pleasure if the visit in winter is the chance to get on an ancient sleigh … particularly fun at Christmas.
Gasoline enthusiasts should also visit the incredible National Motorcycle Museum at Bickenhill. Located in the middle of eight hectares, this popular attraction is home to a collection of over 850 British-made motorcycles spanning 100 years.
10. Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Another top tourist attraction in Coventry to explore is the excellent Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Often simply called The Herbert, this fascinating museum takes its name from one of the city’s most philanthropic industrialists, Alfred Herbert, and is home to many fine sculptures and paintings. Be sure to spend time visiting the art gallery focusing on depicting parts of the city.
Other highlights include a large collection of 19th-century costumes with modern clothing, including items reflecting the city’s diverse ethnic makeup, as well as exhibits relating to the materials from which they are made. The museum offers a variety of workshops and educational opportunities, and there is a cafe on site.