Birmingham has seen something of a transformation over the past few years. The city’s skyline now features several architectural masterpieces and its industrial heritage has been given a new lease of life. Factories and warehouses have been revitalised with shops, bars and restaurants opening in once redundant spaces.
There are three Club Sites within easy reach of the city centre, and Kingsbury Water Park is open year-round. Clent Hills (opens for the season on 31 March) is well connected by bus while Kingsbury and Drayton Manor Club Sites (opens on 10 February) will best suit those with their own transport. Wherever you choose to stay, don’t miss these well-known attractions and some hidden gems.
Birmingham has no shortage of shopping and you can’t beat its iconic Bullring built on the site of the city’s ancient market. The Bullring’s current incarnation dates from 2003 and features one of the few branches of Selfridges found outside London as the centre’s flagship store, which is instantly recognisable as it is clad in 15,000 shiny aluminium discs. The inspiration for this quirky design was said to have come from a sequinned dress made by Paco Rabanne.
Other shopping suggestions include the new Grand Central mall with John Lewis is proving very popular. Independent and niche shops are also holding their own – the former Bird’s factory has been repurposed as The Custard Factory, home to 30 outlets selling everything from sweets to vintage clothing.
Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
The National Trust offers guided tours of Birmingham’s last surviving street of back-to-back houses. The tour reveals what life was like for the ordinary people who called such places home from the 1840s to the 1970s. The sights, sounds and smells will evoke nostalgia for bygone days and enrich visitors’ understanding of how tough such lives were. You’ll meet Mr Levi in his workshop, see what’s cooking in Mrs Oldfield’s kitchen and take a look at what’s for sale in Mr Saunders’ tailor’s shop. Tours last an hour, leaving plenty of time to treat yourself in the on-site 1930s sweet shop before you leave.
The Pen Museum
Birmingham was at the centre of the global pen trade during the Industrial Revolution with 75 per cent of the world’s pens being made in the city. The Pen Museum is dedicated to exploring the fascinating story behind pens and calligraphy, with more than 5,000 exhibits that help piece together a picture of why Birmingham was so successful in this field. Visitors learn about John Mitchell’s work in Newhall Street. His company pioneered the use of machinery to cut pen nibs in mass production encouraged the nation’s writers to ditch the quill in droves. In the museum, visitors can also make their own nib using such machinery as well as seeing what their own handwriting looks like when using a feather dipped in ink.
The nearby Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
occupies what was once the premises of Smith and Pepper’s jewellery business. Its swallow designs were popular in the inter-war period, while its Egyptian-inspired snake designs capitalised on Howard Carter’s famous finds. It was run as a family business for 82 years but when the proprietors decided to retire in 1981 they simply chose to lock the doors and walk away. Things were left exactly as they were, which was seized upon as an extraordinary opportunity to present the secrets of the trade to the general public. As you watch demonstrations and learn about working conditions, you’ll realise what a wonderful gift that was.
Sherborne Wharf Heritage Narrowboats
Here’s a surprising fact. There are more canals in Birmingham than in Venice so don’t miss the chance to get out on the water. The marina at Sherborne Wharf
is located right in the city centre on the Oozles Street loop, which is part of James Brindley’s canal and itself part of Thomas Telford’s Main Line. Three narrowboats are waiting to take passengers on a tour of the city’s waterways, cruising along quiet stretches of the canal to learn about Birmingham’s role in the Industrial Revolution. Tours depart daily throughout the summer and less frequently during the winter months.
National Sea Life Centre
On the face of it, the choice of a city so far from the ocean for an island nation’s National Sea Life Centre
is an odd one, but when you consider Birmingham’s central location it is easy to see why it was selected. There are more than 60 displays featuring all manner of marine life from stingrays to jellyfish. Visitors can feed sharks, penguins and turtles under the watchful eye of the centre’s trained staff.
BBC Birmingham tours
Fans of ‘the Beeb’ will be delighted to learn BBC Birmingham
offers backstage tours that enable visitors to peek behind the scenes at TV and radio programmes such as Midlands Today and the Archers. Tour guides will explain how a script idea makes it on to the small screen and the technological developments that are transforming the media world in the 21st century. Participants will be able to make their own radio play – including sound effects – and test their knowledge of BBC television with a specially designed quiz. Make sure you reserve a place well in advance as tours often sell out.
Pitch up in Birmingham
Visit the website for more details about Club Sites
in the Birmingham area.