Birmingham - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Birmingham


Birthplace of the industrial revolution, Birmingham is shaking off its dreary manufacturing reputation to reveal a cosmopolitan world city. Situated in the geographical heart of England, the UK's second largest metropolis is a mixed bag of cultures, dotted with a colourful array of continental eateries, modern shopping arcades, sweeping plazas and vibrant markets.

Much of the area now covered by Birmingham's metropolis was originally the northern corner of the ancient Forest of Arden. Birmingham came to life in the mid 1800s as a major manufacturing town owing to the large deposits of exploitable coal and iron nearby. Despite heavy bomb damage during World War II's 'Birmingham Blitz', much industrial heritage is still present in Britain's 'canal city', which has more waterways than amorous Venice. Built over 200 years ago, the canals, which once bore the raw materials that would spawn the industrial revolution, are now principally used for pleasure and provide a moody backdrop to the historic buildings, restaurants and pubs that site alongside, most notably at charming Brindley Place and the Gas Street Basin.

Churning out the likes of JRR Tolkien, Robert Plant, Black Sabbath and The Streets, the Brummies have done their fair share of creative contribution. An impressive live music scene now illuminates the evenings and an exhaustive listing of events can be found in the free fortnightly publication, The Fly.A rich bounty of cuisine and culture make up the world renowned Balti Triangle and the curvaceous Selfridges store with its mottled futuristic 'skin' is not to be missed at the Bullring centre, a commercial hub that has been in use since the Middle Ages. For a breath of fresh air, head to one of Birmingham's five Green Flag status parks and enjoy the shade of the city's dense oak tree cover.

Information & Facts


Birmingham's weather is typically English, if slightly more temperate than the coast. Rainfall occurs all year round but is heavier in winter. Average maximum temperatures in summer (July) are around 68°F (20°C) and in winter (January) around 40°F (4.5°C). Due to its inland location snow does occur in the city centre during winter but has become less frequent over the past few years. Tornadoes occur intermittently, the most recent being in July 2005.

Getting Around

The best way to explore Birmingham is on foot as the majority of the city centre is now pedestrianised and the canals, which have been cleaned up, make for attractive walkways. The majority of transport used in Birmingham and the West Midlands area are buses. There is no central bus station, but a bus stop can be found on almost every corner. Travel West Midlands is the main operator; a single fare costing between £0.80 to £1.10 and a Daysaver ticket, allowing unlimited bus travel for one day costing £3. An exact fare is required when boarding the bus, as drivers will not give change. Black cabs can be hailed in the street or reached at one of the many taxi ranks in the city centre, the main ones situated at New Street Station, Stephenson Street and Digbeth Coach Station. New Street and Moor Street train stations provide rail connections to destinations throughout the UK. For coach transfers to other major towns and cities, National Express is a good bet.

English is the official language, though visitors will be astonished by the variety of regional accents.

The currency is the pound (GBP), which is divided into 100 pence. ATMs are available in all towns and Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted; visitors with other cards should check with their credit card companies in advance. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change and large hotels, however better exchange rates are likely to be found at banks. Travellers cheques are accepted in all areas frequented by tourists; they are best taken in Pounds Sterling to avoid additional charges.

Local time in the United Kingdom is GMT (GMT +1 from last Sunday in March to Saturday before last Sunday in October).

Any visit to Birmingham is not complete without visiting the city's curry capital and sampling its unique Balti fare. Originating from the large Kashmiri population, the Balti dish was officially discovered in 1976. The word balti means 'bucket' and refers to the round-bottomed pan, similar to a wok, which the dish is served in. A mouth-watering stir-fried curry with an amalgamation of aromatic spices, fresh herbs and tantalising masalas, newcomers should forget their knives and forks and mop up the sauce with a wad of aromatic Nan bread. Located in the Sparkbrook area ten minutes from the city centre, the Balti Triangle boasts over 50 restaurants dedicated to Eastern cuisine and a smattering of shops, ranging from Asian clothes and fashion to exotic foods and of course Bollywood merchandise.

Praised by The Observeras 'one of the finest small art galleries in Europe', the vivid red walls of the enchanting Barber Institute of Fine Arts are adorned with some of the most celebrated art from the 13th to the 20th century. Browsing the robust artworks, visitors are treated to the timeless talents of the old masters and modern pioneers such as Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh and Degas. Offering a fascinating collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures, history enthusiasts can also venture into Byzantine times at the coin gallery, which hosts one of Europe's finest collections of Byzantine coins. The Barber Institute's Gallery Shop is a worthy stopover for some souvenirs and gallery related literature.

Boasting the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and drawings in the world, the breathtaking works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones can be found at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The spectacular Waterhall Gallery of Modern Art is littered with impressionist masterpieces and is not to be missed on any trip to Birmingham; the same can be said of the Greek, Roman and Ancient Near East Gallery, which never ceases to please. With fine art from the 14th century onwards and an impressive collection of archaeological finds documenting 400,000 years of history, visitors will be suitably satisfied. The Edwardian Tea Room provides a cosy space to discuss what you saw and serves warm beverages, light snacks and scrumptious cakes.

Acknowledged as England's 'Best Outdoor Market' in 2008 by the National Association of British Market Authorities, the Bullring Open Market is renowned for its extensive range of fabrics and fresh produce. The market took the illustrious prize on account of its promotion of healthy eating policies and ongoing support of low-income families. Each year more than six million people visit the Bullring Markets, the Indoor Market, housing 140 unique stalls, best known for its fresh fish section. For a good dose of bric-a-brac meander through the smorgasbord of antiques, vintage clothing and cheap trinkets at the Rag Market, which is reminiscent of London's market culture.

A short drive from Birmingham city centre, the Drayton Manor Theme Park offers an exhilarating alternative to shopping and sightseeing. Loaded with more than 50 rides and pale-faced thrills the English media has lauded the park as having 'Britain's scariest rides'. Visitors can drop 177 feet (54m) from the world's first stand up tower, take a watery plunge in a rescue boat down a slippery 180º platform, fly around one of the parks two swirling rollercoasters, or tackle the rapids with friends at Splash Canyon. Family fun at Drayton Manor Theme Park has not been short-circuited either as a wide variety of child-friendly rides and entertainment from Dragon's Tale to Circus World is provided.

Take a journey back in time at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Housed in an original jewellery making factory dating from the early 1900s, the enchanting family run firm of Smith and Pepper provides a window into the ancient craft skills that made Birmingham the centre of the British jewellery industry. The factory is presented exactly as it was left when abandoned in 1981, after 80 years of jewellery making, even down to the coffee cups. The museum also uses state of the art technology to unravel the history of jewellery making in the Midlands to newcomers. Over 100 jewellery shops line the streets of the Jewellery Quarter and are a popular attraction for bargain hunters and shoppers looking for a special purchase.

A Birmingham landmark, the Selfridges store at the Bullring Market boasts a stylish design proving that contemporary architecture can thrive outside trendy London. Designed by Future Systems' architects, the knobbly silver façade was inspired by Paco Rabanne's chain mail dresses. Constructed with concrete, which was then painted a glowing blue and adorned with 16,000 polished aluminum disks to create a mottled outer skin, the contemporary construction cost just over one million US dollars to build. Transforming Birmingham's urban fabric, the store draws thousands of visitors each week to witness its bizarre design and browse the designer goodies inside.

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