14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Birmingham & Coventry
Birmingham is Britain's second largest city, and its location in the West Midlands makes it a great place to begin exploring the beautiful Cotswolds and Malvern Hills areas - especially by canal. Birmingham's canals were a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution that saw the city boom, and today this extensive canal network (the city has more canals than Venice) is used mostly for pleasure boating. These days, the city is famous for its jewelry and foods as well as its numerous cultural activities and festivals, such as Europe's second-largest St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Just 20 miles away from Birmingham is Coventry, the center of Britain's motor industry. A massive bombing raid in 1940 destroyed much of the city, including old Coventry Cathedral, the ruins of which were incorporated into the new cathedral. Today, Coventry's fine open squares, wide streets, and pedestrian zones are well worth exploring and offer many fun things to do, including great shopping and dining.
1 Historic City Center, Birmingham
In Birmingham's city center, the Town Hall was built in 1832 and is a masterpiece of Victorian architecture. Resembling a Roman temple, this impressive structure features 40 ornate Corinthian columns made of Anglesey marble. It has been the center of the city's music scene since hosting the first performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah in 1847. Nowadays, its impressive Symphony Hall, with its world-class acoustics and stunning auditorium, regularly features A-list singers and performers and is also home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Adorning the forecourt are two memorials, one to Queen Victoria and another to inventor James Watt, while the Renaissance-style Council House (1874), with its famous "Big Brum" clock (a slang phrase for Birmingham) is close by. Other old-city sites to visit include pedestrians-only Chamberlain Square and the Central Library, home of the largest Shakespeare collection outside the United States (50,000 volumes in 90 languages).
2 Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, opened in 1885, is considered one of the finest such museums outside London. Its art treasures include a collection of Pre-Raphaelite painters, as well as artwork from the 17th to 19th centuries and sculptures by Rodin and James Tower. There are also interesting displays related to the city's history, including archaeological finds dating back to the Stone Age, along with the impressive Pinto Collection, with its 6,000-plus toys and other items made of wood.
Also worth visiting and within easy walking distance is the Birmingham Back to Backs attraction, a unique collection of the small "back-to-back" homes once so prolific throughout the city. Built around a central courtyard in the mid-19th century, these homes offer a unique insight into the conditions of the working classes and their important contribution to city life (admission by guided tour only).
Address: Chamberlain Square, Birmingham
3 Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum
Families traveling with budding young 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 them hands-on and interactive. Highlights include an impressive collection of steam-powered machines, from locomotives to tractors, as well as industrial machinery, many related to Birmingham's important role as an industrial center through the centuries. Other fun displays include a chocolate packaging machine; the Spitfire Gallery, with its authentic WWII-era aircraft (including one of 10,000 Spitfires made locally); the Science Garden, with its human-sized hamster wheel; and the Thinktank Planetarium, with its fascinating tours of the stars and planets.
Address: Millennium Point, Curzon Street, Birmingham
4 National SEA LIFE Centre, Birmingham
One of Birmingham's most-visited tourist attractions, the National SEA LIFE Centre is home to an impressive 60-plus exhibits related to marine life. Pride of place goes to the aquarium's massive million-liter ocean tank, with its unique underwater tunnel that allows visitors an uninterrupted view of the diverse sea life on display, including everything from reef sharks to giant turtles. All told, some 2,000 critters call the aquarium home, including numerous rare seahorses, giant octopi, lobsters, crabs, stingrays, as well as otters (look out for Mango and Starsky!). The stars of the attraction, though, are undoubtedly the penguins. Housed in the impressive Penguin Ice Adventure habitat, these fascinating creatures are fun to watch as they frolic. A 4-D cinema is also on site and offers regular educational programming. Hot Tip: If time and budget permit, book one of the fun behind-the-scenes or penguin-feeding experiences.
Address: The Waters Edge, 3 Brindleyplace, Birmingham
5 Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham
The Jewellery Quarter is an area of Birmingham that is steeped in tradition. Here, more than 200 jewelers' workshops and silversmiths are concentrated, chiefly in the vicinity of the Clock Tower on the corner of Vyse and Frederick Streets and around the Georgian church of St. Paul's. Be sure to visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, an insider's look at the trade, in the fascinating Smith & Pepper Factory. Also worth checking out is the nearby Hall of Memory opposite Baskerville House, erected in 1925 to commemorate the 14,000 city men who lost their lives in WWI.
If time permits, be sure to pop over to the Pen Museum. Situated in the Jewellery Quarter's old pen factory, this first-rate museum showcases the city's former role as a hotbed of pen making along with the history of writing instruments. A special treat is having the opportunity to make your own steel nib using the same machinery and techniques used in the 19th century. Also fun is the reproduction Victorian schoolroom, where guests can practice their penmanship using traditional quills.
Address: Vyse Street, Hockley, Birmingham
6 St Philip's Cathedral, Birmingham
Built in 1715, St. Philip's Cathedral (the third smallest in England) began life as a parish church and was elevated to its present status in 1905. The cathedral was gutted during a bombing raid in 1940, but foresight saw its famous stained glass windows by Burne-Jones (1884) removed a few weeks prior. Today, these significant treasures - returned to their rightful place when the cathedral was rebuilt in 1948 - are a highlight of any trip to Birmingham. Another religious structure worth visiting is St. Martin's Church. Dating from the 13th century, it also features windows by Burne-Jones.
Address: Colmore Row, Birmingham
7 Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
Close to Birmingham University, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts houses an excellent collection of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century. Highlights include masterpieces by the likes of 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 be sure to check out the institute's schedule of classical lunchtime and evening concerts.
Location: University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham
8 Cadbury World, Bournville
On Cadbury's Bournville manufacturing site just a short drive from Birmingham, Cadbury World is one of the area's largest (and most popular) attractions, welcoming more than 500,000 visitors each year. With a focus on fun, visitors get to discover the history of chocolate as well as the manufacturing process through a number of excellent themed interactive exhibits. Along the way, guests learn the story of the Cadbury business, one of the world's largest confectioneries. Afterwards, be sure to spend a little time exploring the picture-perfect village of Bournville itself, built by the Cadbury family after 1860 specifically to house their large workforce.
Address: Linden Road, Bournville
9 Black Country Living Museum, Dudley
In the town of Dudley, just nine miles west of Birmingham, The Black Country Living Museum offers visitors a vivid insight into the history of mining (hence the "black"). An old mine shaft and reconstructed turn-of-the-century industrial community can be explored, as can the neighboring network of canals (this part of the adventure takes place in an authentic narrow boat once used to transport coal). Other highlights include the chance to interact with costumed guides well-versed in the histories of the local people, plenty of unique shopping opportunities, vintage buses and commercial vehicles, as well as a traditional English fun fair from the 19th century.
Address: Tipton Road, Dudley
10 Broadgate, Coventry
Broadgate, a spacious pedestrian-friendly square in the heart of the city, is known for its references to Lady Godiva, the city's most (in)famous resident. A statue of her stands in the middle of the square, and Broadgate House has a unique clock on which Lady Godiva appears on the stroke of the hour, with Peeping Tom at a window above.
Holy Trinity Church, at the northeast corner of Broadgate, has one of the city's three famous spires, this one constructed in 1166 and 327 feet high. The church boasts beautiful windows, a stone pulpit from 1470, and interesting tapestries woven for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Also noteworthy is a medieval painting from around 1430 entitled Doom (also known as Last Judgment) and depicting Christ judging souls to send to either Heaven or Hell. Twice lost after being covered by layers of wash and varnish, the fully restored artwork is again on display and is said to be one of the most important discoveries in the field of medieval art in Europe.
11 Old Coventry Cathedral
Built in 1373 and originally one of the largest parish churches in England, Old Coventry Cathedral was elevated to cathedral status only in 1918. After the devastating blitz of 1940, however, only a few sections of the external walls remained, together with the slender 303-foot-high spire. At the east end of the old cathedral, a cross - fashioned from two charred beams rescued from the ruins - is a poignant symbol and reminder of the destruction. (Interesting fact: the sacristies were rebuilt after the war with help from young German volunteers.)
Address: Hill Top, Coventry
12 St. Michael's Cathedral, Coventry
A tall, canopied porch links the old cathedral ruins with modern St. Michael's Cathedral, designed by Sir Basil Spence and opened in 1962. The walls of the 420-foot-long nave are built in zigzag fashion, the offset concrete panels alternating with windows facing the altar. The most striking feature, though, is the huge glass screen at the building's west end. Engraved with figures of angels, saints, and patriarchs, it creates a striking visual link, both with the old cathedral ruins and the busy city streets outside. Another impressive feature is the baptistery, with its font hewn from stone from Bethlehem, and the stained glass Sunburst Window.
A nearby building fortunate enough to have survived the bombing was the 15th-century St. Mary's Hall, headquarters of the Merchants' Guild since 1342. The Great Hall (1394-1414) has impressive oak vaulting and a tapestry depicting Henry VII's visit in 1500.
Address: Hill Top, Coventry
13 Grayfriars, Coventry
The most interesting of Coventry's surviving half-timbered buildings is Ford's Hospital in Greyfriars Lane, an almshouse for poor married couples, founded in 1509. Nearby Greyfriars Monastery, destroyed in 1539, is worth visiting for its surviving steeple, now incorporated into Christ Church. The dormitory and cloister of the Whitefriars Monastery have since been fully restored and now house an interesting museum dealing with local history. Bablake Old School (1560) is also worth seeing, as is Bond's Hospital, a half-timbered almshouse for elderly men founded in 1506.
14 Coventry Transport Museum
The Coventry Transport Museum provides a fascinating account of the history of road transport in Britain. Be prepared to stay awhile, though, as this is one massive museum. Highlights include an impressive collection of more than 300 cycles, 120 motorcycles, and more than 250 cars and commercial vehicles, many of them related to Coventry's rich past as the center of Britain's motor vehicle manufacturing industry. Collections of note include royal limousines; cars of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s; as well as numerous fun interactive educational displays.
Another first-rate Coventry attraction is the excellent Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Often simply referred to as The Herbert and named after one of the city's most philanthropic industrialists, Alfred Herbert, the museum boasts numerous fine sculptures, paintings, and clothing exhibits from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Address: Hales Street, Coventry