Birmingham, the UK’s second-biggest city in terms of population, is no London copy. The West Midlands city is full of classic Victorian buildings and bold contemporary architecture alike.
Historically an important center of manufacturing and modern industry, Birmingham has more recently seen an extended refurbishment of canals and industrial areas and the creation of a media and arts district in the Custard Factory. Birmingham’s weekend crowds consist mostly of locals, in refreshing distinction to London’s tourist-filled inner districts.
Here are five tips for watching your pennies in the UK’s second-largest city.
Forgive the assumption but you’ll probably be making the 90-minute journey from London by train. There is strong competition on this route, with three train companies offering services between the two cities. London Midland and Virgin Trains operate train services from London Euston, while Chiltern Railways operates a service from London Marylebone. Price tickets on each of these lines, and remember that advance purchases of tickets at non-peak hours (basically, non-commute times) will be cheapest.
Of note: For general advice on saving money on train tickets in the UK try MyTrainTicket.com.uk.
Related: Birmingham Britain’s second city
The Birmingham Back to Backs museum run by the National Trust. Photo: Elliot Brown
Birmingham Back to Backs (55-63 Hurst Street / 50-54 Inge Street), operated by the National Trust, consists of renovated 19th-century “back to backs,” or cramped housing organized around a courtyard. The site can only be toured on a guided tour, from £7.25 per adult. If you’re on a serious budget, do not fret. The museum includes a free exhibition exploring the Back to Backs’ living spaces and family histories. The free exhibition is located above the site shop.
The great parlor at Blakesley Hall. Photo: Elliot Brown
Completely free cultural venues in Birmingham include the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Chamberlain Square) and Weoley Castle (Alwold Road). In addition, admission to the gardens and grounds of Jacobean mansion Aston Hall (Trinity Road, Aston) and 16th-century timber-framed Tudor manor Blakesley Hall (Blakesley Road, Yardley) are free of charge.
The cutting-edge Birmingham Library that opened in 2013. Photo: brianca37
The Library of Birmingham (Cententary Square, Broad Street), designed by leading Dutch architect Francine Houben, opened in 2013. It’s a high-tech building with bona-fide green credentials. Its lattice-like exterior decoration provides something of a counterbalance to the building’s basic muscularity. Wonderful greenery can be found in two garden terraces, on levels 3 and 7.
Nitenite City Rooms in Birmingham offers affordable rates and comfortable quarters. Photo: Elliot Brown
The Warehouse Café (54-57 Allison Street) is a tasty vegetarian restaurant, with a £6.95 bulgur salad and veggie burgers from £6.75. It is located upstairs from the Birmingham Friends of the Earth headquarters.
Rooms at Nitenite (18 Holliday Street) are windowless and very compact. That might not sound very nice, but all rooms are en-suite and disarmingly stylish. Nitenite also provides wi-fi for guests free of charge. Rates are nice on the pocketbook, too, with double room rates as low as £42 per night online.