Known as being the first manufacturing town in the world and hailed as the city of a Thousand Trades, Birmingham has, through its commerce, left an indelible cultural mark on Britain. Beginning as a medieval market town, Birmingham grew into a modern industrial society during the Industrial Revolution. With this came thousands of small workshops practising a variety of specialised and highly skilled trades of which encouraged exceptional levels of creativity and innovation rooted in historical remembrances.
This once industrial city now enjoys international reputations from major cultural institutions such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. But during this past week, I’ve noticed there is so much more to Birmingham’s culture and arts than just these. This Birmingham City Guide shows how Birmingham is, unknowingly, one of the UK’s most vibrant and culturally thriving cities. From the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard, a Shakespeare Memorial Room to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, there’s a plethora of hidden gems and secret spots that even the most intrepid of travellers will enjoy! Read this Birmingham City Guide to find out what they are!
what to do in birmingham in One Day
Library of Birmingham
For any bookworms, Birmingham Library‘s exterior might seem untraditional and slightly bizarre. Designed by Dutch architect, Mecanoo, and opened to the public in 2013, its bold, extravagant and geometrically arranged design makes the library feels more in keeping for those who love sensationalism over scholarship. Indeed, as the largest public library in the United Kingdom and the largest public cultural space in Europe, many locals spend hours browsing or studying here.
Equally as impressive on the inside, books are spread out over as many as ten levels with ladders effortlessly leading to the next beautifully curved, book-brimmed shelves and balconies. The whole interior is reminiscent of the library in the Disney film Beauty and the Beast; such a breath-taking and magical space to indulge both in local and international literature.
The design of Birmingham Library also gives rise to the addition of two outdoor terraces, known as “Secret Gardens”. Is there anything more charming than this? It’s particularly dazzling how this brings nature and a sense of serenity and tranquility to a dynamic and energetic building and metropolis.
Shakespeare Memorial Room
Located at the top of Birmingham Library, Shakespeare Memorial Room is the icing on the cake. Originally designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882, the room houses Britain and the world’s most important Shakespeare collection, comprising 43,000 books. Magically, this room carries you back in time, to a time where you’re in company with Shakespeare himself. With rare items such as a copy of the 1623 First Folio, copies of the four earliest Folio editions, over 70 editions of separate plays printed before 1709 and Shakespeare’s death mask, you’ll never feel closer to the man himself!
Opened in 1885, Birmingham Museum has a collection of international importance covering ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, natural, local and industrial history, archaeology and the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard exhibition! This is not just another collection of historical artefacts. Instead they show the cultural exchange Birmingham has had across the globe throughout history.
Starting with ornaments from Greece and Rome, these show how the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome had a huge influence on the Western world; on their art, politics, literatures and mythologies. Indeed, local artists have been inspired by these cultures, believing they provide models for the ideal society.
The blue and white ceramics displayed highlight Birmingham’s cultural exchange with countries as far as Iran, Iraq and China. These ceramics were first developed in Iran and Iraq during the Middle Ages, but the technique was quickly adopted by potters in China. The fact that these objects are in Birmingham show how dominant and complex the style became, as different cultures sought to imitate them and fought to secure international markets. Thus, highlighting how Birmingham was among those who traded for these goods!
From vases to barber’s bowls, the shape and decorations of these reveal Islamic influence on British design standards. While objects with the human image, the natural world and woodcarvings confirm Birmingham’s place in the 19th century’s innovative scientific investigation and discovery. These developments changed the way people saw the world, revealing how these objects reflect a new standard of beauty!
The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest Anglo-Saxon hoard of gold ever found! It is the window into the life of England in the 7th century and the world of its warrior elite. The hoard contains over 4,000 objects and broken fragments of over 5 kilograms of gold and 1.5 kilograms of silver! From weapons, sword hilts, to Christian crosses these objects show how religion and the glory of war were the leading principles in ancient England.
With over 40 galleries to explore, there is something for everyone! The gallery itself is famous for its Pre-Raphaelite paintings which is the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world, including stunning works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. In addition, the Round Room displays Victorian paintings that were contemporary art of its time. The paintings here are wonderfully grouped by themes to reflect the main interests of British 19th-century artists and society. They include subjects from history, literature, mythology and the Bible, landscape paintings and scenes of everyday life. It is a splendid visual reflection of Birmingham’s culture and recent history!
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Located on Broad Street, Birmingham Rep Theatre is the longest-established of Britain’s building-based theatre companies. It is a wonderfully innovative theatre, committed to producing new writing and a wide range of drama in all three of its auditoriums. The interior design captures your imagination and transports you to another world with costume design sketches on digital screens while costumes of recent productions hang from the ceiling. Its a building that offers a creative and theatrical experience unlike any other!
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For those more interested in shopping, head over to the Bullring. As the city’s biggest shopping centre with over 140 different shops, it is still rooted in history. It has roots in the Middle Ages as it is in the exact same location as the city’s first-ever markets.
If you enjoyed reading this Birmingham City Guide, head over to my one day itinerary in Oxford. Remember to subscribe to my blog for updates on my travels and for more guides like this Birmingham City Guide!