15 Reasons to Visit Birmingham’s Revitalised Historic Canals and City

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Birmingham’s revitalized historic canals are one of the best places to visit in the Midlands.

While Birmingham may not be at the top of your bucket list when in England, it might just surprise you. Birmingham is the largest and most populous city after London.

Because the city grew extensively during the industrial revolution,  today it ranks as a major international commercial centre with six universities.

Despite its reputation as an industrial city, we found exploring Birmingham interesting, and we discovered an attractive vibrant city.

With its Victorian History, its revitalized historic canals, as well as great shopping, Birmingham is a worthwhile day trip from London by train.

Related Post: Walk The Regent’s Canal in London

Arrive at Birmingham New Street Train Station

Glass arch ceiling
Birmingham New Street Train Station

The train from London Euston to New Street Station is your starting point, with easy access to the many areas of the city centre.

With a large shopping complex on the first floor of New Street Station, it makes the perfect place to meet up for a coffee and chat with friends.

You can also take the train to nearby places like Leicester.


Explore the UK with Housesitting

We were housesitting in Water Orton, near Birmingham, to look after two adorable dogs, Darcie and Daisie. In between their walks, we found some of the best places to see in Birmingham.

Housesitting in England, we have explored the Jurassic Coast, the Cotswolds, and Cambridge.

We love our lifestyle, living like locals with house sitting as a way to travel the world. You can learn more at Go House Sitting.

In the UK, we use Trusted Housesitters for our house-sitting assignments.


Walk along Birmingham’s Revitalised Historic Canals

Map of Birmingham's Canal Network
Birmingham’s Canal Network

We have to admit that we were a little surprised at what we found.

The rejuvenation of Birmingham’s Revitalised Historic canals started 30 years ago, and the result is fantastic.

You’ll love what you will see.

Passing through Birmingham are the:

  • Grand Union Canal
  • Worcester and Birmingham Canal
  • Stourbridge Canal
  • Stratford Canal

The canals were originally used to bring raw materials from London to the factories in Birmingham in Victorian times. The raw materials were then turned into finished goods to be delivered all over England. Pretty impressive.

And we learned there are more canals here than in Venice.

At Cambrian House, you can learn more about the canal project from a Canal and River Trust volunteer.

Man and woman standing alongside a narrow canal
Maura and Nigel at Birmingham Canals, England 1986

15 Reasons to See Birmingham’s Revitalised Historic Canals and City Centre

The best place to start is in the Jewellery Quarter. It is said that 40% of the jewellery in England is made here in Birmingham.

You can walk along the canal to The Roundabout for cafes and restaurants.

Or you can start where the Parade crosses the canal near Fleet Street.

1. Great Vibe at Birmingham Canal Roundabout

Old Turn Junction, Birmingham Main Line
Old Turn Junction, Birmingham Main Line

Who would have thought you could find a roundabout on a canal?

We found it at Old Turn Junction on the Birmingham Main Line Canal.

The area is picturesque and very busy, with people enjoying the activities along and on the canals. Especially the Malt House filled with patrons.

As well as a great place to sit with a drink, you can also take a boat trip on the canals, giving you another perspective of these historic canals.

Old warehouses transformed into restaurants and cafes.

Try the Malt House for beers and food.

Here at Birmingham’s Rejuvenated Historic Canals, you can spend time with family and friends, enjoying a meal or a drink in a great setting.

The Malt House
The Malt House

2. Arena Birmingham

As we walked past the Arena Birmingham (formally Barclaycard Arena), children and parents were spilling from its many doorways. The latest show for children had just finished, and by the sound of delightful voices, it was a lot of fun.

Arena Birmingham was the largest indoor stadium when built-in 1991.

3. The Roundhouse

Another example of the canal upgrade is The Roundhouse, a brick crescent-shaped building on the Birmingham Canal Old Line. Originally, the building was used as a stable for storing goods.

Today, the plan for the building is to create a place for leisure activities.

4. Living in Birmingham Canal Old Line

We are always fascinated by the different lifestyle choices people make. So, walking further along the canal, we found narrow houseboats moored along the canal.

Plenty of brightly coloured boats, small gardens and what seemed like a small village.

5. Fun for the Children

National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham
National Sea Life Centre, Birmingham

You’ll also find the National Sea Life Centre we know the kids would love to visit.  The aquarium is so popular that it pays to book online so as not to disappoint you or the kids.

Remember to factor in feeding times by clicking on this link to learn more ⇒ National Sea Life Centre Birmingham.

6. ICC and Symphony Hall

A stop at Sherbourne Wharf is where you can visit and view the ICC (International Convention Centre) as well as Symphony Hall. Modern buildings offering conference facilities and entertainment right in the heart of Birmingham city.

What a great place to come for a conference!

Canal cruises, bars and restaurants make it a perfect place to unwind after the conference.

7. Gas Street Basin

The Canal House at the Gas Street Basin
The Canal House at the Gas Street Basin

Who would have thought the opening day of the new restaurant and bar Canal House was our choice for a drink?

At last, some shade from the sun (did we say that after all the rain we’ve had!)

We loved the feel and colour of this area, known as the Gas Street Basin. You’ll find plenty of canal boats moored here in various colours.

Quaint buildings and a perfect spot to watch canal boats passing by.


8. The Mailbox in Birmingham

Terry's Heart at The Cube near The Mailbox
Terry’s Heart at The Cube near The Mailbox

Terry, what are you doing?

We can’t resist a good photo, always up for a bit of fun and interacting with sculptures.

The Lovely People statue at The Cube is a bronze sculpture by Temper, a local street artist. The Cube is apartment living, offices, bars, and restaurants on the Canal, and was designed by architect Ken Shuttleworth (who also designed The Gherkin in London.)

The Mailbox is a large shopping centre built to sort the Royal Mail of Birmingham in the 1970s near the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. 

This canal starts in Worcester and ends in Gas Street Basin at a distance of 47 kilometres with 58 locks to navigate.

You’ll certainly be busy.


9. Eat the Best Vegan Food

Brown, Green, yellow and pink drinks
Beetroot, Turmeric, Green Tea and Chocolate drinks

If you find yourself in Birmingham and want to try Vegan food, our suggestion is Natural Healthy Foods.

We aren’t vegan, but we have noticed we are eating less meat since travelling.

Our time exploring Kerela in Southern India and Ipoh in Malaysia enticed us to the fabulous flavours of vegetarian curries. And just how filling they can be.

Could the restaurant match our culinary time in these countries?

We were keen to find out. And, of course, hungry.

This restaurant offers a different concept: take a plate, fill it up, and pay for its weight.

All we can say is, “wow.” Our taste buds were totally enjoying the experience of eating here.

We did resist the desserts, but we all tried a latte of Beetroot, Turmeric, Green Tea and Chocolate. Mmmm, that was a little weird.

Highlights of Birmingham City

Shopping in the covered mall of Birmingham city is a plus considering rainy days in England. And to think a market has been in the same spot since medieval times.

There are also plenty of other highlights, some dating to raids by the Vikings.

10. Shopping in Birmingham’s City Centre

A lady wearing pink jacket dancing between two large flower bushes
Time to celebrate being in Birmingham

The great feature of the city is the pedestrian precinct areas, making it so easy to walk, window shop, and talk without the nuisance of cars.

Birmingham’s city centre is perfect, especially if you love to shop.

11. Victoria Square

Statue of Queen Victoria
Queen Victoria celebrated in Birmingham

Yes, named after Queen Victoria, the square showcases some beautiful architecture.

The Town Hall opened in 1834, and the Council House mosaics will keep your head tilted upwards for a while.

But what caught our attention was the famous “The River” statue.

12. River Statue in Victoria Square

Statue in an old pond now a garden
The Floozie in the Jacuzzi – Birmingham UK

What got our attention was the 1.75m statue of a woman, “The River”, posed naked –  (Terry, where are you?)

But what we learned was her nickname, “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.” 

It’s because she once sat in a fountain, the largest in Europe at one time, but due to a water leak, it was transformed into a flower bed.

13. Chamberlain Square

It is where you will find The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

This stunning building houses many exhibitions, including the Staffordshire Hoard, which are getting our attention.

While ploughing his field, a local farmer came upon the items buried for safekeeping from the Viking raids. (Terry, your Danish ancestors, not mine.)

14. St Philips Cathedral

stone colored church
St. Philips Cathedral, Birmingham UK

When you pass by the cathedral, you’ll notice a lot of people taking the time to sit and enjoy the gardens in the cathedral square.

It’s probably because nearby there are great eateries to grab a coffee or something to eat.

The cathedral came about when St Martin’s in the Bull Ring could not cope with the growing population.

Robert Philips donated land in 1710, and so in recognition, the church was named after the apostle Philip.

15. Bull Ring

Man holding a bull tail
Terry up close with the Bull

The market area of the Bull Ring dates back to Medieval times around 1154, when a local landowner Peter de Bermingham obtained a charter from Henry II.

The area was expanded in the 1800s to provide covered market halls.

The Bull Ring has had a varied history, but today it is still a vibrant centre for shoppers.

The Friday market, which sells fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat alongside clothing and haberdashery, is always worth a browse.

But also is the iconic Birmingham Bull.

It was voted one of the world’s top 10 public works of art in 2015, alongside the Statue of Liberty and David by Michelangelo.

Inside market of clothing with people browsing stalls
Market Day, Birmingham, UK

Day Trips from Birmingham

Birmingham is in the Midlands of England and is central to iconic villages, towns, and cities.

Hire a car or take the train from New Street Station to explore:

  • Stratford upon Avon
  • Warwick Castle
  • Leicester

Take the Train to Stratford upon Avon

Long canal boat on the waterway
Canal Boat at Stratford upon Avon with a view of Trinity Church

Being in Birmingham means you are only 40 minutes by train to Stratford upon Avon, Shakespeare’s town.

With canals narrower than in France, the picturesque Avon River for a stroll, and the beautiful Tudor buildings of Shakespeare’s town.

You can visit Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptized and is buried.

Or the Swan Theatre for performances of Shakespeare’s plays. (Make sure to go inside as the theatre is stunning.)

Or maybe take the 50p crossing over the River Avon on the chain ferry. (This barge is literally dragged across the river by a man pulling on a chain attached to both sides of the river.)

Book tickets for The Shakespeare Express from Birmingham for a unique and fun day out.

Round building made of bricks
The Swan Theatre of the Royal Shakespeare Company
A flat boat loaded with people travelling between two river banks
The Chain Ferry, Stratford upon Avon

King Edward VI Grammar School (Guild Hall) and Guild Chapel

Stone tower with a 2 level tudor buiding
King Edward VI Grammar School (Guild Hall) and Guild Chapel

Walking from Swan Theatre to the Guild Hall and Chapel via Sheep Street is one of the best things to do in Stratford upon Avon.

The street has one of the oldest Inns; now, a museum called Tudor World.

And don’t be surprised if you see Shakespeare himself (actor, of course) entertaining a group about his daily life.

The Guild Hall is where William Shakespeare attended school between the ages of seven and fourteen. One of the classrooms has a plaque stating that Shakespeare studied in that room.

The Guild Chapel has a history dating back to 1269 and has long associations with Shakespeare and his family.

It was lovely just wandering along the streets with so many old houses and shops, stopping for a cappuccino. Well, not a true, authentic cappuccino.

“Wellington ole Wellington (New Zealand, that is), where are you when we need authentic coffee roasters and decent coffee?”

We survived the coffee and were ready to see some more of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s town.

We spied an alleyway with old shops, bringing us back into the shopping precinct to Shakespeare’s birthplace.

We took a photo before a hoard of tourists arrived, as it is one of the popular must-see places in Stratford upon Avon.

A two level cable building
Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Take the Train to Warwick Castle

A great way to finish your day is to take the 30-minute train from Stratford upon Avon to Warwick’s old medieval town.

Warwick Castle is one of the better preserved in England and only a short 1.6km walk from the train station.

At the gate of Warwick’s medieval town is The Lord Leycester Hospital, founded in 1571 as a retirement home for soldiers.

If you time it right (February to November), you can enjoy refreshments from the kitchen.


Birmingham City is Not Far Away

A Water Taxi
A Water Taxi

If you are looking for a day trip from London to visit Birmingham’s Rejuvenated Historic Canals, Stratford upon Avon or Warwick Castle is an opportunity to learn much more about England’s history.

With 15 things to see and do in Birmingham, City is popular, whatever your age. We know you’ll love the waterside bars and shopping.

If you are a chocolate lover, then a tour of Cadbury World it’s always a must-see in Birmingham.

To book trains from London, we use the Loco2 website to check train times and ticket prices to Birmingham, Stratford upon Avon or Warwick.

Birmingham is a city of history and makes a perfect base to explore more of England.