Known as the ‘City of a Thousand Trades’ or the ‘Workshop of the World’, Birmingham has a proud history of industry and innovation. Whether you’re new to the city or a lifelong Brummie who’d like to know more, we’ve rounded up a few of the best places to learn about our city’s fascinating heritage.
1. Hit some museums
There are museums across the city where you can explore different parts of Birmingham’s history. See pre-historic fossils at The Lapworth Museum of Geology, learn about the thriving industry of the Jewellery Quarter at The Pen Museum, or get a thorough grounding in Birmingham’s rise to industrial powerhouse at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. For something a little more niche, you could head the Coffin Works for a glimpse into the Victorian death industry or to Sarehole Mill to learn about the area’s Tolkien connections.
2. Make yourself at home
If you like poking around an old house and seeing how the other half used to live, Birmingham is bursting with stories of the rich and famous of their day. Aston Hall is a Grade I listed Jacobean mansion and reputedly one of the most haunted buildings in the UK - keep an eye out for their spooky Halloween tours!
Selly Manor Museum lies in the heart of Bournville and has a fascinating link to the Cadbury family while Highbury Hall in Moseley was the estate of former Lord Mayor and political heavyweight Joseph Chamberlain. For those with a scientific interest, look no further than Soho House, former home of Matthew Boulton and regular meeting place of the famed Lunar Society.
3. Get out and about
If you’re itching to get your walking shoes on and hit the road, there are a whole host of tours to help you get your bearings and learn a bit more about Birmingham.
Positively Birmingham’s popular tours explore the growth of the city through the Georgian and Victoria eras, right up to the present day, bringing the stories of Birmingham’s great and good to life. With the aptly named Birmingham Walking Tours, there’s a chance to discover the Jewellery Quarter catacombs or hear some grisly stories in their Life and Death in Birmingham tour.
If you want to get a bit more active, Run of a Kind offer a range of running tours throughout the city including a 7km Chocolate run through beautiful Bournville and a quick 5km run the takes in some of the city’s best street art.
Over at Roundhouse Birmingham, there’s an opportunity to get out on the water and explore the city’s canals by kayak, stand up paddle board or in a much more sedate 1930s heritage working boat.
4. Explore places of worship
Birmingham has long been a multicultural city, welcoming visitors and residents from all over the world. One way to find out more about the different cultural groups in the city is the explore their places of worship.
There are so many to choose from including St Paul’s in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham Central Mosque, Birmingham Buddhist Vihara, Bournville Quaker Meeting House, the Serbian Orthodox Church of the Holy Prince Lazar, the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition of Theotokos and Saint Andrew, and Singers Hill Synagogue.
While services are often open to all, behind the scenes tours are generally restricted to special open days throughout the year. Look out for Birmingham Heritage Week in September, which offers a glimpse into these fascinating buildings and how they’re used.
5. Delve into the archives
If you like your history a bit more hands-on, the Library of Birmingham is home to over 6000 archive collections dating from the 12th to the 21st Century, many of which are freely accessible to all. You can investigate their Local Studies material in the library’s dedicated Heritage Research Area or, browse a wealth of images and items online thanks to their Connecting Histories and Birmingham Images projects.