This 4km (3 mile) circular walk takes you to all the must see places in Birmingham City Centre – don’t leave Birmingham without doing this walk! If you just followed the route without stopping off anywhere, then at an ambling pace it will take not much more than an hour. Expect to take longer if you linger!
The walk starts from Victoria Square, in front of the beautiful Council House. Victoria Square stands at the junction of three streets; New Street, Paradise Street and Colmore Row. After the Council House was built in the 1870s it was known as Council House Square. It became Victoria Square after the arrival of the statue of Queen Victoria in 1901 and now holds various public events for the city.
Birmingham City Council House was built between 1874 and 1879, designed by Yeoville Thomason. It is now a Grade II listed building, used for all Council and most Committee meetings. The front, facing Victoria Square, has a pediment showing Britannia receiving the manufacturers of Birmingham.
Standing in front of the main steps into the Council House, and facing the city, you will have the Town Hall on your right, and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery just round the corner to the right.
The Grade I listed Town Hall is one of the oldest concert halls in the world, and has been at the centre of Birmingham’s cultural life since it opened in 1834. Charles Dickens gave his first public reading of A Christmas Carol on Town Hall’s stage, Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius received their premieres in the hall, and in the 1950s to 1970s the venue played host to many of the biggest names in popular music such as Led Zeppelin, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and the Beatles. See more at https://www.thsh.co.uk/
The vibrant Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery has over 40 galleries displaying world-class collections of art, social history, archaeology and ethnography. Packed with interactive activities and designed to appeal to all senses, the museum is a beautiful space for all to connect with our world’s past. You can step inside a 17th century painting, eavesdrop on Albert Einstein or simply stand back and see major works by the Old Masters and Impressionists, as well as rub shoulders with Rossetti and Burne-Jones in the world’s largest public collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. With the most highly valued hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold, the largest known complete Indian bronze sculpture and a whole collection of Egyptian mummies and coffins, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a treasure trove on the map of arts and culture. See more at http://www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag
Start this walk by heading to your left towards the Starbucks on the corner of Colmore Row and Eden Place. Just before Starbucks turn left down the pedestrian alleyway called Eden Place (map point 1). At the end of this alleyway turn left, then follow the road around to the right to the next road on your right, which is Cornwall Street.
On the opposite corner, you will see The Birmingham Midland Institute (map point 2). The Birmingham & Midland Institute has been at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural life for over 150 years. It was originally founded by Act of Parliament in 1854 for the ‘Diffusion and Advancement of Science, Literature and Art amongst all Classes of Persons resident in Birmingham and Midland Counties’. Charles Dickens was one of its early Presidents. Located in a Grade II* listed building, the BMI also owns and runs the original Birmingham Library, founded in 1779.
Turn right down Cornwall Street, cross over the first road you come to (Newhall Street) to carry on down Cornwall Street until you come to Church Street. Turn right into Church Street, walk up this road passing Hotel du Vin on your left (map point 3), once an eye hospital!
Keep heading up Church Street until you reach Colmore Row and St Philips Place where Birmingham Cathedral is just in front of you (map point 4). The Cathedral Church of Saint Philip is a Church of England cathedral and the seat of the Bishop of Birmingham. Built in 1715, it is Grade I listed and the third smallest cathedral in England after Derby and Chelmsford. During the Second World War, the cathedral was bombed on the 7 November 1940. Its most significant treasures, the inspiring stained glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones, had been removed early in the war to be replaced, unharmed, when the building was restored in 1948. See more at http://www.birminghamcathedral.com/
At the top of Church Street, cross over onto the Cathedral side of Colmore Row and turn left to walk along Colmore Row until you reach the Great Western Arcade on your right hand side (map point 5). This Arcade was built by the Great Western Company in 1876-1877 to span a tunnel for the railway line between Moor St and Snow Hill stations. W.H. Ward designed the Arcade and was strongly influenced by Joseph Paxton’s pioneering Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. The roof was originally a glazed semi-circular barrel vault with a glazed central dome, similar to that of the Gallerio Vittoria Emmanuele in Milan which was constructed at the same time. Having sustained bomb damage in World War 2, the entrance at Colmore Row was rebuilt to a different style and the original roof was replaced by an apexed one. The plaster mouldings above the doors on the balcony remain, adding to its original splendour, and the stone masonry on Temple Row is still in good order and remains a focal point of interest with both tourists and students. See more at http://www.greatwesternarcade.co.uk/
Walk through the Great Western Arcade to the other side and turn right as you exit the arcade, heading back towards the Cathedral. Turn left into Cherry Street then turn right into Cannon Street (map point 6).
Walk along here until you reach one of the main shopping streets in Birmingham, New Street. Turn right here and walk approx 100m until you come to the Piccadilly Arcade on your left (map point 7). Walk through this arcade, and then turn left when you exit onto Stephenson Street. Walk approx 80m along here until you come to the Burlington Arcade and turn left into this Arcade (map point 8). Walk up through here until you come back out onto New Street, and turn right to walk along New Street, crossing over the traffic lights to continue along the mainly pedestrianised road to its end at the Bull Ring shopping centre (map point 9), Selfridges and the Church of St Martin in the Fields.
The Bullring is a major shopping area in central Birmingham. The market began in 1154 when Peter de Bermingham, a local landowner, obtained a Charter of Marketing Rights from King Henry II. Initially called Corn Cheaping (because of a corn market on the site), the name Bull Ring has nothing to do with Spanish bull-fighting, but referred to an area that was used for bullbaiting. The ‘ring’ was a hoop of iron in Corn Cheaping to which bulls were tied for baiting before slaughter. Today though there are over 200 shops and restaurants to tempt you. See more at https://www.bullring.co.uk/
The Selfridges Department Store is a landmark building forming part of the Bullring Shopping Centre. Completed in 2003 at a cost of £60 million, it was designed by architecture firm Future Systems. It’s steel framework and sprayed concrete facade is covered by 15,000 anodised aluminium discs. It is such an iconic design, it was even included as a desktop background in Windows 7!
The Rotunda is a cylindrical highrise Grade II listed building. Completed in 1965, the building’s construction was unique at the time, being mostly built at ground floor level then ‘jacked up’ one floor at a time (possibly due to the lack of construction space). The supports for the hydraulic pumps used to jack up the building started to shift towards New Street Station railway lines so the building’s planned height was never completed. In 1974 a pub on the ground floor and basement of the building, was one of the sites of the Birmingham pub bombings.
The present Victorian Church of St Martin in the Bull Ring, built in 1873, sits on the site of its 13th-century predecessor, which dated back to 1263. In the South Transept you can see a Burne-Jones window which was made by William Morris in 1875. It was taken away for safe keeping one day before a World War II bomb dropped next to the church on 10 April 1941, destroying all of the remaining windows. The floor tiles are Victorian ones by Minton and display the coat of arms of the de Bermingham family.
Once you have done your shopping at the Bullring, head through the open air passage between the left and right hand sides of The Bullring towards the Church. Follow the steps/ramp down to where the entrance to the church is located (map point 10). Just past the church, ahead of you and to the right will be the Birmingham Indoor Markets. The Bull Ring Indoor Market is one of the UK’s largest fish markets. Other specialities include fresh meat and poultry, exotic fruit and vegetables, clothing, and a variety of household goods. You will also find the Rag Market here in a separate building.
After passing the entrance to the church, turn right along Edgbaston Street, then first left into Gloucester Street, between the Rag Market and the Indoor Market (map point 11). Take a look around the markets, just try not to get lost!
At the end of Gloucester Street turn right into Upper Dean Street. At the traffic lights, go straight over and enter into the Arcadian Centre under and through the Chinese Gate (map point 12), at the heart of Birmingham’s Chinese Village.
A wander around Birmingham’s Chinatown takes in a myriad of restaurants and cafés offering authentic menus from Northern China all the way to Malaysia, with some of the city’s hippest nightspots in between. Feel like dancing off your dinner? If you’re into funky house, electro or a bit of fun-filled karaoke, Chinatown has the venue for you. Local landmarks include a stone pagoda, donated by a prominent local Chinese business as well as Chinese architectural flourishes around the Arcadian and surrounding area. The area is home to a diverse range of businesses including restaurants, cafes, bars and bakeries.
Walk through the Arcadian Centre to the other side to come out onto Hurst Street by Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre (map point 13). Turn left in front of the theatre and walk down Hurst Street to come to Birmingham’s Gay Village area, home to Birmingham Pride and several friendly bars and clubs, open to all. The gay village centres around Hurst Street, only a short walk from Harvey Nicholls in the Mailbox or the brand-packed Bullring if you’re shopping before the party starts. The area is overflowing with fabulous bars, clubs and restaurants so whether it’s a quick coffee, amazing cabaret or disco you’re after, you’ll find a venue to love. The Gay Village tells you everything you need to know about Birmingham itself – a creative and buzzing scene, welcoming and with plenty to show off!
You can also find the National Trust’s Back-to-Back houses here. These are a carefully restored, atmospheric 19th-century courtyard of working people’s houses giving an atmospheric glimpse into the lives of the ordinary people who helped make Birmingham an extraordinary city. Moving from the 1840s through to the 1970s, you will discover the lives of some of the former residents who crammed into these small houses to live and work, with fires alight in the grates, and sounds and smells from the past. Visits are by guided tour only and must be prebooked.
Birmingham Hippodrome is the UK’s most popular single auditorium theatre welcoming, on average, over 500,000 visitors every year. Offering a mixed programme of nearly 400 performances, featuring touring musicals, world-class ballet and opera, drama and comedy, international dance and the world’s biggest Pantomime. You can also find the 200-seat Patrick Centre, events facilities, and a restaurant. The resident artists are Birmingham Royal Ballet and DanceXchange, with the theatre also presenting all of Welsh National Opera’s repertoire. See more at http://www.birminghamhippodrome.com/ and https://www.brb.org.uk/
Instead of turning left towards the Gay Village, to continue this walk turn right in front of the Hippodrome Theatre and head towards Grand Central Station and John Lewis.
Cross over the main road you come to (Smallbrook Queensway) and carry straight on until you see the steps up to Grand Central ahead of you (map point 14). Pop inside here for some retail therapy as well as some great places to eat on the upper level. The unique location of Grand Central makes it more than just a shopping and dining destination: sat above the redeveloped New Street Station it is the ideal place to meet friends and family, or colleagues ahead of a day of shopping. And if it’s not pure retail therapy you are after, but delicious dining then Grand Central provides a whole host of fabulous eateries and restaurants to tempt. All of this sits under the stunning new roof, through which natural light floods Grand Central and the concourse below. Grand Central is encased in a stunningly clad building, the stainless steel facade which makes its way around the centre is amazing, and adds a unique style to Birmingham’s already stunning architecture. Through the reflective panels you can really see how fantastic our city is – it’s a great way to take a selfie outside! See more at http://www.grandcentralbirmingham.com/
Once done at Grand Central come back out the same way. If you pause a moment at the bottom of the steps and look at the buildings opposite, down to the left you will see the Electric Cinema. Established in 1909, The Electric Cinema is the oldest working cinema in the UK. Back then, the word ‘electric’ conjured up images of Van der Graaf generators and Tesla Coils. To the vast majority of the population, who were still without electricity in their homes, the mysterious invisible power source was verging on black magic! It has been through many name changes and was mostly rebuilt in the 1930s.
But now turn right at the bottom of the steps to cross over Hill Street and straight over into Station Street. You will pass the stage door to the New Alexandra Theatre on your right hand side as you walk up here, so keep your autograph book handy! The Alexandra Theatre was built in 1901 at a cost of £10,000! The now legendary play by Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap, opened at the Alexandra Theatre in November 1952. It starred Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sims but did not receive great reviews at the time! That didn’t stop it going on to achieve great success, and it is still playing in the West End today! 1964 saw a real highlight in the theatre’s history, when Sir Laurence Olivier starred as the Moor in Othello, alongside Frank Finlay as Iago and a young Dame Maggie Smith also appearing. See more at http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/new-alexandra-theatre-birmingham/
Follow the road around to the right and along into John Bright Street where you will find a nice selection of bars and restaurants (map point 15). Follow John Bright Street all the way to the end, then turn left into Navigation Street to head up towards an underpass, lit with different coloured globe lights, under a main road. Go under this underpass, veering to the left slightly, to come out the other side and see steps up to the Mailbox shopping and dining area (map point 16). Walk up the steps into the Mailbox and all the way up and through to the far side where the canal is.
The Mailbox opened in 1998 and was the redevelopment of the massive former Royal Mail sorting office. It serves as the base for BBC Birmingham and houses one of six Harvey Nichols department stores in the UK. The Cube development at the back of The Mailbox houses retail, hotel, spa and residential – and a 25th floor restaurant overlooking the city. See more at http://www.mailboxlife.com/
As you exit the Mailbox at the far side you will see The Cube building ahead of you on the left, with it’s rooftop restaurant, as well as many other bars and restaurants in this area. Head towards the Cube building and go over the pedestrian bridge over the canal just in front of the entrance to the Cube building, heading off to the right (map point 17). Head straight ahead along the canal at the end of the bridge (the canal behind you that the bridge goes over links in with the Edgbaston and Harborne and Green Walks of Birmingham).
Keep walking along the canal, and after passing through a small tunnel under Broad Street you will come out into the Brindley Place area, also home to the National Sealife Centre, the Birmingham Arena, the Ikon Gallery as well as being at the heart of Birmingham’s canal network (map point 18).
Take time to explore this area with it’s many bars and restaurants. The dotted lines on the map below show a step free route into Brindley Place as well as a step free route to join the continuation of this walk by avoiding the steps off the bridge over the canal.
So does Birmingham really have more miles of canal than Venice? The exact numbers depend on where you draw the city boundaries, but the whole Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) system adds up to 100 miles of canals. It is one of the most intricate canal networks in the world. The hub of the BCN is the bustling city centre junction at Gas Street Basin. Here, colourful boats and historic canal architecture sit side-by-side with vibrant modern restaurants, cafes and bars. The basin is in the heart of Birmingham’s cosmopolitan nightlife and shopping districts. The canals were the life-blood of Victorian Birmingham and the Black Country. At their height, they were so busy that gas lighting was installed beside the locks to permit round-the-clock operation. Boats were built without cabins for maximum carrying capacity, and a near-tidal effect was produced as swarms of narrowboats converged on the Black Country collieries at the same time every day. The mainlines and city centre canals are today busy with boaters, walkers and cyclists. See more at https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-network/birmingham-canal-navigations
At the height of Birmingham’s industrial past, the area of Brindley Place was full of factories. But by the 1970’s, with Britain’s manufacturing in decline, the factories closed and the area lay derelict. Today, over 8,500 people work in Brindleyplace for some of the UK’s leading businesses, and it is a thriving and vibrant location both daytime and evening. In addition to shops, bars and restaurants, Brindleyplace is home to the National Sea Life Centre, Ikon Gallery of art and the Crescent Theatre. The Birmingham Canal Navigations Main Line Canal separates Brindleyplace from the International Convention Centre, although there are linking bridges. The National Indoor Arena, Old Turn Junction and bustling bars of Broad Street are nearby and it is easily accessible and within walking distance of the main bus and rail routes. See more at http://www.brindleyplace.com/ and https://www2.visitsealife.com/birmingham/
The Ikon Gallery is a gallery of contemporary art. It is housed in the Grade II listed, neo-gothic former Oozells Street Board School, designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1877. The gallery programme features artists from around the world. A variety of media is represented, including sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. It offers free entry to all. See more at https://ikon-gallery.org/
Head over the pedestrian bridge into the International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall building. The International Convention Centre (ICC) is a major conference venue which also incorporates Symphony Hall. In 1998, the ICC was chosen to host the G8 Summit and welcomed the presidents of the leading eight global nations including Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Symphony Hall was opened by the Queen in June 1991. It is widely considered one of the finest concert halls in the world due to it’s innovative acoustic flexibility. It has a reverberation chamber behind the stage and extending high along the sides, adding an incredible 50% to the hall’s volume. There is an acoustic canopy which can be raised or lowered above the stage and dampening panels can be extended or retracted to ensure that the ‘sound’ of the space is perfectly matched to the scale and style of the music to be performed. See more at https://www.thsh.co.uk/ and http://www.theicc.co.uk/
Pass through the atrium arcade here and out to the other side where you will come to Centenary Square, home of the Rep Theatre, the new Library of Birmingham (map point 19)and the Hall of Memory. Birmingham Repertory Theatre, commonly called Birmingham Rep or just The Rep, is a theatre that produces a wide range of drama, much of which goes on to tour nationally and internationally. See more at http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/
The Library of Birmingham is the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe. Nearly 2.5 million visitors came to the library in 2014 making it the 10th most popular visitor attraction in the UK. The library has nationally and internationally significant collections, including the Shakespeare Memorial Room, located right at the top of the new building. This was originally designed in 1882 by John Henry Chamberlain for the first Central Library and houses Britain’s most important Shakespeare collection, and one of the two most important Shakespeare collections in the world. Also found in this library is The Boulton and Watt Collection, an archive of the steam engine partnership of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, dating from 1774 until the firm’s closure in the 1890s. The archive comprises about 550 volumes of letters, books, order books and account books, approximately 29,000 engine drawings and upwards of 20,000 letters received from customers. See more at http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/
The Hall of Memory in Centenary Square is a Grade I listed war memorial erected in 1922–25 to commemorate the 12,320 Birmingham citizens who died in World War I. The four statues around the exterior are by local artist Albert Toft and represent the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and Women’s Services.
As at 2017 there are major development works in this area so from Centenary Square, follow the diversions and signs that will take you the short distance back to the Town Hall and Victoria Square where this walk began.
Map details © OpenStreetMap contributors