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Visiting Birmingham
Blue Badge Tour Guide Ian Jelf answers some of your questions

Where are the Tourist information offices?
Is there a guide book?
Are there any guided tours of the city?
How can I book accommodation?
Where will I arrive?
Where is Birmingham Airport?
How easy is it to get a Taxi?
Where are the Taxi ranks?
Where are the Nightclubs etc.?
Is it safe to walk around the city at night?
What about eating out?
Where are the best Shopping areas?

Where are there some nice parks?
What languages are spoken?
How do I contact the Emergency Services?
What about the famous Canals of Birmingham?
What is Birmingham like for Cycling?
What are the best maps to get?
NEC, ICC, NIA. How do I tell the difference?!
What and where is the Jewellery Quarter?
What are the opening hours of the shops?
Is there an Underground System in Birmingham? What public transport is there?
Is there a local train service?
Who is Ian Jelf




1.    Where are the Tourist information offices?  


tourism_small.jpg (4452 bytes)
New tourism centre at the Rotunda

Visitor Information Centres
as they are called in Birmingham are located at:
The Rotunda at the entrance to Bullring, the International Convention Centre Broad Street, and at the National Exhibition Centre out near the airport. (There?s no official Tourist Information Centre in the airport, but staff at the airport?s own information desk are usually very helpful.)
The Visitor Information Centres can provide information on local attractions, sell souvenirs and how to get there and can book accommodation.

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Is there a guide book?


Pocket Guide to Birmingham
Pocket Guide available at tourist offices

There is probably more published about Birmingham now than at any time in its history. Lots of books on the market though tend to concentrate on and be aimed at local people (which might just be what you want!). For a good souvenir, though, with excellent photographs and good background information, you can't go far wrong with Jonathan Berg's excellent "Positively Birmingham". It's pricey but an excellent souvenir. It's a particularly good gift to send to friends and family far away from Birmingham.
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1d Are there any guided tours of the city?

Blue Badge
English Tourist Board


"In summer a tour bus operates from Victoria Square. The Visitor Information Centre will have up to date information. However, private tours for groups by qualified guides can be arranged at any time. Tourist Guides in Birmingham are trained by and accredited to the official Heart of England Tourist Board and can be identified by their "Blue Badge". As well as general introductions, themed tours can be arranged for special interest groups, including "Birmingham Old & New", "Victorian Birmingham", "The Tolkien Trail" and so on. Coach, walking and even canal boat tours of Birmingham and the surrounding areas, tailored to groups' individual needs can be arranged by, among others, Blue Badge Guide Ian Jelf, e-mail ian@bluebadge.demon.co.uk fax (0870) 164 1251 or at www.bluebadge.demon.co.uk

The Heart of England Tourist Guides Association also maintains a list of qualified guides for the whole region. Their Secretary, Pat Cole, can be reached on telephone/fax 0121-704 3808 or e-mail to patricia@cole738.freeserve.co.uk ."

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2.  How can I book accommodation?  

Hyatt Regency at dusk
The Hyatt Regency

Call into or one of the above offices or (better still) use the online booking facility at: http://www.shortbreaks.org.uk
or telephone +44 (0) 121 643 2514
or fax +44 (0) 121 616 1038
They often have access to special rates for hotels, which can make them very good alternatives to B&B at off peak times (weekends and in peak summer). It?s always worth asking for any special rates. Give them your budget and let them do the hard work!

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3.  Where will I arrive?  


BBC Latest news from the area's traffic hotspots

Look for train schedules and prices

If driving to Birmingham, the city is (obviously!) signposted from all directions. From London there?s a choice of the M1 ? M6 or the M40 ? M42. the choice of these is largely governed by where in London your journey begins and where in Birmingham it will end.
Car parking in the City Centre is relatively expensive so parking at a suburban railway station (most station car parks are free) might be an option.



Arriving by train, chances are you?ll arrive at Birmingham New Street Station which is right in the centre of the City (although not actually in New Street!). The fastest trains from London depart from Euston and run to New Street, although Chiltern Trains run a useful and economic service from London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill (also right in the City Centre).


National Express Coaches services from most places in the UK (including ?Flightlink?  London Heathrow, Gatwick and Stanstead) arrive at the truly dreadful Digbeth Coach Station, a ?temporary coach station? which has in fact been in use since 1929! This is on the edge of the City Centre although frequent buses stop outside and the new Bull Ring development in nearby, too. A replacement is promised, but??.


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4.  Where is Birmingham Airport ? 

Birmingham International Airport
Birmingham International Airport

The Airport lies some 12 km (8 miles) East of the City Centre at Elmdon. Older residents still nostalgically refer to it as ?Elmdon Airport? despite massive rebuilding!
To reach the City Centre either drive in (following ?A45 Birmingham?), take ?express? bus 900 ?Birmingham? or (best of all) take the shuttle to Birmingham International railway station (5 minutes) and hop on a frequent train to Birmingham New Street. At peak times, this is usually even quicker than a taxi.

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5.  How easy is it to get a Taxi in Birmingham?  

taxi.jpg (56515 bytes)
Licensed Taxi

That depends on the time of day (harder late at night and in bad weather) and the location (easier in the city centre and on main roads such as Hagley Road).
There are a number of taxi operators, including TOA, who can be contacted for bookings as follows:
Telephone: +44 (0) 121 427 8888
Fax: +44 (0) 121 426 2488
E-mail: toa@btinternet.com
Web: http://www.toa-taxis.co.uk

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6.  Where are the Taxi ranks?  

There are taxi ranks at most major railway stations, Digbeth coach station and around the New Street, Corporation Street and Broad Street areas in the city centre. Taxis can be called by telephone to any location, though (see above).

Are they easy to hail down?

You can hail any taxi (?Hackney Carriage?) provided it has its orange ?TAXI? light on, over the windscreen. Private hire cars (sometimes incorrectly called ?Mini Cabs?) cannot be hailed. If you hail one and are picked up, it?s illegal and you?re not insured.

Can I hail a private hire car?
No. Only ?Hackney Carriages?, (London style taxis, usually black) can be hailed in the street in Birmingham.

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7.  Where are the Nightclubs etc.?  

hard Rock caf'e Broad Street.
Hard Rock Cafe
Broad Street

The main nightclub area is along Broad Street, near the International Convention Centre. Despite a reputation for appealing only to younger visitors, closer inspection will reveal places aimed at more mature visitors, too. It just doesn?t look like it when you first see it!
For specialised music and dance, check out the ?What?s On? magazine or the listings in the local newspaper, the ?Birmingham Evening Mail?.

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8.  Is it safe to walk around the city at night?

West Midlands Police

It?s impossible to answer this one. Crime can occur in large cities, just as it can in smaller towns or villages.
Our advice is to use the same precautions you would in any big city, anywhere in the world.
Useful weblink > Safer
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9.  What about eating out?  

The Brasshouse Restuarant


The main restaurant areas are in the City Centre and Broad Street/BrindleyPlace/Mailbox.
Birmingham is renowned as the birthplace of the famous ?Balti? style of Kashmiri cooking. This originated in the Sparkbrook area in what is now often called ?The Balti Belt? and is well worth a look in its own right.
Whatever type of food you choose, new places are opening all the time. The best sources of information are the Visitor Information Centres, the fortnightly ?What?s On? Magazine and the ?Birmingham Plus? website at http://www.birminghamplus.com .

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10.  Where are the best Shopping areas?  


openingday 034b.jpg (65059 bytes)

New Bullring


Great Western Arcade Shopping
Great Western Arcade

The short answer to that is ?in the City Centre?, although there are suburban areas worth exploring, too.
Birmingham?s famous BullRing is in the heart of the city centre, with over 140 shops, restaurants and bars is one of the biggest Malls in Europe.. >more
Selfridges with its futuristic curvaceous design covered in 15,000 spun aluminium discs is an exciting new flagship store. >more
Much of the central area is pedestrianised, the main shopping thoroughfares being New Street, High Street and Corporation Street. There are several covered shopping centres, including Pavilion Central (High Street), The Pallasades (over New Street Station) and the smaller City Plaza (Canon Street). The arty (and often eerily deserted Mailbox (Royal Mail Street) is home to Harvey Nicols and several good eating places and has an interesting canalside location. 
Birmingham?s principal department stores are Rackham?s (Corporation Street), part of the House of Fraser group and Beatties (Corporation Street). Other major High Street names are all represented, while the Victorian Great Western Arcade is worth a look for the sheer elegance of the place.
All of these places are very close to one another, the City Centre being very compact, considering the size of Birmingham as a whole.
Outside the centre, Soho Road in Handsworth, a north Western suburb, is worth a look for South Asian clothes and foodstuffs. The same is true to some extent for Sparkbrook, the latter also being home to the best of the City?s Balti restaurants.

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11.  Where are there some nice parks?  


Cannon Hill Park
Cannon Hill Park



Sutton Park
Sutton Park

It often comes as a surprise to visitors that Birmingham is one of Britain?s greenest cities, with no fewer than 148 parks (yes, 148!). The city?s parks department has an unrivalled reputation at the Chelsea Flower Show and this is very evident both in the floral display that adorn main roads and in the parks themselves.
The closest of the major parks to the City Centre is Cannon Hill Park in the southern part of Edgbaston (bus 45 or 47 from the City Centre). Birmingham?s (tiny!) River Rea runs through the park and it?s a great place to run, walk, lie or partake of refreshment in the caf?at the Midland Arts Centre.

Largest of the parks is the vast Sutton Park in the northern suburb of Sutton Coldfield (train from New Street or many buses depending on which bit of the park you want to reach). This is one of the largest urban parks in Europe and is effectively a slice of countryside in itself.

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12.  What languages are spoken?  

English is spoken everywhere, although multicultural Birmingham you?ll also hear many South and South East Asian languages spoken, too.
Speakers of other European languages will not be able to rely on finding people who can speak fluently to them. However, the Visitor Information Centres have multilingual staff and chances are if the right person isn?t there right away, they?re only a telephone call away! (But then, if you can?t speak English, you won?t be reading this!)

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13.  How do I contact the Emergency Services?  

As in the rest of Britain, in an emergency call ?999? (or ?112?) from any telephone to obtain Police, Fire or Ambulance services. At public telephones, no money or card is necessary

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14.  What about the famous Canals of Birmingham? 

Gas Street Basin
Gas Street Basin

It is true (well, in a way!). The Birmingham Canal Navigations really do control more miles of canal than there are in Venice!
As a visitor, the main canal area that will interest you will be behind the International Convention Centre (ICC) off Broad Street. Here, the waterside is now lined with attractive walkways and the caf?and restaurant scene here is perhaps the best in the City. In summer (and often in winter too) short canal cruises operate around the central area canals, usually departing from the ICC Quayside or from Gas Street Basin, just south of Broad Street).

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15.  What is Birmingham like for Cycling?  

Birmingham has a few hills but is okay for cycling. There are a number of dedicated cycle paths and a map ?Cycling in Birmingham? is available form bookshops.
National cycle route 5 (Oxford to Derby) passes right through Birmingham and a pleasant cycle route to the south follows the Rea Valley, through /Cannon Hill park and out to King?s Norton and beyond.

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16.  What are the best maps to get?  

Click to buy online now
A to Z Road map

The Visitor Information Centres have free maps of the City Centre. For something more detailed, the ?standard work? is the A-Z, covering Birmingham and neighbouring towns street by street and obtainable everywhere.
Centro, the local public transport co-ordinating body, produces a useful (and very details) map of all bus, train and Metro routes.
You can buy the AtoZ online now 
Online Maps and Driving Directions to Birmingham

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17.  NEC, ICC, NIA. How do I tell the difference?!  



NEC Birmingham
Motor Show at the NEC


ICC Birmingham


NIA Birmingham

Even the locals get confused!

The National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is about 12km from the city centre, near to Birmingham International Airport. It is a vast exhibition complex (one of the largest in Europe) home to many famous public shows such as Crusts and the British International Motor Show, as well as innumerable trade shows. Part of this complex is the NEC Arena, a venue for major, mostly pop, concerts. The NEC has its own integral railway station called ?Birmingham International? with frequent trains to New Street in the City Centre (and to London Euston for that matter). Virtually a town in its own right.

The International Convention Centre (ICC) is a convention/conference centre, right in the heart of the City in Broad Street and incorporating the canal in its design. This is generally used for private conventions, although it is also home to Symphony Hall, an acoustically superb concert hall which is home to the world-famous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The National Indoor Arena (NIA) is a large indoor sports venue, also in the City Centre and just north of the ICC. As well as sporting events, this too is sometimes used for conventions and concerts.
Now then, have you understood all that?! If not, don?t worry; just make sure of the exact name of where you?re going before you arrive, contacting the Visitor Information Centre if necessary.

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18.  What and where is the Jewellery Quarter?  

Jewellery Quarter
Jewellery Quarter

One very unusual district is the city?s Jewellery Quarter, just on the edge of the City Centre (Metro from Snow Hill or bus 101 or an interesting 20 minute walk). For more than 150 years this has been a district almost entirely given over to the jewellery trade. In the last 20 years or so it?s also switched on to tourism with many places now selling directly to the public. It?s often a good idea to avoid the glossy shops there, though and head instead for the smaller, individual craftsmen and women in workshops hidden up tiny alleyways. Staff at the excellent Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in Vyse Street will usually help with advice and directions.

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19.  What are the opening hours of the shops?  


Matineau Place
Martineau Place
Corporation Street

Large department stores open between 0900 and 1000 and stay open until 1700/1730. Thursdays sees late night shopping in the City Centre until 2100. many (but by no means all) shops open on Sundays from 1100 until 1600.
The British tradition of an ?early closing day? is seldom observed nowadays, except in a few smaller suburban shops. Many ?corner shops? in the suburbs are open daily and for much longer than this.

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20.  Is there an Underground System in Birmingham? What public transport is there?  
singledecker.jpg (103023 bytes)



No, there?s no underground system, but ? despite what locals will tell you - there is very comprehensive public transport.
Backbone of the system is the bus network. Most routes are operated by a company called ?Travel West Midlands? (TWM), although there are some other companies, too, especially on trunk routes running into the adjacent countryside.
All main roads (and many minor ones) have a frequent bus service, although things are less good early on Sundays. Two ?Birmingham institutions? are the Outer Circle and Inner Circle bus routes (11 and 8 respectively) which link various suburbs. Express route 900 links the City Centre with Birmingham International Airport (and continues to Coventry), but see not about trains below.
All TWM bus routes operate an ?exact fare only? system, whereby you drop the fare into a red ?hopper? next to the driver and then take a ticket from a machine behind. This is done to speed boarding times and it usually works??.until a stranger climbs on and that can hold everything up while they try to change notes and large coins with fellow passengers. So, if you?re unfamiliar with the area, board a bus with a supply of small change! Off peak there?s a maximum fare (currently 95p). Airport buses 900 and 966 accept Euros for the purchase of Day Tickets!

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21.  Is there a local train service?  


Railway station



Local trains operate on a variety of routes from the City Centre to suburbs and neighbouring towns. The Cross City Line runs frequently from Lichfield across to Redditch and other routes fan out to Coventry, Leamington, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stourbridge, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Most call at New Street Station in Birmingham City Centre (as do virtually all long distance trains), but some operate instead to Moor Street and Snow Hill instead. It?s worth noting that many suburban stations have free car parking and parking there and taking the train in is often a good option.
Birmingham currently has one Metro (tram) line, running from Snow Hill to Wolverhampton. This is due to be extended through the City Centre in the next few years.
Centro (with an office at New Street Station) have information on all public transport, irrespective of operator and produce useful maps, guides and timetables.

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Who is Ian Jelf  

am a qualified ?Blue Badge? tourist guide for two of the most fascinating regions of Britain: London and the Heart of England and I take a real pride in bringing the past and present of these places to life.

I carry out general or themed tours, from one hour to two weeks, depending on your or your group's requirements. Tours can be on foot, on a coach or even by canal boat!

So whether you're from Britain or overseas, why not let me help your group to make the most of your time here.

Costs vary depending on the type of tour but are generally within the guidelines suggested by the Guild of Register Tourist Guides.

To get in touch with Ian or find out more visit the  Ian Jelf website.


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