Thanks to its prosperous era as a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham has flourished into the rich, diverse and exciting city it is today. Impressive 18th-century architecture and converted warehouse spaces now hold a variety of vibrant bars and restaurants, while many people come to this commercial hub from miles around for a day of shopping. If you find yourself in Birmingham with a few hours to spare, take some time to delve into these hand-picked local delights.

Centenary Lounge

One sugar or two? Tea time at the Centenary Lounge.

1 hour: Relax in retro style at Centenary Lounge

If you’re in Birmingham on business, spend a relaxing hour between your meetings or conferences in the Art Deco-style Centenary Lounge. There are actually two branches: one near Snow Hill Station and one on Moor Street Queensway, so they make the perfect pit stop either before or after a train journey.

Sit back and enjoy the cosy yet retro décor as you perk up on fair trade coffees and heady teas. If you’re feeling peckish, order one of their generous servings of full English or continental breakfast, or opt for a quick sandwich (not forgetting a cake too).

Grand Central

Have a grand time shopping at Grand Central.

1 hour: Hit the shops at Grand Central

With two major centres to choose from, avid shoppers have plenty to keep themselves occupied in Birmingham. Grand Central is better suited for shorter visits, especially since it sits right on top of New Street station. Its central location makes it an easy lunchtime or after-work stopover for commuters, and it’s even open from 6:30am too for any early risers.

Grab a quick morning caffeine hit at one of the centre’s many cafés or return for a longer lunch at a Grand Central eatery. We recommend dropping into Ed’s Easy Diner if you’re after a quick American-style burger that won’t eat into too much of your time. Then get shopping! Hobbs, Kiehls, John Lewis and The White Company are just a handful of stores to spend some time browsing through.

Balti in Birmingham

Taste Birmingham’s famous curries – we recommend Lamb Balti with Peshwari naan.

2 hours: Sample spicey curries at Asha’s

As the birthplace of the Balti, Birmingham has long been a city where you can find some of the best curries and Indian-inspired foods in the UK. Asha’s on Newhall Street adds a little modern style to its opulent decorations with glowing hanging lights, cushioned chairs and plush purple sofas that you can sink into.

Since it’s owned by Hindi actress Asha Bhosle, you can often spot a celebrity or two sipping one of the exquisitely presented cocktails. Food-wise, expect to find the deep, rich flavours of traditional Indian cuisine with a contemporary twist. There’s also an executive lunch platter, and the restaurant is only a short walk from the financial centre.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Blooming marvellous – the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.

2 hours: Get closer to nature at the Botanical Gardens

When the sun comes out, take a walk through the lush Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Situated right next to Birmingham City University and not far from the University of Birmingham campus, there are excellent transport links throughout this entire area.

As well as the gardens themselves, don’t miss the exotic allure of the glasshouses. There are five in all, ranging from balmy tropical and sub-tropical climes to a butterfly house teeming with kaleidoscopic insects from Africa and Asia. If you have a little extra time to spare, pop in for a bite and drink at The White Swan. This country-style inn is only a short walk from the gardens, on Harborne Road.

National Sea Life Centre

See if you can find Nemo in the National Sea Life Centre. Photo by Antonio Roberts.

3 hours: Explore the depths at the National Sea Life Centre

If you’re not sure what to do in Birmingham on a rainy day, take some time to explore the city’s National Sea Life Centre. Perfectly located right next to Brindleyplace and Canal Old Line, the centre is close to the main business areas and some quick transport links.

With over 50 aquariums and some additional sanctuaries, the Sea Life Centre is a great choice to while away a few hours. From sharks to jellyfish, there’s a staggering 180,000 species to discover here. Once you’ve seen all the wonders of the ocean, there are plenty of places to go for lunch or dinner in this area, such as the Italian Carluccio’s, which is only a few minutes’ walk away.

Birmingham’s Broad Street

Stay out late on Birmingham’s Broad Street.

3 hours: Hit the tiles on Broad Street

For music, dancing and canal-side drinks, head over to Birmingham’s Broad Street. Here you’ll find the likes of the Tap & Spile, a pub that dates back to 1821, the kitschy Popworld bar and the ever-vibrant 6 on Broad Street live music venue.

If you’re out on the town, Broad Street is only a short and convenient distance from the Barclaycard Arena and the Symphony Hall. Then, when the night becomes the early hours of the morning, Players Bar provides live DJ sets and dancing until 3 or 4am.

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