Should you rent a car in BirminghamUK>Birmingham

Birmingham sits at the heart of the English Midlands, with a strong mix of both industrial and traditional tourist attractions.

Like any reasonable sized European city, there’s no need to get a hire a car in Birmingham if you are just visiting the centre, but the chances are that you are almost certainly going to want to travel beyond this area, so what is the best way of getting around?

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  • Flexibility – as with anywhere else, having a hire car will give you many more options for getting around, especially if you want to explore the many rural areas which are right on Birmingham’s doorstep.
  • Shopping. In the centre of Birmingham you have the new Bullring, but elsewhere you have the very suburban Merry Hill, or the hugely impressive Touchwood centre in Solihull. Although Touchwood is a short walk from Solihull station, a car boot tends to come in handy for all those shopping bags.
  • Country lanes — Birmingham might sit in the centre of what is known as the West Midlands conurbation, but that does not mean that the whole area is built up. In fact, many parts of the West Midlands are nothing of the sort — and as a local I can certainly say that you can be on superb country lanes within literary just a few minutes of picking up a hire car at Birmingham airport.
    Warwickshire in particular has many great back-roads and associated villages, but so do any of the counties surrounding Birmingham. Just take your pick, pick up your hire car in Birmingham airport, and get in gear!
  • Shakespeare country by road — as it is a bit of a tight squeeze to do the world famous Warwick Castle and then Shakespeare’s town of Stratford Upon Avon within the same day by public transport, we suggest either dividing them up into two separate trips, or going by car in order to have a bit more flexibility.
  • Cotswolds — the Cotswolds is one of the most attractive areas of England, especially due to the numerous postcard-perfect villages. The Cotswold region sits in between major towns and cities such as Cheltenham, Bristol, Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, and the closest major airport to this area is Birmingham.
    Naturally, with so many villages to explore, this area is much easier to see in a hire car. Considering that the main railway line which runs through the Cotswolds runs diagonally between Cheltenham and Oxford, there is no direct way to reach the Cotswolds from Birmingham by public transport anyway, and to travel along this route in a circuit would mean buying two entirely separate rail tickets, so the train really doesn’t offer good value to this part of the world.
    For more suggestions on driving in the Cotswolds v. getting around the Cotswolds without a car, please see Oxford.
  • Ironbridge – this World Heritage site might be one of the most famous icons of the Industrial Revolution, but it has no direct connection with that other icon, the railway. to get there you will either need to drive, or take a bus from nearby Telford.
  • Buxton and The Peak District – see East Midlands. or Manchester.

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  • Rail hub — Birmingham sits right at the centre of the British rail network, and in particular Birmingham New Street is a major interchange between intercity cross-country services heading towards the South West via Cheltenham and Bristol; the South Coast via Oxford and Reading; the North West and Glasgow via Wolverhampton; and the North East, Edinburgh and beyond via Derby and Sheffield.
    Birmingham also has three fast trains each hour to London, heading via Birmingham Airport and Coventry; whereas the regional rail network stretches as far as Pwllheli and Aberystwyth in West Wales, Cardiff and Newport in South Wales and Chester and Liverpool in the North West. This makes it easy to reach Birmingham from just about anywhere else in the UK, and it also makes it extremely easy to explore in any direction using central Birmingham as a base. Other local and regional trains depart from Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill stations, reaching as far as the cathedral city of Worcester and the Malverns to the west or Stratford Upon Avon to the south and Warwick to the south-east, before continuing on towards London Marleybone.
  • Birmingham New Street – now moved from a negative to a positive, the “new” New Street, also known as Grand Central, which is technically for the new shopping centre above, is a dazzling new hub in the heart of England.
  • Airport and NEC complex — passengers taking flights to Birmingham airport can make a swift transfer into the city centre by jumping aboard one of the fast and frequent trains which run to Birmingham New Street and beyond. The journey can take as little as 10 minutes, and there are usually around seven trains each hour.
    Naturally, when the airport is so well connected to the city centre, it always makes it much easier to continue the rest of your trip by train. However, the Birmingham airport site doesn’t just feature as a major transport hub. Adjacent to Birmingham International station is the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) complex, which includes the Genting Arena, which is often used for concert tours. Trains are available after any performance at the Genting Arena, although they do tend to be a bit of a tight squeeze!
  • Concerts and shows — aside from the NEC complex, a huge variety of entertainment options is available within the city centre itself, and this includes the city’s other major arena, the NIA (Barclaycard National Indoor Arena), together with numerous theatres and smaller entertainment venues. Birmingham is home to the world famous City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), who play in the Symphony Hall, which is part of the National Convention Centre.
    All of these other venues are within an easy walk of the main city centre stations.
  • Villages by rail — although you will naturally have far more flexibility and a hire car, there are still many attractive villages which can easily be reached within a few minutes’ train travel from one of the major Birmingham stations. A personal favourite between Birmingham and Coventry would be Hampton-in-Arden, which has a quiet village pub just a few hundred yards from the station, together with a number of country walks. You can easily take a scenic walk from here to the next stop at Berkswell. I would also highly recommend the village of Tanworth-in-Arden, with the tree-lined route into Umberslade Farm. This sits between Danzey and Wood End stations.
  • Canals – Birmingham has an amazing network of historic canals, and many of these follow the same routing as the newer railways. It’s very easy to combine an historic canal walk with a journey back into town.
  • Peaky Blinders territory – although this was largely filmed on-set, many of the industrial features can still be found around the historic canals.

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Birmingham has one of the most comprehensive public transport networks of any UK city outside London, and even if this is largely used by commuters heading in to the city, it is just as useful for tourists wanting to head out of Birmingham to see places like Worcester, Stratford Upon Avon or Warwick. Do I need to hire car in Birmingham? There’s certainly no need, but a hire car could still be useful, especially if you want to venture west and into Wales, where public transport links are much more sparse. But there’s more than enough to see here without needing a car.

Verdict — no

  • Note — this advice is based around flying into Birmingham airport (BHX). East Midlands is an alternative airport for the area, and some of our advice for this airport overlaps with Birmingham.

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Author: Carometer

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