Birmingham keeps being listed as a great city to visit. Why would anyone be drawn to such unloveliness, asks Tim Moore






Birmingham? Why send tourists there?

If Dalrymple’s eyes didn’t enjoy themselves, then nor did his ears. In 2008, a team of British linguistic researchers asked volunteers to estimate the intelligence of people recorded speaking in a range of regional accents. You may guess which of these emerged as the runaway loser, ajudged even less astute than the section of total silence included as a statistical control. It’s unfair and unkind, but it’s also a bona fide semi-scientific fact.

From a tourism perspective, the best that can be honestly said about Birmingham is that it’s quite near Stratford-on-Avon, and even nearer Warwick Castle and Kenilworth. If that sounds damning, it shouldn’t. Birmingham wasn’t built for fun and holidays, but to make things in factories – and almost uniquely amongst its peers, it still does.

‘The best thing about Birmingham? The proximity of places like Kenilworth’

The big old plants might have gone, but the city still employs more than 100,000 people in specialised engineering and manufacturing, a sector that continues to grow. Birmingham isn’t post-industrial, and so has better and more lucrative things to do than desperately tart up its old canals and foundries as half-baked heritage attractions.

But what’s truly depressing about the news of the latest holiday hotspots isn’t the logic-defying presence of Birmingham, but the contained insights into the modern traveller’s mindset. The press release trumpeting Birmingham’s come-hither delights focuses almost entirely on its ‘retail offer’, showcased by a new John Lewis and the refurbishment of Selfridges.

The Rough Guide city-list is more dispiriting still: ‘There’s no pretending that Birmingham is packed with interesting sights – it isn’t – but, along with its first-rate restaurant scene and nightlife, it’s well worth at least a couple of days.’ If travel really has become all about consumption, then there’s no more appropriate destination than Britain’s most durably productive city.

Birmingham: avoid, or visit?

In defence of Birmingham

Not all Telegraph Travel writers share Tim Moore’s disdain for the Midlands city. Jolyon Attwooll recently wrote about how to spend a weekend in Birmingham.

“Few would claim it is an easy city to love,” he wrote.

“But something of a cultural revolution has taken place in the city.

“It now has four Michelin star restaurants – “four more than Manchester”, as one local chef pointed out – and more than any English city outside London.

“There’s a world-class symphony orchestra and ballet, and new pride in its pivotal role in the world’s industrial heritage, most notably in the opening of a fascinating, quirky museum dedicated to a coffin fittings works.”

Looking for an alternative to Birmingham? Read our readers’ choice of the 10 best cities in Britain

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