England travel guide




Birmingham Travel Guide

Gas Street Basin and Brindley Place

From the north side of Chamberlain Square, walk through the hideously kitsch Paradise Forum shopping and fast-food complex to get to Centenary Square, where there's an unusual World War I war memorial. The square has recently been revamped to complement the showpiece International Convention Centre (ICC) and the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Centre-stage on the wide paving is a butter-coloured sculpture called Forward, a rousing image of the city's history by Birmingham-born Raymond Mason.

From here, it's a brief stroll along Broad Street to the bridge over - and steps down to - Gas Street Basin, the hub of Birmingham's intricate canal system. There are eight canals within the city's boundaries, comprising no less than thirty-two miles of canal. The highpoint of canal construction was the late eighteenth century, when almost all heavy goods were transported by water. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the railways made the canals uneconomic, but they struggled on until the 1970s when tourism - and narrow boats - gave them a new lease of life. Much of Birmingham's surviving canal network slices through the city's grimy, industrial bowels, but certain sections have been immaculately restored with Gas Street Basin leading the way. At the junction of the Worcester and Birmingham and Birmingham Main Line canals, the Basin, with its herd of brightly painted narrow boats, is edged by a delightful medley of old brick buildings. There's a good pub here - the Tap & Spile - and regular boat trips leave to explore the prettier parts of the system. There are several operators, but Second City Canal Cruises are as good as any (tel 0121/236 9811; 2/person). In summer, there's also a water taxi service between several stops along the central part of the canal system (July & Aug daily 10am-5pm; May, June & Sept Sat & Sun 10am-5pm; 1-2 hourly; one-stop 50p).

From the Basin, it's a short walk north along the canal towpath to the bars, shops and clubs of waterside Brindley Place an extraordinarily successful - and aesthetically pleasing - development and here you'll also find the city's celebrated Ikon Gallery (Tues-Sun 11am-6pm; free; ), housed in a lovely old Victorian building and one of the country's most imaginative venues for touring exhibitions of contemporary art.

Back to: Explore Birmingham

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