August 1st, 2013

Birmingham – the London of the north

by Don

Birmingham is often affectionately referred to as ‘the Venice of the north’, thanks to its 35 miles of canals – even more than the 26 miles in Venice itself.

However, it is perhaps more practical to think of it as being the London of the north, as Birmingham’s other most famous attribute is its status as England’s second-most populous city.

The similarities between the two cities are not limited solely to their size – there are plenty of ways in which Birmingham rivals the capital.

Business in Birmingham

Take a look at the hotels Birmingham city centre has available, and it’s easy to see that the city has broad appeal for tourists and business travellers alike.

But you might not realise how many big-name businesses are actually based in Birmingham – including some you might expect to have their headquarters in London.

Lloyds Banking Group has its roots in the city, dating back to 1765 when Taylors and Lloyds was founded there.

Irish-themed pub chain O’Neill’s actually has its headquarters in Birmingham, on Fleet Street, while Harvester restaurants are owned by the same Birmingham-based parent group, Mitchells & Butlers.

Demographic Differences

Birmingham is arguably even more multicultural than London, with just 57.9% of the 2011 population classed as white, compared with 59.8% in the capital.

Over a quarter of the city’s population – 26.6% in 2011 – are Asian, with 8.9% identifying as black, 4.4% mixed race, and small Arab and other ethnicity communities also to be found.

This diversity makes Birmingham a truly bohemian place to live, work or visit, with global influences helping to shape its cuisine, shopping, nightlife and culture in general.

Travel and Transport

Like any major city, Birmingham has its fair share of transport links – head north out of London, and you’re likely to take the M1, whereas Birmingham has the M6 linking it with Manchester, Liverpool and beyond.

To the south, the M5 links Birmingham with Bristol and Exeter – locations reached via the M4 from London.

Birmingham Airport helps to make the city an international hub and, while it might not carry as many passengers as Heathrow, it eclipses other city airports including Liverpool John Lennon, Leeds Bradford and East Midlands Airport.

In 2012, almost nine million people passed through Birmingham Airport, a 3.6% increase over the previous year – and plans are afoot to make it a key travel destination for Western Europe as a whole.

The Birmingham of the South

All of these comparisons are perhaps a little unfair for Birmingham which, despite its size and status, is often perceived as being slightly in London’s shadow.

But with a much more affordable cost of living and a more central location, there’s plenty of reason to see Birmingham as the better proposition – and perhaps London should strive to be seen as the ‘Birmingham of the south’ instead.

Make some time to visit both cities in person, and decide for yourself whether they’re similar or different – and where your heart lies in this north-south debate.

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