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If ever there was a city of multiple faces, Birmingham is it. An eclectic mix of rustic, working class charm and high society arts and culture, Birmingham really is everything to everybody. Birmingham is also well placed to explore the rest of the West Midlands. The city is surrounded by countless nature parks and reserves, all within reach by car and well worth a daytrip or two. Car rental agencies are available all over the city to provide travellers with the perfect vehicle for their excursions.
Who to Book With
Arrangements for renting a car in Birmingham can be made with one of the several international agencies represented in the city, including Hertz and EasyCar. Online booking is recommended as competition for vehicles, especially during peak tourism periods, can be quite tough. The offices of these agencies can be found at many different locations in the city centre and, of course, at the airport.
Best time to go
Summer rears its head in July, bringing with it the warmest temperatures the Midlands can muster. This is also the time when most travellers descend on the area and also, consequently, when the prices of flights and accommodation skyrocket. The region can experience quite a bit of snow during the winter, making driving conditions difficult.
Need to Know Essentials
When collecting your rental car, the following documents will need to be presented:
- A valid driving licence or, for foreign drivers, an international driving permit
- The credit card used to make the online booking
- A form of photographic identification, like a valid passport
Driving in Birmingham can be tricky, as much of the city centre has been pedestrianised. As such, most sites can be visited on foot. Getting around by car is not impossible, but it is definitely not the easiest mode of transport. Those travellers wanting to navigate the unbeaten paths on the outskirts of the city, however, will find that a car is essential.
There is little free parking in the city. The rate at most of the Pay and Display areas is about £1.50. Street parking is available in some areas, but drivers will need to keep feeding the metre, which is usually more expensive than the Pay and Display options. Parking in the more remote areas outside of the city is much easier to find and, on the whole, a great deal cheaper.
Travellers planning on navigating the region independently should arm themselves with a reliable map and, if possible, a GPS navigation system. The city’s roads, both inside and out of the urban zone, can be quite confusing at their best. Expect surprise one way systems and masses of traffic during peak hours.
Thanks to the pedestrianisation of the city centre, much of the inner Birmingham can be easily navigated by foot. Getting around outside of the pedestrianised area is simple as well, with the city’s well developed public transport system. Trains, buses and taxis are all on hand at all times of the day and night, but hiring a car is still the best way to see the countryside.
The local train network is quite extensive and used frequently by both locals and foreigners. The trains are operated by London Midland. Travellers who are only in the city for a day should consider purchasing the Daytripper pass, which allows for access on all buses and trains for a full day. The Daytripper pass costs £4.50 for adults and £2.80 for children. The main station is at New Street, from where trains can be taken to almost all areas of the city.
The trams, known as the Metro, are also popular modes of transport, although they don’t cover as many destinations as the trains or buses. The main route on the system is between Snow Hill and Wolverhampton. Fares are definitely cheaper, with a one way full length trip amounting to about £2.20. Day passes are also available.
The most far reaching public transport option is the bus system, operated largely by National Express West Midlands. Fares vary according to distance, but day passes can be purchased for £3.80 and are valid for all buses in one day. Buses depart from several places in the city, including Corporation Street and Bull Street.
Taxis can be taken from almost anywhere in the city but are mostly found gathered around the New Street Station. Marked taxis can simply be flagged down from the pavement but you can also phone for pick up in advance. Reputable companies include Taxis Birmingham and Castle Cars.
There are many well-known sites in Birmingham city centre, but few travellers are aware of the gems that lie on the city’s outskirts. With a car, visitors can explore the gorgeous natural environment, the reserves and parks that surround the city, and maybe even a few of the country’s cultural spoils as well.
The Royal Shakespeare Company - Only an hour away by car, gives visitors the chance to soak up some famous English culture. Located in Stratford-upon-Avon, the company puts on great Shakespearean epics, starting from as little as £5 per show. Booking is essential.
Lickey Hills Country Park - Birmingham is known for being home to several great reserves. One such reserve is the Lickey Hills Country Park in Rednal. The park is covered in thick coniferous forest that makes for a superb getaway from the built-up city. There are also several amenities to be enjoyed in the park, including a golf course and a vibrant pub.
Birmingham Nature Centre - Another slice of natural beauty is found at the Birmingham Nature Centre in Cannon Hill Park. A hit with children and adults alike, the nature centre is home to a host of animals and various species of birds. Visitors will get to experience wild animals like deer and otters at close range. Children enter the park at a reduced rate.