VACATION Besides being a shopper's paradise, this historic city boasts enormous open places

I t isn't the first choice of tourists visiting England, but those who've seen it have come away smiling. It is common knowledge that Birmingham isn't the kind of city from which you expect wondrous shakes and binges. Or, late night thrills. So, whatever comes your way is appreciated for what it is. And, that's what makes things a bit surprising and pleasant for tourists.

Birmingham's reputation was forged as a powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution in England, a fact which led to the city being known as ‘the workshop of the world' or the ‘city of a thousand trades'. Though its industrial importance has declined, the city has developed into a national commercial centre, being named as the third best place in the U.K. to locate a business, and the 21st best in Europe.

While business and commerce have ruled the city, that doesn't diminish its tourist charms. There's enough by way of shopping and dining to keep you interested and convince you that you didn't waste your time coming here. Art buffs would do well to head to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the city's art showpiece, which displays renowned artwork that include a leading collection of work by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the world's largest collection of works by Edward Burne-Jones.

There are other museums that merit a visit, namely, the Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Soho House and Sarehole Mill, a popular attraction for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien. Thinktank in the Eastside is one of the newest museums in the city, replacing the former Science and Industry Museum on Newhall Street. The Birmingham Back to Backs is the last surviving court of back-to-back houses in the city.

One of the pleasant surprises Birmingham presents is the enormous amount of space to breathe. Over 8,000 acres of parkland open spaces are the city's lungs. Sutton Park covering 2,400 acres is the largest of the lot, and is, in fact, the largest urban Nature reserve in Europe.

Close to the city centre lie Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a Victorian creation, complete with a conservatory and bandstand. Also close to the City Centre is the Winterbourne Botanic Garden. And then, there's Woodgate Valley Country Park in Bartley Green and Quinton.

The parks aside, there are several squares that give the city a distinct look. The City Centre consists of numerous public squares, including Centenary Square, Chamberlain Square and Victoria Square.

INDER RAJ AHLUWALIA

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