Though not the U.K.’s most visually appealing city—thanks to the decline of heavy industry, bombing during World War II, and some drab civic architecture in the decades afterwards—21st-century Birmingham is a vibrant and diverse metropolis, in the midst of a major cultural rebirth.
The city first flourished in the boom years of the 19th-century's Industrial Revolution, allowing its inventive citizens to accumulate enormous wealth that was evident in the city streets; at one time the city had some of the finest Victorian buildings in the country. It still has some of the most ravishingly beautiful Pre-Raphaelite paintings, on view in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
Today art galleries, theater, museums, ballet, and a symphony orchestra all thrive here. Creative redevelopment and public art are also making areas more attractive for the city's 2.6 million residents. The redeveloped Bullring shopping center, part of which has a striking, curving facade of 15,000 aluminum disks, has won widespread critical acclaim.
The city has a distinctive, almost singsong local accent—known as "Brummie"—that’s often the butt of unfair jokes in the U.K. In 2008 the London Times reported a survey finding it to be the accent Brits most associated with stupidity, even more so than being unable to speak at all. A favorite local rebuttal is to point out that Shakespeare, born and raised just 25 miles away, would have had a Brummie accent.