Many visitors get their first taste of central Birmingham at New Street Station, whose unreconstructed ugliness – piles of modern concrete – makes a dispiriting start, though there are plans afoot to give the place a thoroughgoing face-lift. Things soon improve if you cut up east from the station to the newly developed Bull Ring, once a 1960s eyesore, but now a gleaming new shopping mall distinguished by the startling design of its leading store, Selfridges. Head west along pedestrianized New Street from here and it’s a brief stroll to the elegantly revamped Victoria Square and the adjacent Chamberlain Square, where pride of place goes to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the city’s finest museum, complete with a stunning collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. Beyond, further west still, is the glossy International Convention Centre, from where it’s another short hop to the Gas Street Basin, the prettiest part of the city’s serpentine canal system. Close by is canalside Brindleyplace, a smart, brick-and-glass complex sprinkled with slick cafés and bars and holding the enterprising Ikon Gallery of contemporary art. From Brindleyplace, it’s a short walk southeast to The Mailbox, the immaculately rehabilitated former postal sorting office with yet more chic bars and restaurants, or you can head north along the old towpath of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal as far as Newhall Street. The latter is within easy walking distance of the Georgian St Philip’s Cathedral.

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