Birmingham or Liverpool – if that’s the choice that awaits when planning your next UK city break, then we’re here to help. Yep, this guide will run through several of the key differences between the two towns to help you settle on the one that’s best for you this year.
Thing is, both are pretty enticing destinations for urban adventurers. You’ve got Liverpool, the home of The Beatles that was once one of the most important shipbuilding ports in the world. Then there’s Birmingham, the second-largest city in the whole of the UK, with a population of over 1.2 million and all the metropolitan buzz that goes with it.
Here, we’ll aim to unpick where offers the most alluring attractions for different sorts of travelers, where has the better museums and galleries, the wildest nocturnal scene, and the best array of day trips. You’ll be checking off another British city in no time. Let’s go…
Birmingham or Liverpool for getting there?
Birmingham is one of the hubs of the English Midlands. There are ever-improving road and rail links to London (including the contentious addition of a high-speed rail line that will link to the capital and north to Manchester). For now, the journey by locomotive from London Euston takes just shy of 1.5 hours, while driving takes about 2.5 hours. Birmingham Airport is the main gateway to the town from the skies. It’s well served by low-cost carriers especially, with names like Jet2 and Ryanair offering connections direct from Barcelona, Dublin, Krakow, Rome – there’s loads.
Liverpool is slightly further north of Birmingham and not a planned stop on the fast HS2 network. That means that getting to the home of The Beatles by rail is a little trickier and probably will stay that way for some time. Trains up from London Euston station typically take just a touch over two hours, while driving on the M6 and M40 takes just over three hours. The Liverpool John Lennon Airport is the local arrival point from the air. It’s not as big as the hub at Birmingham but does have a few low-cost links to Europe courtesy of Ryanair and Wizz.
Birmingham or Liverpool for sights and attractions?
Let’s begin with Birmingham. This onetime engine room of British inventors and industrialists is now one of the most regenerated cities on the map of the UK. There are gleaming new sights and attractions around every corner in the downtown. Still, you won’t want to miss the Gothic and Georgian buildings of the Jewelry Quarter, or the Baroque outline of St. Philip’s Cathedral. Then you’ve got the wealth of excellent museums, from Aston Hall (a 1600s Jacobean mansion with Civil War history) to Cadbury World (the home of Britain’s most iconic chocolate brand).
Liverpool can match that with the formerly UNESCO-designated Maritime Mercantile City, a patchwork of districts and docklands that were once a major trading center of the planet. You also get the largest Chinatown in Europe (a great spot for fans of dim sum et al) and the Albert Dock, which was the first dock in the world to feature the use of hydraulic cranes. Museum wise, music heads simply HAVE to hit The Beatles Story, a journey through the lives of the Fab Four, while Tate Liverpool brings up the offering for art buffs with its edgy contemporary collections.
Winner: Liverpool just about tips this one.
Birmingham or Liverpool for shopping?
Birmingham is often hailed as the single best city for shopping in the whole of the UK. Yep, even above grand old London. It’s hard not to agree with the designation, since so much work has been put in to elevating the industrial depots and whatnot. The whole downtown is now riddled with more retail complexes than you can hope to get through. Chief among them is the Bullring & Grand Central, a colossal mall that hosts the eye-watering Selfridges building and oodles of haute couture. There’s also the locally loved St. Martin’s Market and the indoor-outdoor walks of Martineau Place.
Liverpool has great shopping, but perhaps not the overload you get in Birmingham. The areas with the clicking tills are mainly around Liverpool ONE, an al-fresco retail complex with a whopping 170 stores, and the edgy Red Brick Market, which channels punk subculture to offer something a little different. You can also break away from the center to shop in the satellite malls of Liverpool Shopping Park, Prescot, or Strand closer to Bootle in the north.
Birmingham or Liverpool for nightlife?
Both Liverpool and Birmingham are winners of the Purple Flag award for nighttime economy. AKA – neither should disappoint. The latter’s main hedonism areas are around the long strip of Broad Street, which converts from a shopping haven in the day to a stomping ground for bachelor parties at night. There’s also aptly named Gay Village, the LGBTQ+ hub with its wild pubs and dance bars. Oh, and Chinatown has its fair share of places, too. The clubs that tend to hit the headlines in Birmingham are PRYZM and Bambu but be ready to queue to get in on weekends.
Liverpool is much more centered around off-beat nightlife and live music, more in the ilk of Dublin across the water. There are two areas you simply have to know about if you want to party. The first is the Ropewalks district, where you get the mainstay brand names and chic cocktail bars. Then there’s the Cavern Quarter. Its namesake bar is the place where The Beatles played back in the early years of the 1960s, though it’s since moved location. Expect smoky jazz clubs, gritty pubs, and plenty of rock and roll in those parts.
Winner: Draw – there’s loads of nightlife in both cities.
Birmingham or Liverpool for day trips?
Liverpool is a gateway to the north of England and the coast of the Mersey Estuary. There’s one destination for a day trip that stands out in those parts: The Peak District. A land of rolling hills and peaking mountains, it’s a prime escape for walkers and ramblers looking to sample some raw English countryside. Of course, the Ribble and Alt Estuaries to the north of the city are also lovely, with ample birdwatching, and it’s also possible to cross the Welsh border to see the historic resort towns and beaches of Rhyl and Llandudno.
Birmingham is the kingpin of the Midlands region. That means you get easy access to reserves like the Cannock Chase AONB (a land of tall birch woods and heather heaths) and the Shropshire Hills AONB (a set of wild ridges that span the English-Welsh borders). The Victorian canals that once helped Birmingham trade with the rest of the UK are also now open for day tours, while the town centers of Dudley and West Bromwich are just a short ride on public transport away.
Winner: Liverpool, mainly because of the Peak District.
Birmingham or Liverpool for cost?
There’s not too much in it when it comes to the cost of these two towns. Most estimations put Liverpool up there as the pricier of the two, but only by a smidgen. Cost collator Budget Your Trip concludes that you need a bankroll of about £106 ($140) per day to hit the capital of the Midlands, but up to £129 ($170) to explore the home of the Fab Four.
That’s mainly down the price of accommodation, with hotels in Liverpool commanding generally higher rates of around £61 ($79) a night compared to Birmingham’s average of £53 ($69). Food costs about the same in both cities, though we would say be ready to fork out more to get to Liverpool unless you’re coming in from Scotland or The North.
Winner: Birmingham’s the cheaper one overall, but only by a little bit.
Birmingham or Liverpool for families?
The combo of chocolate-filled Cadbury World (a whole themed exhibit dedicated to everyone’s favorite confection) and the vast tanks of the National SEA Life Centre Aquarium (a colossal marine zoo with blacktip reef sharks and more) is usually enough to put a trip to Birmingham high on the list for families. But that’s really just scratching the surface, because you also get the eclectic reel of shows that grace the stage at the Birmingham Hippodrome, access to the rhino-stalked West Midlands Safari Park, and a particularly fantastic science museum.
Liverpool might not offer the same level of planned attractions, but kids are sure to love wandering the old docklands and learning about the WWII history that unraveled there. Footie loving families can also look forward to visiting not just one, but two, of the Premier League’s most hallowed stadia – first at Anfield (home of Liverpool F.C.) and then at Goodison Park (still the home of Everton F.C.). You should also consider riding the Mersey ferries and visiting beaches on the Irish Sea.
Winner: Birmingham. Who could resist a chocolate museum?
Birmingham or Liverpool? Our conclusion
Both these big English cities are great break destinations. We’d say that Birmingham is the better choice for families and shoppers, thanks to its array of wholesome attractions and recently redeveloped shopping malls, not to mention the fact it’s generally easier to get to from London and much of the UK. Liverpool, though, is the one for nightlife that’s fueled by live music, Beatles history, and getting up to explore The North of England.