Birmingham has been known variously as the second city, the city of a thousand trades, and the workshop of the world. Today the city is often listed in newspaper articles noting the best places in the UK to take a city break or to spend a cultural weekend, or indeed, as one the best places in the UK to live.
The city was founded upon the manufacturing and working of metal items during the industrial revolution in the later 18th and 19th centuries. Pioneering figures such as Matthew Boulton and James Watt utilised the steam engine for industry and brought wealth and prosperity to the city. Accordingly the population boomed in the areas of Deritend, Handsworth, Bordesley and the city centre as the city grew. The Gun and Jewellery Quarters still exist as testaments to the continuing manufacturing history of Birmingham.
Over the course of the later 19th and early 20th centuries surrounding villages such as Moseley and Harborne became the commuter suburbs of their day as the city sprawled outwards with the spread of the railway and later the car. The automotive industry came to Birmingham soon after in Castle Bromwich and Longbridge as a major employer. For much of the 20th century the trend was the outward spread of the suburbs, though with the turn of the millennium and extensive redevelopment projects more and more professionals are living in areas of the city centre such as Ladywood that were once major industrial areas.
Today the city remains an important centre of manufacturing, but is also home to important offices for financial groups, lawyers and accountancy firms. Geographically, the city lies at the heart of the West Midlands, a journey of around 2 hours to London by rail or 90 minutes to Manchester. The city centre boasts 3 main stations, New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill, as well as Birmingham International close to Solihull and next to Birmingham International Airport.
Birmingham is home to several leading sporting institutions – Warwickshire play their cricket at Edgbaston, Aston Villa play in the Premiership and Birmingham City in the Championship. There are major entertainment venues at the NIA, the Hippodrome, the NEC and Symphony Hall. The Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Symphony Orchestra are known nationwide and internationally for the quality of their performances. Major shopping venues can be found at the redeveloped Bullring and leading restaurants in the Mailbox and Brindley Place.
Back in the 18th century the city was also known as an intellectual centre as the Lunar Society of Joseph Priestley and Erasmus Darwin pursued theology, philosophy and science in the city, and today there are two universities, the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University, in the city, as well as an internationally-renowned Museum and Art Gallery.