When most travelers consider visiting England, they think of London first—but when crafting your U.K. itinerary, don’t overlook Birmingham, England’s second biggest city. Birmingham is the home of J.R.R. Tolkien and Cadbury chocolate (yes, you can tour the factory), as well as hip hotels, rich museums, Victorian architecture, Michelin-starred restaurants, and a highly curated arts and culture lineup. Birmingham is also gearing up to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in facilities and city upgrades.
But is Birmingham safe? The city’s early-1900s mobsters have become infamous thanks to Netflix’s dramatic portrayal of the ruthless Peaky Blinders gang—but 100 years later, is the city still riddled with violence and shady doings?
The reality is that the Birmingham crime rate is actually lower than other cities of similar size, and that Birmingham is commonly cited as one of the U.K.’s safer places. But, as is the case with any big city, it all depends on where you go and what you do. There certainly are some rough areas of Birmingham that you won’t want to explore, and some behaviors that will increase your chances of becoming a victim. With that said, here’s a brief overview of how to stay safe in Birmingham.
How to Stay Safe in Birmingham, England
- In Birmingham, it’s important to know where you’re going—and where not to go. Many of the city’s suburbs, like Bournville, are lovely and have worthwhile things to see. But understand which are the worst areas in Birmingham for crime, including Lozells, Handsworth, and Northfield, and steer clear of these roughest areas in Birmingham.
- Use public transportation instead of a private vehicle, since issues related to vehicles comprise a large portion of Birmingham crime. If you choose to use hired cars, take the proper safety precautions. And always be on high alert for suspicious behavior or packages, since terrorists have targeted nearby cities in England.
- Birmingham’s crime rate has always been affected by the presence of gangs. Historically, the most famous were the Peaky Blinders, but these days, active warfare continues between the Burger Bar Crew, the Johnson Crew, the Frankley Killers, and others. Though these gangs are unlikely to target travelers, it’s best to know which areas of Birmingham to avoid so that you don’t get caught in the crossfire.
Top Travel Safety Products for Birmingham
Safe Places—and Places to Avoid—in Birmingham
Birmingham safety can depend largely on where you go. Though it isn’t a dangerous city overall, you’ll want to know which areas of Birmingham to avoid and which neighborhoods are safest.
In southeast Birmingham, the suburb of Mosely was recently deemed the U.K.’s best destination for city living, and many of the city’s other suburbs are quite pleasant and free from danger as well, including Bournville (the home of Cadbury World, which is well worth visiting), Halesowen, Harborne, and Sutton Coldfield.
It’s predictable that some of the suburbs would be peaceful, but is Birmingham’s City Centre safe? Though much of it is beautiful and packed with places of interest, Central Birmingham (or just “Town,” as Brummies call it), does suffer from the city’s most concentrated crime rate, particularly in Ladywood, Dale End, the Bullring and Grand Central shopping area (especially along New Street), the Chinese Quarter, and on Broad Street near Cineworld, according to a crime map on The Complete University Guide.
Those places have major tourist attractions, so instead of avoiding them completely, travelers should simply keep their wits about them and be alert and aware of the dangers.
However, there are places that should be considered no-go areas in Birmingham. These neighborhoods are plagued by gang violence (more on that below) and include Lozells, Handsworth, and Balsall Heath. It’s also worth noting that Birmingham’s two streets with the highest crime rates are Spring Hill (just west of the Jewellery Quarter and north of Ladywood) and Devonwood Way, just north of the Longbridge Town Centre.
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How to Get Around Safely in Birmingham
Another factor to think about when considering whether Birmingham is safe? Transit. Fortunately, Birmingham’s public transportation system is excellent and mostly safe. Vehicle crime is a big issue in Birmingham, and car rentals and gas can be quite expensive, so many visitors opt for the well-connected buses or trains.
If you’re using a hired car, like Uber, Lyft, or traditional taxis (called “hackney carriages” here), take the standard precautions like staying in touch with a friend or loved one about your ride, confirming that your vehicle is licensed and that the driver’s face matches his official photo, and choosing a busy, well-lit area when waiting for your ride. Also, don’t tell the driver your name when you arrive; ask what the name on the booking is instead.
Take common-sense precautions when moving around the city, such as walking with a companion, being aware of your surroundings, and keeping your valuables well concealed in a money belt under your clothes, a wallet in your front pocket (rather than the back), or a purse with slash-proof straps. As with most cities, you may not want to walk around Birmingham by yourself at night.
The Birmingham crime rate gets elevated higher because of scams that target tourists and travelers—these include pickpocketing in crowded areas, distracting ATM users to steal their newly dispensed cash, thefts from vehicles (hide your valuables in the glove compartment or trunk), and selling phony concert and sports tickets.
In addition to crime, Birmingham has other risks to be aware of: In terms of terrorism, the U.S. Department of State puts the entire U.K. at a level 2 safety risk, which means that travelers are advised to be alert in crowded tourist attractions and follow local authorities’ instructions.
As for extreme weather and natural disasters in Birmingham, England is subject to occasional floods and winter windstorms, as well as summer thunderstorms, which, when combined with elevated pollen levels, have been known to trigger severe asthma attacks and cause thousands of post-storm hospitalizations among people with asthma.
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Gang Violence in Birmingham, England
As mentioned above, Birmingham has historically been known for vicious gangsters; unfortunately, the city is still plagued in some places by street gangs and gun violence, which is why the worst areas in Birmingham—the places that you’d never want to go to as a tourist—include the city’s northwest corridor around Handsworth and Lozells, which is the territory of the Burger Bar and Johnson crews. Travelers should also avoid the city’s southern area around Northfield, where groups include the Frankley Killers, the 23 Drillas, the 247365, and the 61s.
These gangs generally only target rival gang members, but it’s obviously best to stay out of these rough areas of Birmingham to stay away from stray bullets and people engaging in violent behavior.
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—original reporting by Avital Andrews