To access Birmingham quickly from New Street Station leave the station by the back entrance, to do this select any platform other than platform 12 and walk down the platform towards Platform B. At the end of the platform is a staircase that will take you out into Birmingham. Once you reach the entrance to the station you have a number of options
If you have 10 minutes to spare
Turn left this will give you the opportunity to view the Birmingham New Street signal box which is a listed building (http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/en-442131-birmingham-new-street-signal-box-birming). Once you have marvelled at the 1960s brutalist architecture many a happy hour can be idled away on the train contemplating the criteria for listing buildings and how some are controversial.
If you are searching for cheap food there are several take-away establishments here offering fresh noodles, pasta and the usual selection of burgers.
If you have an hour to spare
If you have a little longer you can follow the specially designed lamp-pots and stripes in the concrete paving to the Mailbox. The Mailbox is a converted post-office building and it hosts a variety of expensive shops, café’s, bars, and a branch of Tesco’s. Urban Coffee (an excellent independent coffee shop) have a concession in the Mailbox. It is also home to the BBC who have a public area. This is worth visiting as it offers Dr Who’s tardis, free internet access and a seating area. Various radio programmes are broadcast from the building and it’s possible to sit and watch/listen to the broadcasts. The Mailbox also offers a number of small galleries and pop-up exhibitions such as Made in Birmingham which take advantage of the empty shops.
Walking through the Mailbox brings you to the canal. Birmingham, as the locals will never tire of telling you, has more canals then Venice; they usually neglect to mention that it is a larger area. The canals around the Mailbox and the Brindley Place interchange have been done up, and waterside cafés and bars added. The Sea Life Centre, in the same area, is a large aquarium not surprisingly devoted to marine life.
If you are looking for shops
Turn right on coming out of the station and cross over the road. Walk through the Piccadilly arcade; this arcade was built in 1910 as a cinema and has a grand arch entrance and decorative top lights. It’s an attractive piece of architecture and contains a number of independent shops. The arcade takes you onto New Street turn left and you will soon see a branch of Waterstones in a converted bank. This is a large airy branch with high ceilings (the ceilings are listed) and a curved staircase. If you continue past Waterstones you will reach the Bullring after 3 or 4 minutes where you can admire the Bull and find the usual selection of chain stores. The view as you approach the bullring is quite charming; two pillars of modern commerce frame a rather attractive church and look down over an interesting water feature.
If you are looking for a pub
Between the Piccadilly arcade and Waterstones sits the Burlington arcade; like the Piccadilly arcade this can be accessed from either end and is a grand building. It used to contain a grand hotel and casino where many made or lost fortunes before boarding trains to London to try their luck. It now contains a rather good pub (Baccharus) which is clean, usually quiet with available seats and reasonably good real ale.
Venturing further from the station, but still within 10 mins easy walk (through the Piccadilly arcade, and straight up Bennets Hill) you will find a selection of pubs including Weatherspoons and the rather brilliant Wellington. The Wellington is an independent real ale pub, often crowded with a huge range of ales and ciders on tap. If you wish to order a take-away from the Thai restaurant across the road (or indeed anywhere else) they are happy to provide plates, cutlery and ketchup.
Continuing past the pubs will bring you to the cathedral, which is a very approachable building in the heart of town. It was built in 1715 by the baroque architect Thomas Archer. In the summer the grounds are usually filled with emo kids on skateboards avoiding the sun and office workers enjoying a sandwich.
Opposite the cathedral is the Old Joint Stock pub another converted bank (Birmingham Joint Stock Bank) and listed building. The main room is dominated by an imposing glass ceiling.
Turning left from the cathedral will bring you to Victoria square which boasts a good selection of Birmingham’s old buildings including the town hall and The Museum and Art Gallery which has a hands-on section for younger children, a fairly good Ancient Greece exhibit, and the Egypt room has a real mummy. It's very near New Street station and, best of all, is free to get into. The Edwardian-style tea room is a pleasant place to relax in.
If you are looking for a cinema
Birmingham has two city centre cinemas within 5 minutes of New street station; there is an Odeon on New Street and the Electric Cinema behind the station. The Odeon is a little old and tired but perfectly passable whilst the Electric is a treat. As an independent cinema it boasts the distinction of being Britain’s oldest working cinema and has been fairly recently renovated. It tends to show films that bridge the gap between art house and main stream. It has a bar that serves real coffee and alcoholic drinks in real glasses.
If You Are Really Stuck For Ages
Don't despair, there are lots of ways to pass the time. You could go a bit further afield, and you might actually enjoy yourself.
For Kids and Like-minded Adults
In the city centre, Think Tank is the most recent addition to Birmingham's tourist attractions. As the area of the city centre where it's located is currently being redeveloped, it's probably best to ask for directions. It's a large 'education experience' aimed at children, that also has the IMAX cinema. The downside is that you do have to pay to get in.
Children might prefer Cadbury World, the visitor centre at Cadbury's headquarters in the suburb of Bournville. It includes exhibitions devoted to the history of chocolate and the Cadbury Company, a ride through a chocolate wonderland and the chance to drink liquid chocolate. The quickest way to get there is to take a train to Bournville station from New Street (assuming the Cross City Line is still working). Again, there is an entrance fee, and according to their website you can be turned away without an advance booking.
As you'd expect from a city that applied for European City of Culture, there is actually quite a bit of culture around the place, including the wonderful (and mostly free) Birmingham Art Gallery. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also sometimes plays afternoon concerts, at the attractive modern Symphony Hall. The Birmingham and Midlands Institute boasts a grand building, a quirky café and the opportunity to hear concerts for free.
Then there's the Barber Institute, one of the best small art galleries in the country. This small but excellent collection includes pieces by Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt,Gainsborough, Turner, Whistler, Manet, Degas, Monet, van Gogh, Rodin, Gaugin, Picasso and Matisse. For some reason it's very empty, so unlike some larger art galleries you can appreciate the art without the disturbance of tour guides. It's on the Birmingham University campus. To get there, you can take a train from New Street to University station, or take a 61, 62, or 63 bus.
The Centro Travel Shop, just to the right of the main station entrance, has free maps of the city centre. If they're not too busy, the staff will be able to point out where you are and direct you to the tourist attractions. As tourists are not commonly found in Birmingham, someone asking for local information is a bit of a novelty, and people are usually happy to help you.