The biggest convention the United Kingdom has to offer is surprisingly easy to get to.
The United Kingdom Games Expo (UKGE) is centrally located at the National Exhibition Center (NEC) east of Birmingham. It’s in the same area as Birmingham’s International Airport, and is almost as easy to get to.
Step 1: get to Birmingham.
tIf you’re arriving in Birmingham by train, you’ll be coming into Birmingham New Street, the central hub of trains for the city. (I’m not sure which train lines come into Moor Street or Snow Hill station, but these are also centrally located in downtown Birmingham. New Street is the hub, though.)
If you’re arriving into Birmingham by bus, you’ll be arriving at the Birmingham Coach Station, which is about an 800 meter walk from Birmingham New Station. Flixbuses have their own stop under a bridge. Either way, you’ll want to use Google Maps to navigate your way to the train station, as it’s a bit tricky to explain.
Step 2: get to the NEC.
The NEC is connected to the Birmingham International Airport, so I highly recommend the trains to Birmingham International. They’re fast, frequent, and the train station is also directly connected to the NEC. When you’re at the train station, you probably want the Anytime Return ticket (though if you’re getting a late start, the Off-Peak ticket may be an option – you won’t be allowed to travel before 9:30am or from 4:35pm to 6pm from Monday to Friday with an Off-Peak ticket). If it’s an option for your trip, you’ll see it when buying a ticket at one of the kiosks.
Once purchased at the kiosk, expect to pick up a printed ticket for each traveler. Insert it in the slit at the turnstile) and gates should open. If purchased from the West Midlands app, you’ll get a QR code to scan at the gates (or when needed by an inspector). Note that these tickets are not tied to a specific train or time (though this is the case for many cross-country sorts of trains).
Also note that gates may simply be open already (if a staffer isn’t available to assist people this is usually the case) – simply walk through. You’ll still be expected to show your ticket on the train whenever the staff walk through.
- You might see a ticket that’s a bit cheaper than the others (usually a pound or less). This is usually restricted to using a specific company’s train instead of just ‘the next train to the destination’. It doesn’t save much, so don’t bother with it.
- The Daytripper ticket is great if you’re going to be doing a lot of bouncing around the West Midlands geographical area. This is a pretty big area for the suburban train system, but it’s a bit overkill for what’s probably just a straightforward round trip for most.
But I like buses…
Depending on where you’re staying, you may find the X1, X12, or any other airport bus to be a good alternative. Google Maps is your friend on this one.
Assuming you have a debit / credit card that allows you to tap to pay, this is honestly the easiest way to ride the buses. The billing systems in place behind the scenes will ‘cap’ the fare for the day, provided you use the same card for all your trips. (You can also pay exact change in cash – announce you want the Day Saver ticket, pay, then take the paper ticket from a box at eye-level issued a bit further in the bus.) There’s also an app for this, and you can buy your tickets in the app.
However you pay, you’ll eventually arrive at Birmingham International. Head inside the bus shelters, up the escalator, then turn right and follow the signs for the NEC.
Either way, you won’t need the Swift card, and I don’t see a lot of locals using it.
Step 3: get in!
While I’m not privy to the exact details of their COVID plans, the country as a whole has greatly relaxed all COVID protocols. No tests or passenger locator forms are required to enter the country, and masks are no longer legally required in stores and indoor spaces (though they’re still a good idea).
From the train platform, head up the stairs, out the turnstile, then turn right. Follow the long corridor, then head down the escalator for the halls. Much of the board game activity will be contained in the halls, and some of the other activities will be outdoors nearby. The Hilton nearby is a likely place to find lots of gamers, and the Resorts World Birmingham is a 5-10 minute walk for a classy mall’s worth of stores and restaurants.
The NEC has a few food options (a couple of Subways and a Wetherspoons), but arguably the better options will be found at the Chow Street food in the open area at the front of the Hilton Metropole hotel. The Resorts World is just far enough away to take a bit of energy to reach, so maybe head here after the convention closes.
Step 4: getting home
Unless you’re staying at one of the hotels within walking distance, you’ll probably to catch one of those trains or buses back to wherever you’re staying. Bear in mind you may need more than one bus / train to get home! When in doubt, leave early.
- Trains on Thursday (setup day) and Friday to New Street are scheduled to depart pretty regularly until about 11pm, with the last trains being at 12:22am and 1:27am.
- Trains on Saturday to New Street are around until 11pm, with the last trains being 11:30pm and 11:45pm.
- Late trains on Sunday are less relevant (the fair closes at 4pm), but the last trains depart at 11:44pm and 1:56pm.
To buy train tickets or see schedules, head to westmidlandsrailway.co.uk.
As buses go, the X1, X12, and other airport buses run throughout the night, but their frequency will drop to once-an-hour when it gets late. You’re best off using Google Maps for these schedules and finding the bus stops, but the official schedules can be found at https://nxbus.co.uk/west-midlands/services-timetables.
If push comes to shove, Uber and the taxis are always happy to take you home.
Are you coming to UKGE?
Comments are open. What are you looking forward to?