Thursday, June 20, 2024

A Guide to Visiting the Top 3 Exhibition Halls In the UK


The UK is home to some of the world’s most popular trade shows and with the NEC Birmingham alone holding over 500 events a year, there is no shortage of exhibitions to visit or exhibit at.

According to The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry, the UK is ranked number 9 worldwide for exhibition space sold, with a range of shows varying from Spring Fair; the top fashion show, to Crufts; the biggest international dog show, and Bett; the global community for educational technology.

So, whether you’re an exhibitor or just visiting, here is your guide to the UK’s top 3 most visited venues for trade shows.

The NEC Birmingham is the UK’s number 1 exhibition venue with over 2 million visitors annually and 18 exhibition halls. It is home to some of the largest UK shows, including BBC Gardeners World Live and Crufts.

The NEC Birmingham is located opposite Birmingham Airport, near junction 6 of the M42 motorway.

If you are driving, there is plenty of parking for the show, with over 16,500 spaces. There’s also no need to worry about the distance from the car park to the show, shuttle buses are available. For some shows, parking is included with the entry ticket, for others, the cost is separate. If the parking is not included, it is a good idea to pre-pay as it’s much cheaper!

If you’re located near Birmingham, there are plenty of direct buses and trains all day, and the NEC is only a 5-minute walk from Birmingham Railway Station. However, if you’re travelling from further afield, you may need to use the Birmingham New Street station, (only 15 minutes from the NEC) as there are more connections.

The airport adjacent to the NEC makes it easy to attend from overseas. This accessibility is why the venue attracts thousands of international visitors a year!

The NEC website shows available hotels near the venue with a range of budgets and distances. To ensure you get a room near the show book well in advance; spaces can go quickly, especially on busy exhibition days. With the airport being so close, there are plenty of options to choose from.

The shows are fast-paced and busy, so knowing your way around the NEC is essential. There are plenty of food and drink options at the NEC so there’s no need to leave the exhibition. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, (Quadrant2Design’s Maggie Clemence recommends a sausage roll) you can leave the venue and head to the shopping centre just opposite.

There are also plenty of spaces to leave your belongings in the NEC, so there’s no need to carry them around all day. Prices are around £2 per coat and £3 per bag, but you need to get in quickly as spaces fill up and queues can be long! 

Olympia Events, formally known as Olympia London, located in Kensington in the west of London, has 4 major exhibition halls and is a historic part of London, operating since 1886. It is home to major shows and events including, Comic-Con and Hyrox, the fitness competition.

If visiting Olympia via car, the show has onsite and offsite parking facilities. Onsite parking requires you to be pre-booked and pre-paid to ensure a space (also one less thing to worry about when you arrive). *Also note that the venue falls within the Ultra Low Emission Zone so make sure to check whether your vehicle falls subject to these charges.

Getting the tube to the show is easy as there is a dedicated train station, Kensington (Olympia)!

If you are flying to the show, Gatwick Airport is a 30-minute train journey to Clapham Junction railway, from which you can change to Kensington. From Heathrow, use the Piccadilly line, to travel directly to Baron’s Court, a short 10-minute walk from the venue.

With the venue being in central London, there are plenty of places to stay nearby (this won’t be the cheapest option though). Be sure to check well in advance for the best prices and location.

Olympia offers a few food and drink options in the venue if you don’t want to leave the hall. However, on busy days, everyone tends to go for lunch around the same time, so it can be slow and expensive! Being in London, there isn’t a shortage of options in the surrounding area for cafes, restaurants, bars and shops if you’re looking for an easy meal deal.

The venue also offers a cloakroom for your belongings so you don’t have to carry your coats whilst networking with new people.

ExCel London is located in East London on the northern quay of the Royal Victoria Dock, between Canary Wharf and London City Airport. ExCel is the biggest exhibition venue in London, holding over 400 events a year with over 40,000 exhibiting customers. ExCel is home to major shows like Disney100 Exhibition Bett and Professional Beauty, delivering £4.5bn in economic impact to London.

ExCel has a large car park with access only via the A13 and is charged at £25 per day. Be sure to pre-book to save you the headache of dealing with it after your busy day at the show.

The venue is connected by an Elizabeth Line Station and 3 DLR stations, definitely the quickest and easiest way to arrive to make sure you dodge all the London traffic.

Or choose to take the more scenic mode of transport using the river or cable car (you can’t get this at the NEC!). All visitors to ExCel can use the cable car for just £3 with their show ticket.

The ExCel London website has a hotel section where you can see the hotels closest to the venue, along the Elizabeth line, and again, book well in advance for the best prices and to ensure a nearby hotel.

The venue has loads of different food options so you are guaranteed to find something you fancy. In the middle of the venue is the ‘boulevard’, and this is where you’ll find food options! Finding food outside of ExCel is not recommended as it’s mostly main roads and industrial areas.

If you’re planning to exhibit at the NEC, ExCel or Olympia, you’ll need an exhibition stand contractor. Quadrant2Design is an experienced exhibition stand design and build contractor, supplying sustainable, versatile and professional modular stands across the UK and Europe.

So, there you have it, a tour of the UK’s best exhibition venues! Each of the venues has its own character and features. Always plan your visit as each show has quite different parking facilities, accommodation, and food options. However, with this guide, you’re well-equipped for a great day out at our UK exhibition venues!

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