Sat in the heart of England, Birmingham is the maverick step-sister to the country’s other cities. With modern landmark buildings like the Selfridges luxury department store and futuristic Cube, juxtaposed with handsome Georgian squares and the elaborate facades of Victoria Square there are surprises around every corner. Add in an ever-evolving food scene, vibrant nightlife, world-class shopping and one of the world’s finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art; you’ve got yourself the perfect city break without the crowds. Here’s a guide to some of my favourite things to experience in Birmingham…
See & do
It’s more than 125 years since Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery first opened its doors on Chamberlain Square. Today, it continues to wow visitors for free with one of the greatest collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world along with the Staffordshire Hoard, a vast collection of Anglo-Saxon treasures, many of which are made of gold and studded with precious stones. Speaking of precious stones, Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter is a must see too. After drooling over diamonds and rubies, quench your thirst at the Rose Villa Tavern, a grade-two listed boutique pub gleaming with stain-glassed windows and polished wall tiles. Elsewhere, see the city from a different angle and learn more about its rich past with a narrow boat tour along a canal network that’s larger than Venice’s.
Shuffle through the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen in Selfridges at the Bullring, before stopping by the Moet Bar and Gallery Restaurant for a cheeky tipple and bit of people watching. If you can’t afford Stella, the hundreds of high street brands that surround Selfridges will keep you busy for days. And if like me you are a fan of independent shops and boutiques, mooch around bohemian Digbeth where a family of old waterside factories have been transformed into a brimming hub for art and culture known as the Custard Factory.
Where do I start? Birmingham has so much to sink your teeth into. Add a splash of cool to your evening with a South American street food feast at La Bodega, treat your taste buds to fine cuisine at one of three Michelin star restaurants or tuck into a juicy steak while taking in glittering skyline views at the Marco Pierre White Steakhouse. No break in Brum is complete without a sizzling Balti, a dish that originates from the city, and the Balti Triangle is just the place. With over 50 Indian restaurants seeping with the robust aromas of cardamom, cumin and turmeric, it’s a spicy shrine no curry lover can resist.
Birmingham is overflowing with swish cocktail bars but I particularly love the sweet and usual concoctions swirled together by Island Bar. The Jekyll and Hyde is another great spot too – and they even have a Victorian-inspired gin parlour. If you want to carry on into the small hours, The Victoria is always bustling with a friendly vibrant crowd and hosts a variety of club nights. Expect to hear everything from rock ‘n’ roll and soul to disco and old school hip hop. For a more low key and refined affair swing by The Old Joint Stock, a converted Victorian bank that’s likely to give you a neck ache with its glass domed ceiling, decorative wall fixtures and sparkling chandeliers.
Drop your bags off at a swish boutique hotel in Birmingham’s Mailbox. Neighbours with Harvey Nichols, Malmaison’s bedrooms and suites have a dash of gothic charm to them with lusciously dark furniture, velvet cushions and statement wallpaper. If you really want to push the boat out, book the Black Penny Suite and live like a rock star with your very own spa and cinema room.
Experience Birmingham for yourself and get more from England at the last minute!