Birmingham, in the lovely Midlands of England, is a fabulous place to visit because it mixes modernity with tradition, the old with the new and the exciting with a relaxed natural humour. With beautiful canals that are likened to those of Amsterdam, fabulous shopping, and plenty of heritage attractions, Birmingham is a great location for a city-break.
The fertile fields of the Midlands around Birmingham have attracted habitation since time immemorial. There are traces of Stone Age field systems more than 8,000 years old. The Romans built fortifications in the area and their roads linked these strategic outposts. Icknield Street, a Roman Road connected to the important Fosse Way, passed through ancient Birmingham and is still the route of an ‘A’ road. The development of Birmingham into a commercial centre began in 1166 when the Lord of the Manor, Peter de Bermingham, obtained a charter to develop a market town in the vicinity of today’s Bull Ring.
Today, Birmingham is still a vibrant commercial centre but it is also a relaxed and comfortable venue for a visit. The distinctive regional accent of the metropolis is an indicator of a welcoming and friendly culture.
Here’s a Pro-tip: Birmingham is colloquially known as “Brum” and locals are referred to as “Brummies”. This comes from one of the original regional pronunciations of the settlement as ‘Brummagem’.
Reaching Birmingham is easy. Rail links to every metropolitan area in the United Kingdom have been in place for literally centuries. If you’re travelling by air, Birmingham International Airport services flights from all over the world. The airport is located just over 10 km (6.3 miles) from the city centre and is well served by taxis and ride-share services. The least expensive and most efficient option for traveling from the airport to the city is via its convenient inter-city train. It’s just a 10-15 minute journey from the airport to Birmingham New Street Station.
This ever-evolving city has so many things to offer visitors. Here’s what I recommend you do and see in Birmingham:
- Brindleyplace and the Canal Quarter – This attractively redeveloped canal-side area with its trendy cafes, restaurants, boutique shops and businesses should not be missed. It’s a lovely, picturesque place to take a stroll and enjoy a day out.
- Shopping – Birmingham is an excellent place to practice my favourite sport, shopping! Here’s where I always max-out my credit cards:
- – Not only is the Jewellery Quarter a great place to browse fabulous works of gold and jewels, it’s also a beautiful neighbourhood to roam on foot. With 200 listed buildings, more than 250 years of history and over 700 jewellers, independent retailers, and diamond dealers, the neighbourhood is unique.
- – The Bullring & Grand Central is a shopping Mecca and the perfect place to indulge in retail therapy! A market area since 1166, these ultra-modern buildings now house over 200 stores alongside restaurants, cafes, and pop-up shops.
- – Visit The Mailbox, a designer haven punctuated with champagne bars where you can stop to take a luxurious break.
- Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery – This fabulous museum is a wonderful place to trace the history of the region and also to view an award winning collection of artworks. Unfortunately, BMAG is closed for renovation throughout the remainder of 2021.
- The Commonwealth Games 2022 – Birmingham is the venue for the next Commonwealth Games and the city’s many attractions will be spruced up for this important sporting event. After a long pandemic, Birmingham will be an exciting place to welcome the best athletes in the world!
- Cadbury World – Learn about the history of chocolate on an immersive tour of the Cadbury factory, sampling some mouth-watering Cadbury chocolate as you go! This is a fun-packed day out for chocoholics, not just for kids.
- Peaky Blinders Tours – buoyed by the popular eponymous BBC Studios show, enterprising Birmingham now offers several high-quality walking tours of sites important to the show as well as the true history of the 1920s crime gang.
- Villa Park – This 42,000-capacity stadium has been home to the Aston Villa football team since 1897. Sign up for a behind the scenes tour to see this magnificent stadium for yourself or opt to catch a spirited game. Win or lose, you won’t be disappointed!
- Stratford-upon-Avon – This medieval market town is the 16th-century birthplace of William Shakespeare! Situated just 22 miles (35 kms) south of Birmingham, taking a day trip to Stratford gives you the opportunity to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace Museum, his former homes and Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptised, married and buried. Don’t miss a performance by The Royal Shakespeare Company at the traditional Swan Theatre, it’s a memorable way to enjoy the Bard.
Is Warwick Castle worth a queen’s gambit?!
- Warwick Castle – this stunning edifice, almost 1,000 years old, is exactly what you imagine a castle to be. Dungeons, battlements and grand keeps are waiting to be explored. Madame Tussauds now manages the property and holds entertaining and educational performances. I really enjoy the Birds of Prey shows and I especially like when they fire the Medieval trebuchet!
- Royal Leamington Spa – very close to Warwick, this upscale, walkable town is great to spend a few hours exploring. This historic spa town boasts lovely architecture, little boutique shops and excellent restaurants.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwick and Leamington can be reached easily by train with CrossCountry Rail in an under an hour. Regular connections depart from Birmingham New Street Station throughout the day and tickets are reasonably priced.
Birmingham is known for its high-quality restaurants to fit all budgets. From fine-dining in Michelin starred venues to budget eateries, Birmingham has enumerable choices. Here are my favourites:
- Adam’s – Starting out as a sandwich shop, this restaurant grew into a gastronomic experience and earned a Michelin Star. Its food combinations and wine pairings are top- notch. Try the 8-course tasting menu for an excellent selection of scrumptious flavours.
- Shababs – Birmingham is famed for its legendary Balti curries. In fact, the city even has an area dedicated to restaurants serving them called ‘The Balti Triangle’! Shababs has around for over 30 years and its excellent menu is a favourite amongst local residents.
- Tattu – This family run business offers delicious, high-end and unique Chinese food. The restaurant is out of a fairy-tale; dimly lit with an overhang of pink blossoms pouring from the ceiling creating a purple aura all over the dining tables. You’ll love the food and ambiance.
Friendly Birmingham is known for its vibrant and exciting nightlife. Here are my favourite places to relax and have fun in the city:
- Lost & Found – Birmingham features an array of speakeasy style bars hidden behind unassuming doors, but this is my favourite. Rediscover a bygone era at this cocktail bar which features a secret lounge accessible via a bookcase.
- Players Bar Birmingham – This venue gives you the best of both worlds; a late-night cocktail bar upstairs and an R&B club downstairs. Whether you’re after a casual evening or you want to dance the night away, this place has something for you.
- Gay Village – following the recent pandemic, Birmingham’s self-titled centre of LGBTQ+ culture, is a cosmopolitan, free-thinking oasis for fun and relaxation. Follow the rainbow flag flying along Hurst Street to find this cool and vibrant neighbourhood.
After all of the fun you’ll have in this exciting metropolis, you’ll want somewhere comfortable to stay. These are my top hotel recommendations in the city:
- The High Field Town House – This converted Victorian villa has 12 beautifully decorated rooms. With stunning antiques and a stand-alone tub in your room, you may never want to leave. It’s located in the pretty Edgbaston suburb just five minutes from the city centre.
Why does this building make me hungry for wedding cake?!
- Staying Cool at Rotunda – Right in the centre of Birmingham, these modern and stylish apartments provide excellent views from the iconic Rotunda. Each serviced apartment is equipped with floor to ceiling windows and countless kitchen appliances. They even leave you fresh ground coffee in your room.
- Macdonald Burlington Hotel – This grand, 4-star hotel is in a Victorian townhouse and contemporary styled rooms come with unique period features. Bottled water is sourced from the hotel’s own underground spring and there is a lively cocktail bar on site.
Birmingham is a friendly city, bubbling over with culture and offbeat experiences, that offers visitors an exciting mix of the old and new. I’ll see you in Birmingham!