You could be forgiven for thinking – especially if you read the papers or watch TV – that Birmingham is mainly famous for grim industrialisation, Balti and an amusing accent. But on my visit to this city in the Midlands region of England I discovered stunning public spaces, friendly people and diverse eating out opportunities.
You may be surprised to find that Birmingham Airport is a global travel hub. There are over 200 direct and connecting flights each day to a range of destinations. The city is only 10 kilometres away and there is a direct train service as well as bus routes.
Where to stay
The coolest place to stay is in the boutique apartment hotel in the city centre’s iconic Rotunda building. The pop-art style decorated rooms and updated 1960s modernism is fun but the views from the floor-to-ceiling windows on the top floor are incredible. Here you are at the heart of the action over the main shopping streets.
What to do
Central Birmingham is organised around four central squares – grand piazzas that are a testament to the city’s glory days as a powerhouse of the industrial revolution. Oozells in Brindleyplace, Centenary, Chamberlain and Victoria. Wander through these and enjoy the wide range of shopping and cultural entertainments on offer.
A major attraction for kids and adults alike is the National SEA LIFE Centre. Featuring a glass tunnel surrounded by a one million-litre tank filled with turtles, sharks and tropical fish, this is a spectacular ocean journey.
Another educational opportunity is to be found at the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum, a very modern establishment packed with state-of-the-art interactive technology.
For a peek back into the Birmingham of the 19th Century visit Back to Back Housing, a National Trust cared-for courtyard of working people’s houses that tells the story of the people who lived and worked here.
A wander around the historic Jewellery Quarter is a great way to spend a day in Birmingham. There are two more museums here worth adding to your itinerary: the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and the Pen Room Museum. This part of the city is filled with historic buildings and, of course jewellery shops.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery boasts the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world, while the Ikon Gallery shows profound examples of contemporary international art.
The impressive Symphony Hall is home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Britain’s premier touring ballet company – the Birmingham Royal Ballet – is based at the Hippodrome.
Eating out in Birmingham can be like a gastronomic tour of the world, with restaurants representing some 27 different nationalities and styles of cooking. There are no less than three Michelin Starred restaurants and you can’t miss the Balti Triangle.
This Birmingham speciality has its roots in sub-continental Asia but this city has made the dish its own. The origins of the word are hotly debated as it actually refers to the dish the food is cooked in and the actual style of the meal is a ‘Brummie’ invention. The Balsall Heath, Sparkbrook and Moseley neighbourhoods are where to find not just restaurants but colourful fabric and jewellery.
So there you have it: don’t bypass Birmingham on your travels through England!
Natasha von Geldern