Search

City guide: Birmingham, England

It's the UK's second-largest city and deserves some love…

Pawel Libera, Birmingham City skyline at sunrise, West Midlands, England, UK

If you're keen to explore Birmingham, this guide of bars, restaurants hotels and shops will come in handy.

Drink


Brum is a party town. With a huge number of students and one of the youngest populations of any British city, there are venues galore.

The city centre is home to hipper bars like the tiki-themed Island Bar. If you want to dance in big bars and retro discos, Broad Street offers dozens of bars to hang out in. Down in Digbeth, it’s a bit cooler: Alfie Birds and The Oobleck just next door are where the cool kids and students come for pre-party liveners and to see live gigs and DJs. Bands including !!!, Yuck and Alabama 3 have all graced the twin venues in recent months.

Catch a number 50 bus to bohemian Moseley and Kings Heath, where there are yet more good bars like The Cuban Embassy which has recently taken over the legendary Bull’s Head, and the Hare & Hounds – which is also a key Brummie gig venue, and pretty popular.

Eat

No visit to the city would be complete without a curry, and the famous Balti Triangle in Sparkbrook and Moseley is home to dozens of great, cheap eateries

In a historic old bank building overlooking the Council House and Victoria Square, Nosh & Quaff is the splendid new eatery from the guys behind upmarket Indian Lasan. This is an American joint though: burger, lobster, cold beers. Simple, elegant, refined and enjoyable. Nearby, Bodega Cantina is a lively Latin place serving everything from burritos to xim xim (chicken and prawn stew), and where the caipirinhas are good.

Purnell's has been flying the flag for fine dining in Birmingham - and given Brum its very first superchef. Step forward Glynn Purnell, whose cookery at his eponymous dining room in the city's financial quarter has been much lauded in the Midlands and beyond.

No visit to the city would be complete without a curry, and the famous Balti Triangle (the balti is often said to have originated in Birmingham in the early 1970s) in Sparkbrook and Moseley is home to dozens of great, cheap eateries. It’s hard to pick one stand out, but escapism is partial to the prawn korma at Kababish in Moseley, especially as there’s a photo of Robbie Williams enjoying his balti there that takes pride of place on the wall.

Do

Birmingham is greener than you’d ever believe – in fact it’s one of the greenest cities in Britain. Explore the huge Sutton Park in the north of the city before heading to the more bijou Cannon Hill Park in Edgbaston which is home to the great Midlands Arts Centre’s theatre, cinema, cafe and galleries. The mighty Edgbaston Cricket Ground is just over the road.

But Birmingham is intensely urban, too, and that kitsch 1960s landscape of flyovers and flats has never been so fashionable. Don’t be scared to seek out the mind-blowing William Mitchell Sculptures hidden in the middle of a roundabout at Hockley Circus or the labyrinthine pillars of Spaghetti Junction that will awe you as you walk along the canal towpath. Artist and member of the KLF Bill Drummond recently did a live show right down here beneath the M6. Chances are you’ll also find a new generation of skaters and photographers exploring along with you.

Birmingham has the original red brick University – a stunningly beautiful, fiery red Italianate campus punctuated by trees and towers

Birmingham has the original red brick University – a stunningly beautiful, fiery red Italianate campus punctuated by trees and towers. It’s a lovely place to explore and the on-site art gallery, the Barber Institute , is rightly famous for its paintings. Nearby is bucolic Bournville, which gave its name to the dark chocolate. It’s a Quaker suburb – hence no boozers – with Cadbury World at its centre – an absolute must for children and chocoholics alike.

Shop

Birmingham is the only UK city outside London to host all six major British department stores since John Lewis opened last year in the brand spanking new Grand Central shopping centre which floats above the newly refurbished New Street railway station. The Bullring is just across the road from here, boasting all the chain stores you can shake a stick at, from Topshop to Gap. The Bullring also hosts a Selfridges in a unique and impressive ‘space station’ building designed by architects Future Systems.

The Custard Factory in Digbeth is the former home of, yes, Bird’s Custard

The Custard Factory in Digbeth is the former home of, yes, Bird’s Custard. This grand old dame is a wonderful white modernist factory, and inside it (as well as in Gibb Street outside it) is a flourishing scene of independent and vintage shops like Flamingo Vintage, plus a retro sweetshop – McTunneys.

The Mailbox is the city’s old Royal Mail sorting office, and it’s just been re-opened after a multi-million pound makeover. A new, larger Harvey Nichols with a restaurant overseen by Glynn Purnell is at the heart of it; there’s also a new Everyman Cinema, restaurants, and the BBC’s Birmingham studios too.

Stay

These swish serviced apartments are nestled right at the top of the iconic 1960s Rotunda, a unique drum-shaped skyscraper looming over the Bullring

If you want a room with a view, you want Staying Cool. These swish serviced apartments are nestled right at the top of the iconic 1960s Rotunda, a unique drum-shaped skyscraper looming over the Bullring.

Right behind The Mailbox building in the city’s unmissable and frankly bizarre development, The Cube, is Indigo – a keenly priced and welcoming bolthole which boasts panoramic city views, easy access to Gas Street Basin, and colourful furnishings.

The Park Regis at Five Ways is Birmingham’s newest luxury hotel. There’s a bar on the roof and the rooms are done out in sumptuous style.

Another new arrival on the Brum hotel scene is AC Hotels, in fact it’s the first location in the UK for the Spanish design hotel chain owned by Marriott – and it has a plum location.

Bloc is an intriguing concept: small but perfectly formed rooms at affordable prices. The Brummie mini-chain has spread its wings – opening at Gatwick Airport, and now also offering new, larger rooms with kitchens. The new Resorts World at the National Exhibition Centre comprises a shopping mall and casino – plus the swanky Genting Hotel, which, with its luxurious interiors, and fancy Robata restaurant, is ideal for high rollers.

Need to know

Chiltern, Virgin, Cross Country and London Midland offer direct trains to Birmingham from all major British cities. thetrainline.co.uk

Loading