Poor Birmingham, a city that gets so much stick. It truly is underrated by so many who just haven’t given it the chance. Because give it a moment to get under your skin and you’ll be won over.
There is so much to do and enjoy and marvel at in Birmingham that you can never be bored in the UK’s second biggest city.
What To Do in Birmingham
Library of Birmingham
Possibly one of my favourite pieces of architecture, the Library of Birmingham is both visually awesome and a centre of enjoyment. LoB is the largest public library in Europe and is not just a centre of information, books and study. It offers fantastic panoramic views across Birmingham from outdoor viewing galleries on two floors. It also plays host to regular cultural and literary events.
More canals than Venice! Or so they say. I’m not sure if that’s an urban myth or not. Nevertheless, Birmingham has LOADS of canals thanks to its historical heritage as a centre for the industrial revolution. Nowadays the canals generally host an array of narrow boat tours, from private hires to dine and ride options. The main canals converge at Brindleyplace which has been redeveloped into a rather lovely canal-side dining and social area.
Back to Backs
These are part of a National Trust preservation project to protect some of the last remaining ‘back-to-back’ houses that used to cover most of central Birmingham before war and over-zealous 1960’s brutalism planning (read: bulldozers and concrete). This museum offers a glance into the lifestyle of Brummies living in the back-to-backs in the 19/20th century. It’s a fascinating exhibit.
Coffee Shops Galore
Birmingham has a burgeoning coffee shop scene which are seriously giving the chains a run for their money. Taking pride in their machines, beans and atmosphere coffee shops such as Urban Coffee Co., SixEight Kafe and Yorks Bakery make for a great spot of coffee and cake.
Food and Drink
Further to coffee shops, Birmingham has a serious foodie scene. There are a handful of incredible Michelin-starred restaurants including Adam’s, Purnell’s, Simpson’s, and Turner’s (it is the only city outside the capitals that contains such awarded restaurants).
Plus there are loads of tasty restaurants all over the city (not just the centre) and the best mutton tikka I’ve ever eaten my life at Sheereen Kadah – an unassuming gem of kebab shop in Balsall Heath.
If decent tipple is what you’re after then there is great range of indie drinking establishments to choose from. Grab a tasty cocktail from The Lost and Found, or sample ALL the gin at the Jekyll and Hyde, or maybe sample a craft beer at BrewDog, There is also a huge selection of tequilas at the funk Alfie Birds, and another overlooked wonder is The Post Office Vaults.
Nature, Nature, Nature
Despite a reputation to the contrary, it is very easy to find green space and nature in Birmingham. Not far from where I used to live is the Birmingham Reservoir, a stunning nature area and lake which is also home to a sailing club.
You are spoilt for choice with stunning parks including the rather large Canon Hill Park. The super cute Botanical Gardens are great for those nature enthusiasts. And just outside Birmingham (as in a 20 minute drive) is LOADS of countryside including my particular favourite, the Licky Hills.
Of course, we cannot talk about Birmingham without mentioning Cadbury’s – a real-life chocolate factory in (the revolutionary-at-the-time) garden village/city, Bournville. I’ve been a few times, they give you chocolate and you learn where it comes from etc. It’s rad.
All The Shopping!
I like the various shopping options in Birmingham depending on the kinds style of shopping you’re after. There’s the main attraction, the Bull Ring, in the centre of town with all the usual high street suspects.
The Mailbox is the more designer/luxury led destination.
The Custard Factory and Great Western Arcade are the indie/small business areas. And there is a new shopping centre on the way called Grand Central – sounds very … erm… grand?
Music, Theatre and Culture
There is always something happening culture-wise. Birmingham has a bunch of great music venues, both small and large, and as it’s so darn central in the country is attracts a good deal of artists on tours.
The Birmingham Hippodrome, Symphony Hall and the Rep Theatre have great reputations in theatre, dance and ballet.
A big shout out to the Hippodrome for their fantastic facility for allowing assistance dogs, you help make my little sister’s Christmas experience non-stressful for the first time in 10 years.
Of course, we should probably mention that some rather noted sports teams are based in Birmingham so if you’re a sports fan there’s plenty to see for football, cricket, and pretty much any sport that interests you.
And let’s not forget just how accessible and easy to get to Birmingham is with a major railway station, an international airport and a few motorways nearby. It’s only a few hours away from most of the UK.
There are loads of accommodation options for all budgets in Birmingham. If you book early enough or sign up for the newsletters there are often great deals at top hotels the Malmaison, Hotel du Vin, Radisson Blu or Hotel la Tour.
Or you can go with a serviced apartment such as Staying Cool at the Rotunda.
There are plenty of options for all budgets. It’s worth cross-comparing here.
Birmingham was my home for a while and the hidden gems, historical and cultural places of interest and the constant flow of festivals throughout the summer continued to surprise me. It truly is a buzzing place and totally underrated compared to sister cities in the regions.