When it comes to a UK city break, what comes to mind? London, Manchester, Bath, Glasgow, Edinburgh? Well, what if I said you have to add Birmingham to the mix. Yep, Brum has changed a lot over the years with a host of renovations across the city, from the Grand Central to the arty Custard Factory and the cool library, this city is far from boring.
I haven’t been to Birmingham in about 8 years or so, I used to come a lot when I live in Manchester, it was the place to head for a Christmas shopping weekend for a change of scene, but other than shopping and a great curry Brum was a little drab, but its eye-catching modern architecture dotted across the centre of town, and cool restaurants, cafes and bars, it has made it into one lively and colourful place to visit and I can totally recommend it for a fun, cultural weekend away.
Things To Do In Birmingham
There is so much culture in this city and you have to start with the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, which as well as displaying the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, it also has the most incredible collection of Pre-Raphaelite art on its walls. There is also a very interesting gallery dedicated to the art produced in the city at the turn of the 19th century by artists including tempera painter Joseph Southall, painter and metalworker Arthur Gaskin, and women artists and makers including Georgie Gaskin and Kate Bunce.
After you’ve seen the collections try the Edwardian Tearooms, a spacious restaurant that serves everything from great brunch options, including a great veggie breakfast, to light lunches such as fish finger sandwiches and homemade soup, as well as delicious cakes and meals including burgers, fish and chips, curry and roast dinners on a Sunday
Normally a library isn’t on my travel itinerary, but the Library of Birmingham is a little different, first off, just look at it, the Francine Houben–designed building looks like it has been gift-wrapped. Get inside and it’s just as impressive with its spiralling interior, you really do forget that this is a library, as it is a visual treat. There is also a ‘secret garden’ on the 7th floor that you can’t miss it has the most incredible panoramic views over the city. There is also a Shakespeare Memorial Room on the top floor, which is worth a visit as they moved the Elizabethan style room from the old library.
Visit the Jewellery Quarter
Not done with culture, can I suggest you head over to Jewellery Quarter and enjoy the museum, which showcases the perfectly preserved Smith & Pepper jewellery factory as it was on its closing day in 1981 after 80 years of operation. The museum does guided tours that last around an hour, normally, I’m not a fan of being shown around I like to find my own way, but our guide was funny and knowledgeable about the history of the jewellery trade in Birmingham, the area is thought to produce 40 percent of all British jewellery. You will also be shown demonstrations of how jewellery is made as well. It also has a cute cafe that sells great cake if you have time for a cuppa.
After the museum just head around the quarter for a wander, the Jewellery Quarter is a designated Conservation Area and has more than 200 buildings listed. The area isn’t also just home to jewellers, there is a cute Pen Museum that shares the story of the pen from the steel pen nibs, which are a Birmingham innovation, to modern day pens.
Birmingham’s waterways have undergone a lot of renovation over the years and the picturesque canals offers a great view and walk across the city. You get to see restored historical buildings next to the modern architecture popping up in the city, you could do this see all this on one of the many canal boat tours but it really is a great walk when the weather is nice. Plus, if you need a break there are many cool restaurants and cafes to stop at along the way.
The shopping has always been good in Birmingham, everything seems to be quite close together, you have Selfridges, the huge Bullring that has all the high street names, the Grand Central, which is houses around the New Street train station and home to John Lewis, then you have the Mailbox with Harvey Nichols and designer retailers, and the best selection of restaurants, after something more independent head over to the Custard Factory in the city’s creative quarter selling everything from clothes to original artwork and jewellery.
Thanks to the Novotel Birmingham Centre for hosting my Mum and I for the weekend.