Think you know England’s second city, Birmingham?
A: What doesn’t happen in Birmingham, more like. Britain’s second-largest city has become one of its hottest destinations, and it’s about to land on the world map when it hosts The Commonwealth Games in July-August 2022. The multi-million-dollar construction of Alexander Stadium is on track – pun intended – and athletes and visitors will get to see first-hand what makes Brummies so proud of their home, which has gone from an industrial hub to a futuristic city full of architectural triumphs, like the dramatic Library of Birmingham and gleaming Bullring & Grand Central, one of the most stylish shopping centres in the world. Birmingham’s redevelopment shows no sign of slowing. The iconic Grand Hotel in the city centre has recently relaunched, with its sumptuous Victorian and Art Deco interiors and a former guest list that includes everyone from King George VI, to Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. It’s joined by the $1.2 billion Paradise scheme, transforming the city centre into a thing of beauty, packed with upmarket restaurants and bars. And let’s not forget the dramatic restoration of The Roundhouse, which is turning the historic 19th century curved building into a spectacular tourist destination.
A: While Birmingham became famous for a tangled road network nicknamed Spaghetti Junction, the city harbours a big surprise. Birmingham is actually home to more kilometres of canals than Venice, with 56 kilometres of waterways meaning you can sail around its sights. Who needs the crowds of St Mark’s Square? You can walk or cycle along the canal paths, or take a tour on a narrowboat from Brindley Place, the heart of the city, through heritage stretches of the canal which were the start of the Industrial Revolution. You can see the historic Jewellery Quarter, Eastside with its museums, Westside, and the famous Edgbaston Village and cricket ground.
If you want more river action, you can rent a narrowboat and head off at a modest speed to Shakespeare country as you discover Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwick, Worcester and more. The other thing you’ll notice from the water is all the trees. Birmingham is incredibly green, with more than 8,000 acres of parks and open space – more than any other European city. With 571 parks,it is also said to have more trees than Paris. We’re wondering who counted them.
A: Definitely not: Birmingham is in Central England, only an hour and a half train ride from London. It is also surrounded by some of the nation’s most historic and beautiful destinations, so you could spend your whole trip in the region and go home happy.
Where to start? How about Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon, where you can see Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm and catch a play by the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. You can then head to Warwick Castle, a stunning medieval castle originally built by William the Conqueror, where you can even stay overnight in the fortress or grounds. Then take a trip to UNESCO World Heritage Site Ironbridge Gorge or pop over to 2021’s UK City of Culture, Coventry, which is celebrating all year with arts, music and theatre. Alternatively, you can embrace nature in the Peak District National Park, currently celebrating its 70th anniversary, with its hills, valleys, lakes and picturesque stone villages and towns like Bakewell and Buxton in Derbyshire – the former famous for its cakes and the latter for its water. If you’re in search of dreaming spires, head south to Oxford and the Cotswolds. Expand your mind by touring Oxford’s historic university and museums, then treat your eyes to the honey-coloured stone villages and towns of the Cotswolds, so pretty, you’ll think you’re on a film-set.
A: Oh boy, are your taste-buds in for a delight. Birmingham is packed with every kind of eatery from street food to fine-dining restaurants, super-stylish bars and yes, excellent curry houses in its Balti Triangle. In fact, Birmingham and the surrounding area boasts no less than five Michelin-starred restaurants and hundreds of restaurants from all over the globe. From Japanese to Chinese, French to Italian, you can eat your way around the world. If that doesn’t whet your appetite, how about a cocktail in one of its many hip bars? Couch Bar in Stirchley is ranked one of the best bars in the country and the newest is a rooftop restaurant and sky bar in 103 Colmore Row, which will be the tallest tower block in the city. For something more down-to-earth, Birmingham is home to scores of traditional pubs to enjoy a craft beer or ale. Or try a gin and tonic in one of its many gin bars, such as The Gin Vault, or 40 St Pauls, which won World Gin Bar of the Year. Finally, how can we forget that Birmingham is the home of chocolate and you can go all Charlie Bucket on a visit to Cadbury World. What more could you want?
A: There are tons of attractions in Birmingham, everything from family days out like the Bear Grylls Adventure activity centre, LegoLand Discovery Centre and National SEA LIFE Centre, to watching the Birmingham Royal Ballet, opera or a hit theatre show at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Rev-heads might like the British Motor Museum, National Motorcycle Museum and Jaguar factory tour at Castle Bromwich. Fashion-lovers will be interested in the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and The Lace Guild in Stourbridge – or perhaps the Pen Museum with its exciting history of calligraphy. There are many museums and art galleries, including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Thinktank science museum, Blakesley Hall Tudor house and Sarehole Mill, a 250-year-old water mill, famous for inspiring former neighbour J.R.R. Tolkein’s Middle Earth.
Finally, fans of TV series Peaky Blinders can take a tour of the city that spawned the real-life street gang. Sadly, you won’t get to see Thomas Shelby, but you will get to visit their old haunts around Digbeth or try a Peaky Blinders Escape Live experience. Bring your own flat cap.
Restrictions on travel to and around Britain are in place due to Covid-19. You are encouraged to always check individual websites for the latest information, as details are subject to change.