The UK’s second city, Birmingham is also one of its most exciting. Once known as a concrete jungle, a state-of-the-art library, Selfridges gleaming Bullring shopping centre and the restored New Street Station have revitalised the city centre, giving it a cosmopolitan edge.
Its gay and lesbian scene is also thriving. One of London’s best-known gay club nights, XXL has a popular monthly residency in Birmingham, while Birmingham Pride is the UK’s largest 2-day LGBT festival, attracting upwards of 70,000 people.
Birmingham is renowned for its shopping. The Bullring, in the heart of the city, was the UK’s first indoor city-centre shopping complex when it opened in the 1960s. Completely rebuilt in 2000, the shimmering new Bullring is one of Britain’s biggest and busiest shopping malls. With more than 160 retailers and more than 40 restaurants and cafés, there’s plenty for discerning gay and lesbian shoppers.
Just north of the city centre, the Jewellery Quarter has Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery traders, producing 40% of all jewellery made in the UK – making this an ideal place for anyone planning a romantic gesture on their trip (wink wink).
A little-known fact, Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice - around 60km compared to Venice’s 41km. The life-blood of Victorian Birmingham, today these canals and towpaths provide a fascinating route for walkers and joggers. The heart of the canal network, Gas Street Basin has colourful narrowboats and busy cafés, restaurants and bars in set in revamped warehouses.
An ethnically and culturally diverse city, Birmingham has vibrant Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. It also has some of Britain’s best Asian restaurants. The award-winning Asha’s is co-owned by famous Indian singer Asha Bhosle, serving exotic cocktails and delicious curries.
On the city’s south side, Birmingham’s gaybourhood is Hurst Street, just minutes from the Hippodrome theatre, the Bullring and the Chinese Quarter. As well as pagodas and oriental-influenced architecture, you can see gay street art - look out for a sparkly, rhinestone-encrusted rhinoceros on the roof of Wynner House.
To mingle with Birmingham’s stylish 30-something crowd, head to The Loft Lounge, a plush bar with velvet couches, chandeliers and exposed brickwork. Missing is a lively gay party bar with events and DJs or if you’re after cocktails, contemporary gay café bar Equator is a trendy choice. A former car showroom, Sidewalk Bar and Restaurant retains its huge plate-glass windows and warehouse-style décor and is popular with a predominantly younger mixed crowd.
Occupying the 23rd and 24th floors of the distinct Cube building, the bedrooms of 4-star Hotel Indigo maximize their elevated status with private balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows. Guests have access to theclubandspa, thermal pools, treatment rooms and even a Champagne Nail Bar for luxury manicures and Laurent Perrier champagne. The cherry on the cake is the top floor MPW Steakhouse Bar & Grill, a Birmingham hotspot from celebrity chef Marco Pierre White.
Staying Cool offers serviced apartments on the top 4 floors of a Birmingham landmark Rotunda building. Available in 4 configurations, from studios to 2-bed penthouses, this funky self-catering option is recommended by British-based LGBT travel website FurtherAfield.com.
A budget choice that doesn’t compromise on style, BLOC Hotel describes itself as pared-down chic. The 73 rooms are stylishly efficient with the things you need like powerful drench showers, comfortable beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, super-fast Wi-Fi and HD TVs.
The UK’s largest 2-day LGBT festival, Birmingham Pride is generally held over the May Spring Bank Holiday weekend, so it’s the perfect precursor to Pride season. The streets of Birmingham’s gay village pulsate with a carnival parade, live music, cabaret stage, women’s arena and a community village.
Championing queer arts and culture, SHOUT produce a number of annual events to showcase gay and lesbian film, visual art, music, theatre and literature. Annual events include April’s SHOUT Film Festival, but look out for other events via their website.
Birmingham is situated in the Midlands, 120 miles northwest of London. Regular trains connect Birmingham to London in 1hr 30mins. Birmingham Airport is 10 minutes by train from the city centre and is served by flights from Europe, the Middle East, India, Pakistan, North America and the Caribbean.