Birmingham, the contested ‘second city’ of the UK, and often associated only with the often-mocked accent, has a reputation as a place to avoid. It is a city without a dominant civic identity.
Once the city of a thousand trades, the epicentre of industrial England, is not the most typical of tourist attractions, and in modern times has aggressively asserted itself as a modern metropolis through an architectural campaign of shiny contemporary architecture.
After being bombed the shit out of during the second world war, and then equally devastated by the car-centric urban planning of the post-war period, the city has had a lot to recover from, but since the 1990s has embarked on huge city centre regeneration plans including pedestrianisation across the centre.
All this means that Birmingham has a city centre that is easily explorable on foot. Yes, the city is not famous for its beauty, but there are many hidden treasures to be found In this under-rated city.
1 Must do
Cadbury World is a self-guided exhibition tour. Through the chocolatey zones of Birmingham’s very own chocolate factory. Cadburys chocolate is famous worldwide, and hails from these humble origins.
2. What do you like best about your city?
Undoubtedly the people – Birmingham is not a proud city. It is a humble city. It is not ego and bravado, it is not snooty or posh, but salt of the earth working class!
3. Best Walk
Our journey starts at Brindley Place; a small public square on the eastern edge of the city centre. From here a pedestrianised axis extends across to the the west side at Digbeth. This makes it an easy walk to get your bearings in the city, which with no clear layout isn’t always the easiest place to navigate around.
The centrepiece of Brindley Place is a small coffee shop, surrounded by offices, restaurants, and to the north a small independent art gallery (https://ikon-gallery.org/) which is well worth investigating. You can also check out the Sealife centre, although it is quite pricey.
From Brindley Place walk towards the canal; this is one of the most picturesque areas of birmingham city centre, where canalside houses have been converted into lively atmospheric pubs and cafes.
Walk on over the canal bridge and through the indoor walkway past symphony hall and the International Convention Centre.
You will now find yourself in Centenary Square; a large expanse fronted by the Library of Birmingham and the Rep theatre. This is the cultural quarter of Birmingham.
Don’t leave without exploring the interior of the cake-shaped library. For literature lovers, the elizabethan style of the Shakespeare memorial room on the top floor is unmissable, and even if you are a book-hater you might find something to like in the roof gardens or viewing platform.
From Centenary Square, keep walking to the east in the same direction and you will find yourself in another of the city’s grand public spaces.
Along with the council house, the town hall, and a famous statue of and an oddly sloping statue called Iron man, Victoria square is home to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a world class museum with completely free entry (just a small donation if you choose). This contains Art and culture spanning several centuries, and the largest public Pre-Raphaelite collection in the world.
From here continue in the same direction along the trees of new street, from where you should be able to spot the mirrored facade of the new grand central shopping centre, which is just above New Street station.
If you are feeling tired at this point you could pop into TILT, an indie hipster bar/coffee shop rammed with arcade and pinball machines.
Eastside City Park
From here continue strolling past the bullring, another ultra-modern polka-dot building, crudely juxtaposed against the 1930s style Moor street Station, and make your way to Eastside city park; the first new urban park in the city in 100 years, and centrepiece of educational quarter of BCU and Aston university.
From the park, you can see a railway viaduct, behind which is the industrial quarter of Digbeth, which is currently undergoing regeneration, and chontains within it the hidden gem of the Custard Factory. If you can find your way through the streets of Digbeth, then you will find
A tiny artistic quarter with a collection of independent businesses and venues. From here, you can walk back up the main road to the city centre.
4. Best Restaurants
As one of England’s most racially diverse cities, you can find food from all over the world here. Most of these restaurants are congregated around China Town. I recommend a visit to Topokki for some fine Korean food.
5. Best Music/Festival
Moseley folk festival is famous for Showcasing unsigned acts alongside world famous artist, a family friendly festival in the leafy surrounds of moseley park.
6. Best Nightlife
Head to quirky Digbeth for some edgy house raving , ur up to broad street for some more mainstream bopping. If you prefer a quiet beer, Brewdogs outside New Street Station have a fine selection of craft beer.
7. Best Day Trip Out of the City
Birmingham is slap-bang in the middle of England, so while a trip to the coast might be out of the question – you can very easily access many places. This leaves you spoiled for choice in terms of day trips. I would recommend Stratford upon Avon for some shakespearean culture, or shropshire for some nice rolling hills. If you are feeling more adventurous, then mountainous wales is also very accessible by train.
8. Something that not many tourists would know about
Most tourists haven’t heard of the Custard Factory, and some of the locals don’t even know about it! This is Birmingham’s burgeoning creative quarter. Find some quirky independent shops here along with theatre and music venues.
Bio: Kieran writes on travel and technology at SIM Tourist