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What Birmingham Has To Offer

By Ryan Merrifield

Posted: 11th March 2015 12:45

Think of Birmingham as the ugly duckling, during the industrial age it was the ‘workhouse of the world’, with the advance of the 21st century that manufacturing grit has been replaced by a creative flair which has seen it become a beautiful swan in the form of a cultural behemoth. A conscious effort to reinvent the city has seen it shake its reputation when it was the butt of many jokes, it is now somewhere that offers its own unique identity packaged in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner. 

So now, instead of the second city being associated with soulless grey towers of grey, there are thriving cultural quarters. Nowhere is this more apparent than the Custard Factory, swapping custard for style, it has become the centrepiece of Digbeth’s regeneration as a chic hangout full of original and independent shops. Of course you cannot mention Birmingham without talking about the Bull Ring, the mammoth shopping centre home to hundreds of shops a true haven of retail but there is so much more to the city than just a retail escape. 

The little known secret that ‘Brum’ is one of the best culinary destinations in Britain is seemingly out too, with many descending upon its streets to try the world famous Balti – which was allegedly created in the city. As well as that there is a wealth of places to enjoy a night out with various sections of the city offering something totally different to the next. There is a little a beauty to be found too, on the many canals that weave their way through the city centre. That’s not to mention it is also home to Britain’s favourite chocolate – Cadburys! Here is our guide to the second city.

Brum Renaissance

As transformations go, Birmingham’s is right up there with Walter White. A copious amount of regeneration projects have been finished and plenty are still in the process of completion, with the ultimate aim of turning Birmingham into one of the most desirable locations in the UK. Here are some of redevelopments to keep an eye out on.

Library

You can’t miss this building, opened in 2013 it was designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library has transformed the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in the UK. 

It is SO much more than a library too. Its 10 levels house a spacious foyer as well as a flexible studio theatre. Its position in Centenary Square right next to The REP and Symphony Hall makes this area the cultural soul of the city. Best of all though, there are two outdoor garden terraces, children’s spaces and a panoramic viewing gallery at the summit, where visitors are able to enjoy stunning views from one of the highest points in the city.

Birmingham New Street

Birmingham New Street is arguably the very heart of Great Britain, many stop over and connecting trains are caught here and ensure that the country keeps ticking along nicely – Birmingham New Street is the busiest station outside of London. To cope with this growing demand 2015 will see a redeveloped station unveiled which will be a world class transport, shopping and community hub in the centre of the city.

Gone are the days of a concrete cove full of neon, the ‘new’ New Street will have a huge glass-topped atrium higher than eight double-decker buses, which will mean that the revamped concourse will bask beneath blue skies (forewarning: sometimes these clouds will be grey). 

The Mailbox

In order to keep up with the continuing redevelopment of the second city, one of Birmingham’s most exclusive lifestyle and shopping destinations is undergoing a bit of a facelift. A scheme to build a new roof, larger public areas and improvements to the surrounding infrastructure at the high-end shopping destination that is The Mailbox are set for completion in 2015. The plans were drawn up by Stanton Williams, and they include a new, larger, Harvey Nichols store measuring 45,000 sq ft and a three-screen boutique cinema. The work will also see the retail mall at The Mailbox enclosed and sky-lit, to create an urban room with new facades, finishes and store frontages. 

The Mailbox is one of Birmingham’s most exquisite dining quarters too; the waterside location is a great place to enjoy some cuisine with 16 restaurants offering everything from Thai, Japanese, Indian, Mediterranean, British European and Tapas.

Cadbury World

With 500,000 chocolate hungry tourists flocking every year, Cadbury world, which opened its doors in 1990, is one of Birmingham’s largest leisure attractions. Located 30 minutes away from Birmingham’s city centre, the short journey is compensated for thrice over by the lure of enough free chocolate to make even Augustus Gloop full. 

The facility aims to educate visitors about the history of Cadbury chocolate whilst also catering to any chocoholics at the same time. The story is told over 14 zones through a selection of mediums including: animatronics, video presentations, interactive displays and staff demonstrations. Visitors will learn how their favourite chocolate treats are made and even get to try their hand at creating their own confectionary. Visitors should make sure to remember that no visit is complete without jumping aboard the magical Cadabra ride and taking a gentle journey through the chocolate themed wonderland. 

The tours are not guided so you are free to peruse the factory at your own pace, but if you have any questions the friendly Cadbury staff will be on hand to assist you. If you start to crave something other than the ton of chocolate you’re carrying around, then there is a cafe in the reception area where you can purchase lunch and light snacks. 

Cadbury World is open from 10am until 3pm on weekdays, 9am until 4pm on Weekends and 9am until 4:30pm on Holidays.

Nightlife

Digbeth

Digbeth has always stood out as a creative and exciting part of Birmingham, which has constantly evolved and continually reinvented itself.  Nowhere is this more apparent than its nightlife. Firstly, you will notice the trace of Irish heritage here, there are many Irish pubs such as The Dubliner, as well as The Irish Centre (the legendary St Patricks Day Parade makes its way through Digbeth) for you to sip a Guinness in. 

Look out for LAB11 and Gibb Street Warehouse which are examples of relatively new underground clubs which offer quality dance music to the clubbers of the Midlands. The HMV Institute is an excellent live venue as well offering some great student nights out. Other staples on Digbeth clubbing scene include Club Air and The Rainbow – an old Victorian pub which exudes charm which also has three rooms that play everything from mainstream to electric.

Broad Street

Each and every weekend (and every student night in-between) a hoard of party animals descends upon this street, no frills but plenty of spills are assured here. Broad Street has all the ingredients for one all mighty bar crawl with so many bars and pubs; you are truly spoilt for choice. You might be best advised to start your night out at Brindley Place found just off Broad Street, it is full of bars which offer a sophisticated canal side setting.

All your inner city night club favourites can be found here, Risa, Walkabout, Reflex, Vodka Revolution and the preposterously big super club Gatecrasher. As well as ample drinking holes there are also some excellent restaurants such as Tiger Bills and Mooch Bar.  Look out for the Broad Street Walk of Stars which honours all those Brum greats from Ozzy Osbourne to Noddy Holder.

Jewellery Quarter

As well offering a plethora of shopping opportunities for those who like shiny things, ‘JQ’ offers an awesome night out with some excellent pubs and bars which will keep you busy until the early hours. The Rose Villa Tavern is a favourite amongst locals as it offers a snug bar in a traditional setting with some stunning interior features as well as some great drinks!

Lord Clifden has a reputation as one of the best places to drink in Birmingham, known for its collection of Urban Street Art, with the likes of Banksy adorning its walls. It prides itself on quality produce, imported premium lagers and excellent service with an artistic imprint. Its beer garden is also the best place to spend the summer, especially with a drop of their frozen ciders! The Jamhouse is a bit of a classier place to spend a night and when that shuts at 2am, you will find yourself heading to Actress & Bishop just yards away to party through the night!

Arcadian

Found amidst Southside, Chinatown and the Theatre District, the Arcadian is a bit of nightclub Amusement Park thanks to its attractive piazza setting where you can walk from one bar to the next in a matter of seconds.  Whether it’s Sobar, Reflex, Arca Bar, Missoula or Indi Bar there are plenty of places to enjoy a tipple.

As well as some excellent bars there is also one of Birmingham’s best comedy venues, The Glee Club. The best live comics, handpicked from the top of the circuit, on stage in a comedy club where having a great time is the order of the day for audiences and comics alike. 

Accommodation

Hatters Hostel – Jewellery Quarter

Hatters Hostel combines the quality of a hotel with all the fun and affordability of a hostel. Located in Birmingham’s vibrant Jewellery Quarter, the hostel is within walking distance of St. Paul’s Square, which boasts some of the best nightlife in town. The hostel offers private and dormitory accommodation, a self-catering kitchen and internet access. The friendly staff know Birmingham better than anyone and are ready and waiting at the travel information desk to ensure that you have the best experience possible. 

Birmingham Central Backpackers – Digbeth

Birmingham’s only independently run backpacker hostel benefits from a great city centre location, only a short walk from public transport links and the Bullring. Based in a renovated pub, the hostel offers its guests a cocktail of freebies including breakfast and evening snacks. The hostel is ideally located for anyone who likes a rave, being only a stone’s throw away from Lab 11 – Birmingham’s best underground venue. If raving isn’t your thing, then the hostel is surrounded by Birmingham’s Irish quarter where there are plenty of spots to grab a quiet Guinness. 

Ibis Budget – Birmingham

For those who prefer the privacy of a hotel, Ibis Budget offers twin, double and triple rooms at prices that are as affordable as a hostel. A short walk away from Birmingham’s O2 academy and Broad Street – the biggest nightlife strip in the city, this is a cheap and cheerful choice to recharge your batteries after a night on the town. The hotel is open 24 hours a day, so guests needn’t worry about cutting their night short, just so long as they make it back in time for the unlimited breakfast buffet. 

Bloc Hotel – Jewellery Quarter

Part of a new hotel group, this city centre hub combines style and quality with honest prices. Located in the charming jewellery Quarter, the hotel is surrounded with cafes and restaurants as well as being minutes away from bustling nightlife. The rooms are luxuriously furnished with Italian-style wet rooms, king size beds and Egyptian cotton sheets, so you will be fully rested before you head out to explore all of the nearby attractions. 

Eat

Balti Triangle

The birthplace of the Balti, the Balti Triangle offers you the chance to sample this much heralded cuisine. Found in-between the Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley areas of the city this the best place to discover why Birmingham is the curry-capital of the UK. Balti houses started appearing in the city in the 1970s and have been steadily growing ever since. 

There are around 50 restaurants and takeaways in the triangle with well over half of those being sit-down restaurants, a fair few do not have license to sell alcohol but will allow you to bring your own. Some great places to enjoy this dish include Shabab, Al Frash, Adil and Punjab Paradise.

Michelin Stars

Did you know that Birmingham has the most Michelin starred restaurants outside of London? Well you do now! This reflects the growing reputation that Birmingham is currently enjoying as a classy city with many excellent dining opportunities. So if you really want to treat yourself to some very fine dining look no further then these exquisite establishments.

Purnell’s is a chic, contemporary fine dining restaurant found near St Philips Cathedral also has a bar and lounge area for diners to enjoy an after dinner cocktail. Adam’s iscontemporary fine dining restaurant producing stylish food; a sophisticated blend of familiar flavour combinations with modern inventive twists. Another two worth seeking out include Simpsons and Turners

Pub Food

Birmingham’s burgeoning pub scene means that there are some excellent bistro opportunities for you to sample some fine meals and ales. The Old Crown in Digbethis a relic which dates back to 1368; it is the oldest Inn found in Birmingham and has a traditional bar as well as an excellent restaurant. 

Found in the centre of Birmingham, The Barton’s Arms is a truly unique experience; coupling Authentic Thai cuisine with hand-pulled Real Ales Visiting the pub transports you back to a bygone era with its original Victorian interiors as vibrant as in its heyday when Laurel and Hardy allegedly frequented the pub. Another Gastro highlight includes, The Wellington a specialist real ale pub offering good honest grub.

Do

Electric Cinema

This isn’t your typical cinema; for starters you won’t be able to buy popcorn in the foyer. We praise a cinema that has a blanket ban on a food that that has as much nutritional worth as cotton wool and its consumption requires a decibel level that is louder than a washing machine. The Electric is the UK’s oldest working cinema and certainly one of Birmingham’s most charming buildings with an interior that is more akin to the 1970s. 

There are two digital screens which show a mixture of the latest blockbusters as well as the very best independent, foreign and classic films. Expect some great themed nights around Halloween and Christmas where some seasonal classics are likely to get a screening. As well as that you will find sofas, a bar and waiter service which will only further your cinema experience. Rest assured, once you have sampled the amazing service here, you will not want to return to your local multiplex anytime soon.

Wireless Festival

Perry Park is set to host Wireless Festival this year and it is looking to be one of the highlights of this summer, following the lead of the likes of Reading and Leeds, by having the same line-up spread over two huge sites (the other is in London) during one hopefully sunny July weekend.   

A stellar line up seesKanye West joined byDrake who is back for a repeat performance after headlining in 2012, and Bruno Mars has been confirmed for his first UK headline performance and his only live UK appearance of the year. With the likes of Pharrell Williams, Rudimental , Basement Jaxx, Outkast and Ellie Goulding being just a few of the other huge acts appearing across the weekend, festival-goers are in for one musical delight after another.   

Christmas Market

This is a huge favourite that brings some Christmas cheer during the festive season. To give its full name the Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest outdoor market in the country which is centrally located in Victoria Square just minutes from New Street station and it runs all the way down the high street to the Bull Ring. You are able to buy all sorts of traditional German goods, sweets, meat and most importantly Gluhwein. 

Traditional stalls also offer the usual array of beautiful handmade toys, Christmas decorations, original jewellery and craft goods as well as a carousel to keep those young at heart entertained. This is the largest authentic German market outside of Germany and Austria so come and see what all the fuss is about and explore its 180 stalls!

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