Sunday, 17 March 2019

A City Break In Birmingham

luke matthews - birmingham city centre

If someone had suggested visiting Birmingham five years ago, I would have given them a look. Known for its industrial heritage as one of the major trade cities in England and the epicenter of a major urban conurbation that swallows Solihull, Dudley, Wallsall or Stourbridge alike, Birmingham just wasn't appealing to me at all.

However, since the UK’s second largest city is partnered with my former home Leipzig, Germany’s up and coming central business hub, I've made a few trips to the West Midlands and have seen the city's huge transformation over the past few years.

It all started in Birmingham's heart and has worked its way slowly up and down in all directions. The vibes suggest that Birmingham really wants to become a city of culture, diversity and worldly character although it has always been thriving and busy. Now, there's this positive change in the air. The train station, formerly known as New Street, is now completely renewed and carries the name "Grand Central" which conveys a lot more glamour and style. When you step out of your train and enter the light and bright open spaced station, you feel immediate London vibes - less dirty and more modern though. It is vibrant, modern and very cosmopolitan. There are little shops and eateries as well as a newly opened John Lewis. Once you arrive in Grand Central, you can’t but to be in complete awe over the city’s impressive welcome. And it doesn’t stop there – you'll see the modernization process everywhere - especially as the city is currently under construction to extend their tram system which will make going around town more accessible in the years to come. 


matthew-feeney-birmingham street outside the new grand central train station

Birmingham - Fashion Capital of the West Midlands

From Grand Central, you can easily explore the Bullring, the city’s massive shopping centre which has the usual High Street shops including a Victoria Secret Store, Smiggle or Selfridges. Selfridges, in particular, is one of Birmingham’s most iconic buildings with its futuristic aluminum façade. In fact, the outside of Selfridges has been replicated for Leipzig’s central shopping centre Höfe am Brühl to reflect their partnership. Inside Selfridges on the lower ground is a JellyBean replica of the shopping centre's mascot The Bull as well as a Krispy Kreme factory and more unusual things to explore.

The Bullring has actually been built on Birmingham’s old trade spot. In the 18th century, this area was famous for textile trading. So it is no surprise that there's now a shopping centre at the exact same spot. To commemorate the historical background of the area, a massive 6-tonne bronze statue designed by Laurence Broderick has been installed onto the site. Since 2003 it has entertained visitors from all over the world and once in a while for specific occasions, the statue gets dressed up. Its unusual wardrobe has earned the bull the title of a trendsetting fashion icon nationwide - but it is always good fun seeing the Bull in a new outfit. 


the bull at the bullring with a christmas outfit designed by kate unwin

You see, Birmingham is not only known for its industrial heritage, but it is actually a top secret tip for an emerging fashion scene. Over the years, I've explored Birmingham's vintage fashion side and made good and bad experiences. If you follow the road down the Bullring for a short ten-minute walk it will lead you to Birmingham’s trendy Digbeth area. The Custard Factory is a thriving hub for vintage lovers and hosts monthly Vintage Kilo sales. However, the Vintage Kilo sale is a massive jumble sale, so if you prefer a more orderly browse I can suggest Cow to you. The shop is huge and sells beautiful vintage clothing and handbags. 


reuben-hustler-Selfridges in Birmingham

Another area worth exploring is the Jewellery Quarter in the North of the city which has stunning independent shops. Up and coming local designers sell mostly here and they annually showcase their fashion at Birmingham’s very own Birmingham Fashion Week (usually around February time). Rad Fashion or House of Borgezie are worth checking out and I’m sure you’ll discover the one or other gem here.

A Treasure Trove For Food

When I think of Birmingham I immediately think of food. The city is a culinary treasure trove with lots to explore. There's my favourite, Bodega Cantina which serves nachos and Mexican street food at 12 Bennetts Hill. Next door is The Botanist which serves British cuisine in a stunning botanical environment. The botanical theme is also picked up at Lost & Found, which is a more fine dining experience of Birmingham. In fact, the city has it all. There's fine dining in the most stunning building, such as The Lost & Found or the impressive pub The Old Joint Stock in Temple Row near Victoria Square. Then, you have the romantic settings around the Canals or cosy restaurants in Brindley Place. For more Indian and Modern European cuisine Broad Street is your address.

nachos served at bodega birmingham
eryk-the canalhouse in birmingham

In the area around the modernised Mailbox, you’ll find Miller & Carter next to Marco Pierre White Steakhouse in the Cube. The Canal House on the opposite side is perfect for cocktails and drinks or you can relax in Gas Street which is only a short walk away from the city’s stunning new library. Whatever you fancy, Birmingham has it all and you won't be starving. 

Day Trips From Birmingham

Birmingham itself is easily walkable in a day but if you stay here for a weekend, I can also recommend taking a day trip from Birmingham Moore Street to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s hometown is only a short 1h train journey away, nestled in the romantic English countryside and offers plenty to see and explore. The charming town center has tonnes of historic buildings, offers idyllic river walks and exceptional theatre performances will be waiting for you.

If you're ever on the train commute Birmingham to Wolverhampton, you may notice 12 individual iron horse sculptures. Kevin Atherton established these in 1987 and shows the horse in different positions and movements. The main idea behind this art installation is that the sculptures accompany the commuter on their journey and serve the general notion of companionship, a notion that has long attributed to horses and mankind. The horses are also a representation for Britain’s industrialization period, early trains and the movement alongside the railway tracks stands for the journey itself. The sculptures have won the Independent Gulbenkian Foundation Award in 1991 and the first one can be found in Birmingham on platform 5.

So there you go, these are my tips for visiting Birmingham and the West Midlands. Let me know what you think or if you've ever been in the area exploring. 


Thank you so much for reading and till next time, 

Carolin

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