England’s second largest city, Birmingham is full of historical interest, Michelin-starred restaurants and opportunities for shopping and fun.
Once a hub of industry, the legacy of the city’s gritty past (as dramatised in BBC series Peaky Blinders) can be seen in the architecture of the converted factory buildings around the canal-carved centre. In recent years, Birmingham has been undergoing a revolution of restoration, regeneration and renewal, with limit-pushing architecture springing up and old buildings finding new purpose as homes to a growing number of fine-dining and innovative restaurants. This year, the city is the proud host of the Commonwealth Games.
So whether you plan to visit for a weekend, or are in need of inspiration for things to do during a longer stay, we’ve put together an itinerary packed with must-see attractions you won’t want to miss.
Check in to Frederick Street Townhouse
Situated in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter, adjacent to the iconic Button Factory, lies the chic Frederick Street Townhouse. Book one of the 15 stylish bedrooms, all of which have been sympathetically restored to highlight the original character of the three-storey building. If you fancy making your stay extra luxurious, you can book the Junior Suite, where you can lounge on the sofa while sipping a glass of champagne and enjoy a soak in the free-standing tub.
Whichever room you plump for at this boutique hotel, you won’t have to worry about where to eat the next morning, as all guests are treated to a breakfast grab bag filled with continental treats such as pastries, fruit and juice. Yum!
Address: 26 Frederick St, Birmingham, B1 3HH
Telephone: 0121 236 4653
Explore the gems of the Jewellery Quarter
Take some time to explore the surrounding area and browse the windows of the hundreds of jewellers that fill Birmingham’s remarkable Jewellery Quarter. Alongside the shops, you’ll find art galleries and working jewellers’ studios as jewellery factories are a centuries-old tradition here.
Don’t miss the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, set inside an old factory that has been preserved as a kind of time capsule since it closed in 1981, when the staff locked the doors and walked away, leaving everything in place. The museum usually offers guided tours but is currently only open on select dates for activities such as jewellery-making workshops and for a programme of events to celebrate its 30th birthday in 2022.
If you are spending a little longer in Birmingham, you could book in for a jewellery-making workshop with Atypical Thing (14-16 Hylton Street, B18 6HN), which specialises in recycled sterling silver jewellery with ethically sourced stones, or even a wedding ring-making workshop with eco-friendly jewellery brand Elizabeth Anne Norris Jewellery (16 Hockley Street, B18 6BL).
Address: Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, 75-80 Vyse St, Birmingham, B18 6HA
Telephone: 0121 348 8140
A 20-minute walk back towards the city centre, and directly opposite Snow Hill Train Station on the beautiful Grand Arcade, you’ll find this thrilling plant-based restaurant.
The menus are ever-changing as the head chefs work to showcase the best seasonal ingredients. The four- and six-course tasting menus are inspired by cuisines from around the globe, making for a truly special dining experience. Grab yourself a front row seat at the chef’s table to watch the magic happen in the kitchen.
Address: 30 Great Western Arcade, Birmingham, B2 5HU
Telephone: 0121 236 2313
Snorkel at Bear Grylls Adventure
Snorkelling? In Birmingham? Don’t worry, we’ve not confused this West Midlands city with an Australian coastal resort. But Birmingham is a city full of surprises and if you’re after an activity to get your adrenaline pumping, then you’ll want to head out to the Bear Grylls Adventure in the National Exhibition Centre (NEC).
Hop on a train from Birmingham New Street to Birmingham International Station, then it’s just a short walk to the indoor and outdoor activity centre fronted by British adventurer Edward Michael “Bear” Grylls, OBE. Here you can undertake a variety of activities including snorkelling in a tank that’s home to over 1,000 species of weird and wonderful sea creatures.
Get kitted out by Grylls’ pro dive team, before submerging into the tank where you will experience the wonders of a tropical reef and get up close with the likes of Blacktip Reef Sharks and Cow Nose Rays, with nothing separating you but a snorkel cage.
Still up for more adventuring? You’ll also get access to a Royal Marines-inspired assault course, with a range of challenging obstacles to overcome, including scramble nets, monkey bars, traverse beams and A-frames. Want to really push yourself? Grylls’ time is 1 minute, 3 seconds.
Address: National Exhibition Centre, Halls, Marston Green, Birmingham B40 1NT
Telephone: 0121 725 2616
Enjoy dinner at 670 Grams
In the evening, head east across the city centre to the bohemian area of Digbeth, which has become a hub of nightlife and evening entertainment.
Here you’ll find 15 acres of beautifully restored Victorian factory buildings located on the site of what was once the Bird’s Custard factory. Nestled within is 670 Grams, a restaurant that offers 12-course modern fine-dining tasting menus, with evening sittings at 6pm., 7:30pm and 8:45pm. Expect playful dishes with intriguing flavour and texture combinations.
670 Grams opened in August 2020 after the first national coronavirus lockdown and its Solihull-born chef-owner Kray Treadwell was awarded the accolade of Michelin Young Chef of the Year in 2021.
The graffiti-adorned space is spread across two floors, but make no mistake it is a compact establishment with room for just 16 diners per sitting, so booking is advised. The upper floor is completely taken up by the kitchen and a two-person chef’s table where you can be seated for no extra cost, so make sure to enquire if it is available when making your booking.
Address: The Custard Factory, 4 Gibb St, Birmingham, BB9 4AU.
Telephone:+44 (0) 7985 637139.
Indulge your inner child with a game of pinball at Tilt
For an after-dinner coffee with a side of something a little different, head to Tilt. Situated in the City Arcade, the bar’s three floors are packed with 19 pinball machines. All the machines are £1 for one game or £2 for three games, so make sure you’ve brought plenty of change.
Pinball may be a light-hearted pursuit, but they take coffee and beer seriously here, with state-of-the-art coffee brewing equipment and details of the latest craft beer on offer regularly updated on the bar’s Instagram. There are plenty of other drinks available too, from loose leaf tea and five different types of hot chocolate, to soft drinks, wines and a small selection of spirits.
Address: City Arcade, 2 Union St, Birmingham B2 4TX
Telephone: 0121 643 1048
Grab brunch at Medicine Bakery
Hankering after a spot of brunch to soothe any sore heads from the night before? Medicine Bakery is just the ticket.
Located on the first floor of the former Victorian home of the Royal Society of Birmingham Artists, the bakery’s owners have restored the building to its former glory. Now the venue hosts regular events, talks and exhibitions in the space, while also serving up a wealth of breads, sandwiches, cakes and pastries, made from locally sourced ethical ingredients, with unusual recipes drawing on a mix of influences from France and New York.
The menu includes plenty of plant-based delights including the Vegan Reuben (Rye sourdough topped with cured celeriac, gherkins, sauerkraut, American mustard and smoked vegan cheese).
Address: 69a New St, Birmingham B2 4DU
Telephone: 0121 643 1188
Learn about Birmingham’s Black history on a Madiba Tour
Head just outside of central Birmingham (jump on a quick bus or grab a taxi) to Handsworth Soho House, the meeting point for the informative two-hour Madiba walking tour, which kicks off at 1pm.
Your guide, from the Black Heritage Walks Network, will take you on a tour of Handsworth, an area just outside of Birmingham city centre, which became a centre for the African Caribbean community just after World War II. The area is packed with seemingly innocuous buildings whose rich history will be revealed to you by your guide.
Learn about a migration trail of Black heritage in the UK, from 7500 BC through to post-war communities, as well as about the contributions and the success of the Black community in Birmingham. You’ll also hear about poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who was born locally, and about visits to the area by icons Nelson Mandela and Muhammed Ali.
Address: Handsworth Soho House, Soho Avenue, Birmingham, B18 5LB
Telephone: 07901 900865
Explore the Canal Quarter and historic Roundhouse
Take a stroll along Birmingham Canal Old Line to Sheepcote Street to the site of the Roundhouse — a large, circular brick building constructed in 1874 as part of a massive city improvement act. Designed by local architect W.H. Ward, the Roundhouse was for many years used as a stables and stores.
The Grade II-listed building has withstood the ravages of time despite being left derelict for periods, and, in 2020–2021, it underwent a full-scale renovation and was given a sustainable new purpose as a lively hub with a visitor centre and display space, where you can learn more about the curious building’s history.
On select dates the centre runs canal-based kayaking, guided city-walking tours and boat trips, and there is always the option to access one of the self-guided audio tours, such as the Sensing the Roundhouse (and Beyond) Audio Tour (which can be purchased with a pay-as-you-feel charity donation). This tour will encourage you to take a moment of mindfulness and really connect with your senses to immerse yourself in your surroundings, and notice the “lesser seen” details on a very short (0.8 km) walk around the Roundhouse and the nearby canals.
Address: The Roundhouse, 1 Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8AE
Phone: 0121 716 4077
Dinner at Opheem
Birmingham-born chef Aktar Islam’s “progressive Indian cooking” has earned this restaurant a Michelin star. Many Indian regions are represented in Opheem’s menu, which is the result of Islam’s research of The Ni’matnama, a 15th-century collection of recipes, as well as his own family favourites from Bangladesh.
The seasonal tasting menu is the best way to experience the restaurant’s full repertoire, (both vegetarian and pescatarian tasting menus are also available). If time is limited, go for the five-course option, however, to truly experience the result of Islam’s mission “to cook the food of Kings and Emperors,” you’ll want to sit back and relish the 10-course option.
Address: 65 Summer Row, Birmingham B3 1JJ
Telephone: 0121 201 3377
Feel good about 2022. Reconnect with your favourite people and places, and find exciting events on an English city break this spring. Find out more on https://www.visitengland.com/escape-the-everyday-city-break