A certain kind of renaissance has been going on in England’s second city.
Once maligned for urban chaos and monstrous modernism – major redevelopment has made it a sheer pleasure to visit, if only to gaze upon its sumptuous new architecture from close-up. Once you’re here, you’ll find first-class shopping, entertainment and dining everywhere you turn, with historical flourishes in the most unexpected places.
Prefer Venice at this time of year? That’s fine… if you’re happy settling for second-best. Yes, Birmingham has exactly nine miles more canals – and while Venice has played host to Casino Royale and The Italian Job, Birmingham’s canals have enjoyed their moments in their limelight too – in everything from Peaky Blinders to Rosie & Jim.
Having grown from a quaint market town into an industrial powerhouse, and then into a modern city that continues to innovative to the present day, Birmingham is its own living museum. As the heart of the West Midlands (and indeed, England), it’s a vibrant area full of sparkly shopping centres, awe-inspiring architecture and a cultural scene that’s hard to match.
Perhaps the best evidence of the city’s progress is in the Bullring and Mailbox shopping centres, where you’ll no doubt spend much of your time – and money too. The iconic Selfridges building is definitely one for your photo album, as is the brand-new library. If mid-century modernism is more your sort of thing, be sure to check out the iconic Rotunda building, the Grade II listed Church of Our Lady Help of Christians and the monumental Alpha Tower.
It’s not all about the new though. A short wander into the Jewellery Quarter will greet you with plenty of history – not to mention some tantalising window shopping. If art’s your bag, be sure to visit the renovated Custard Factory which now produces fascinating exhibitions instead of Great British puddings. Getting thirsty? The Old Crown in Digbeth is not only one of Birmingham’s most inviting pubs, but also its oldest.
As well as having one of the grandest global Symphony Halls, Birmingham’s local pubs and clubs play host to an endless stream of talented musicians. If you prefer drama, perhaps you’ll fancy a little bit of Shakespeare? If so, you’re only a short trip from Stratford-Upon-Avon. Or how about literature? It’s not hard to see how Birmingham inspired J. R. R. Tolkien to create his Lord of the Rings series, and you can explore many of the locations – such as Sarehole Mill – that he later wrote into his books.
When all that’s done, you’ll probably be hungry. This is when you’ll discover a whole other side to Birmingham. As well as some of the best curries in the country, you’ll find a long list of eclectic dishes sourced from all over the world. Birmingham’s culinary scene is testament not only to the brilliance and originality that keeps the city moving forward, but to its warm and accepting culture that people from invites people from all over the world to call it home.
In short, England’s second city has everything you could want from a short break. Book your stay in a Best Western hotel and travel by car (Birmingham is, after all, the city built for the motor age) to start exploring.