The words that come to mind when I think of Birmingham are chocolate, industrial architecture, cats, Ozzy Osbourne and alchemy. Potentially the most random combination that I can conjure, but that can the joy of exploring less touristy destinations. Disclosure: this alternative city guide to Birmingham was commissioned by Hotels.com to showcase booking in at the Birmingham airport hotel, but all random adventures are very much my own (you’ll see).
Something people say to me all the time is ‘I bet you’ve been everywhere in England… I’ve never really explored that much of the UK and it’s such a shame’, and honestly, I agree. England is such a diverse patchwork of villages, towns and cities – and the history is second to none.
It’s no surprise that these isles have inspired tales like King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Robin Hood and the Loch Ness Monster – not to mention the antics of generations of bands lighting up the music world like the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Black Sabbath.
Anywho, without further preamble, here are my favourite spots in Birmingham – together comprising my properly alternative city guide to Birmingham.
The Bullring – A Modern Architectural Marvel
It would be remiss of me not to start with the Bullring Shopping Centre – not for the readily fast fashion, but for the incredible, space-age architecture that encompasses the shops. The structure is sheathed in an undulating skin of scales, creating quite the contrast to older buildings that surround it, including the lovely oldie-worldly Birmingham Moor Street Railway Station where London trains roll into.
Quirky Indie Restaurants & Cocktail Bars
When I’ve visited Birmingham – for everything from Christmas markets to day trips in search of kitties – what has always struck me is as well as your standard chain restaurants (for those of a more beige palette) there are some really interesting indie restaurants, coffee shops and cocktail bars in the city centre.
I’m talking Faculty Coffee in the Picadilly Arcade which is an artisanal coffee shop that Shoreditch devotees would be comfortable selfie-ing, to places like The Lost & Found which has a really quirky feel in a grand Victorian building. Special mention goes to the Alchemist where cocktails are not only a work of art, but also really rather delicious.
The Birmingham Kitty Cafe: Cat Café and Cat Rescue Centre
Not quite as ancient as, say, Stonehenge, the Birmingham cat cafe is a destination well worth a quick train journey to. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best cat cafes I’ve ever been too. It’s beautifully outfitted, has hilarious feline occupants, a uniquely shared bathroom situation (they have their own space, bemused customers let them in & out of the hallway) and provides entertainment in cat spotting for hours (though I’d knock a point off as when we visited at lunchtime the residents were a little too busy playing for pats).
Technically you don’t even need to leave Grand Central Station to visit the cat cafe, but I think you should really – exploring the rest of the suggestions in this alternative guide to Birmingham will make for a much more fulsome trip. (Or just hang out with the cats, you won’t get any judgement here.)
I mean, do I need to even say anything more? It’s practically the home of British chocolate* and you can take tours through the purple-hued home of Dairy Milk. HEAVEN. (Fact of the day: the second Cadburys site was in Dunedin, New Zealand but sadly closed.) When you go, just make sure to book ahead…
*unsubstantiated but delicious fact.
Rock & Roll Brewhouse Bar
The Rock & Roll Brewhouse Bar is a fantastic little gem is well worth finding – they are a 100% vegan microbrewery based in the historic Jewellery Quarter with their own bar selling the beers they’ve brewed on the premises. If you’re a real diehard Black Sabbath fan, before you pop in for a pint, you could retrace the childhood steps of members Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi in Aston, an area of Birmingham.
Discover the Historic Buildings of Birmingham
Aside from the modern builds dotted around the city centre, there is an array of historic architecture that deserves a mention; the Grade II listed Birmingham City Council House, the Methodist Central Hall, the Tudor timbered Blakesley Hall Museum, Aston Hall – an exquisite example of Jacobean architecture and the Grade I listed St Philip’s Cathedral.
It’s actually quite the city – and I do love trying to decipher the Brummie accent…
Have you been to Birmingham?