Birmingham: Like a Local
Insider tips for the West Midlands’ biggest city
When asked about Great Britain’s most famous city after London, a few candidates spring to mind: Manchester and its football clubs, Liverpool and The Beatles, Oxford and the Harry Potter film set locations. Another contender of course is Birmingham, the second largest British city, and a cultural powerhouse on its own. Previously the industrial engine of Victorian England, Birmingham once had more canals than Venice. After sustaining significant damage during World War 2 the city reinvented itself. Much had to be rebuilt, and the people had to be creative and resourceful. To this day you can still feel a sense of awakening, resilience, and spontaneity in Birmingham. Here are a few pointers so you can embrace that unique feeling and navigate ‘Brum’ like a local.
1. Where to go to get away from the crowds.
Starting in the city centre, follow the Old Main Line Canal northeast until you reach Edgbaston Reservoir. Take a quiet walk around the water reservoir, feed the ducks, and stop to take in the fresh air.
2. A must for music lovers.
Birmingham has given us iconic bands like Black Sabbath, and more recently The Streets, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The city is alive with music, ranging from electronica, metal, indie and more. Eager to follow in those famous footsteps, talented young acts from the West Midlands regularly hit the stages of Birmingham’s many indie venues like The Sunflower Lounge, The Night Owl or The Cuban Embassy.
Full permissions were given by the venue "The Sunflower Lounge" and the band "Meme Detroit"
3. The best local market and what to buy there.
In the Bullring area next to St Martin’s Church there is a permanent outdoor market selling fresh fruit and vegetables as well as local cheese, milk, and eggs. A little further towards China Town you can find a big indoor market with butchers (including kosher) and fishmongers. You get great value for money at both venues, and you can take a trip around the world that is sure to inspire your tastebuds.
4. Any indie shops you recommend?
Birmingham embraces its urban culture like no other city in the UK. You’ll find prominent street art in the city centre, a lively hip hop scene and, of course, an affinity for skateboarding. Ideal is a great shop to get the latest gear and fit right in in the city from day one.
5. Birmingham tips for a rainy day.
If you are into reading, the Library of Birmingham has you covered. With around one million prints for the public eye, it has been described as Europe’s largest regional library. Just the building itself merits a visit, for its daring, hyper-modern architecture.
Picture by Gabriel McCallin
6. Unmissable galleries or museums for any self-respecting art buff?
The old industrial complex of Digbeth, specifically the Custard Factory, is a great place to start. Next to unique bars and street food restaurants, you will come across some fantastic street art.
An exhibition you definitely should not miss when in Birmingham is Dr. Willard Wigans microscopic art displayed at the Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery (BCAG). A few other galleries we can heartily recommend are Ikon, Stryx and Centrala.
7. Great area in the city for a night out
The artsy quarter of Digbeth deserves another mention here, as it is also a great location to party or take in shows and concerts.
Another popular area to check out Birmingham's night life is the Jewellery Quarter – home of up-and-coming fashion brands such as P&Co. You will find plenty of alternative bars, restaurants and indie clubs there.
8. What’s worth checking out in the region around the city?
A 45-minute West Midland Train ride will take you to Cannock Chase AONB (Area of Outstanding National Beauty). The Chase area encompasses miles of bike and hiking trails as well as over 600 cultural heritage assets. And we should point out here that Birmingham is right in the middle of England, and not far from Wales either. Excellent connections will bring you pretty much anywhere within a short time. So, the city is probably the best basecamp you can find for a much bigger adventure!