There’s loads to do in Birmingham and it’s only 90 minutes by train from London. No longer known as a bleak, industrial sprawl, these days Birmingham is a buzzing metropolis.
The second most populated city in the UK after London, ‘Brum’ (as it is fondly known), buzzes with an unpretentious big-city vibe.
The locals are referred to as Brummies, and they have been cursed with an accent said to sound less intelligent than silence, but with the city having cultivated the likes of author JRR Tolkien, musicians Led Zeppelin, singer Jamelia and politician Enoch Powell, who’s to talk?
Where to go in Birmingham
Birmingham has a profusion of ‘quarters’, each with a distinctive vibe. The Chinese Quarter is packed with restaurants and food markets; in Gay Village, rainbow flags flutter; and in the Jewellery Quarter, windows glitter with precious metals.
The city centre is anchored by cobblestoned New Street and the Bullring shopping centre – the biggest in the UK.
If chain-stores aren’t your thang, then Digbeth in the east is their antithesis. It’s a vestige of Birmingham’s industrial heritage, with converted warehouses and vintage shops.
Broad Street and Brindley Place, west of the centre, via the decadent Victoria Square is the canal area. Kick back on a pub terrace or see in the early hours at superclub, Gatecrasher.
The Tolkien trail
Take in Moseley Bog, Sarehole Mill and the woods and meadows that inspired Middle Earth in The Lord Of The Rings on the Tolkien Trail, which meanders past the former house of author Tolkien, who gave us Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf.
Visit Cadbury World
Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have their own Cadbury factories, but these were preceded by the original in Bournville, outside Birmingham’s city centre, where John Cadbury opened his shop in 1824.
The factory itself is closed to visitors, but Cadbury World takes you on a mouthwatering journey through the origins, manufacture and consumption of the confectionery, and yes, there are a few treats along the way.
Birmingham’s ‘Balti Triangle’
A must-do on any visit to Birmingham is a ‘Balti Triangle’ experience.
South east of the city centre, concentrated on Stratford Road, are more than 50 purveyors of meat and veg curry, cooked fast over a high flame in a steel bowl called the Balti.
Just as famous as the curry is the accompanying naan bread, which comes the size of your table. Tear off a chunk and scoop up the curry like the locals do.
WHEN TO GO: Any time. Its cultural mix means there are events all year round.
GETTING THERE: Trains from London to Birmingham New Street station take about 90 minutes. Coaches take about 2.5 hours.
GETTING AROUND: Explore the city centre on foot and catch a bus, tram or canal boat for further afield.
GOING OUT: A beer costs about £2.80.
ACCOMMODATION: A hostel bed costs about £16.