With more canals than Venice, the UK’s most popular theatre, and 11 Michelin-starred restaurants, this English city is a world-class destination.
But the surprise is it’s Birmingham – the world’s first manufacturing centre and home to brands Jaguar cars and Cadbury.
‘Brum’, as it’s known, takes home the gold medal as the youngest city in Europe, where almost 40 percent of residents are aged under 25. The youthful energy is reflected in the many bars, nightclubs, atmospheric pubs and performance venues, which are great fun for visitors.
The silver medal goes to the region’s dining, second only to London for the British city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants, with a further 27 listed in the Michelin Guide 2021. I enjoyed a five-course lunch at Purnell’s, run by Birmingham-born Glynn Purnell, who has helped put the city on the culinary map. The other ten awarded restaurants include Adam’s, Simpsons, Opheem, Carters of Moseley, Upstairs, Salt, Pensons, Peel’s, The Royal Oak and The Cross at Kenilworth.
Several excellent restaurants are clustered around Chamberlain Square, such as Dishoom, serving some of the UK’s best Indian food with views of a beautiful memorial fountain and the heritage-listed town hall. After dinner, go for drinks at Albert Schloss, a fun venue where the nightly entertainment includes cabaret, jazz bands and duelling pianists.
Other hot spots include Aluna, known for its molecular cocktails, and the underground Bacchus Bar, which has themed rooms such as Egyptian, French and medieval. For a grand interior, The Old Joint Stock Pub, will not disappoint. Live music venues range from the huge Barclaycard and Resorts World arenas to the smaller O2 Academy, Sunflower Lounge and The Jam House.
A distinctive attraction is the historic canals, built in the 16th and 17th centuries. The city has 56km of canals while the surrounding West Midlands network extends more than 800km, playing a crucial role in the transportation of goods during the Industrial Revolution. Today, these waterways provide an idyllic setting for visitors to meander around the paths, stopping somewhere to eat or drink with a calming view.
The Roundhouse offers kayak tours led by volunteer guides who use the canal-side architecture and narrowboats to explain Birmingham’s journey from its industrial past to urban present. To go even further back in time, the Dudley Canal and Caverns Tour is a boat ride along the second longest navigable canal tunnel in the UK. Informative commentary brings to life these 428 million year old caverns.
Also dating back to the early 16th century industrialism, the Jewellery Quarter is home to Europe’s largest concentration of jewellers, goldsmiths and gem merchants. Browse more than 800 businesses for a diamond ring, antique pieces or a second-hand Rolex.
For modern retail heaven, Brum is brimming with department stores. The Bullring shopping centre houses one of only four Selfridges in the UK, stocking the world’s most luxurious brands and Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co signature stores. The curved building is an eye-catching work of art, covered in silver discs. Within walking distance is Harvey Nichols in The Mailbox complex, where you can finish the day with a meal or wine on Lucarelli’s terrace overlooking the canals.
In November and December, a massive outdoor German Christmas market spans all the way from the Bullring, down New Street and up to the town hall. The streets are lined with wooden huts selling gifts, toys, jewellery, food and drink. Stroll around with a tasty bratwurst or a warm mug of mulled wine to a festive soundtrack of carols and brass bands.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is undergoing major infrastructure works, but the iconic site has partially reopened with pop-up displays and events designed by local creatives.These free temporary exhibitions showcase themes such as racism, cinema, the 90s dance music scene, and ‘Unprecedented Times’ about the last two years of living with Covid. Drop into the Edwardian Tearooms for the ‘Press For Champagne’ service, where each booth has its own buzzer to summons a server to guide you through the Piper-Heidsieck menu.
Out of town, the Black Country Living Museum is an award-winning open-air venue in Dudley, which tells the history of one of the first industrialised landscapes in Britain. A favourite with fans of the Netflix series Peaky Blinders, this site was used as the backdrop for filming the internationally acclaimed drama. Set across 26 acres, it features carefully reconstructed shops, houses and industrial areas.
Back in Birmingham, the world premier or the Peaky Blinders dance production will take place at the Hippodrome in September. This venue also hosts the Birmingham Royal Ballet and touring West End productions such as Singin’ In The Rain, Les Miserables, My Fair Lady, The Color Purple, and Titanic The Musical.
Only two hours north of London by train, Birmingham is an easy side trip for Australian travellers. The New Street station is a major hub with direct links to every region of the UK. Lovers of literature and Shakespeare can take a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon in 45 minutes.
Genting Hotel is ideally located within walking distance of Birmingham Airport, via a free monorail, and the train to London. Within the resort is Sentai Spa, where guests have access to a lakeside hot tub, sauna, steam room and swimming pool with hydrotherapy jets. Indulge in the 80-minute signature treatment including massage and facial. Enjoy breakfast or dinner at the rooftop bar and restaurant, Sky By The Water, with panoramic views of the lake and surrounding district. gentinghotel.co.uk
Explore more: visitbirmingham.com