As a Londoner, it’s easy to forget there’s an England outside the capital. London has so much going on I could stay here forever and never get bored. But that’s no excuse to limit my exploration to the confines of the M25, so I’m rediscovering my love of England’s other cities by spending 24 hours in Birmingham.
24 Hours in Birmingham
The second largest city in the United Kingdom, Birmingham is best known for its key role in the Industrial Revolution and its entrepreneurial history. But what’s drawn me to the city are the beautiful shopping arcades, colorful creative quarters, and spirit of reinvention. After visiting the Birmingham Christmas markets two years ago, I’ve wanted to travel back again to see it in another season.
And now I’ve made that happen. A 2-hour train ride transports my boyfriend and me from London to Birmingham on a Friday evening. We arrive at 7:30pm and make our way to the Great Western Arcade in time for dinner. We’ve booked a table at 1847, a vegetarian restaurant with an inventive menu and amazing desserts.
And it’s not the only good restaurant we come across in Birmingham. The next morning we settle in at Six Eight Kafe, a coffee shop around the corner from the Great Western Arcade. The espresso is as good as we’ve heard, and kicks us into gear for our day of exploring.
We start at Victoria Square in the heart of the city. It features a mix of sculpture and architecture, but the main event is the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
The museum has a renowned Pre-Raphaelite collection, so we head inside and let ourselves be wowed by the work of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Afterwards we see more of his art in the stained glass windows of nearby St Philip’s Cathedral.
Having gotten our culture fix, we stop for lunch at Bodega. It’s a colorful restaurant near Victoria Square serving cuisine from all over Central and South America. Fish tacos and ceviche restore our energy, and soon we continue our 24 hours in Birmingham with a trip to the Jewellery Quarter.
Many of the city’s historic entrepreneurial businesses were (and still are) located in this part of the city. We wander around the leafy St Paul’s Square and past the stylish cafes on Augusta Street, then take in the ghosts of the city’s economic past in the quiet alleys. Nearby, Brookfields Cemetery exudes an eerie beauty that makes us feel like we’ve been transported back in time.
From the Jewellery Quarter we return to the present at the Bullring, Birmingham’s contemporary shopping area. The hyper-modern lines of Selfridges and Victorian Gothic facade of St Martin in the Bull Ring offer contrasting backgrounds to the outdoor market below. Traders selling fruit and crying out for people to buy eggs lend a vibrancy to the stalls as we walk through.
Soon we find ourselves at the Custard Factory, an independent creative quarter in Deritend.
Colorful buildings serve as homes to independent shops on the inside and eye-catching art on the outside, and the area buzzes with people exploring a weekend festival.
Around the corner sits The Old Crown, the longest surviving secular building in Birmingham. Its half-timbered facade adds a nice touch of Ye Olde England to the scene.
It also makes me appreciate having seen a mix of historic and contemporary in Birmingham, from the architecture to the streets. I’ve discovered a completely different side of the city than I did on my first visit, and being here has helped me fall in love with England’s cities again. Now all I have to do is think of where to go next.
What about you? How would you spend 24 hours in Birmingham?