Once a manufacturing powerhouse, this former rough-and-tumble city maintains some of its gritty charms—think Peaky Blinders and the Brummie accent—but has reinvented itself with an exciting food scene, plenty of shopping and fascinating museums.
Where to stay
Bistro at Hotel du Vin, photo courtesy of Hotel du Vin
Feel like royalty at Castle Bromwich Hall Hotel, a palatial 16th-century manor house surrounded by 10 acres of gardens that was home to the Bridgeman family, later known as the Earls of Bradford. Its 42 rooms feature dark woods and claw-foot tubs and come with amenities such as Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs.
Housed inside a former Victorian eye hospital, the 66-room Hotel du Vin & Bistro Birmingham has three options to appeal to every diner: Pub du Vin serves up great local ales and fare; Bistro is known for its fine French cuisine with an English twist; and The Bubble Lounge is the perfect spot for a cocktail.
Tucked inside a 19th-century Georgian mansion is Simpsons Restaurant, a Michelin-starred restaurant that also offers small, lovely rooms. The property features plenty of green space, and the bedrooms are tastefully adorned with period artwork, as well as French mouldings and Toile de Jouy curtains.
To be within walking distance of the downtown shops, reserve a room at the chic Malmaison Birmingham. Exhausted shoppers will appreciate this hotel’s comfy features, including deep, soaker tubs and mood lighting. The hotel also houses the ultra-luxe Malmaison Spa, one of the city’s top places to be pampered.
What to do
Photo © Birmingham Museums Trust
Visit Newman Brothers at The Coffin Works, a former coffin fittings factory that is now a museum. On a guided tour, visitors will learn all about the funeral business, hear about famous customers (including Winston Churchill and the late Queen Mother), and learn about the lives of the workers over the decades.
Food: Sign up for a cooking class at Kitchen School
Birmingham is known across England and beyond for its adaptations of traditional Indian food. To learn about the cuisine, sign up for a cooking lesson with locally run Kitchen School. Top chefs and seasoned home cooks alike lead the classes, incorporating local history and culture into its spicy culinary program.
The Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is an impressive place, showcasing a vast range of artifacts. Highlights include the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, and one of the world’s finest collections of Pre-Raphaelite art. The museum also showcases the city’s industrial past.
Dating back to 1876, the Great Western Arcade was originally built as a tunnel between two railway stations. Today, the beautiful Victorian shopping arcade is home to an impressive collection of retailers, featuring everything from designer fashion and high-end beauty products to stationery and homewares.
Where to eat
The Jewellery Quarter, photo by Mauritius Images GmbH/Alamy
The industrial warehouses in the city’s Jewellery Quarter have been transformed into trendy bars and restaurants. Hipsters and locals alike gather at 1000 Trades, a small, brick-lined restaurant set in a former workshop, for craft cocktails and beer and for delicious food, including a traditional Sunday roast.
Birmingham is the birthplace of Balti, a lamb or goat curry served in a metal bowl. The dish was invented here in the 1970s by a Pakistani chef looking to fuse his native cuisine with western tastes. For a sampling, visit local favourite Adil’s, the restaurant where it all began, located in the Balti Triangle area.
Patrons at Ana Rocha Bar & Gallery can enjoy a delicious selection of wine and tapas—try the Spanish ham croquettes—surrounded by world-class art. The restaurant features a permanent fine art collection and an array of antiques, including Louis XIV mirrors and 19th-century Japanese armoires.
Shoppers will inevitably find themselves at the Bullring, a massive indoor-outdoor retail complex with hundreds of shops in the heart of the city. To make the most of your shopping time, grab a meal at one of the on-site eateries such as Wagamama, a popular noodle bar, and feast on teppanyaki.
[This story appears in the October 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]