Most British cities have a distinctive culture. London is vast, cosmopolitan, and open to the world, whilst the two great urban centres of North West England (Liverpool and Manchester), take pride in their wit, football, and music. Glasgow buzzes with working-class energy, and Edinburgh exudes time-aged elegance.
But Birmingham is more understated, and Brummie culture is humble. The city’s qualities don’t always get the exposure they deserve, even though Birmingham has played a key role throughout Britain’s modern history, from the dawn of the industrial era to our current multicultural age. The result is a city that has a lot to offer visitors. With the help of Uber, here’s how you can spend a perfect day in Birmingham:
Head north from the city centre towards the Jewellery Quarter. This is Britain’s centre of jewellery-making, although it has declined significantly since the early years of the 20th century when 30,000 people were employed here. Luckily, it’s easy to go back to those times with a visit to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Once the home of the Smith & Pepper firm, the workshop is in the same condition as when the company closed in 1981, with some equipment dating back to the 19th century. It’s a remarkable place, boasting time-worn dark wooden workbenches, a wall full of wooden stamps, and dies and hefty cast iron Victorian equipment. There’s even regular live demonstrations, and if that’s not enough, you can take yourself on a self-guided tour of the neighbourhood.
Travel back into the centre for lunch at Pure Craft in Birmingham’s elegant cathedral district. This modern, faux-industrial beer bar and restaurant is run by Purity Brewing, based in the Warwickshire countryside south of Birmingham. Their excellent beers are joined on the bar by the likes of Vocation (from Yorkshire), Tiny Rebel (from Cardiff), and Firestone Walker (from California). The food is hearty and delicious, featuring bar snacks like pork pies and scratchings, and bigger plates such as the classic fish and chips.
The University of Birmingham, a short Uber ride south of the city centre, boasts one of the finest small art galleries in the country. Named for Brummie property developer Henry Barber, The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time. Highlights include work by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Joshua Reynolds, and Peter Paul Rubens, and many wonderful paintings like Jockeys Before The Race (1879) by Edgar Degas. The Institute also has a collection of Roman and Byzantine coins.
Birmingham’s city centre is a shopper’s paradise, but if you’re looking for something more interesting, head for the Custard Factory, a collection of old industrial buildings in Digbeth where Bird’s Custard was once made. As well as being home to a variety of creative and new media companies, the Custard Factory has an interesting and varied selection of shops where you can pick up jewellery, art, music, rugs, cushions, and plenty more. There are also regular events, so keep an eye on the website for details.
Balti—a type of curry distinguished by the metal bowl it’s cooked and served in—is offered by hundreds of restaurants across the city, and some believe the dish was invented in Birmingham. Ask ten Brummies for their favourite Balti house and you’ll get ten different answers, but it’s best to the Balti Triangle (between Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane, and Stratford Road in the south of the city), and make up your own mind. Shababs is popular but wherever you go, make sure to order naan bread, and take alcohol with you, since most Balti houses are not licensed to sell liquor.