Welcome to Birmingham, the UK's second city. It's a city of mixed cultures, creeds and lifestyles and has recently become the fashionable place to set up a business or to hold a conference. But it still retains great pride in being a city built on industry. Listed below are the most important and well-known areas of Birmingham, encompassing business, baltis and entertainment.
Bournville - Chocolate, cricket and manicured lawns — is there anything else needed for a better world? The village is truly beautiful and inhabitants have to adhere to the rules of the Bournville Village Trust, eg keep a tidy, well-kept garden, in order to keep the area this way. What's more, because of the Methodist origins of the Cadbury family who founded this suburb, there is not one pub to be found here. You can find, however,
City Centre - The place to dine, shop, visit the theatres, go clubbing etc. The city is now widely pedestrian-friendly and has everything within easy walking distance. At the
Digbeth - Recently, cash has been invested in this district and one result has been the
Edgbaston - Loads of interesting places here, including one of the excellent King Edward Schools and the BBC Pebble Mill TV and radio studios. There's a wonderful and popular reservoir near Birmingham University where you can find the
Hall Green - This green and lush residential area has a famous Greyhound Stadium which, surprisingly enough, is quite popular with students as well as the hardened greyhound lover.
Handsworth/Aston/Lozells - Often, if a Brummie thinks about one of these areas, the other two spring to mind. Aston has a large and beautiful Jacobean house,
Harborne - The beautiful Blue Coat School, for boarders and day pupils, sits on the outskirts and there are numerous other excellent schools nearby. It's also home to some great restaurants, like
Hockley - Not far from the city center, this is the place to learn about Birmingham's jewelery industry at the
Moseley - Home of UB40 and Ocean Colour Scene, Moseley is popular with students as there are quite a few bars, pubs, good cheap restaurants and areas of cheap accommodation.
Small Heath/Sparkbrook/Balsall Heath - Run down and not really famous for its scenery, but the baltis here are beloved by all, not just Brummies but people from far and wide. Top food critics often visit these restaurants. Popular with lots of different cultures and peoples during the evening, there was hope and some talk of the council spending a little cash to renovate and beautify these areas - this hasn't happened as yet, though. Small Heath is the home of the "Blues" aka Birmingham City FC and the Ackers Outdoor Activity Centre which has, amongst other things, its own inner city artificial ski slope.
Sutton Coldfield - Darling! The absolute height of well kept gardens, big cars and oodles of pounds. 2,500 acres of parkland are to be found in the form of
Yardley - Popular with locals because of the Swan shopping center. Yardley is close to the airport but here you'll also find a 16th century merchant's house hosting a stunning collection of country pottery.
Accommodation in Birmingham tends to form in three clusters, which are based around the city centre, the Five Ways roundabout & Hagley Road (A456), and in the area around the airport and the NEC.
The city centre offers the widest choice of accommodation. Many hotels here cater specifically to the needs of business visitors, offering conference facilities and business lunch options. The Comfort Inn, The Burlington Hotel and the Copthorne Hotel offer comfortable 4-star accommodation and attentive service. They're all within a stone's throw of the main railway station, the central coach station and Birmingham city centre. Hyatt Regency Hotel, considered one of Birmingham's finest hotels, adjacent to the International Convention Centre, offers deluxe accommodation in the most convenient location possible for both the ICC and the National Indoor Arena (NIA), which is also the case with the Novotel Birmingham Centre. The Crowne Plaza Birmingham, Forte Posthouse Birmingham City on Queensway, The Royal Angus Thistle and the inexpensive Chamberlain Park Hotel, are all located within the city centre allowing visitors to take full advantage of the city's amenities.
Birmingham's airport and the NEC, only approximately 18 miles outside the city centre, also offer visitors a wide choice. The vast Stakis Birmingham Metropole Hotel is actually located within the grounds of the NEC, and The Belfry, The Holiday Inn Birmingham Airport and The Novotel Birmingham Airport are also in this area.
The greatest choice of accommodation is afforded to commuters travelling to Birmingham by car. There are lots of small hotels and Bed & Breakfasts within easy access of motorways, with connections to all parts of the country as well as Birmingham city centre. The Five Ways roundabout and Hagley Road area is good for hotels, for precisely this reason. The luxurious Marriott Hotel has an excellent location on the Hagley Road, Quality Cobden Hotel and The Thistle Birmingham Edgbaston both offer 4-star comfort within this area, and the moderately priced Plough & Harrow is smaller, but just as handily positioned for commuters.
Birmingham city centre offers a first-rate selection of places to dine. Evenings and weekends see locals, students and visitors gravitate towards the centre of town looking for gastronomic fulfillment, and the choice on offer will not disappoint. Practically every nationality is represented by restaurants to suit any budget and new establishments are opening all the time. Amongst the most successful of these recent arrivals is the ultra-sophisticated Thai Edge. Balti restaurants – serving up deliciously spicy and aromatic curries – are especially strong in Birmingham, both in number and quality, and indeed the city lays claim to giving birth to the dish.
Broad Street and the surrounding roads give you the pick of the bar and restaurant bunch. From pub grub to haute cuisine, you can find it on Broad Street — a pint of ale or a five-course meal. Treat your tastebuds in the highly-rated Shimla Pinks, a chic, award-winning Indian restaurant. Broad Street is home to many highly popular chains such as the lively Edward's café-bar or the ever popular brasserie Café Rouge. Being less than a stone's throw away from the ICC and a very short walk from the NIA and the city centre, Broad Street makes the perfect location for that "swift pint". The area boasts several popular pubs such as the Brasshouse. The Brindleyplace development off Broad Street gives diners and drinkers a vast choice in the way of waterfront entertainment, with sushi on offer at the Shogun Teppan-Yaki and a taste of the high life at Bank restaurant.
If chow mein and stir-fries stir up your appetite, head straight for Birmingham's Chinatown – found roughly in and around the Arcadian Centre and on Thorp Street. The flavour of the Orient is captured in traditional Cantonese restaurants such as Chung Ying Garden and the knife-throwing Japanese art of preparing Teppan Yaki cuisine is available in the restaurant of the same name. Some excellent, and accordingly very popular, bar/restaurants are also found in the Arcadian. Perhaps the best of the bunch is the Sobar.
Digbeth, home of the famous Sanctuary nightclub, has a growing reputation for drinking and dining possibilities, although it has been slow to shake off a rather insalubrious image. However, new development The Custard Factory is now home to many forms of entertainment as well as the Café des Artistes café-restaurant. This offers a trendy environment in which those with a more sophisticated palate can enjoy their contemporary cuisine.
Hockley is known chiefly for its jewellery trade but it is now developing a thriving café culture. Come here for a vast choice in restaurants, bars and pubs, and for a romantic evening as much as for a fun and furious night out. St Paul's Square, home of the trendy Saint Paul's Bar & Restaurant favoured by professionals and students alike, will leave you spoilt for choice whereas the Jam House mixes eclectic dining with terrific live music.
All this said, it is still balti restaurants for which Birmingham is rightly famous and no visit to the city is complete without trying one. Some of the best establishments are found south-east of the city centre on the Stratford Road. These may not look much from the outside, but for value for money and exquisiteness of cuisine they can not be faulted. Particularly well-respected examples are the Royal Naim and the Royal Al-Faisal Tandoori & Balti. The amount of award-winning Indian and Pakistani restaurants in Birmingham would impress even the most hard-nosed food snob — make no mistake, Birmingham's baltis are not to be sniffed at.
TOUR 1: Birmingham Children & Chocolate Morning Birmingham is definitely a city that caters for children, striving to educate them in a way that is fun and enjoyable. A superb place to take the children is Birmingham Botanical Gardens; marvel at the pagodas or rest on the benches and inhale the roses. There are rock pools and garden walks, historical gardens and 19th century glass houses and a cottage garden with its own museum (to name but a few sights!). You'll smile with delight as you see your children gaze in wonder for the first time at the tiny trees in the Bonsai collection; you probably won't want to leave.
Cannon Hill Park off Pershore and Edgbaston Road is the most famous park in Birmingham. There's a bandstand and concert area, a boating lake, and the Midland Arts Centre, which has a cinema, a theatre and regular exhibitions. There's a nature centre with animals, spiders and snakes and often there are activities for children during the summer including an excellent puppet theatre. If you have access to a bike, then you can ride through the park and Rea Valley. Great all-round entertainment.
Lunch This can be had in the park itself. There's a café bar where you can sit inside watching the world go by, or you can be adventurous, taking one of the much coveted outside tables and feel as though you are experiencing first hand the fun of the boating lake. Many people like to take a picnic, so the park has thoughtfully provided benches and picnic tables, and trees! If you are in the Botanic Gardens, there is a sun trap where you can relax in the warmth and "Eat your butties" as we say in Brum.
Afternoon Birmingham, Bournville specifically, is the home of Cadbury's and CHOCOLATE! Cadbury World is a great place to "take the children" (that would be my excuse anyway). There's an organised tour on which you can learn about the history of Cadbury's, the purpose of their Quaker village and the part the Cadbury family played in Birmingham's social reforms. You can also learn about the history of cocoa and chocolate and the chocolate-making process. However, the most enjoyable part of the tour for most is the opportunity to try free samples of chocolate and a discount shop (very popular at Easter and Christmas). Here you can buy your favourite choccies at greatly reduced prices. Cadbury World is a definite winner of a place for everybody and a great way to bribe the children to be good first thing in the morning. It's easy to get to, just hop on a train or bus to Bournville Station and signs will direct you from there.
It's strange, but true that some children don't actually like chocolate! Take them instead to the National Sea Life Centre in Brindleyplace, which is just off Broad Street. Sea Life Centres are always a great way to introduce children to the Big Blue and sea-life. The centre cost around 5 million pounds to build and has an aquarium, touch pools and feeding demonstrations. There are tanks filled with sting-rays, flat fish, cod etc (to some people cod are exotic fish!). The showcase of the centre, however, is the 360° glass tunnel which makes you feel as if you are actually standing in the middle of the ocean, while sharks swim above your head, to the side of you and underneath you too. Many buses pass along Broad Street on the way to the city centre or Five Ways, just ask the driver to put you off at the stop nearest the Sea Life Centre.
Dinner Take the children into town for dinner, well, just off Broad Street. Head towards Five Ways and after about five minutes you will see the Novotel on your right. Turn right on the street at the side of Novotel and you'll find that you are on Sheepcote Street and close to being fed. Friendly staff and continental pub grub awaits you and your offspring in the restaurant, as well as live music which can be classical, jazz or folk. For something with a more transatlantic feel, T.G.I Fridays is an American restaurant that will also suit most needs. Although by no means peculiar to Birmingham, it offers a varied selection of burgers, steaks, steak sandwiches and Mexican cuisine; it also "makes it their business" to look after your children. Kids will love the atmosphere, and you'll love the personal attention that you get from your waiter/waitress. You can take a bus from Bournville or the city centre and find it easily, since it's on the Hagley Road — one of the most well known thoroughfares in the city.
The great thing about having dinner off Broad Street is that you can take an evening stroll down by the canal. This can either be a romantic time — just the two of you strolling hand in hand watching the barges and evening revellers — or it can be a time to really enjoy the company of your children. Either way you can take stock of the day and perhaps plan your next adventure for tomorrow, if you have the energy.