Poor Birmingham, it has an undeserved poor reputation. Southerns think it's in the North and Northerns think it's in the South (I'm Southern, so I can tell you Birmingham is actually in the North).
Birmingham used to stand for dirty, dangerous, rough, grimy and everything everyone hates about England, it was also Tolkien's inspiration for Mordor - apparently. But since Tolkien's time, Birmingham has had a lot of money pumped into it (i.e. the Bullring) and is now a hub of culture, a haven for foodies and a perfect mix of historical buildings and brand-spanking-new ones.
Birmingham is actually Britain's second city (no it's not Manchester) and is a must for anyone who comes to Britain and makes it out of London.
But what should you do there?
But what should you do there?
Visit the University
It's the only university in Britain with it's own train station, so it's very easy for you to hop off on your way into the city. The architecture is stunning and it's a red brick university.
The clock tower is the tallest free standing clock tower in the world and yes, it's bigger than Big Ben. They actually sell shirts at the university which say 'My clock is much bigger than yours' or something like that. He's called Old Joe and he inspired J.R.R. Tolkien who went to school next door (don't you see the resemblance between Old Joe and the big eye thing in LOTR)?
There are so many books in the library that if you pilled them all up the pile would reach the moon! Thus the library is sinking a bit..
Can you tell that I used to be a tour guide for the university?
Can you tell that I used to be a tour guide for the university?
The Bullring/ Bull Ring
The easiest and most popular place to shop in Birmingham is in the Bullring. To confuse you, the Bullring is located in the Bull Ring - an important historical landmark. Like most things in Birmingham the Bull Ring started off as something illegal (in this case an illegal market).
The Bullring is easily identifiable by the sexiest bull that I've ever seen. They normally dress him up accordingly - during the olympics he patriotically wore a British flag as a jumper, at Christmas he wore a jolly santa costume, and here he is in Spring looking macho:
The Bullring has over 160 shops inside it. Personally we don't like any of them. They are cloney and boring. Okay, okay there is one shop that we like: Selfridges. There are only four Selfridges in the world and they sell very expensive fancy things. On the bottom floor though there is the food section where it's great to browse around - and if you're lucky they will have free samples/ reduced the nearly out of date stuff to normal human prices. There is also a great alcohol section which features every type of alcohol ever, including the alcohol with bits of gold in it. You can also create your own cocktails there.
St Martin's Church
Make sure that you pass St Martin's Church. It's located right in the centre of the Bull Ring (so in the middle of the Bullring). I always found that it was a great, tasteful and ancient oasis inside the modern Bullring:
It was built in 1873. We never went inside, even though I used to pass it like four times a week on the way to kickboxing or fruit and veg shopping. Visitors are welcome though and we will definitely go there when we're back in Birmingham.
Birmingham Bull Ring Markets
Bull Ring Open Market
Located near the old Bull Ring, the markets are incredibly fun, or at least I think so. Tanbay and my sister both hated them. It's like being transported into another, more vibrant country. You can most definitely barter with the prices and get the fruit and veg you want for the prices you actually want (i.e. a lot cheaper than Tesco).
Be warned though, if you are a white female with (dyed) blonde hair, like myself, you may get a lot of unwanted attention, but if you're lucky it may work in your favour: One veg guy used to give me free strawberries, and although it was completely creepy, free food is free food.
Also, don't buy any of the dairy products. That tip isn't really specific to the Bull Ring Open Market it's for outdoor markets in general - do you really want dairy products that have been sat out in the sun?
The Open Market is open 9-5 Tuesday to Saturday. The later you go the more likely they are to bring the prices down. They normally do a big bowl of fruit or veg for a quid, but nearer the end it's not worth them taking it home so they'll do two or three bowls for a quid. Bargain.
Bull Ring Indoor Market
We never had much luck in the indoor market. There's lots of meat and fish but it often smells kind of funky and the sellers are even dodgier than the fruit and veg sellers. HOWEVER, they do sell roasted cashew nuts quite cheaply and are yummy.
There are loads of excellent places to eat in Birmingham and it's not all curry (though the curry is the best in Britain).
Our favourites restaurants in Birmingham were not in the Bullring though. They were Wok Your Way Noodle Bar and San Carlo. Wok Your Way is located next to the train station and serves cheap and tasty noodles. You can watch them prepare them right in front of you. It's quick and delicious. San Carlo is a lot more expensive but serves the most beautiful Italian food. Yum.
Cafe Deli is pretty good too!
The Custard Factory
A 20 minute walk out of town gives you some impressive ever changing, free to view, modern art work and some great vintage clothes shops. The clothes shops are really great. Also there's a bead shop. Tanbay bought me a 3p bead once (true love). Here's some of that great art:
I am also pretty sure (though I've never been) that there are clubbing type things at night.
Birmingham Art Gallery
Whilst small, it has a lot of variety and some great pieces here. Compared to the National Gallery in London it's complete rubbish, but if you haven't been to that, I think you may be impressed by this. They have good temporary exhibits too - they had some of the ancient egyptian stuff and they had the Saxon gold too at one point.
Chinese Quarter in Birmingham
We LOVE the Chinese Quarter/ China Town in Birmingham. There are authentic restaurants and shops there. They have a supermarket type store where we used to buy our noodles. They are much cheaper and nicer than tescos. We only ever went to one of the restaurants there, it was all you can eat.
Over 40% of British jewellery is made in the jewellery quarter. We had a fun day walking around, we had an amazing Italian lunch and then went and pretended that we were engaged (this was before we actually were). They let me try on the rings and taught us a little about the cuts, clarities and other things.
Catch Some Classical Music
Okay the granny in me is showing her face again, but I don't know what you're into, and if you do like classical music and first class musicians, Birmingham has a lot to offer you. Go to the Birmingham Conservatoire where I saw Benjamin Grosvenor or the Birmingham Symphony Hall where we saw the CBSO, they do the best Christmas concert:
Birmingham's Broad Street
I'll be the first to admit that clubbing isn't really my thing. I literally went clubbing twice whilst I was at uni. However, I do know that Broad Street is the place to go if you want clubs and clubbing and a disgusting night out. The two clubs that I've been to were Gatecrasher (biggest club in Birmingham) and Oceania? Is that still around? Let me know.
I have actually heard good things about snobs.. I've never been but I trust the people who've told me. Lol.
Essentially though we're probably the wrong people to ask. But with at least three universities in Birmingham, there are a lot of people to ask.
Parades along New Street
We used to have a beautiful and amazing apartment in the centre of Birmingham, but whilst it was beautiful and the best place ever to live, it was also very expensive so we used to spend a lot of time doing free things. One of the best free things to do in Birmingham is to watch a parade. We saw the Christmas parade, the neo nazi parade, the pro muslim parade (those two actually clashed there was police everywhere), the Easter parade and an anti David Cameron parade. But by far the best parade was the Gay Pride Parade!
There were lots of Adam and Steves, Annas and Eves, drag queens, people on stilts, people dressed as rainbows and lots and lots of fit gay guys without shirts (yum). There were also people not dressed up at all and some who'd clearly walked off the street to show their support :)
I'll tell you another thing, which you can choose to interpret anyway you like. Throughout all of the parades that we watched not one person looked up and saw us on the balcony - until the Gay Pride Parade and loads of them looked up at us and waved!!
The Mailbox is the less crowded much more expensive version of the Bullring (thus better ;) ). Saying that though there are some nice cheap eateries especially at lunchtime. Plus the BBC lives there and you can get your photo taken with the Tardis.
The Mailbox is also the start of one of Birmingham's greatest bits which I've almost forgotten about..
There are loads of canals in Birmingham - 160 miles of canals. The train that runs from Birmingham centre to University runs directly next to the canal and on a good day it looks quite pretty. (If you're taking the train into Birmingham from the south you will no doubt be on that line).
I have a funny story about the canals which, if you've seen them / do see them you might find funny too: A guy at the university took magic mushrooms and then went for a walk along the canals and thought he saw the Northern Lights. Ha ha. I didn't know this person and now can't even remember who it was who knew this person and told me about it, but whatever.
The canals look particularly impressive in winter when they freeze. Please don't go skating on them and die.
Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market
I don't normally recommend other people, because I am the best person, but if you need more convincing that Birmingham is beautiful check out Verity Milligan, she's a genius! If you love Birmingham and feel like we've missed anything out (or have anything to add) just let us know!
We're Laura and Tanbay, a British/German couple who have successfully weaselled our way out of the rat-race and want you to do the same!