UK Cityslicker Ahmed here. I’ve lived and studied in Birmingham for four years, and in that time I’ve learned to love a city that until lately has been overlooked, or worse, looked down on. As a communications student and freelance copywriter, what better way to put my words and pictures to use than by reintroducing a city that caters for all tastes?
Creative souls don’t go starved in this city. The Ikon Gallery in Brindleyplace is one ideal spot to contemplate contemporary works, while The Barber Institute holds priceless pieces by Monet, Gainsborough and Botticelli.
Birmingham boasts a thriving arts and media scene with graphic and digital design leading the charge. To experience this head to the revitalised industrial quarter of Digbeth, where the old Bird’s Custard Factory now houses a complex of vintage shops, art studios and design agencies.
Once your higher artistic needs have been met, don’t be ashamed to feed your inner consumer beast. The area now home to Birmingham’s Bullring Shopping Centre has been doing a roaring trade since 1154, when a handful of enterprising textile traders got their hands on a permit from King Henry II.
Fast forward to 2012, and you’ll find the likes of Hollister, Lipsy and upmarket department store Selfridges continuing the medieval tradition. Venture further afield to find one of the many flea, vintage and farmer’s markets dotted around the city.
Birmingham’s cultural diversity feeds its ever-growing culinary spread, which includes thirty different national cuisines. Aficionados of Oriental food flock to enjoy authentic meals in Chinatown, and gourmet lovers come from around the country to experience our three Michelin-starred restaurants: Simpsons, Turners and Purnell’s. A host of gastropubs in Harborne, Moseley and Edgbaston cater for more relaxed dining, while the celebrated Balti Triangle continues to satisfy the city’s insatiable taste for Indian spice.
To get a small taste of how the other half lives in Birmingham, head to The Mailbox, where chic department store Harvey Nichols heralds the entrance to an open-air arcade of boutiques, designer stores and art galleries.
Continue on through to discover canal-side brasseries and bars in the shadow of The Cube, a new multi-million pound development of luxury apartments, complete with a hotel and health spa, and crowned on the twenty-fifth floor with the Laurent-Perrier Champagne Lounge and Marco Pierre White restaurant.
One fact you’ll hear Brummies repeat is “We’ve got more canals than Venice.” Although chiefly ornamental today, these waterways carried the vital flow of goods from this commercial heart of Britain to all parts of the country and Empire.
The Jewellery Quarter, born amid the resurgence of glitz and glamour after the austere Puritan regime (1653-59), still produces 40% of Britain’s jewellery output, as well as medals, coins and trophies. To walk through the cobbled Victorian streets is almost to step back into the Industrial Revolution.
There is nightlife in Birmingham for every niche. The hipster crowd gravitates towards Digbeth, where venues including the Rainbow Warehouse host regular electro and D&B nights. The lively Gay Village centres on Hurst Street, while Broad Street is lined with commercial bars and home to the Gatecrasher superclub. Feeling sophisticated? Drop into a canalside cocktail bar in Brindleyplace for a drink with a view.