West Midlands Diaries

3 Feb 2020 by Akanksha Maker

Quaint English alleyways beside picturesque canals; a beautiful cityscape of medieval buildings; a cultural hotbed of futuristic developments and a buzzing restaurants scene — that is Birmingham for you. A major city in the West Midlands and the third-largest city in the United Kingdom, Birmingham is a social, cultural, financial, and commercial hub. Its various dimensions intrigue even the most critical world traveller and a visit to this city ought to enrich your wanderlust. Here is what makes Birmingham a charming yet modern British city which is hard not to fall in love with.

Turn Back in Time

Steeped in rich history that dates back to the industrial revolution, the streets of Birmingham effortlessly take you back in time. An architectural delight featuring a variety of styles from Baroque to Georgian and Gothic Revival, the city’s walls tell stories of a bygone era. A heritage trail in Birmingham is an ideal way to begin your sojourn here. Start your day with a guided tour at Birmingham Back to Backs—

an intimate glimpse into the lives of the ordinary people who helped make Birmingham extraordinary. See how people lived and worked from the 1840s to the 1970s; from erstwhile tailor shops to bedroom-converted-workshops.

Experience the humble lifestyles of the former people of Birmingham as you step back in time at the city’s last surviving court of back-to-back houses, built around a communal courtyard. It is a short walk away from the Bullring and Grand Central, a landmark mall with diverse high-street fashion and household shops, plus restaurants.

A leisurely stroll from here is the Birmingham Cathedral — one of the most charming architectural masterpieces in the West Midlands. Thomas Archer, a Warwickshire man and the architect of the cathedral has incorporated intricate Baroque elements in the construction like the dome, oval windows and rusticated stonework. Built in 1715, this Grade 1 listed cathedral houses some striking treasures that weave fascinating stories for the ones who travel for history.

A five-minute walk from Birmingham Cathedral will get you to the next destination on our heritage trail — the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. As the name suggests, this museum takes you on an exploration of British art and some of the priciest possessions of England’s cultural assets. Exhibiting until September 2020 is Birmingham Revolutions — Power to the People, a display that explores Birmingham’s vibrant and varied history of protest and activism, and the role the city has played in some of the most important campaigns and movements in British history.

Contemporary Charisma

Along with its old-world charm, Birmingham prides itself as a voguish English city that boasts a modern vibe. Kickstart your day two rendezvous at Cadbury World that brings your Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fantasies to life. A self-guided exhibition tour spanning across different chocolatey zones, this place is a dream come true for cocoa lovers. From a peek into the world of chocolate making to a ‘visit’ to Bournville, a village in Birmingham that inspired the eponymous dark chocolate brand, this delectable experience makes for a fun family day out.      

For an adrenaline rush after all that chocolate, a trip to Villa Park, the Aston Villa Football Club stadium should be next. Based in Aston, Birmingham, the club competes in the Premier League, the top tier of the English football league system. Undertake a guided tour and delve into one of English football’s most historic venues as you walk across from the dressing room, tunnel to the interview rooms while soaking in unparalleled vistas of the stadium.

A short drive from Villa Park brings you to Ikon Gallery, a contemporary art museum that’s a must-see for those interested in Birmingham’s modern art scene. Housed in a magnificent Neo-Gothic school building, Ikon is also an educational charity that promotes contemporary art with a context of debate and participation. In March, Australian indigenous artist Judy Watson will showcase her new paintings, videos and installations exemplifying her interest in sacred sites in the light of her family history.

Tasteful Indulgences

From Michelin-starred outlets to modern British fare and authentic fine-dining Indian restaurants, Birmingham is a cauldron for varied cuisines and unmatched gastronomical experiences. For an upscale affair with modern British tasting menus in a chic dining room, visit the one Michelin-starred Adam’s Restaurant. Its three-course tasting menu features the likes of wild halibut, Norfolk quail, Aberdeen Angus beef and Valrohna 64 per cent Manjari (single-origin dark chocolate from Madagascar by a French brand).

Purnell’s Restaurant run by Michelin starred Chef Glynn Purnell is another discerning choice for British fine-dining. Glynn’s cooking style is mostly British, with influences from France and the far east. The likes of Brixham cod masala, roast venison, toffee apple and glazed ruby beetroot feature on the à la carte menu at this establishment. With a dark Dickensian décor and more than 80 types of gin, The Jekyll & Hyde is a curious delight for connoisseurs of a good tipple. You could also partake in a gin and cocktail masterclass that ends with their bar game ‘Cocktail Chemistry’; where you get to create your gin cocktail. There is no dearth of Indian restaurants in England and Birmingham is no different.

Chef Aktar Islam’s bold vision of Indian cuisine is exhibited at Opheem, a one Michelin-starred Indian restaurant that blends characteristic Indian flavours with global cooking techniques; some traditional and others very modern. Its eight-course pan-India tasting menu is mesmerising; listing the likes of halim Hyderabad (mutton porridge), allepy Kerala (poached cod), shalgam gosht Delhi (salt aged beef) and Manjari Madagascar mousse. For vegetarian Indian fare in an urbane setting, visit Varanasi. The restaurant’s menu is a continually evolving repertoire with classics and reworked old favourites. Koliwadi shrimp (indigenous Indian dish), murg (chicken) masala, lamb shank and spice cheese cake are some of its must-try dishes. The restaurant also has a Shahi (royal) Set Menu for those looking for some indulgence.

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