With SewBrum coming up next week, I thought I’d share a personal guide to Birmingham city centre, taking in my favourite places to eat/shop/meander.
I’m deeply biased; not only have I lived in the suburbs of Birmingham for my whole life, I have also visited the city centre every week or so since I was a kid. I love to travel, but arriving back in Birmingham always feels like being home.
Birmingham’s weakness for many years was that it lacked independent businesses in the city centre, but in the last few years Birmingham has developed a really exciting community of independents. Currently, it feels like there are always new businesses opening, and events taking place.
If you visit Birmingham and stick to the shopping centres you’ll miss what makes it special. Below is my personal tour around the city.
The area around Hurst Street contains Birmingham’s Chinese and gay quarters, and a lot of good restaurants. I love to eat at MinMin (Hong Kong noodle cafe), Toppoki (Korean), Jacky’s Kitchen (Northern Chinese), and Cafe Soya (there are two branches but stick to the little one inside the Arcadian). There are three Chinese bakeries in this area, two inside the Arcadian (Wah Kee & Cafe Chino), and one inside the entrance to China Court restaurant; I highly recommend the walnut cookies and sponge at Wah Kee. I struggle to walk past without getting an ice tea at Happy Lemon.
The (National Trust owned) Back-to-Backs are located on Hurst Street (the last surviving court of back-to-back houses in Birmingham) – if you don’t fancy taking the tour you can always visit the sweet shop situated in one of the houses. The UK’s oldest working cinema, The Electric is nearby.
The shop where I have spent more money than any other (by a looong way), Nostalgia and Comics, is located close by. I have a comic standing order there – although my comics are often to be found in the debtors box, because I haven’t been in to collect them for a few weeks…
From Hurst Street, it’s approximately a five minute walk to Birmingham Indoor and Rag markets which are the best place to shop for cheaper fabrics, trims and haberdashery supplies. In the markets, fabric typically costs between £1-£8 per metre. On your way there you might spot Annatomix’s Bowie graffiti.
Directly opposite the market is Fancy Silk Store, which is spread over four floors. Barry’s Fabric Superstore, which is my personal favourite, is a 5-10 minute walk away (and just around the corner from Barry’s is EU Fabrics, but I haven’t had chance to visit yet to see what it’s like). House of Fraser and John Lewis also have haberdashery sections.
From the market it’s a short walk to Digbeth, which hosts the ever excellent Digbeth Dining Club on Friday nights. Seasonal Markets, which take place quarterly at The Bond, are also always worth attending. The Custard Factory is most fun when there is an event on (antique fair, etc.) as the shop occupants change quite regularly (so clearly struggle), but Clink bottle shop is worth visiting and Cow Vintage is located nearby. One of the most fun things in Digbeth is the frequently excellent graffiti (particular following the City of Colours festival).
Tilt bar serves a great range of indie beers and loose leaf teas, and has a large and regularly changing selection of pinball machines (I love the Adams Family & Medieval Madness). They have good cake too, and lovely signage by local sign painter Seven 9 Signs (I’m looking for an excuse to commission something from him).
Right by New Street Station, 4023 serves super cheap and delicious Mediterranean food and is next door to All Greek delicatessen, and a few steps down from York’s Bakery Cafe. Opposite, the Piccadilly Arcade contains a number of indie businesses and is rather lovely to look at.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is close by in Victorian Square and always worth a visit, including their Birmingham History Gallery and Edwardian Tea Room. While in Victorian Square, also check out Pure Bar for food and drinks.
From Victoria Square, you’ll pass the Library of Birmingham and Birmingham Rep (who are very affordable & put on some great productions) on your way to the canal. It’s worth seeing what is on at the (free to visit) Ikon Gallery, and popping into their shop and/or restaurant. The walk along the canal path between Brindley Place and the Mailbox is lovely on a sunny day, and Gas Street Social in the Mailbox does a popular all-day brunch. The Craven Arms must be one of Birmingham’s most attractive pubs (The Pig and Tail in the Jewellery Quarter is another) and has a good beer selection.
St Philip’s Cathedral (set in a park known locally as Pigeon Park) contains stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones, is one of the smallest cathedrals in the UK, and occasionally hosts movie screenings as part of Flatpack Festival. Neighbouring Great Western Arcade is beautiful and home to a number of indie businesses. The Coffin Works (factory museum who produced accessories for coffins) is nearby.
Probably the best burger in Birmingham is available from Original Patty Men’s restaurant located in an arch under Moor Street Station. Nearby you’ll find veggie restaurant The Warehouse Cafe and Polish restaurant The Karczma. Eastside City Park, the first park built in the city in 130 years is close by.
I was really excited by the extension of the tram line into the city centre as it’s now extremely easy to pop to the Jewellery Quarter (catch the tram from outside New Street Station, a ticket to the JQ is £1 one-way). The Jewellery Quarter is a lovely place to walk around as it’s peaceful and the architecture is really interesting. It also contains two well regarded museums, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter and the Pen Museum. More places to eat and drink are popping up in the Jewellery Quarter, the Pig and Tail and 1000 Trades are my favourites, and The Button Factory – as the name suggests – is located in a former button factory building.
If you’re interested in Birmingham’s textile-related history see my post here.