Bite into Birmingham
Not just the second largest city in UK, Birmingham offers much more in character, charm, and chocolate!
A former industrial city, Birmingham has given itself a facelift through the installation of a brand new modern train station, trolly system, and modern areas including the Bullring and aroud the canals (Brindley Place, the Cube, etc). One of the major businesses in Birmingham is, of course, Cadbury. Located on the outskirts of Birmingham and a short train (or canal) stop away from center city, the Cadbury factory is a treat for all ages and was part of the basis of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
WHEN TO GO:
After living a year in Birmingham, I can say there really isn't a terrible time to go to visit.
Spring-Summer: As with Northern Hemisphere countries, it does benefit to visit from late spring to the summer as the days are longer and there are more outdoor events such as the Digbeth dining club on fridays, or food festivals.
November-December: Birmingham has many wonderful events but perhaps the most well known is their large Christmas Market held every year from the end of November to December 24th. Full of spirit(s), cute gifts, an ice rink and good times with friends, the Christmas market is a great time to enjoy Birmingham.
Birmingham is a quick hour train ride from Euston Station. Located in the middle of England, Birmingham can be a great base for all adventures whether they be north toward Liverpool and York, or south towards Oxford and Straford-Upon-Avon.
If you are like me, before you arrived in the UK you only believed that they made those DELICIOUS and addictive, cream eggs for Easter. This however is only a taste (pun intended) of the many variations of delights they produce at their Bournemouth location. Before you go, book your ticket at a selected time. The tickets sell out the day of and should be bought before you go, to ensure they will let you in. Tickets can be bought here:
Getting to the Chocolate Factory: When arriving at Cadbury you may choose to take the bus like us, which I wouldn't recommend because they don't announce or show the stops, or you may choose to take the most simple route which was local train. The station is literally right down the road from the building.
....However, your journey is not over, nay, you must walk AROUND the building following the small signs to the entrance. On this journey around the building, you'll go around the factory entrance, pass a field, go through a fence, past some more field, chain fence, etc. If you can help it, don't keep trying to get into the employee entrances like we did, because apparently that is frowned upon.
Charlie and the Cadbury Factory- Once you are finally at the actual visiting part of the factory, congratulations you are here!! Stick to your ticket times and enjoy the history of Cadbury, how chocolate is made in general, and other whimsical things including rides, interactive movies, and most importantly, free chocolate. It's a great day out and should take you around 4-6 hours (we took our time).
MUSEUMS & LIBRARIES:
Birmingham is a hub of history, so it's no suprise how lovely the museums are. Two of my favorite musuems are the Ikon Gallery (located behind Brindley Place) and Birmingham Museum of Art (located in Victoria Square).
Ikon Gallery- A beautiful museum to behold, Ikon Gallery is a narrow building situated over a few floors of inspiring contemporary art. A nice way to spend an hour, the Ikon gallery has a rotating group of exhibits that is sure to entertain. If you are feeling peckish (the British word for slightly hungry), there is a cafe situated on the right side of the building.
Birmingham Museum of Art- WHAT A TREAT this museum is, featuring artifacts from WWI and WWII, religious artifacts from around the world, Egyptian artifacts, and beautiful paintings, this museum is a great place to spend an afternoon. Located in Victoria Square (the center of town) it is easily accessible, and free, so there is no excuse to not stop by. Also, make sure to check out the Edwardian Tea rooms, they are gorgeous and serve a lovely pot of tea. So in the middle of your museum tour take a half hour, have some tea while sitting on the couches, and check out the beautiful scenery.
Birmingham Library- You will find this huge establishment easily as it looks like a gilded smokestack from the Titanic. This beautiful library featuring esclators and moving walkways is the LARGEST IN ALL OF EUROPE. At the top of this library, is a quaint Shakespearen Library/ museum hosting his many works, scripts from his plays, cartoons, etc. Another great aspect of this library, are the rooftop gardens. Offering a lovely respite to city life, these gardens offer a quiet place to study, gather with friends, or just a nice place to walk around.
The canals are the center of nightlife and dining in Birmingham and you'll be sure to enjoy yourself. There are a myriad of food and drink options for any tastes, not just potpies and potatoes. Two main centers of food and drink in Birmingham include the Cube and Brindley Place. The Cube is just down the canal from Brindley Place so if you can't find what you're looking for at one, you can just walk down to the other. Whether you are people watching, dining, or taking advantage of the great drink specials, the Cube and Brindley Place are great places to meet people.
I will say this outright, many of the popular restaurants in Birmingham are chains or owned by groups, especially with pubs, so although they are good, they are not unique in the UK. There are a few that are unique, and from the ones that aren't super expensive these are my picks:
Al Frash- This is a no frills restaurant that benefits from the reviews of many a food critic. The food is fresh and fantastic, and I am not a big Indian food person. Again, difficult to get to, would recommend a cab as the bus system is difficult to figure out.
Rico Libre- This is my favorite place in Birmingham, I booked it on my last night in town and I never had a bad meal here. Not expensive and tapas based, most of the menu is located on a chalkboard in the middle of the restaurant. The restaurant is BYOB and books up fast, e-mail to reserve your spot and enjoy! **note that this restaurant isn't in the safest part of Birmingham, so cab it there. Also, it is only open Wed-Sunday so plan in advance.
Topokki- The best Korean I have had in the UK, Topokki is a laid back restaurant with high ceilings and friendly staff. The menu is filled with Korean classics and some of the tables even have the option for fresh barbeque. No need for reservations, but if you pay in cash you get 10% off. Also there is no website, but the address is here: Hurst Street, Unit 1C, Birmingham B5 4TD, England
Of all the Gin Joints in this World...
The UK is notorious for their gin, and I can certainly attest to the qualities and varieties of it. While living in Birmingham, my favorite gin parlor was called Jekyll and Hyde. Down the road from Aston University this gem had a myriad of gins, tonics, and cocktails that were always fun to try. If you make reservations for dinner, you get to go upstairs to their secret parlor made up to look like a speakeasy. Definitely a fun place for a girls night.
Let All Your Pain be Champagne!
Although Birmingham doesn't produce Champagne, they certainly have great establishments that serve it with a spectacular view! If you are feeling celebratory or want to see the Skyline of Birmingham, I recommend going during sunset to Marco Pierre White Steakhouse Bar & Grill (located on the top floor of the Indigo Hotel in the Cube). You don't need reservations just to to the bar; they have wrap around balconies that you can drink on and watch the sunset. A perfect way to end your day.
BE A BRUMMIE:
Birmingham is the second largest city in England so the best ways to get around aren't always walking, however they have a stellar transit system and cabs around so there's always a quick way to get from A to B.
One great place to walk around includes the Jewelry Quarter where you can follow along the Charm Bracelet trail while checking out local jewelers and artisans. Another is the Chinese quarter where you're sure to find unique Asian meals and treats, also keep your eyes open to the events they host in the area! Finally, it is always enjoyable walking around the Bullring and the markets where you are sure to find anything you need.
OVERALL, I really enjoyed the unique atmosphere of Birmingham, between the food, culture, a calendar bursting with events, and it's lovely sites, there was always something to do. Also it's a central location to everything the UK has to offer; there's also a major airport and train station. A great place to set off on any exploration!
Culture: Canals, Cadbury, Jewelry Quarter, Birmingham Library
Dining & Shopping: Brindley Place, The Cube, Balti Triangle, The Bullring
Museums: Cadbury Factory Tour, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Ikon Gallery