Unfairly characterized by a gloomy Post-War reputation, Birmingham’s evolution from an industrial power into a gastronomic haven has been both a surprising and inspiring development. And there’s newfound confidence pouring from both the locals that grew up here and the visitors that end up making Birmingham home. The United Kingdom’s second city embraces its working-class past and with a large immigrant population, Birmingham offers a wealth of things to see and do, from ethnic restaurants to buzzy historic sites. And let’s not forget all the famous rock bands that have come out of Birmingham.
Boasting the most Michelin star restaurants in the U.K. outside of London, the city’s wildly creative food scene draws on the diversity and ambition of its people. But don’t just visit Birmingham to eat. Pierced by snaking canals, the city offers exceptional museums, lush green spaces, and a host of vibrant neighborhoods to explore, Birmingham is a first-class experience.
Birmingham’s restaurants run the gamut of cuisines. With five Michelin-star restaurants, Birmingham’s fine dining scene is one of Europe’s brightest, and its most recently awarded restaurant is arguably the most exceptional. Opened in 2018, Opheem is head chef Aktar Islam’s first solo venture, and his menu is a modern interpretation of Indian and Bangladeshi cuisine using the latest techniques to craft some wonderfully inventive dishes.
Just a 10-minute walk from Opheem, The Wilderness puts a dark spin on fine dining with its charcoal black interior and pounding rock music soundtrack. Not only is its 10-course tasting menu beautifully curated, chef and owner Alex Claridge has put together arguably the finest (and quirkiest) set of dessert options in the city.
But eating in Birmingham isn’t just about haute cuisine. A proudly diverse city, it’s taken influences from all over the world to build its gastronomic scene. The city center’s Southside district has a bustling Chinatown and is home to the city’s first Cantonese restaurant. Serving up perfectly-cooked dim sum since 1981, Chung Ying is now an iron-clad Birmingham institution.
The neighborhoods are where you’ll get a true taste of Birmingham, however. Developed by the city’s Pakistani community in the early 1970s, balti is Birmingham’s signature dish and this fiery one-pot curry has been a local favorite for years. Taste it at Shababs in the famous Balti Triangle district or at Royal Watan on the Pershore Road.
Leafy Moseley is arguably Birmingham’s most bohemian neighborhood and recently became host to the city’s first Peruvian restaurant, Chakana. Pair its deep flavors with a pisco sour and you’ll see why Chakana is beloved by locals and critics.
Over in the equally elegant neighborhood of Harborne, there’s a fine array of exciting new spots but Harborne Kitchen is the star of the show. Led by head chef Jamie Desogus, Harborne Kitchen is a relaxed unfussy spot with a rotating menu of richly seasoned modern British dishes.
Birmingham is a city that feels like it’s evolving at breakneck speed, and nowhere epitomizes its transformation more than Paradise Birmingham. Flanked by the grandiose 19th-century Town Hall and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Paradise is a gleaming whitewashed square headlined by lively Indian restaurant Dishoom and raucous Bavarian bar Albert’s Schloss.
While grand stores like the Bullring and Mailbox dominate the shopping scene, take a stroll through the city’s historic arcades for a more evocative experience. The Great Western Arcade is an ornate Victorian delight filled with independent boutiques and warm cafes (like the superb Morridge), while the Piccadilly Arcade was formerly an Edwardian cinema—hence the sloping floor.
See the city from above at the Library of Birmingham’s panoramic seventh floor, before crossing the neon fountains of Centenary Square for a closer look at Birmingham’s famous canals. Originally forming part of the city’s industrial might, they’re now a place for leisurely strolling, and nowhere is better than Gas Street Basin. Pockmarked by colorful narrowboats and busy canalside bars like the Canal House, it’s a perfect spot for an afternoon drink in the sun.
Birmingham boasts more green space than any other equivalent-sized European city and the lush Cannon Hill Park is perhaps the most compelling. As well as its scenic setting, the park is also home to an arts center, a wildlife conservation park, tennis courts, and a boating lake.
When night falls, see a different side to Birmingham in the regenerated Digbeth neighborhood. With its jaunty street art and atmospheric setting underneath soaring stone railway arches, Digbeth’s Custard Factory is a hive of bright bars and modern restaurants. Get lost amid the rare Belgian beers of Roberto’s, the wood-fired pizza of Baked in Brick, and the myriad organic wines of Wine Freedom.
While London and Manchester have more famous bands per capita, Birmingham is no stranger to musical powerhouses. This is the birthplace of Black Sabbath, The Moody Blues, ELO, and Duran Duran after all. All four bands are in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, with Duran Duran being the newest inductees in 2022. Take an aural tour of the city from the Crown Pub (where Black Sabbath got their start) to Aston University (where Duran Duran played in their early incarnation) and everywhere in between.
The Grand Hotel
Perhaps epitomized by the absurdly ornate Louis XIV-style Grand Ballroom, this art deco institution is Birmingham’s plushest stay and its central location on Colmore Row is ideal for exploring. Dating back to 1879 and once host to the likes of Charlie Chaplin, The Grand Hotel closed in 2002 after falling into disrepair but has now reopened following a multi-million dollar makeover in 2021. Rooms here are effortlessly cool and the hotel’s Parisian-inspired bar Madeleine serves beautifully crafted cocktails and small bites.
Located in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter, Bloc’s smart Japanese pod-style rooms are perfect for a budget stay and feature golden design touches that are a nod to the area’s famous tradition. Not only are the rooms stylish, you’ll also get a good night’s sleep as Bloc’s rooms use a sophisticated climate control system to ensure your room is at the optimum temperature and humidity. The buzz of central Birmingham is just a 10-minute walk, though the allure of the Jewellery Quarter’s bars and restaurants could be reason enough to stay.