48 hours in Birmingham - What to do on a weekend in Birmingham
I absolutely LOVE where I live, and it is my intention to convince you by the end of this post that the UK’s second city is 100% the place to spend your weekend. First and foremost, Birmingham is in a GREAT location. The drive time to and from Brum is no more than 3-4 hours from pretty much anywhere unless you happen to live in Inverness! The train journey from London can be made in 1 hour and 25 minutes and there are excellent links with all other major cities. I recommend that you consider coach travel too as our coach station in Digbeth is situated conveniently next to the final stop for your weekend.
Birmingham is famous for industry, jewellery, football and rock music and more lately food, shopping and of course the Peaky Blinders. I’m sure you’ve heard these well-known facts before but apparently it has more canals than Venice and more trees than Paris! It is home to over 1 million people and is visited by around 41 million people every year (well, y’know, when things were normal!) and so, with all this going on, where on earth do you start?
Friday afternoon in Birmingham
Check in at the Malmaison is 3pm, so get there around this time or earlier if you can, and begin your 48 hours in Birmingham and your relaxation immediately! I have chosen this hotel as I have stayed there myself and find it to be one of the most luxurious in the city. Located in the glamorous Mailbox complex, it’s central, it’s quirky, and each bedroom has mood lighting and is decorated with sumptuous velvet in sultry greys and creamy neutrals. The suites are an eclectic mix of colours, art and fabrics catering for two very distinctive tastes. Beds are big, the tech is current and the menus plentiful. The Mal Spa has a jacuzzi, steam room and treatment rooms. Book in for your preferred treatment several weeks in advance to ensure that you get the ideal time slot. After a hard week of work (or indeed childcare) then this will stand you in good stead for the upcoming activities. You will be heading out around 5pm so spend an hour or so in the spa and an hour getting ready. (Alternative hotel options are the Grand Hotel Birmingham or Top Meadow Stays Jewellery Quarter apartments. My itinerary can work well from all locations).
Friday evening in Birmingham
Tonight, you are heading to the theatre. The Alexandra is a fine example of a classic theatre. Built in 1901 by William Coutts, the Alex was then refurbished to its former glory in 2018 and is now one of the best places to find quality entertainment – both music and drama in Birmingham. It caters for all musical tastes and has recently staged the Bodyguard – with Alexandra Burke as the leading lady and also the Rolling Stones Story fronted by Paul Ashworth who is the world’s number one look-a-like for Mick Jagger! Performances usually start at 7.30p.m which gives you a relaxed window for a pre-theatre meal and cocktail. Walking out of your hotel takes you straight into one of Birmingham’s top nightspots with restaurants to suit every palate – you are truly spoilt for choice in the Mailbox. However, my recommendation is that you try Cherry Reds on John Bright Street which serves lighter snacks and hearty mains* such as the Beef Brisket in Birmingham brewing co stout gravy -a true Brummie favourite! (*seasonal). You can then enjoy a stroll over to the Victoria which offers locally brewed ales and craft beers along with an extensive cocktail menu – my personal favourite being the espresso martini.
As an alternative to the Alex, most will find an appealing show at the famous Birmingham Hippodrome or if you don’t fancy breaking a leg (sorry!), check out the Glee Club for giggles or the Symphony Hall for a classical concert or an evening with a celebrity. The Symphony Hall boasts acoustics designed to perfection – making it ‘one of the ‘finest concert halls in the world’ and is home to Birmingham’s highly acclaimed CBSO. Housed in the ICC, you will also find bars and restaurants where you can enjoy your early evening drinks and romantic meal – why not book a meal in your own private pod or capsule at Craft or (although not a pre-theatre option) an exclusive fine dining experience at ‘8’ restaurant?
After the curtain has fallen on your performance, the night will still be young! Walk back to the Mailbox to Hotel Indigo – stopping to admire lovers bridge and ‘The Lovely People’ sculpture before taking the hotel’s elevator to the 25th floor. (The story behind the sculpture created by Arron Bird will bring a tear to your eye as it symbolises inspiring people from around Birmingham, helping others and overcoming adversity). On floor 25, you will step out into Marco Pierre Whites sky level restaurant – with unrivalled and 360-degree views over the buzzing second city. Any visitor spending 48 hours in Birmingham should take at least a minute or two to savour this view with a drink in hand on the outside balcony. Take firstly your pick of the fizz from the Champagne Lounge, and then, when out in the fresh air, a deep breath and breathe in the city’s exciting evening atmosphere. Stay until your bed calls you down to the Mal – you have a busy day to get ready for tomorrow!
Saturday morning in Birmingham
If you are like me, you will want to get up and out early (by 9!) to make the most of the day. If you’re not like me, you can enjoy a few more hours hidden in the crispy white covers and join up with the itinerary later. Breakfast is soooo good at the Mal that you can easily start the day here. Served between 8-10 on a Saturday you can choose from lighter options such as eggs benedict or a full English breakfast. Being a National Trust geek, (this is pre-bookable) I would then head straight for the back-to-back houses on Inga Street in the Arcadian. These houses give a full account of what life was like in Victorian Birmingham. You can navigate your way to this museum along the route that you took last night – a point of interest on the way is the Electric Cinema, which having opened in 1909 was the oldest working cinema in the country and now, under new ownership is set to reopen again soon! Depending on the time slot you have booked at Back to Backs, you may want to meander around Chinatown, the location of the loud, proud and colourful Birmingham Pride festival – or have a mooch for nicnacs in the rag market.
A major tourist pull in the city is of course the Bullring, so if splashing the cash on threads is high on your agenda for your 48 hours in Birmingham, you could head straight for the shiny shopping haven first thing instead, taking time to admire Selfridges new coat and St Martins Church – a Grade II listed structure built primarily in the nineteenth century, but on which site a church has stood since 1290! (If you have punted for the morning museum option, I have built in a shopping opportunity later).
Option 3 is a more relaxing start so, if you prefer, after breakfast, walk out of your hotel and back through the Mailbox to the canal. On a fine day there can’t be a more stunning sight than the contrast of old and new Birmingham lit up by the sun’s rays. Walk along the canal and be sure to soak in all the information from the signs regarding the Gas Street Basin and stop for a selfie on Black Sabbath Bridge. You will walk towards Brindley Place and find yourself looking towards the Malt House and up at the National Indoor Arena. This circular building has had many incarnations and sponsors over the years and has welcomed several megastars to perform music of all genres and the world’s sporting elite – one of the most notable being the IAAF World Indoor Championships in 2003 and 2018 – not to mention that the TV show Gladiators was filmed there between 1992 – 1999. Here at Sherborne Wharf, standing outside the ICC, you will find the canal sightseeing boat the Waterbus Ariel moored up where you will alight for your mini floating tour. Where better to learn about the workshop of the world, than from the waterway that facilitated the shipment of materials and goods to support the city’s booming industries? The Waterbus usually runs at weekends half hourly and the bigger narrow boat is hoping to return too. The ‘Big Boat’ will take you on the ‘City Heritage Route’ which covers Oozells Street and Icknield Port loops of the original James Brindley Canal, a section of the Sir Thomas Telford’s Main Line’ and the area around the NIA and ICC before going through the Worcester Bar at Gas Street Basin and turning to disembark back at the ICC’. An alternative option that I highly recommend is a kayaking tour of the canal with Birmingham Roundhouse which you will find nearby.
If you find you have a little more time, then whilst Broad Street tends to come alive at night, it is worth walking the famous mile now to tick it off your list, stopping at Oozells Square and the Ikon Gallery.
Saturday lunchtime in Birmingham
From whichever place you have decided to spend your morning, the route to St Phillips is a simple and scenic one (although a slightly longer 15-minute walk from Brindley Place) – and you should aim to arrive around 12. A visit to Birmingham would not be complete without surveying the scene at Pigeon Park and the magnificent St Philips Cathedral. If you are walking from the Bullring or the Arcadian, head down New Street and take a short cut along Needless Alley or Temple Street to arrive at St Philips Place. Apparently, it is a myth that all cities must have a cathedral, with such a status being bestowed only by the Queen! However, St Phillips has stood watch over Colmore Row since 1715 and is ‘the Church that became a Cathedral in the town that became a city’. Colmore Row is the business district, and so it will be no surprise that it comes hand in hand with an abundance of classy lounges and lively bistros. It’s a superb choice for a light lunch stop – but to make a choice is virtually impossible especially with the recent arrival of Gino D’Campo’s herb crusted ham and avocado salad! Other fabulous options are the Ivy, Fumo, the Alchemist or the Botanist, so if you had more than 48 hours in Birmingham, I would personally recommend them all!
Saturday afternoon in Birmingham
Once your food has settled, stroll over to Victoria Square, where some fine photo opportunities await! Take in the Town Hall, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (currently closed until April 2022) and see the Floozie in the Jacuzzi. (If you have taken the canal boat tour you will have walked through this way to St Phillips Place). Marvel at the newly renovated and beautiful Chamberlain Square, taking time to admire the fountain and follow the walkway through to the iconic Birmingham library (opened in 2013) where you will meet up with your tour guide @positivelybirmingham at 1.30p.m. Jonathan’s tours are informative, lively and full of the most critical Birmingham facts. You will be joining up Tour 1 – Canals and Victorians to today’s city (Ensure you pre-book this also). The tour takes you through the early development of the city from industrial growth in Georgian times, to its success as a metal producer in the Victorian era right through to the city as it stands today.
Your option now is to meander back to the Mal and have a relaxed evening getting ready, or if you didn’t manage to shop till you dropped earlier on – now’s the time to grab your new evening attire! (You might take the opportunity to ride the tram to save your legs for this evening’s dancing! – although please also check this in advance as I haven’t had chance to test the tram routes yet).
Saturday evening in Birmingham
After a pre-drink in the Mal Bar, grab a taxi or take a wander over to Purnell’s Restaurant in Cornwall Street which in my opinion is one of the finest restaurant experiences in the city. Inside Purnell’s you are made to feel special – the vibe being luxurious but lively and the food fancy but not fussy! ‘Glynn Purnell’s bold and innovative cooking provides the ultimate gourmet adventures and has brought him critical acclaim and numerous awards including a Michelin Star which he has held for the last ten years.’ Your table will also need to be booked several weeks in advance to ensure you get your ideal time slot of 7.30pm. If you are here for an adventure, which I suspect that you are, you may also want to order the wine flight to enhance your culinary journey!
After you have sipped the final drop of your dessert wine or espresso, a roam in the crisp evening air may be welcome. Your destination is the Jam House in the Jewellery Quarter. The Jewellery Quarter is a tourist destination in itself, so you will have to come back again to enjoy all it has to offer but for now, you can survey St Pauls Square and Church a – significant tick for this part of town! The longevity which the establishment and the management at the Jam House have accomplished is testament to its perfect ambience, huge popularity, exceptional music (including my favourite inhouse band the wedding crashers) and generally all-round excellence for evening entertainment. As you are arriving later, there may be a small door charge, but drinks are reasonably priced, and the music will keep you dancing all night long. I expect you will be ready for bed by the time it closes at 1am but for the ‘go-harders’ then you will hopefully find your night-cap at the Actress and Bishop which closes at 2 or at Nuvo, which has been known to boot the last revellers out around 3.
Sunday morning in Birmingham
Now is the perfect chance to check out late-ish and take a taxi or a walk over to Juju’s cafe at Watermarque, Canal Square to sit by the water and reflect on your night. Jujus is where the best choice for brunch in the city can be found! Oh, and according to their website ‘Legend has it that Juju’s Porky hashes cure all hangover ailments when combined with a Bloody Mary. Give it a try!’
As I mentioned, the final stop for your 48 hours in Birmingham is in Digbeth. If you are a Peaky fan and / or have woken up fresh as a daisy – ideally you would like to get booked onto a Peaky tour which meets at the Old Crown Pub. The Old Crown is the oldest pub in Birmingham, is Grade II listed and dates back to 1368. The ‘Peaky Tour will take you on a dark journey of discovery. A journey about poverty, crime and gangs which still has a resonance in the 21st century’. At the time of writing the dates for the new tours are yet to be released so watch this space and I will update you as soon as I can.
If you haven’t managed to get booked onto the tour or preferred a lazy morning in bed, it is still worth taking the opportunity to meander around Digbeth to admire the extravagant street art and explore the quirky shops of the custard factory and perhaps pick up a souvenir before you leave. Word on the (Floodgate) street is that a new vintage market is now open for business! The Red Brick market has opened its doors and is bursting with vintage clothing and retro hidden gems. Window shopping is fine too however as after 48 hours in Birmingham, you will have PLENTY to take back with you already, and that’s the amazing memories!