As part of the #brumbloggersmeet last week, there was a quiz which was all things beauty and all things Birmingham – I absolutely love Birmingham. Its one of the closest “big cities” to where I live in Stoke and I’ve visited there on many an occasion for food, shopping or gigs and have always come back full to the brim of good food and, well, skint from shopping. When I was asked to feature a piece on reasons why you should spend a weekend there this summer I figured I’d let someone else tell you, rather than my “food & shopping” reasons…
4 reasons to spend a weekend in Birmingham this summer
Birmingham, known affectionately as Brum to its inhabitants, has significantly raised its cultural profile since the city’s energetic if somewhat grim days as the industrial powerhouse of the North, and now it makes a great destination in the UK for weekend breaks. It has a famous symphony orchestra, conducted by the likes of Sir Simon Rattle, and the prestigious Birmingham Royal Ballet also has its home here – about as far from the old muck and brass as you could hope to get. Birmingham is now a premier cultural centre that attracts thousands of visitors from home and abroad throughout the year, who come to experience its energetic atmosphere, great museums and galleries and also to attend the major festivals that take place especially during the summer months.
City Museum and Art Gallery
This majestic building houses outstanding collections of artworks by the great masters, especially the Pre-Raphaelites Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a native of Birmingham, and Ford Madox Brown. It also has numerous temporary exhibitions that rotate annually, from Canaletto to artwork contributed by the
local Hell’s Angels. Because Birmingham’s formerly extensive canal system is now used mainly for pleasure boating, the museum has requisitioned a number of former warehouses and converted them into galleries and museums, making this one of the most interesting and vibrant art complexes in the country, with its industrial heritage very much to the gritty fore.
National Exhibition Centre
This vast complex is located 8 miles to the east of the actual city centre but is well worth a visit, especially if you’re taking the family along with you. It consists of a series of conference, leisure and exhibition spaces in a setting far from the congested central Bullring shopping centre. There are plenty of interactive displays here that adopt a hands-on attitude to learning about this great city and its long and eventful history.
Suburban Birmingham has a great many attractions including the extensive Botanical Gardens at Edgbaston and the hugely popular Cadbury World at Bournville. Here there’s a modern visitor centre that is completely dedicated to the art and science that goes into making superb chocolate. The Bournville village was constructed in 1890 by the brothers Cadbury, Quakers who built it for the workers in their factory, and it still represents not only an unusually enlightened attitude for that or any other time but also a fine early example of a garden suburb.
In summer there are several notable festivals taking place in and around the city, starting off with the Solihull Jazz and Blues Festival of 24-27 May. There’s great live jazz at venues across Birmingham, and plenty of entertainment for all ages. The Dragonboat Festival on 22 June is a hugely popular charity race organised by local businesses at Brindleyplace, on the Birmingham and Fazely Canal, in which competitive teams or rowers compete in heats in traditional Chinese dragon-headed and brightly coloured longboats. In July there’s another major musical event, the ‘Mostly Jazz, Funk & Soul Festival’ held on 5-7 July, which boasts big international line-ups as well as local talent.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.