I blame my love for city breaks on my parents. While our summer holidays usually consisted of a week in Devon or Dorset, our weekends away almost always saw us exploring a new-to-us city in the UK.
We’d pile into the car on a Saturday morning – mum, dad, my younger sister, and me – and a few hours later we’d be wandering around The Shambles in York or climbing up the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. Playing tourists and making memories.
Nowdays I’m more likely to see the UK via train than by car, but my love of exploring the UK is still going strong. Earlier this year I went to visit friends in Edinburgh and in Manchester. And, more recently, I spent 24 hours in Birmingham.
24 hours in Birmingham
My trip to Birmingham was part of the LateRooms.com #LateLiving campaign, promoting last-minute getaways to UK cities, so I didn’t actually find out where I was going until I arrived at Leeds train station and opened a special envelope they’d sent me.
I spent the next couple of hours on the train researching things to do in Birmingham, with lots of help from my followers over on Twitter and Instagram, and arrived at Birmingham New Street station with a list as long as my arm and a craving for coffee. I mean, when haven’t I got a craving for coffee? Anyway, here’s what I got up to when I spent 24 hours in Birmingham!
Getting my flat white fix
Living in Leeds, where the independent cafe scene is thriving, it was nice to arrive in Birmingham and see some indies amongst the usual chains. After an early start, I was in dire need of a flat white fix straight away, but I ended up popping into a few cafes during my time in Birmingham for a caffeine top up.
If you’re arriving into Birmingham New Street, skip the big names in the train station, because opposite the station entrance, just inside Piccadilly Arcade, is the small but perfectly-formed Faculty Coffee.
200 Degrees Coffee
I popped into 200 Degrees on the morning I was due to leave Birmingham and I wasn’t disappointed. I’d decided to head out early to take some photos before the city centre got busy and spotted the cafe opposite Birmingham Cathedral. I got a coffee to go, but with a view of the cathedral and its gardens it would be a lovely place to people watch from too.
Cranked Cycle Coffee
Located around the corner from the Custard Factory, Cranked is part bike-repair shop part indie cafe. Obviously I was without a bike, but I still stopped for a flat white after exploring Digbeth and heading back to the city centre.
Things to do in Birmingham
Digbeth street art
Digbeth is considered Birmingham’s answer to Shoreditch, and you can kind of see why. The city’s creative quarter isn’t only home to the famous Custard Factory, where independent shops and creative digital businesses form a thriving community, there’s also lots of street art, vintage shops, independent cafes, nightclubs, and restaurants. If you love wandering around east London and seeing all the vibrant street art, you’ll love exploring Digbeth. Don’t forget your camera!
Birmingham Library might be one of the prettiest libraries I’ve ever been in. The view from the terrace isn’t much to write home about, but the inside of the building (a giant atrium with escalators at its centre and black bookcases decorated with fairy lights rising up each side) is beautiful. Fun fact: when the library was relaunched in 2013, the formal opening was conducted by Malala Yousafzai!
There’s something calming about walking around a quiet cathedral. Birmingham Cathedral is home to huge, beautifully-painted stained glass window and, while the inside of the church is lovely, it’s well-worth spending some time in the Cathedral gardens too. I visited at the beginning of autumn, and the grounds were covered in rust-coloured leaves. A very picturesque place to sit for a while.
Birmingham museum and art gallery
From Colmore Row, to the side of the cathedral, I headed to Birmingham museum and art gallery. I ended up walking around a fascinating exhibition about the history of Birmingham and how its Bangladeshi community influenced Britain’s ‘curry culture’ but there are also permanent exhibitions to look around too.
If you’re hoping to get all your Christmas shopping done in one weekend, Birmingham’s the city to be in. It’s got all the usual high street shops, a whole shopping centre dedicated to designers, and some lovely arcades to discover too:
- The Bullring – one of the UK’s largest shopping centres, with over 160 high street stores under one roof
- The Mailbox – the place in Birmingham for designer shopping
- New Street and Corporation Street – a mix of high street and independent shops
- Piccadilly Arcade – indie shops and cafes
- The Custard Factory – great for vintage shopping and thrifty finds
Brindleyplace is a mixed-use canal side development home to Birmingham sea life centre and a huge range of cafes, bars, and restaurants. Make sure to spend some time wandering along the canals and trying to decide which barge you like best.
Birmingham is home to a huge amount of public art and I managed to stumble upon a few of them on my trip. Definitely don’t miss the huge sphinx in Victoria Square and The River, known locally as The Floozie in the Jacuzzi.
Where to stay
I stayed at the Macdonald Burlington Hotel which is located right across from Birmingham New Street station. Because I only had 24 hours in Birmingham it was essential to be right in the thick of things and, location-wise, it was really convenient to be so near to the train station and have everything I wanted to see within walking distance.
Have you been to Birmingham? What did you think of the city?
This post was produced in partnership with LateRooms.com, but all opinions and photos are my own.