What stirs up your fancy? Is it Cadbury’s chocolate, HP Sauce, the Mini, or Dunlop tyres? Could it be lawn tennis or the English Premier League, or a prestigious school or university?
Catching a flight to Birmingham in the United Kingdom, will take you to the city that is known for giving the world all of the above. You’ll also be in the city that gave the world the modern steam engine — and that still has a lot more to offer.
Creativity and invention are in Birmingham’s DNA. At the height of the industrial revolution the English city was known as the “workshop of the world”, and it registered three times as many patents as any other city.
Today, as one of the youngest cities in Europe, Brum, as it’s affectionately known, continues to re-invent itself. It’s packed with cultural attractions, from historic sites such as the Grade I listed Jacobean mansion Aston Hall, to Villa Park — home of Aston Villa Football Club. Then there are the world-class acoustics of Symphony Hall and the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome Theatre.
It’s a city on the up, as you can see from its acres of green spaces and miles of rejuvenated canals leading to the stunning new Library of Birmingham and the modernist structure of the Selfridges building at the iconic Bullring shopping centre.
In fact, Brum is one of the top destinations for shopping in the UK, with an eclectic retail scene that ranges from the renowned Jewellery Quarter to its exclusive mall, The Mailbox.
You’ll want to save some of your pennies for Birmingham’s food and drink too, and the diverse dining scene that reflects the city’s cosmopolitan population. There’s everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to a vibrant street-food culture. Add a thriving network of independent coffee shops and it’s clear that Birmingham is a culinary force to be reckoned with.
Each of Brum’s eclectic neighbourhoods has something to offer. In post-industrial Digbeth you’ll find a vibrant creative community, trendy Moseley has more of an indie vibe, and King’s Heath is pure suburbia. And at the heart of Birmingham’s appeal are the good-humoured, down-to-earth “Brummies”.
The industrial past
Birmingham’s canals were the super-highways of the industrial revolution, so it’s worth taking the one-hour Country in the City canal tour through Gas Street Basin and beyond. Other industrial attractions include Thinktank Science Museum as well as Soho House (home of industrialist Matthew Boulton).
Step back into Victorian Birmingham, and see how everyday families lived and worked in this courtyard of historic houses. They’ve been painstakingly restored to evoke the atmosphere of a bygone age. Highlights include a tailor’s workshop and an old-fashioned sweet shop. Tours must be booked in advance.
The Jewellery Quarter
As well as boasting 200 listed buildings, Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter has Europe’s biggest concentration of jewellery businesses, making over 40 percent of all the jewellery in Britain. At the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, you’ll learn that items made here include the original FA Cup trophy and the silver whistles used on the Titanic.
Join Digbeth Dining Club
Birmingham’s street food scene has taken off in the past few years with the arrival of Digbeth Dining Club. Every Friday, hungry revellers congregate under the blackened railway arches of the city’s creative quarter to enjoy street food from a roster of food trucks, from The Meat Shack to Buddha Belly.
Take the Tolkien trail
Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit author JRR Tolkien was inspired by his childhood in Birmingham. Of his old haunts, idyllic Sarehole Mill is now a museum, and the Moseley Bog Nature Reserve is a true hidden gem. Nearer the city centre, Perrott’s Folly and the Edgbaston Waterworks tower inspired The Two Towers.
And if you area food aficionado, you’ll fine Birmingham to have more Michelin-starred restaurants than any English city outside London, but at the other end of the scale there’s the balti.
Simple, cheap and delicious, this curry dish served in a steel bowl was invented by Pakistani Brummies in the 1970s. Brum’s Balti Triangle, from Sparkbrook to Moseley, is where to try it. Ladypool Road is a good place to start — check out Al Frash Balti.
From Zimbabwe, the easiest way to get to Birmingham is with Emirates. Emirates, which has daily flights into and out of Harare, has had a daily flight to the city for over 16 years.
Visa information is available at British High Commission, 3 Norfolk Road, Mount Pleasant.
- Harare; www.gov.uk/government/world/organisations/british-embassy-harare; +263 4 85855200; [email protected] Emirates fares from Harare to Birmingham start from around US$1,521retujrn, including taxes, and can be booked online at www.emirates.com/zw or through the Emirates sales office in Wakefield Road, Avondale, Harare.