From lazy evenings in effortlessly chic wine bars, to the constant buzz of a cultural quarter that pulls no punches, there’s nowhere else quite like the UK’s second city
Where do we start with Birmingham? Despite being one of the UK’s largest cities, this place has a character all of its own, and is a cosmopolitan hub for creativity and independent shops, eateries and bars in the midlands. You’ll find hidden gems throughout the city, but it’s worth making for Digbeth as a starting point. This diverse, up-and-coming neighbourhood has been regenerated as the town’s cultural quarter, and is the perfect place to visit for a hit of inspiration.
At Digbeth’s heart sits The Custard Factory. A redbrick Victorian factory (guess what they used to make there?) that’s now a cutting-edge retail-meets-co-working space, filled with fashionable stores, eateries and watering holes. Ridding & Wynn is a highlight – a quirky curiosity shop with an offering that’s guaranteed to surprise you with the likes of its ‘apothecary’ or folk art sections. Or, for a bit of pampering, seek out Strand & Lock, a chic hair salon that specialises in curly hair. The mani-pedis are great, too.
Birmingham’s art scene is also on-the-up. Independent galleries of note include Ikon in the centre of town, which has been around since 1965 and won constant plaudits from critics for its brave programme of exhibitions and in-gallery events. There’s also Eastside Projects Gallery, a contemporary gallery (also in Digbeth) that focuses on bringing art to the masses; with a constant stream of public art projects, workshops and exhibitions to enjoy.
For a change of pace, the city’s leafy botanical gardens near Edgbaston to the south west of the city centre offer a quiet corner to reset and relax after a busy day of ‘culture vulture-ing’. You’ll also find Loki Wine in Edgbaston, one of the city’s most expansive wine-shops, with a 60-cover deli set in a beautiful period townhouse with tables outside for al fresco quaffing. Wind down of an evening with a full-bodied glass or two, and a delicious plate of charcuterie.
Birmingham’s design credentials are impressive to say the least. The city’s awash with quirky lifestyle stores, with thoughtful curations of artisanal pieces. Also in Edgbaston is Kin Home, a furniture and design store that specialises in Scandinavian furniture, lighting, homeware and design. It’s the perfect place to kit out your Way of Life residence.
In the centre of the city, don’t be misled by Liquor Store’s name. This independent boutique is actually a contemporary menswear store, offering the best of brands like YMC, Universal Works and Howlin’, with an ethos of “buy well, once.” It’s the spot for a wardrobe update, or to pick up stylish gift for friends or your other half. Failing that, head to Fly Vintage in the Rag Market, one of the city’s most extensive (and well stocked) vintage boutiques.
And, the next time you need a pair of glasses – for reading or otherwise – the most stylish optician in town is Doctor Oculus, which as a ‘dispensing optician’ specialises in fitting your prescriptions to vintage or modern sustainably-made frames.
To Eat and Drink
As well as Loki Wine’s Edgbaston outpost, there are two other Loki wine bars around the city, and other notable wine merchants like Connolly’s and Wine Freedom, too – so you’re never far away from a sophisticated drinks spot.
If you’re more of a beer drinker, fear not. Dig Brew is a lively craft brewery and taproom in an old Digbeth warehouse, open on Friday and Saturday nights. The pizzas are great too – just the thing to sustain you ahead of a night on the tiles. For a cosy evening in a good old fashion pub, The Old Crown, founded in 1368, no less, is everything a proper boozer should be – all Tudor timber frames and esoteric ales on draft. The food is great too. Take your time over a long, boozy Sunday roast, or nibble on small plates like baked camembert or garlic and chilli prawns on a week night.
Last, but by no means least is Medicine Bakery on New Street. Head up the grand flight of stairs at the bakery’s entrance, and you’ll step into an expansive light-filled hall that’s a great place to while away an afternoon hot-desking with your laptop and a coffee or two.
The pastries are great, of course, but so is the daytime menu that offers brunch, light lunches and sweet treats. The green masala eggs are exceptional, as is the salt beef Reubens. And – perhaps unsurprisingly, given Birmingham’s cultural credentials – the bakery doubles as a gallery space too.