England’s second city is first class for a weekend away, no wonder partygoers are flocking here. The sheer size of Birmingham often takes outsiders by surprise but this makes it perfect for a weekend of adventure and once you find your feet there are plenty of sparkling hidden gems to be discovered.
Your inside guide to the ultimate weekend in Brum
Birmingham has had new life breathed into it in recent years and is young, vibrant and exciting. As far as the average bloke is concerned there are several key elements to a top location and Birmingham ticks all the boxes: nightlife, activities, friendly bars & clubs, curry houses, central location and reasonable price. Plus it's the home of Led Zeppelin.
Birmingham at a glance:
- Tuck into a balti where the dish was invented or dine in style in the city which boasts the most Michelin-starred restaurants outside London
- Vibrant live music scene offers something for all tastes. Rock out in the home of heavy metal or dance the night away in the birthplace of British reggae
- Buzzing with underground bars, warehouse nightclubs, secret beer gardens and specialist beer houses
- Friendly and claims to offer the most lap dancing clubs per square mile in the whole of Europe, plus it boasts the youngest population of any European city
Broad Street - the stag and hen mecca of Birmingham
Broad Street ticks all the boxes for many people visiting the city simply for a weekend of debauchery. Akin to the nightlife strip you might find in a Spanish holiday resort, all the usual suspects and big hitting chain bars and clubs are here, as well as late night balti houses, takeaways and more than enough strip joints to accommodate the heaving masses of lads on tour.
Southside - Brum’s eclectic underbelly
Recently rebranded as ‘Southside’, this eclectic area of the city is where Chinatown and Birmingham’s long-established Gay Village merge, alongside theatres and entertainment complex The Arcadian. The Arcadian offers a tightly packed mixture of bars, restaurants and Chinese eateries, while the surrounding streets are also dotted with a combination of nightclubs, late night venues pitching for the footballers’ wives crowds and cheap and cheesy bars. All this is nestled next to the colourful collection of establishments that make up the Gay Village, with its glistening cabaret bars and trendy cafes, plus the city’s biggest and most established LGBT shops and clubs.
John Bright Street – craft ale alley
John Bright Street sat pretty much empty since redevelopment and high rise apartments brought an end to the days of gritty rock clubs and dive bars. But with a resurgence first started by the boho chic of refurbished boozer The Victoria, more bars bustling with independent spirit have since moved in, making this a go-to destination for those in the know. It’s within easy reach of music venue the O2 Academy, plus a good selection of other independent bars, so it’s fast emerging as a new starting point for many people’s nights out.
Jewellery Quarter - showing off Birmingham’s sparkling history
One of the most historic areas of the city centre, it boasts streets lined with jewellery shops and workshops dating back centuries. St Paul's Square is an attractive square built around a churchyard, surrounded with a varied mixture of venues from upmarket wineries to down-to-earth rock pubs, swanky restaurants and live jazz venues to hidden bars, galleries and underground nightclubs. New Summer Row just on the outskirts of the Jewellery Quarter also caters for both the beautiful people in nightclub Mechu (http://mechu.com/), and real ale aficionados in The Shakespeare.
Digbeth - the beating heart of creative Brum
This is where you’ll find vintage clothes shops, trendy office blocks for creative businesses, underground bars and uber-cool nightclubs, all dotted among the industrial warehouses and factories that are still very much in use.
The Custard Factory is at the heart and home to newly opened Alfie Bird’s (http://alfiebirds.co.uk/), which has brought back live music, hipster club nights and tasty pizzas, plus oompah bands and beer.
A bit further up Digbeth’s high street and The Rainbow (http://www.therainbowvenues.co.uk/) has become the hub for house music lovers, while elsewhere you’ll find reggae nights hidden behind graffiti-covered buildings and top class touring bands or hardcore clubbing at The Institute (http://mamacolive.com/theinstitute/).
Digbeth is also Birmingham’s Irish Quarter, with a large number of authentic Irish boozers, perfect for a pub crawl.
Moseley/Kings Heath - Birmingham’s creative hotspots and home to the finest beer gardens
Birmingham’s bohemian hotspots, the creative suburbs of Moseley and nearby Kings Heath, just a few miles south of the city centre, are where many of the city’s ‘arty’ types gather. Both areas really thrive at night, with live music and club venues, independent bars galore and some of the finest beer gardens you’ll find in the city.
Selly Oak - student central
As the most heavily populated student area in the UK, Selly Oak has its fair share of pubs. Student-friendly prices mean that this is an appealing place for many non-students to visit too, and perfect for a pub crawl along the main drag. This is a place that knows its target market – large groups looking for a cheap start to the evening before they head into town. But if that sounds like your perfect weekend activity, then it will be worth the 10 minute taxi ride out of the city centre.
If sporting action is on your agenda, then Villa Park is home to one of the world’s oldest football teams in Aston Villa, and the traditional stadium is also great for a photo opportunity alongside the statue of the man who invented the concept of league football.
Best bars in Birmingham:
The Wellington, Bennetts Hill
Serves so many hand-pulled real ales that they have to be listed on a screen and ordered by number. Pork scratchings and darts are the other staple ingredients of this impressive specialist pub, while they’ll even provide plates and cutlery if you want to bring your own grub.
Pure Bar & Kitchen, Waterloo Street
A classy establishment that puts the quality of its beers and continental lagers high on its list of priorities. Nearby brewery Purity take care of the drinks, while the team from Michelin-starred restaurant Simpsons are to thank for some of the tastiest bar snacks you’ll ever try.
Cherry Reds, John Bright Street
This independent corner bar is effortlessly cool with its vintage decor, tasty grub and craft beers. Outside seating makes it a hit in the summer, while it’s appropriately cosy for the winter.
Alfie Bird’s, The Custard Factory, Digbeth
Bringing back clubbing and live music back to a much-loved space within The Custard Factory, Alfie Bird’s also serves up some of the city’s best burgers and is a super-cool hangout day and night.
The Victoria, John Bright Street
Marrying its original 19th century features with quirky chic, this buzzing boozer helped revolutionise Brum’s bar scene when it reopened just a few years ago. Expect expertly prepared cocktails, a dizzying selection of ales and DJs spinning everything from ‘50s rock’n’roll to ‘ironic cheese’. Get in early if you want a seat on a Friday night.
The Sunflower Lounge, Smallbrook Queensway
The smallest bar with the loudest sound system, this has been a mainstay for the indie crowd for some time. A short stumble from New Street Station, it’s a worthwhile first stop once you arrive in the city but you may well end up never leaving. Football on the telly, bangin’ indie anthems on the stereo and frighteningly cool bands playing live downstairs, and if you can bag a sofa on the mezzanine floor then that’s a bonus.
Island Bar, Suffolk Street Queensway
This self-styled ‘rock n roll cocktail bar’ is one of the go-to joints for expertly prepared concoctions and if you’re lucky then the award-winning staff may even treat you to some Tom Cruise-style flaring as well. The upstairs Tiki Lounge offers rum-soaked tippled in beach-inspired surroundings and offers mixology master classes too. Guaranteed good tunes from DJs throughout the weekend.
The Lost & Found, Bennetts Hill
This cavernous and quirky bar is a former bank that has been turned into a botanical Victorian fairy tale, inspired by explorer and professor Hettie G Watson. Settle in amongst the birdcages and plant life to enjoy equally adventurous libations from inventive bar staff.
Bodega, Bennetts Hill
Just a short stumble from The Lost & Found, this Mexican cantina knows a thing or two about serving up drinks with a good helping of South American spirit. Fantastic food to suit any appetite, but it’s the £4 cocktails between 4pm and 7pm that may well have you venturing inside. Si, por favor.
The Jekyll & Hyde, Steelhouse Lane
Think you know your gin? Think again. This small but perfectly formed bar is hidden away among the office blocks of Brum’s financial district, but well worth seeking out for its mind-boggling collection of spirits. The upstairs specialist gin parlour is the perfect place to learn more about the true versatility of Mother’s Ruin.
The Vaults, Newhall Place, Jewellery Quarter
This chic underground hotspot is a must-visit if you want to add some sophisticated style to your hen weekend. Reserve a booth under the arches for the real VIP treatment and enjoy the fine selection of bubbles, spirits and cocktails while DJs spin top tunes in this real in-the-know venue.
Marco Pierre White Champagne Bar, Cube, Wharfside Street
You can’t visit Birmingham without enjoying the water. Landlocked Brum boasts a huge canal network and The Mailbox has really made the most of its location, with plenty of waterside bars and eateries to enjoy in this upmarket nightlife destination. For true decadence, head up to the top of the iconic Cube building for champagne at Marco Pierre White’s popular steakhouse, offering panoramic views of the city.
Brum’s best beer gardens:
The Lord Clifden, Hockley
The original hidden gem, this bar boasts street art on the walls, classic soul DJs and the best damn beer garden in Birmingham. This huge courtyard is carved out in between the surrounding buildings and has its own outdoor bar, BBQ, covered seating and those all-important heaters.
The Church Inn, Hockley
This hipster drinking den is perfect for making the most of those occasional sunny days with its own roof garden. Looking out across the surrounding warehouses and industrial architecture gives it a downtown Brooklyn vibe, while the sumptuous cocktails and droolingly tasty American south-influenced food will spice up your evening.
The Prince of Wales, Moseley
Heading out to the trendy ‘burbs, ‘The Prince’, as it’s known to the locals, is a ‘proper’ pub with a heaving garden that manages to squeeze in wooden shack seating areas, a dartboard, a weather-proof marquee and a tiki bar complete with sand. Time it right and you might even be treated to a hog roast or some live jazz.
Best clubs in Birmingham:
The Rainbow, Digbeth
Birmingham’s beacon of clubbing cool, this unassuming looking pub is tucked away on the corner of the high street in Digbeth but hides a multitude of clubbing spaces of all sizes including a covered courtyard, cellar, warehouse and an urban beach under a railway arch in the summer. If underground house music is your bag, this is a must-visit.
Hare & Hounds, Kings Heath
The ultimate eclectic music hangout, this traditional looking Victorian pub in the suburbs houses two venues upstairs hosting DJ sets from the likes of Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay and Mr Scruff, as well as live performances from up-and-coming and established bands. The pub downstairs also manages to retain a great balance of friendly local and on-trend cool.
Gatecrasher, Broad Street
One of the glitziest and brashest, this superclub is a magnet for revellers along the main Broad Street drag. A multi-room venue offering a variety of music to suit all tastes across different floors, you can also book private booths if you fancy some VIP treatment.
Snobs, Smallbrook Queensway
A bona fide Brummie institution, Snobs is the city’s longest-running nightclub but has recently made a £2m move from the home it occupied for more than 40 years to a bigger and less sticky venue in the heart of the city centre. Still pumping out indie anthems and welcoming crowds of loyal party animals, now with space for up to 1,400 of them.
Food: eat like a local:
A visit to Birmingham is not complete without sampling one of the famous baltis. In the city centre, Festival Balti (http://www.festivalbalti.co.uk/) on Broad Street and Manzils (http://www.manzils.co.uk/) at the top of Digbeth know how to cater for the late night crowds but don’t scrimp on quality, while award-winning Lasan (http://www.lasan.co.uk/) in the Jewellery Quarter is perfect for a special occasion with its fine dining twist on Indian cooking.
For that authentic balti experience, you have to head to the Balti Triangle, where the streets are lined with curry houses. Most are unlicenced so you can bring your own booze.
Adil (http://www.adilbalti.co.uk/) on Ladypool Road claims to be the first balti house in the country, nearby Grameen Khana (http://grameenkhana.com/) turns up the style stakes a notch with its indoor waterfall and vegetarian Jyoti’s( http://www.jyotis.co.uk/) on Stratford Road boasts a celebrity fan in Jamie Oliver.
The best view of the city:
Head to the stunning new Library of Birmingham and nip up to the third floor terrace gardens for a panoramic view across the entire city.
There are lots of buses but they can be confusing to outsiders so taxis are the way to go. There’s no shortage of black cabs around the city, while some clubs offer free taxis home within a certain radius. For novelty transport, try boarding a water taxi to take in some of the city centre sights.