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Birmingham guide: What to do outside Conservative Conference

Birmingham guide: What to do outside Conservative Conference

(Illustration | Tracy Worrall)

5 min read

Fresh from hosting the Commonwealth Games, Birmingham looks better than ever. Alongside cool bars and outstanding museums, the legacy of the city’s industrial heritage includes the Jewellery Quarter and the home of Cadbury chocolate. Tali Fraser gives us a tour.

ACTIVITIES 

Most of Birmingham’s top attractions are clustered within easy walking distance of each other – handy for sightseeing during breaks between Conference events.

While the well-known claim that the extent of Birmingham’s canals beats those of Venice may be overblown, a tour by narrow boat is still a fun way to admire the city’s sights. Hour-long heritage tours are run by Sherborne Wharf Narrowboats, starting at the International Convention Centre moorings and departing the quayside daily at 11.30am, 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm. 

What better way to satisfy a sweet tooth than a trip to Cadbury World? Make sure you go to the demonstration area to sample the goods before hitting up the world’s biggest Cadbury store, with exclusive chocolate creations.

The site of Bird’s former custard factory is now a hub for creatives and independent businesses. Just across the river from The Bullring, it is home to gorgeous galleries, boutiques, cafes, where you could mooch and shop for hours, as well as the Mockingbird cinema.

The Ikon Gallery is beautiful, inside and out. Housed in a Grade II listed, neo-Gothic school building, it is host to a number of contemporary art exhibitions this month, including the first solo exhibition by an indigenous Ainu artist in the United Kingdom and a new work by Birmingham-based artist Farwa Moledina on women promised paradise in Islamic tradition. Entry is free and there is a lovely cafe to treat yourself to all-day brunch.

A “national treasure” according to English Heritage, the Jewellery Quarter has the largest collection of jewellery businesses in Europe. With more than 200 listed buildings, it is also home to a number of museums like the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, the Pen Museum and Newman Brothers Coffin Works. If none of that floats your boat, there are a number of boutique shops, galleries and restaurants too.

NIGHTLIFE

There is no shortage of cool, eclectic bars and pubs in Birmingham.

Earning the title “City of 1,000 Trades” during the industrial revolution, the Birmingham bar of the same name is pretty cool. Stocked with organic wines and local beers, 1,000 Trades has good drinks, food and DJs.

Dead Wax Digbeth was renovated in 2019 and has been getting better ever since. Perfect for music fans with a 4,000-strong vinyl collection; order a craft beer and a stone-baked pizza to enjoy in the courtyard.

Found at The Grand Hotel, which has been host to figures from Winston Churchill to Malcolm X, Madeleine Bar has a relaxed, luxe atmosphere with velvet seating and low-hanging chandeliers.

Tilt is an unconventional bar sat in the City Arcade. Its three floors host no fewer than 19 pinball machines – they all require change so make sure to bring £1 and £2 coins. The bar has great drinks and also does good coffee. 

Tucked in the basement floor of the Burlington Arcade, opposite New Street Station, is Bacchus Bar. Easy to miss, it is worth making an effort to visit for the intrigue of its wacky decor. Only one thing, there is almost no phone signal: ideal if you want to dip off the radar, not so if your MP is trying to call you.

If you fancy a very fun night out, try The Village Inn. Lively every day of the week, it is one of Birmingham’s most popular cabaret bars in the gay village, and plays host to some of the best drag acts from around the country.

RESTAURANTS  

Birmingham caters for everyone. Home to the second greatest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, with five in total, as well as the famed Balti Triangle and now plenty of independent restaurants and street food from across the globe, it is truly a foodie’s heaven.

Birmingham is known for its Balti Triangle of fantastic curry houses to the south of the city centre. Shababs has been open since the 1980s, so has Royal Watan, while Shahi Nan Kebab House and Raja Monkey are also top recommendations. 

Bistrot Pierre & The Canal House is a very sweet hidden gem set on the city’s canal side. Spread over two floors with a bistro, bar and heated roof terrace, it serves up highly recommended French fare.

For a quick but delicious lunch, try 200 Degrees on Colmore Row, where you can grab a massive gourmet sandwich with fillings of roasted broccoli, sweet potato falafel, slow-roasted tomatoes and more. The coffee shop is under Birmingham’s famous Grand Hotel, facing the city’s cathedral. 

Not far from the convention centre is Ju Ju’s Café, sat next to the canal. The independent family restaurant specialises in good old-fashioned home-cooked food, with open salt beef sandwiches, hummus and smaller plates like chilli bean nachos. 

If you’ve had too much tepid white wine and are feeling the effects in the morning, take yourself to Medicine Bakery. On the first floor of the former Royal Society of Birmingham Artists, the bakery has delightful cakes, pastries and sandwiches, as well as great coffee to nurse you back to full energy. 

Right next to New Street station you will find Tiger Bites Pig, a delightful Chinese bao bar. It is a small space but has delicious food options and great beer to match.

SPORT

The Commonwealth Games might be over, but the sport continues.

Birmingham is home to Edgbaston, the base for Warwickshire County Cricket Club and venue for a number of England fixtures. It is one of the country’s best test grounds but unfortunately there are no fixtures or behind-the-scenes tours on during Conference, so it requires a trip back!

Villa Park has thrilled to the exploits of Aston Villa since 1897. You can get a tour of the 42,000-capacity stadium from £17, including a pitch-side walk .

Birmingham also boasts West Bromwich Albion, who have played at their current stadium The Hawthorns since 1900, and Birmingham City, who have called their St Andrews ground home since 1906. Sadly neither have fixtures during Conference.

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