Reasons to visit Birmingham
Discover cultural masterpieces, green spaces and entertainment for all the family in Britain's second city. Local editor Sala tells us what she loves about living in a friendly and diverse area, and shares her top tips for visitors.
1. Thing about the area
Firstly, the people - Brummies are famously warm, friendly, and unpretentious. That and the charm of our elegant, successful and confident city can come as a surprise to new visitors.
The centre boasts the iconic Selfridges building, the new Library of Birmingham and plans have just been unveiled for rebuilding New Street Station, Grand Central, home to the biggest John Lewis outside London. Yet it also takes minutes to escape to beautiful surrounding countryside. And you can get a lot of character, garden and good proximity to excellent schools for your money on the property market.
2. Child-friendly cafe
At the edge of Sutton Park is the Blackroot Cafe, which has a good cake menu, children's meal deal, and baby food-warming service.
3. Child-free night out
Head for Southside and dine out in Chinatown - Chung Ying Garden is one of the best Cantonese restaurants in the Midlands - followed by a performance at the Hippodrome or the fabulous Electric Cinema where you can book a sofa and text your orders for drinks and snacks as you watch the film.
4. Outside Space
Britain's second city is blessed with plenty of beautiful parks and green spaces. Best of these is Winterbourne House, set within seven acres of gardens. Wander along the woodland walk, stroll through the hazelnut tunnel, cross the 1930s Japanese Bridge or simply soak up the tranquility of this perfectly English Edwardian home.
Nearby Birmingham Botanical Gardens is very child-friendly with a brilliant play area (the sensory garden's currently being renovated), talkative parrots, peacocks, waterfalls and live jazz on Sundays through summer.
5. Hidden Gem
There are lots of things to discover in the city. Look up the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University, where you can marvel at masterpieces by Renoir, Monet, Degas, Turner, and Rubens. Their children's art workshops are fantastic too, but quickly booked up.
6. Community Venues
Rowheath Pavilion has a thriving community cafe with a play area and a great children's playground. It hosts loads of different activities, from Stay and Play and Rhythm Time for toddlers, to ballroom dancing.
7. Free visitor attraction
Library of Birmingham dominates Centenary Square and has a great schedule of activities for families. It's worth making your way to the gardens on the 7th floor to try and spot landmarks, your home and the Lickey Hills in the distance.
Nearby Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Bmag) is a vibrant museum in the heart of the city with over 40 galleries displaying world-class collections of art and artefacts, including Egyptian mummies and the famous Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard.
8. Day out
Head for the thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum at Millennium Point for a brilliant day out. Toddlers can get stuck in with the interactive displays, older children can find out how steam engines and planes work. You can also view the stars at the Planetarium ad picnic in the new Science Garden outside.
At Christmas time, millions flock to the city centre, to enjoy the cinnamon-scented delights of the Frankfurt market and the pop-up ice skating rink, or to see a family production at the Rep.
9. Places to live
Young things tend to seek out apartments in the city centre, but families tend to start their property searches in Harborne (Waitrose, M&S and the Michelin-starred restaurant Turners are on the high street), Moseley, and Bournville "one of the nicest places to live in England" according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation). More affordable are Bearwood (vitality and lots of independent shops), and Kings Heath (good schools, nice community with some lovely cafes). And with its enormous park and great schools, Sutton Coldfield is regarded as one of the most prestigious places to live in Central England.
10. Places to shop
It has to be the Bullring, with the iconic Selfridges building, which has every high street shop under its roof. Selfridges itself is great fun, with the bright, enticing food hall on the ground floor and confident displays of fashion labels up the escalators.
It's a contrast, but do walk down to the markets. You can get fruit and veg for amazing bargains which will make you resent supermarket prices forever. Seek out live shellfish at Pierce's, wonderful game, and material for World Book Day costumes at the rag market.
At the opposite end of the scale is the swanky Mailbox, with Harvey Nicks, Armani, and a series of elegant wine bars and restaurants - and later this year, a new cinema too.
In 2015 the big draw will be the huge new Grand Central development, dominated by what's promised to be the biggest John Lewis store outside London.
About the editor
Sala Davies lives in South Birmingham, with her husband and three boys. She says: "I lived all over the world as a child, but feel very lucky to have put down roots in Birmingham. It's a great place to bring up children. Culturally, the city boasts world class theatre, ballet, art galleries and the amazing Symphony Hall, but we're spared the crazy house prices and crowds of the capital."
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