This post is part of a collaboration with Hotels.com. The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own.
Isn’t it funny how when you go and visit a new place, you explore every nook and cranny, spend your time gazing around in wonder at everything from the architecture to the skyline. Yet when somewhere’s on your doorstep and is considered ‘home’ you rarely do the same.
I’ve never lived in the heart of Birmingham but the city has been within a hop, skip and a jump of home my entire life. I worked in Birmingham for a while and then there’s all the afternoons out, shopping trips, spa days, stays at hotels in Birmingham and nights out that I don’t quite remember (I’d love to say these were years ago, but I’d be lying). And every time there’s new stuff to find, places I missed for years and years, sights I never knew were there.
So when I was asked if I wanted to take a day trip into Brum and find some of those places as part of a collaboration with Hotels.com, I naturally jumped at the chance, enlisting Mummy Ellen into the task to discover all things Birmingham.
Hopping off the train at Birmingham New Street, we walked up through the city centre to the library. I know this might not sound that groundbreaking but if you’ve walked past the impressive blue and gold structure you’ll know why. Not only is the exterior of the building majestic, but mum was keen to show me a few of its hidden delights that I’ve never been to before.
If you’re a bookworm like me, the sight of millions of books alone will bring a smile to your face. But even if you’re not, Birmingham library has more than that on offer.
Move past the books to the third floor and its outdoor terrace and herb garden, complete with great views. It was pretty impressive on a grey wintry day, so god knows what it’s like in summer.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Head up to the ninth floor for a step back in time in the Shakespeare Room and then downstairs to the seventh floor to the Secret Garden – another hidden delight.
Wrapping around the building, it covers the two sides that aren’t covered by the terrace a few floors down so between them you’ve got views of every aspect of Birmingham, from the Cube to Grand Central. Well worth a visit – and free too 😉
Catch a glimpse of Birmingham’s canals
Once you’ve been to the library, take advantage of being in that area to wander across the canal to Brindley Place – home of many bars and restaurants (including the fabulous Maribel) as well the Ikon Gallery which was closed when we visited but is apparently rather good too.
Walking back, go through the ICC (you may recognise it from the Tory party conference, though it plays host to many other less controversial events) and if you’re looking for an art fix, pop into Castle Fine Art to look at all the wonderful works that us mere mortals can’t afford.
Explore the Great Western Arcade
Once you’re back in the city centre, take a route through Victoria Square and the ‘Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ all the way across to St Philip’s Cathedral and its grounds and find the Great Western Arcade.
The Victorian arcade is the perfect backdrop for the independents that it’s home to (look out for Loki Wine, vegetarian restaurant 1847 and Miss Macaroon for a few foodie delights).
Brunch at Wayland’s Yard
Pop out of the Great Western Arcade and just round the corner is Wayland’s Yard – mine and mum’s brunch stop. I’ve heard tonnes about this place, which has a sister venue in Worcester, and given that some people seem to go there for most breakfasts or lunches (I’m looking at you Bite Your Brum), I was keen to see what it was like.
To cut to the chase, it’s everything they said it was and more. A funky, industrial interior, friendly staff, good coffee and a menu to tempt you into indulgence even if it is the morning. Add to that the fact that they have a ‘Pay it Forward’ scheme so you can buy a coffee and a bacon bap for someone who isn’t in the privileged position of being able to buy it themselves and you know you’re in a classy place.
Think of your everyday Weetabix breakfast as Sunday league football. Compared to that, these dishes are Premier League. Classic breakfast baps, brunch baps, all the ‘eggs’ from Royale to Florentine Pico de Gallo, plus standard eggs on toast. And then the eggy crumpets (which are still on my list to try), avo smash, and plant-based burgers.
Mum and I opted for the Pancetta Rosti and were glad we shared. Two salty rostis, each topped with a poached egg, along with a pile of crispy leeks, soft mushrooms and the piece de resistance – a turmeric reduction that added piquancy and zing. Perfect brunch fodder.
Visit the Jewellery Quarter
Refuelled and ready for the next part of the adventure, we hopped on the West Midlands Metro (a newish tram that will take you from Birmingham all the way to Wolverhampton if you so desire) and tootled off to the Jewellery Quarter.
Mum’s used the tram loads of times (back in the day many moons ago, and more recently) but it was my first time and I thoroughly enjoyed travelling through the city centre in a slightly different way.
Once a hub of industry, the Jewellery Quarter is still home to jeweller after jeweller. But there’s far more now. Great restaurants, independent bars and pubs. It’s where the cool kids hang out, and for good reason.
Cheese and wine at Arch 13
After a wander around the streets we mooched through St Paul’s Square and back towards the city centre, past the railway arches near Snow Hill station and a place Mum hadn’t been to before – Arch 13.
I’ve been to Arch 13 before. I loved it then and I loved it even more when I heard they had decided to add cheese toasties to the list of food they offer. It’s the sister-bar to Connolly’s wine shop – a longstanding Birmingham business – and now the pair meet in a location that seems so apt, given Arch 13’s ethos, “wines without ego”.
It’s a welcoming place, from the decor through to the staff and the menu, which is a simple selection of top quality cheese, meats and bread. The age-old combination that can serve as anything from a lunch to a mid-afternoon snack, or a supper with a post-work drink. Add to that some decent music (mum’s verdict as well as mine) the expertise of people who know exactly what to recommend to drink with it and you’ve got a winner.
Oh, and the fact they’ve started doing toasties too. No, not crappy sliced white with Asda mild cheddar in it. These toasties are in line with everything Arch 13 does. Bread from independent bakery Peel and Stone and fillings made from Arch 13’s range of meats and cheeses. The titles of the four different types allow for whatever cheeses they’re delighting you with that week to be included, so you may never have quite the same one.
We were invited to try one of each of the four, each paired with a suggested wine. Up first was the vegan option, filled with ‘Sheese’ – a vegan cheese made on the Isle of Bute along with grilled Mediterranean vegetables. I haven’t had vegan cheese before and have to admit, it was really rather good.
Not quite as good, in my mind, as the smoked mutton, Lincolnshire poacher and farmhouse pickle which we had served with a Turkish wine called Okuzgozu. But that too was trumped by the red pepper, Bosworth Ash goats’ cheese and chilli jam toastie paired with a slightly acidic Pouilly Fume.
The air-dried beef, blue cheese and caramelised onion version was a big hit of flavour – rich, heavy and hardcore, along with the full-bodied red it was paired with. Delightful, but I think the goat’s cheese won out for me.
The toastie and paired wine offer is priced £8.50 and is available from 12pm-5pm Monday to Friday. And of course, you can have a glass or bottle of wine or a cocktail along with a cheese, breads and meats at any time.
And there you have it – a whole day out in Birmingham with plenty of food and sights, and a fair few steps clocked up too. Needless to say, there’s far more to do, see and try but this might give you a little starting point if you’re looking for some ideas. Enjoy! I know we did!
As stated above, this post is part of a collaboration with Hotels.com. The spending money was gifted by Hotels.com, but all views are my own. Our toasties and tasters of wine at Arch 13 were also complimentary but this was entirely separate from the collaboration with Hotels.com