We knew Birmingham was on the cusp of big change when we finally arrived at its new train station. Yes, when Grand Central opened in 2015 and transformed an embarrassing old New Street station into somewhere visitors wouldn't mind spending more than ten minutes in, we knew things were getting better for the UK’s second city. I also wanted to take the family to the Balti capital of the UK… but more of that later.
Despite fears over the Brexit fallout last year, businesses in Birmingham seem to be enjoying more successes than those in any other part of the country. There is undoubtedly a new and exciting buzz about the city, and we wanted to experience it first-hand, so we booked our cheap Birmingham hotel room and began exploring.
1. First look inside Grand Central Birmingham
Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham said: "the unprecedented rise of new enterprises here is demonstrating how the region can outclass London as a central hub of innovation, and productive and long-term future prospects."
But as well as this new positive national recognition, the city has been gaining serious international recognition too.
Millions of pounds of investment have been committed to impressive regeneration projects all around the city.
From the demolition of the old Paradise Place to make way for a true taste of paradise to the spectacular plans for the beloved but neglected Bullring markets, the landscape of Birmingham is changing.
During our visit, we raised a toast to all the wonderful projects happening in the city that will ensure that Birmingham is the most amazing city in the world.
2. Eastside Locks, Digbeth Canal
This £450 million canal-side regeneration scheme is billed as the most “exciting and important city centre regeneration scheme in Europe”. It will transform a 13-acre site into apartments, as well as shops, bars and restaurants, as well as the re-opening of the old Typhoo building.
Luke Schuberth, director at international architect group Aukett Swanke, who has worked on the project, told us that the plan was inspired by the public spaces in Barcelona and, in particular, the gardens in the city called Jardins del Palau Robert, serving as a blueprint on how to transform a central urban environment into a tranquil oasis.
He also told us there will also be an area called ‘Pound Square’ on Digbeth canal, a lively bustling area with bars, restaurants and cafés. Pound Square is located near Penn Street. "That triangular body of water to the side of the canal is called a pound - hence its name."
Both the Eastside Locks and Paradise projects will help the city centre feel much bigger and more modern.
3. Birmingham Smithfield
Did you know the area around Bullring markets was first known as Smithfield markets back in 1935? The Smithfield project will be reclaiming its place in the heart of the city and has been described as bringing ‘food, culture and community together.’
The focal point will be Festival Square which aims to rival the best Europe has to offer. It will look out to a museum, culture centres, markets, a hotel, leisure opportunities such as an ice rink and other family attractions. It will also be able to house major concerts.
According to Richard Cowell, head of city centre development and planning at City Council, the plan’s aim is to “become an example to international cities."
In addition, the leader of Birmingham City Council John Clancy told us: "I’m confident that Smithfield will create a place for people that stand the test of time, making this an even more attractive place to live, invest and visit.”
"Our plans for Birmingham Smithfield will create a vibrant new destination – adding to the city’s reputation as a top visitor destination".
According to a report by Birmingham City Council, demolition work on the majority of the "utilitarian" buildings on the Smithfield site is expected to start in March 2017.
4. A late night foodie village
Legendary street food event Digbeth Dining Club recently hosted the 2016 British Street Food Awards; Brum’s cool foodie credentials are going to expand even more thanks to Smithfield! The old Bullring Market will be transformed into a 24-hour foodie hangout. It will be like a spacious Digbeth Dining Club every day.
The market will turn into a food hub in the evening, similar to Brixton Village in London which transformed the old markets into a trendy area of bars and eateries.
It also sounds very similar to the world-famous Mercado da Ribeira market in Lisbon, which has a wide range of foodie options from fine dining to burgers, all under one roof.
5. Birmingham’s own Central Park
Birmingham is a surprisingly leafy city with 571 parks, covering almost 9,000 acres - more than any other European city.
Sadly, the centre of the city isn’t as green but this is going to change. After thousands of people signed an online poll calling for “a green oasis in the heart of the city” - Birmingham’s own New York style ‘Central Park’ - the council listened.
City Council’s Waheed Nazir revealed in March that the campaign has influenced the powers that be to put a new city centre park in Birmingham Smithfield.
6. Welcome to Brummiewood
Birmingham is already a pretty hot film location. This year alone four blockbuster movies have been filmed here: ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ with Channing Tatum, ‘The Girl with The Gifts,’ starring Glenn Close and Bond Girl Gemma Arterton, ‘Ready Player One,’ directed by the world’s most famous director Steven Spielberg, and ‘The Long Walk,’ an action thriller starring Batman actor Michael Keaton.
And things are set to get even more impressive.
Peaky Blinders writer and director Steven Knight has told us there are plans for a studio complex at the NEC. The Brummie, whose latest movie ‘Allied’ starred Brad Pitt, told us that four film studios and a new TV studio could be open in Birmingham within three years’ time.
He said, “I would hope the studios could be built in two-and-a-half years and that I’m being conservative. The industry needs a big film studio outside London. It would be the first purpose-built studio in a very long time.”
The writer and director revealed some executives from Paramount had recently visited the potential site earmarked for the development.
“We walked with their wheeled suitcases from the airport to where the studios would be and it took eight minutes. So that’s how close Birmingham would be to filmmakers from LA.”
“You can’t get from Gatwick or Heathrow to studios in London in eight minutes. You just can’t!”
As well as film studios, movie buffs can also look forward to a massive outdoor cinema in the city centre by 2026. An area next to Millennium Point will house a new digital screen to showcase art and film in what will be called ‘The Forum.’
Currently underused land adjacent to Millennium Point and Birmingham City University will be transformed into an open-air forum and auditorium with a giant digital screen for art and film. This project is part of “the renaissance of Birmingham’s Eastside.”
Millennium Point is also sprucing itself up in preparation for the nearby HS2 project, set to be finished in 2026. It is the largest landmark millennium project outside of London.
Chief executive Judith Armstrong said: "There is an exciting future at Millennium Point as we have a very clear strategy for the next ten years in the build-up to the arrival of HS2 focused on three key areas - enhancing, engaging and growing."
7. This will officially be known as Paradise City
Described as "the most significant development Birmingham has seen for a generation" and a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost the city’s standing internationally,” £500 million has been invested to turn the former Paradise Place and surrounding area into an infinitely more modern and attractive place to be...
The new walkway will ensure Brummies can appreciate the historic buildings and "socialise in one of the best retail offerings in the city," according to Argent, who is managing the Paradise development.
There will be three brand new squares and an upgrading of Chamberlain Square, delivering a vibrant mix of offices, shops, cafes and leisure facilities.
Centenary Way will connect Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square while Congreve Street will widen the existing Congreve Passage and provide a new thoroughfare to Summer Row and the Jewellery Quarter. These changes will ensure our city centre feels a lot bigger than it does right now.
Architect Dav Bansal added: "This is an extremely important project to the city and its perception on a national and international stage.”
The Paradise Project is due for completion in 2026.
8. There will be LOADS more bars and restaurants
Right now the Birmingham restaurant scene is not too shabby. Over the last ten years, they’ve gained five Michelin-starred restaurants, including Adam’s which was named by TripAdvisor in 2015 as the fourth-best restaurant in the world. The city is famously known as the Balti capital of the UK.
They have had over 36 eateries open in 2016 with more planned for 2017 and 2018, including an establishment from Michelin-Starred chef Tom Aikens.
In March 2017, Birmingham welcomed an intriguing new basement eatery space - a "mid-priced fine dining" restaurant with a glass pavilion-style door with a lift and stairway which will “create a theatrical showpiece,” as diners are taken down to their table underground.
It is not yet known which restaurant will move into the building but the glass structure is strikingly similar to Australasia bar in Manchester, which has become a haunt for celebs.
This place is part of the new vision for Snow Hill Square and is sure to draw more overseas visitors to the city.
The bar scene is also slowly but surely catching up with the restaurant's thanks to a spate of recent bar openings including Ana Rocha in the Jewellery Quarter - a tapas bar, restaurant, art gallery and museum all in one!
9. Birmingham will have a proper international airport
By 2026, Birmingham will be better connected than ever to other parts of the country, thanks to the HS2 high-speed network, which means London will only be 49 minutes away.
And by 2026, we'll be better connected to the rest of the world too as Birmingham Airport will have massively increased the number of international cities it can fly direct to, including places like LA. The airport has already seen massive growth in the number of flights taking off and landing in Brum.
... and one for luck.
10. Brum is off the starting blocks to host The Commonwealth Games in 2026
Remember the buzz that Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt created when he bigged up Brum after training here in the lead up to Olympics 2012? The buzz is set to increase globally after we host a major international sport event.
In September, Birmingham joined the bid to host the 2026 British Commonwealth Games and bring athletes and competitors from 71 countries to the city
Birmingham is at a huge advantage to host in 2026 with Alexander Stadium already hosting Diamond League athletics and the NEC: both are capable venues for a host of sporting pursuits. The Barclaycard Arena is hosting the IAAF World Indoor Championships 2018.
Birmingham has the influential backing of UK Athletics chief, Niels de Vos - who is currently organising the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London.
He said: “Birmingham has the perfect blend of existing facilities, fantastic location, supportive local authority and a sports-mad local population - all the key ingredients essential to hosting a successful multi-sport Games.”
"But perhaps what marks out the Birmingham bid is the unparalleled track record the city has in staging major sporting events, making it 'Games Ready' in a way that I doubt any other bidder could claim to be.”
The boss of the USA athletics team Duffy Mahoney has also given his backing and believes we have an excellent chance of winning the bid
Hosting this global sporting event will shine a light on Birmingham, which means more visitors and more international events to establish Birmingham as a serious city on the world stage.
Why not book a cheap hotel in Birmingham and come and explore the city yourself? You won’t regret it.
June 2017 | Insider’s Guide
Over the summer months, London becomes even more exciting than usual – longer, warmer days see thousands and thousands of interesting events and festivals taking place across the city, and south London’s Croydon is no exception.
Manchester has a rep within the UK for being an incredibly cool, and dare I say it, ‘hip’ city. With a buzzing night life, a huge number of amazing restaurants and bars, and a thriving arts scene, Manchester is the ideal place to spend a weekend away.
May 2017 | City in the spotlight
While Glasgow’s festivals often get overshadowed by the hype around the massive and iconic Edinburgh Fringe Festival, there are absolutely loads of incredible festivals held throughout the city across the summer months. From the huge community Went End Festival covering theatre, dance, art and everything in between, to the techno extravaganza that is Riverside Festival, there is an event guaranteed to tempt all away from the beaten Edinburgh track…