They call Birmingham “The Second City” because it’s rated as the second most important city in the UK after London. But it’s first in many ways.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, with 40% of the population under 25. It has the largest public library in Europe (more on that soon). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has the world’s largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings. BIRMINGHAM HIPPODROME is the UK’s most visited theatre. And the city is the birthplace of the Balti with over 100 Balti houses for curry fans to discover.
What’s even better is that, as a student, so much of what’s great and good about this city is within easy reach. Living at CANVAS THE OLD FIRE STATION or CANVAS THE HEIGHTS means having Birmingham City University, Aston University and University College Birmingham within walking distance. And the city centre on your doorstep.
So let’s take a walk around and introduce you to some of the places that top our list of favourite spots to explore and hang out.
Nothing screams modern, forward-thinking city like an old industrial heartland transformed into a vibrant creative neighbourhood. DIGBETH is Birmingham’s primary happening destination and a 15-20 minute walk from Canvas puts you in the thick of it.
The coolest independent markets, cocktail bars, coffee shops, food spots, antiques shops and street art are all to be found in and around the streets of Digbeth.
The area is best experienced on a sunny weekend saunter when you have time to discover some of the hidden delights at your leisure. But as this guide is all about recommendations, here are some spots to start your journey:
THE CUSTARD FACTORY: The former home of Bird’s Custard is now a sprawling building of bars, restaurants, shops, flea markets and a cinema to explore.
THE OLD CROWN: The very definition of an old English pub.
RED BRICK MARKET: Floodgate Street’s alternative to big-name retail stores is filled with small creative businesses selling everything from food to art to clothing.
THE BIRMINGHAM BIG BAKE: Fancy yourself as a better baker than your mates? Here’s your chance to prove it.
THE NIGHT OWL: Food, drink and funk is a hard combination to beat. Birmingham’s top retro and soul club does all three better than anyone.
MAILBOX BIRMINGHAM is a few minutes' walk west of Digbeth, but a world away in terms of vibes. Where Digbeth has its DIY hipster cool aesthetic down to a tee, Mailbox is unashamedly premium.
Some see this marketplace as a classier alternative to the Bullring and the likes of Harvey Nichols and Emporio Armani certainly help its cause. But what’s best about it is the place itself.
Mailbox is a great breathing space. We love it as a spot to grab a coffee (we recommend BLACK SHEEP COFFEE) and enjoy a bit of people watching by the canal.
That said, if you’re in the mood for good food or cocktails, there are few better places than Mailbox to make a day of it.
SACKS OF POTATOES
Every student city needs a good pub. Somewhere that’s a good meeting spot and space to hang out during the week. A location with a fine beer garden to enjoy on a sunny summer afternoon.
SACKS OF POTATOES is that pub. If the name alone doesn’t qualify it, the establishment does.
This traditional pub, with its leaded windows and wooden floors, oozes charm. It also has a food and drinks menu to suit every taste, weekly pub quizzes, and fortnightly karaoke. Classic uni pub stuff.
But the best thing of all? It’s located on Aston University campus — a 3-minute walk from CANVAS THE OLD FIRE STATION and a 10-minute walk from CANVAS THE HEIGHTS.
EASTSIDE CITY PARK
You can easily shop till you drop and eat and drink till you pop in Birmingham if you want to, but it can’t be all go all the time.
Sometimes, you need to check out and escape the hustle and bustle. The social spaces, gym and comfy double bed at your CANVAS STUDENT ACCOMMODATION are ideal for this. But as we’re on a tour of the city, let’s talk green spaces.
Birmingham has over 8,000 acres of parks and green spaces. One of the best is a short walk from your Canvas, next to Curzon Street Station.
EASTSIDE CITY PARK is Birmingham’s first new park in 130 years. It was built specifically as a space to forget about the concrete jungle for a while and it does its job perfectly.
Come here to exercise, socialise, admire the plants, soak up the energy, or just sit on a bench and be. It’s a gem of a place.
THE COFFIN WORKS
You’ll find history, art and technology in abundance in Birmingham. THINKTANK BIRMINGHAM SCIENCE MUSEUM is a few minutes down the road from your Canvas, BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM & ART GALLERY is a 20-minute walk away and the Jacobean ASTON HALL is a 10-minute bike ride north.
But what if you want to marvel at something a little different? Something like, say, coffins?
THE COFFIN WORKS is an entire museum dedicated to the trade of coffin making. It’s housed in the former workshop of the Newman Brothers and lets you travel back in time to see how they practised their humble profession, including making fittings for the likes of Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother.
It’s a great place to learn about the social and narrative history of death and somewhere different from the norm to take visiting family or friends. Addams Family attire is optional.
Honestly, it’s not as morbid as it seems.
THE LIBRARY OF BIRMINGHAM
Anywhere you’re surrounded by books is a good place to be. And THE LIBRARY OF BIRMINGHAM surrounds you with the finest books around.
It houses thousands of rare books including collections on world history, music, law, photography, the industrial revolution and literature.
But it’s not just what it surrounds you with, it’s how it does it. The Book Rotunda at the centre of the library has, for want of a better phrase, books for days. They’re everywhere, all around you, on different levels, framed with different lighting. It’s a spectacular sight.
If you can drag yourself away from the books, there are also roof terrace gardens and a skyline viewpoint to enjoy.
You’ll likely spend hours of your time in Birmingham here and not a single one will be wasted.
BRINDLEYPLACE & THE CANAL QUARTER
Walking a few yards west from The Library of Birmingham puts you in a real fairytale part of town.
Like Digbeth, BRINDLEYPLACE is a historic area that’s been transformed into a vibrant hive of activity, crammed full of cool independent restaurants and bars. And like Digbeth, it’s likely to become a favourite weekend visiting spot.
What’s best about this area though are the canals themselves. Canal Quarter is the gateway to miles of routes that can be explored by boat, bike, or foot.
If you wake up and open your curtains to a clear sky, check your schedule. If it tells you there are no classes and no work to complete, head to the ROUNDHOUSE and see where the canals take you.
BIRMINGHAM ON YOUR DOORSTEP
Three universities, hundreds of bars, restaurants and shops, acres of green space, miles of waterways, dozens of historic and iconic cultural attractions, and a museum about coffins — all within walking distance of CANVAS BIRMINGAM. What’s not to love?
We’d argue the Second City might just be the UK’s best city for students. Not that it’s a competition or anything, of course.
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