We love weekend city breaks in Europe. City breaks are so accessible and there are so many possibilities of places to visit on a short flight from Dublin. Our philosophy is that every place is worth visiting at least once. Sometimes it's handy to have a specific reason to visit to help prioritize one place over another for a given weekend getaway. With this in mind, we jumped at the chance to visit Birmingham in the UK for a Pet Shop Boys concert. The Pet Shop Boys were one of my favorite bands as a teenager and they were planning a tour! Sadly, they weren't planning a stop in Dublin (at the time we booked our trip to England) but on the bright side, it gave us the perfect excuse to visit Birmingham, the 2nd largest city in the UK and a place we'd never found an excuse to visit before for a weekend. Here are my impressions of Birmingham as inspired by the music of the Pet Shop Boys.
The Wellington - Not Exactly a Dive Bar
Sometimes you're better off dead
There's gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head
You think you're mad, too unstable
Kicking in chairs and knocking down tables
In a restaurant in a West End town
Call the police, there's a madman around
Running down underground to a dive bar
In a West End town
PSB, West End Girls
One of the things that immediately struck us about Birmingham was the number of pubs around town where you could pop in for some real English ale. It's true that I don't normally order English beer anywhere else in the world (it's too flat and warm) but somehow it just seems right in the UK.
After the Pet Shop Boys concert, we wandered into The Wellington in Birmingham. The interior was classic Victorian and immensely charming. The clientele could have been tele-ported in from Dublin. The craic was fantastic and the locals were friendly and eager to strike up a conversation. We met Frank, a local who'd lived in Brum (locals' nickname for Birmingham) all his life. He was definitely a regular fixture at The Wellington and by the end of the evening we were posing for selfies to commemorate the occasion. We also met Nige and Wills who run the bar. Once again, this was a super-friendly and welcoming joint.
Arcades Where You Can Be An Artist, Honey
I'm an artist, honey, you'll see me sometimes
Making crazy pictures out of music and rhymes
Costume changes performed with poise
Dancing in formation with a couple of boys
I take them on the road with my reel-to-reels
I'm an artist, honey, you know how that feels?
Birmingham is known for various shopping arcades. Piccadilly Arcade featured bold paintings on the ceiling and a variety of shops including a Cotswolds (my favorite travel clothing store in the UK) and hipster coffee at Faculty. Don't miss it!
We're S-H-O-PP-I-N-G by the Bull Ring
We're S-H-O-PP-I-N-G, we're shopping
We're S-H-O-PP-I-N-G, we're shopping
The Bullring in Birmingham's City Centre features a huge variety of indoor and outdoor shopping stalls. Find everything from short shorts and other colorful and slightly questionable clothing choices to fresh fish and produce. Join the throng of locals shopping in the Bullring on a Saturday to immerse yourself in Birmingham's vibe.
By the Cathedral
By the cathedral into the sun
Pilgrims are singing, their journey done
I look at my short life and think
Of all the champagne that I drink
With all the faces that I know
And how much further can one go?
--PSB, To Step Aside
Birmingham's city centre is anchored by St. Martin's in the heart of the Bullring. The building itself seemed to erupt from the square and was tinged with a charming green moss. The neo-gothic church was rendered even more startling when compared to the modern buildings and shopping malls surrounding it.
Never Being Boring at Grand Central Station
When I went I left from the station
With a haversack and some trepidation
Someone said: "If you're not careful
You'll have nothing left and nothing to care for
In the nineteen-seventies"
But I sat back and looking forward
My shoes were high and I had scored
I'd bolted through a closing door
I would never find myself feeling bored
--PSB, Being Boring
Birmingham's Grand Central Station is definitely not boring! The facade is covered in a shimmering reflective silver material. Inside, you'll find a huge variety of shops and quality fast food. If you fly to Birmingham, you'll definitely pass through here. The fast and inexpensive airport train is the easiest was to get around.
Drink Some Tea at the Warehouse Cafe (Party Animal is Optional)
I get out of bed at half past ten
Phone up a friend, who's a party animal
Turn on the news and drink some tea
Maybe if you're with me we'll do some shopping
--PSB, Left To My Own Devices
We absolutely loved the Warehouse Cafe. Located in, you guessed it, an old building in a neighborhood of warehouses, Warehouse Cafe serves fantastic vegetarian cuisine. We stopped in for lunch and a pot of tea. I have to say that I was absolutely delighted when my tea pot was served wearing a colorful knitted tea cosy crafted with love by a member of the staff. Visiting Warehouse Cafe in Birmingham will definitely bring a smile to your face.
Not-So-Sad Robot World
Sad robot world
where you ponder leisure
created for your pleasure
Sad robot world
Machinery is sighing
I thought I heard one crying
--PSB, Sad Robot World
We discovered some intriguing art not far from the Warehouse Cafe. This angry looking cyborg/robot(?) lives under the train tracks. I love how Birmingham is full of quirky surprises.
Back in the Library of Birmingham
Back in the library
His revenge is his story
What he will write
Will recall the bite
Of his wit
And legendary appetite
Casanova is well
--PSB, Casanova in Hell
The most iconic building in Birmingham has to be the public library. The library looks a bit like a tiered cake with blue and yellow layers surrounded by an intricate lattice work. Very impressive!
Inside, the Library of Birmingham is all modern with curved bookshelves and escalators that appear to tie themselves in a knot at each floor. The library is open to the public and features a small museum exhibit. When we visited, the exhibit was on Shackleton's harrowing voyage and tale of survival in Antarctica.
Streets Lined with Gold Statues
It's another world here
The streets are gleaming
I was even dreaming
That they're paved with gold
--PSB, The Theatre
Birmingham has it's share of famous residents including Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. The golden statue just across the street from the library by William Bloye and Raymond Forbes-Kings shows the trio poring over plans for the steam engine. The statue commemorates the role that the three played in pioneering the industrial revolution of which Birmingham was at the forefront.
Lost in the High Street in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter
Lost in the high street, where the dogs run
Roaming suburban boys
Mother's got a hairdo to be done
She says they're too old for toys
Stood by the bus stop with a felt pen
In this suburban hell
And in the distance a police car
To break the suburban spell
Birmingham is also famous for its Jewellery Quarter featuring the largest concentration of jewellery focused businesses in Europe. While the neighborhood was a hub for manufacturing businesses during the industrial revolution, the Jewellery Quarter is now gentrifying and is known for a variety of restaurants and shops. The Jewellery Quarter is a popular place to live in Birmingham.
Where to Go for Dinner in Birmingham?
Then we posed for pictures with the competition winners
And argued about the hotel rooms, and where to go for dinner
And someone said: "It's fabulous you're still around today,
You've both made such a little go a very long way"
--PSB, Yesterday When I Was Mad
Not unlike London, Birmingham is known for high quality Indian cuisine. We made a reservation at high-end and highly rated Viceroy Tandoori in the Jewellery Quarter. We noshed on perfectly prepared onion bhajee and fragrant curries. Delicious!
Row the Boat Home on Birmingham's Canals
I never tried to make you
walk into the deep end
and now I find myself
awake from all the weekend
I never tried to cause
that Sunday morning creep-in
I want to stay
but I must row that boat home
We discovered on our weekend city break in Birmingham that the city is simply full of canals. We took a walk on a chilly morning and explored the quiet paths lined with houseboats.
All Day, All Day - Admiring Birmingham's Sculptures
I don't know why, I don't know how
I thought I loved you but I'm not sure now
I hear the thunder crashing, the sky is dark
And now a storm is breaking within my heart
--PSB, Domino Dancing
We were impressed by the range of sculptures and artwork that we stumbled upon in Birmingham. Keep an eye out for the heart-man (man heart?) at The Cube along the canal.
Dreaming of the Queen on Birmingham's Victoria Square
Dreaming of the Queen
Visiting for tea
You and her and I
And Lady Di
--PSB, Dreaming of the Queen
Victoria Square is at the heart of Birmingham's city centre. Surrounded by intriguing sculpture, regal buildings, and flower gardens, definitely stroll through the square and take a moment to thank Queen Victoria for being the reason such a lovely spot exists.
Go West to the Black Country Living Museum
(Go West) Life is peaceful there
(Go West) In the open air
(Go West) Where the skies are blue
(Go West) This is what we're gonna do
--PSB, Go West
We love to squeeze in day trips even on short weekend city breaks. On Sunday in Birmingham, we boarded the train and headed for Tipton. Tipton station is about a 20 minute walk from the Black Country Living Museum. Experience what life was like at different periods of history in the coal country surrounding Birmingham. See a real working farm, ride a historic tram car, and walk through a village populated by period actors. We even saw a silent short film in a period theatre.
Bring Me Food from Cherry Red's Cafe Bar
You dress me up, I'm your puppet
You buy me things, I love it
You bring me food, I need it
You give me love, I feed it
There are some great places to grab a meal in Birmingham. We popped into Cherry Red's Cafe Bar for a delicious falafel and halloumi burger with chips and a pint. Cherry Red's is about a 5 minute walk to the train station and it's an ideal place to grab dinner before catching the train to the airport.
Playing with Faux Fire at 200 Degrees Coffee and Barista School
Play with fire, play with guns
It's easy to impress someone
Turning in my sleep, you call me a fool
To fall in love, is it so uncool?
--PSB, I Want to Wake Up
We discovered a variety of great places to grab a coffee in Birmingham and 200 Degrees Coffee and Barista School was my favorite. The cappuccinos were well crafted and they even had a faux neon fireplace tucked into the brick wall. Pure awesome as far as I'm concerned!
As you can see, the Pet Shop Boys concert provided an ideal back drop and inspiration for our weekend city break in Birmingham. If you're interested in seeing some clips from the concert, check out the video below. Also check out my map of places highlighted in this post if you'd like to recreate our Birmingham weekend.
Have you ever used a concert as an excuse to travel? Tell me about by leaving a comment below. We are always looking for inspiration for our next trip!
Acknowledgement: The lyrics for various Petshop Boys songs used in this post were researched using AZLyrics.