11 August 2023

A Caffeinated Weekend Itinerary for Birmingham

Welcome to my guide to spending a perfect — and perfectly caffeinated — weekend in Birmingham. My entire family is from the West Midlands but I didn't spend a lot of time in Birmingham growing up. I've been remedying this in recent years — often when passing through en route to Wolverhampton Wanders matches. On these stops, I usually prioritise speciality coffee and food (in that order) but a long weekend in Brum a few months ago inspired me to put together this itinerary. Read on for industrial heritage, quirky museums and plenty of great places for food and coffee — and there's a map and downloadable one-page cheatsheet at the end!


9:00 — Coffee and breakfast

Quarter Horse is one of Birmingham's best-established speciality coffee roasters and has been a favourite of mine since in its former Oxford days. Sadly, their Bristol Street cafe closed recently but you can visit their gorgeous espresso bar on Kenyon Street in the Jewellery Quarter (note that it's closed on Sundays). They have a wide selection of coffees (espresso-based drinks and hand-brewed filter coffee) roasted at the on-site roastery, which has some impressive sustainability credentials. There's also an excellent range of pastries and cakes.

10:00 — Explore the Jewellery Quarter

I knew very little about Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter until a visit to Quarter Horse brought me to the neighbourhood. Located about 15 minutes' walk from New Street station, the area has a centuries-old industrial heritage with characterful and historic architecture and it is still home to many jewellery businesses — and, increasingly, the creative industries. It's where my mum got her engagement ring a few decades ago.

Follow the Jewellery Quarter Heritage Trail to learn more about the history and check out the main places of interest. The Pen Museum makes for a diverting visit — and not just if you're a stationery aficionado or graphologist. You can even have a go at making your own pen nib!

12:00 — Brill brunch at Perch

Perch Bakery opened earlier this year and has already built up a strong fanbase, so you might have to wait for a table. The beautiful café serves creative brunch plates and speciality coffee from North Star. The banana bread with panna cotta is a work of art, but I went savoury (smoked ham eggs Benedict) so I could raid the dessert counter too — yes please, chocolate peanut 'taco'! 

Saint Kitchen and Damascena are other great brunch picks.

13:00 — See Brum from the water 

At this point in the day, it's usually time for me to take the train or tram to Wolverhampton for the football. If you're a football fan, you can try to watch a Wolves or Aston Villa match. Tickets can be hard to come by (and you usually need to pay to become a member too) but you might get lucky by checking the club websites.

If you're staying in Brum and the weather is nice, taking a boat trip is a great way to see the city and learn about its history. Birmingham is said to have more miles of canals than Venice — but it's complicated. What's not in question is the key contribution of Birmingham's network of canals — Grand Union Canal, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Stourbridge Canal and Stratford Canal — to the city's rapid growth from the mid-18th century. 

16:30 — Flippin' good coffee and pinball

When it's time for a brew but you can't decide between speciality coffee and craft beer, give Tilt a tilt. Located in the historic City Arcade, this colourful café–bar features a plethora of pinball machines. Thanks to the Frozen Solid Coffee Project, Tilt offers an impressively wide and well-curated range of coffees from roasters around the world. I'm almost always drawn to one of the coffees on the list with more experimental processing, like anaerobic fermentation. But their cortados and flat whites are just as impeccably brewed.

19:00 — A refined dinner at Folium

For an elegant dinner with excellent service in minimalist surroundings, look no further than Folium in the Jewellery Quarter. The modern British tasting menu surprises and delights with creative dishes, perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. I was very happy that the chocolate and lavender choux and the whiskey and peat butterfly bun were on my dinner menu, but everything was delicious from the homemade bread (made with home-milled grains) to the cod in ponzu sauce. 

For a more casual option, try Trentina, just up the road, for comforting pasta and Italian small plates.


10:00 — Coffee stop and breakfast at Faculty Coffee

Another of my favourite Brum coffee shops is Faculty Coffee, located in Piccadilly Arcade. Espresso-based drinks and pourovers brewed with coffee from carefully chosen guest rosters are on offer in the petite but perfectly formed coffee bar. The staff are knowledgeable and welcoming and the coffee never disappoints. Pick up a pastry and take a seat at the window for the best people-watching opportunities. 

Other central coffee options include 200 Degrees, Medicine Bakery and Yorks.

10:30 — A walk through Birmingham's past — and present

Taking a walking tour is the perfect way to work up an appetite for lunch — and learn more about Brum. I took a 90-minute tour with Walking Tours In... and our Birmingham-born-and-bred guide shared a wealth of knowledge about the city's industrial, financial, cultural, religious and architectural history. He also shared some rather quirkier stories, like that of the ill-fated Floozie in the Jacuzzi and the even more ill-fated Central Library

Don't miss the tribute to John Baskerville (a must for font fanatics) or the Golden Boys in Centenary Square.

12:30 — Time for a bite

For a casual but tasty lunch, central Birmingham has myriad options. My particular favourites are: Original Patty Men for A+ burgers, Bonehead for fab fried chicken, Tiger Bites Pig for moreish bao buns, Rudy's for Neapolitan pizzas and Anderson & Hill for mahoosive deli sandwiches.

14:00 — Coffins and culture

I promised quirky and Coffin Works — a museum based in a historic coffin furniture factory — certainly meets that criterion. They run guided tours and often host special events. More of an art buff? Ikon Gallery is a great venue for contemporary art. And if you're toured out, indulge in some retail therapy at the Mailbox and the Bullring.

16:00 — Dig in to Digbeth

Before heading back to the train station or airport, grab one last drink in Digbeth, the once gritty but now hip and creative neighbourhood. Zumhof Biergarten and Luna Springs are good options for when the sun is shining. For something a little older, you can't get much older than Old Crown, which has been around since 1368.

Getting there & around

Birmingham is served by New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill train stations. Although the journey from London Euston to New Street can be under 1h30 with Avanti West Coast, even off-peak tickets can be expensive (~£60 return) if you can't book an advance fare. As such, I often travel to Moor Street from Marylebone with Chiltern Railways, which takes two hours but saves me about £20. Birmingham International Airport is a short train journey from the city centre.

If you're staying in central Brum, walking is the best way to get around. If you need to travel further afield, there is a good network of buses and trains, as well as the tram (Birmingham Metro).

Where to stay

On my last visit, I stayed at Saint Pauls House, a reasonably priced boutique hotel in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter on lovely Saint Paul's Square. My room was small but comfortable and well appointed and the staff were extremely helpful and accommodating. I've also had good experiences at the Hotel du Vin. The biggest choice of accommodation, including most of the usual chains, is available around New Street station and the shopping centres.

More resources

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