Not only is Birmingham one of the biggest cities in the UK, regularly vying with Manchester for second spot behind London, it’s also one of the best places to shop that you could wish for. From the indomitable shopping experience of the city’s famous Bullring to the numerous arcades lined with independent treasures, city breaks in Birmingham caters for all tastes with equal aplomb.
From the enormity of the Bullring to the unique charm of the arcades, shopping in Birmingham is an experience worth having
The site of the Bullring has been a commercial centre since the 12th century, although we’re pretty sure there wasn’t a Selfridges there back then. The Bullring shopping centre is made up of two buildings on either side of St Martin’s Square, connected by an underground passageway. The architecture has been pretty divisive, with some considering it one of the ugliest buildings in the UK, but it’s the shopping that counts and, in that regard at least, the Bullring is beautiful. There are over 160 shops in the Bullring, so it’s probably quicker to name the high street stores that aren’t there. Its crowning glory is the aforementioned Selfridges, one of only four of the historic chain in the world (along with one in London and two in Manchester). If you can’t find what you need here, it might not actually exist.
The new kid on the block was conceived as part of the regeneration of Birmingham New Street station, hence the transport-inspired name. The development opened in 2015 and has proved a resounding success, offering a more varied shopping experience than the usual Cornish Pasty Co., WHSmith and Tie Rack of most train stations. The centre’s pride and joy is its enormous John Lewis, but there are many more units besides, including Kiehl’s, Cath Kidston, Jo Malone, Hobbs, Foyles and a wide range of restaurants from Carluccio’s to Ed’s Easy Diner. It’s as much a shopping destination in its own right as it is an excellent way to wait for a train.
The Jewellery Quarter
Birmingham’s jewellery quarter in south Hockley produces a huge amount of the UK’s jewellery output each year. When the jewellery trade started to stall in the 20th century, the area was repurposed as a centre for Birmingham’s creative industries, much like the regeneration of Liverpool’s Ropewalks or London’s Shoreditch. This brought an influx of trendy restaurants, cafés, boutiques and offices, while still retaining the core of the industry that gave the area its name. If you’re planning on popping an important question, you could easily spend an entire day exploring the options here, from contemporary designs to antiques that contain unknowable romantic secrets.
Don’t let inclement weather hold you back. Duck into one of Birmingham’s wonderful Victorian arcades and explore a world of independent boutiques and cosy cafes and delis. The Great Western Arcade has been drawing in shoppers since 1876 and is home to two of Birmingham’s sweet treat favourites: Chouchoute Chocolaterie and Miss Macaroon, as well as the excellent Loki Wine. If you’re after pampering of a different kind, there’s also Ikon Barbers and the At One day spa. Piccadilly Arcade boasts a hand-painted ceiling so beautiful, you could almost forget to look at the shops. Unique attractions include the quirky Smithsonia gift store and Faculty Coffee, one of the best flat whites in the whole city. Finally, Burlington Arcade is home to some of the city’s best higher-end boutiques, such as Onu, as well as the excellent Bacchus wine bar.
Around the Bull Ring area, markets run six days a week. The indoor market is the place for meat, fish and fruit and veg, while the Rag Market is perfect for those seeking some furnishings at bargain prices or good value alterations. New Street Farmers’ Market takes place on the first and third Wednesday every month and is great for local produce direct from the source, while 24 Carrots in the Jewellery Quarter offers similarly farm-fresh produce on the third Saturday of each month.