ENGLAND, U.K. — All eyes are on the Midlands region of England right now, as the city of Coventry starts its preparations to be the UK’s City of Culture in 2021. As well as improved transport links across the city, there are plans to ensure venues and attractions have the best possible setting for the year cultural celebrations and the Coventry Transport Museum has already reopened after a £9.5m redevelopment programme.
Yet Coventry is not alone when it comes to developing landscapes – the Midlands is on a roll. And, with these cities only within one to two hours train journey of each other, it’s easy to visit multiple destinations in this region on one awesome trip.
What’s happening in… Birmingham?
Britain’s second largest city, Birmingham, is to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which will shine a spotlight on the city as a premier sport and leisure destination. Between now and then several of Birmingham’s neighbourhoods are undergoing a revitalisation. In Digbeth, for example, the architecturally striking 1930s Typhoo building (where tea used to arrive in Birmingham from London) will be converted into artistic spaces, bars and restaurants, while a 13-acre site by Eastside Locks next to Digbeth Canal will be developed into a leisure area along with a hotel and apartments. Digbeth is fast becoming a cool and creative neighbourhood, with businesses utilising the area’s industrial heritage to open independent and unique bars and restaurants. New bar in the area The Ruin, has also unveiled a mural-style map featuring 12 independent and unique neighbours, together called ‘The Digbeth Dozen’. Created by Birmingham graffiti artist Title (Andy Mills) it features venues such as the street-food focused Digbeth Dining Club, brewery and taproom Dig Brew Co, quirky golf and cocktails venue Ghetto Golf, and The Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen, situated in the iconic Custard Factory.
One of Birmingham’s most iconic Grade II-listed buildings, The Grand, set on the 19th-century streetscape of Colmore Row, is currently undergoing redevelopment and is scheduled to open in early 2019 with a 180-bedroom hotel, complete with restaurant and bar, a spa and the city’s first rooftop infinity pool. Several cool bars and cafés have already set up home in the development – The Alchemist, Gusto and 200 Degrees cafe. Other recent developments in the city include the Paradise district in central Birmingham, launching across phases and which will eventually consist of a vibrant mix of shops and restaurants, plus new metro tram extensions are already underway to maximise connectivity around the region.
There’s plenty to enjoy in the city this year too; for a start, it’s foodie festival heaven. This summer (28-29 July), visitors can explore a drinking hall, two live-music stages, a comedy tent, cinema, tasting sessions and talks at the Craft Drink Festival. September welcomes the Birmingham Chilli Festival, bringing live cooking demonstrations together with music and street performances, while October hosts the food and drink joy that is the Wine, Cheese & Chocolate Festival, celebrating the very best in British artisan suppliers.
Birmingham is also a hot location right now for the film and TV industry; Steven Spielberg filmed a large part of his recent movie Ready Player One in the city and the hit TV show Peaky Blinders is set here during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Discover Birmingham’s darker past on Peaky Blinders-inspired walking tour.
Getting there: By train, Birmingham is 20 minutes from Coventry, just over an hour from Nottingham, 45 minutes from Stoke-on-Trent and 1.5 hours from London.
What’s happening in… Nottingham
Nottingham is renowned for its legends and historic attractions and is currently in the throes of making those attractions even better. Standing proudly overlooking the city Nottingham Castle is undergoing an ambitious transformation due for completion in 2020. In less than two years, the site will welcome a new, interactive Robin Hood Gallery, visitor centre and a Rebellion Gallery – showcasing the city’s rebellious history – will open in the Ducal Palace, plus a year-round events programme will be introduced. Perhaps just as famous as the castle is Robin Hood’s hideout, Sherwood Forest, which this summer welcomes a new visitor centre, aimed at providing a contemporary perspective into this legendary landscape.
Talking of Robin Hood, between 7 July – 30 September, an exciting sculpture trail is coming to the city; called Hoodwinked: a twist on the tale, it will be a contemporary take on the traditional stories of the legendary outlaw. Artists such as graffiti artist Kid 30, Sarah Manton and Jessica Kemp of Curious? Nottingham are contributing to the trail so expect a real mix of styles.
Also gathering pace is a raft of stylish new bars and restaurants. In the heart of the city’s entertainment centre, The Cornerhouse, GinSecco (a gin and Prosecco bar) is due to open later this year, offering unique cocktails that are inspired by the city’s heroes, such as fashion designer Paul Smith. One of the latest restaurants to hit Nottingham’s foodie scene is Alchemilla, which has a strong focus on plant-based cuisine, and The Alchemist, located in a splendidly gothic-style building. And for a spot of retail therapy, opening in the near future is the Engine Yard at Belvoir, a castle estate half an hour’s drive from Nottingham, bringing a new shopping experience to the area.
Getting there: Nottingham is just over an hour by train from Birmingham, 1 ¾ hour from Coventry, 1.5 hours from Stoke-on-Trent and two hours from London.
What’s happening in…Stoke-on-Trent
Best-known until now for the gorgeous ceramics once manufactured here, the 19th-century buildings on the Old Spode Works in Stoke-on-Trent – a city also known as The Potteries, thanks to its abundance of ceramics companies – have been reinvigorated. Following five years of development it’s gradually opening up as an area to eat, drink and visit; the new Potbank Café has already opened and visitors can head to the Spode Museum Trust to find out more about the area’s heritage.
Museum development in town is also continuing apace as work has begun to move Stoke-on-Trent’s famous Spitfire to its stunning new multi-million-pound home, at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. When it returns to the museum in 2019 it will be housed in a new glassed-fronted gallery.
The area is home to leading ceramics brands, with many of the factories open to visitors, such as World of Wedgwood – its museum is now free to enter – Portmeirion and Emma Bridgewater. The latter’s factory has also turned a piece of derelict land into an urban garden, which is now stocked with flowers, herbs, vegetables and poultry. Called the Secret Walled Garden, it also hosts garden events. Elsewhere, last year saw an extension to Trentham Shopping Village – ten minutes’ drive from Stoke-on-Trent – with 18 new units opening alongside the existing 63 shops, cafés and restaurants within the Shopping Village.
Getting there? By train, Stoke-on-Trent is less than hour from Birmingham, 1 ¼ hours from Coventry, 1.5 hours from Nottingham, and 90 minutes from London.