Competition comes in many forms including two of England’s most famous cities vying for the title of ‘second city’ after London. What attributes does this second city need? What would be the one thing that would propel one of the cities to the coveted second place? Would there be any advantage to being the official ‘second city’
Manchester is a very familiar city to us with strong family and work links. We socialise in the city, dine there, attend different sorts of events and frequently just wander around with our cameras uncovering hidden corners and hoping for exceptional photo shots. Conversely Birmingham is a place we’ve never really spent any time in other than to pass through on occasion and, in the pre-arena days, attend concerts at the NEC.
Our recent short visit to Birmingham gave us for the first time, and purely from a tourism view, the opportunity to see for ourselves the differences in the two cities.
Arriving in Birmingham late afternoon on a working week day was the first surprise – where was the city centre traffic? In fact, the whole time we were there we saw no traffic queueing in the city centre at all. Sadly, horrific traffic jams are part of everyday life all the time in Manchester. How does Birmingham achieve that?
Another notable difference was the skyline. Birmingham was surprisingly flat and even though the two cities have similar skylines filled with cranes and building sites, Manchester appears to be growing upwards at a rapid rate. The views are equally stunning but quite different.
Birmingham has a very compact shopping quarter including its very large markets, the Bullring and the Grand Central area around the station. Manchester is much more spread out with substantial distances between some of its main shops. Like most shopping centres now there is no real individuality to them with the same shops and restaurants offering the same clothes and food.
Birmingham’s New Street station is huge and feels more like an airport terminal with restaurants and food bars, shops and space. It has undergone a huge transformation in the last few years and now is part of the Grand Central shopping mall – or maybe the shopping mall is part of the station? Either way it is very central to the city and gives easy access to most areas. The Manchester stations both sit just on the outskirts of the city centre and are relatively small in comparison, but it is easier to find out where you need to be in them. New Street offers a bewildering array of platforms and lounges and there were so many different options for you to go through that it was a very confusing experience!
Both cities have interesting buildings, art galleries and museums – equal amounts of photo opportunities! Whilst Birmingham cathedral is interesting particularly the stunning stained glass windows, Manchester’s is exquisite. We return to it repeatedly and never fail to be disappointed. Manchester also has the beautiful Harry Potter like library inside the Chetham’s buildings and the equally stunning John Ryland’s library on Deans gate. Both free to visit and definite must sees.
And, in what is a very controversial subject up north, Birmingham has more than one Michelin star restaurant whereas Manchester has yet to achieve one despite several chefs having a try. That is not to say that Manchester has no Michelin quality food just that it never seems to fully meet the criteria. Does this matter – maybe, maybe not we could both recommend many a Manchester restaurant where you are guaranteed to have good food and service. However, for many the lack of a star in Manchester has become an obsession and having one would probably help lift the city out of what seems its focus on burgers.
The canal development around the Gas Street Basin area in Birmingham is another must see and something Manchester could learn from. Bars and restaurants, miles of well paved walking opportunities, well signposted routes – a joy to walk down and spend time in. Particularly attractive at night with many a twinkling fairy light and canal side seat.
Manchester has the previously mentioned Northern Quarter. Edgy and exciting, unusual restaurants and bars and a wealth of quirky, individual shops to visit including the famous Affleck’s. Ever changing murals appear on walls in the old-fashioned streets. Modern yet still having a period feel it’s a perfect film location– most notably being used in scenes from Captain America and Peaky Blinders.
Constantly trying to encourage visitors to the city, Manchester City Council are particularly good at events and themes – Chinese New Year resulted in a city full of red lanterns and decorations – Halloween saw the city turn green and giant tentacles above House of Fraser. Having never been in Birmingham for the equivalent it’s not fair to say who does it best. Think a visit to Birmingham’s Christmas markets will take place later this year for a brand new experience and to do some further research (as well as trying some more Michelin standard food!)
So, it’s probably too early yet for any final comparison, if one is even needed, and does it even matter who is first or second? Makes no difference to us. What we do believe very strongly is in the amazing cities we have in the UK. Go and visit them both you won’t be disappointed.
Life and other