BIRMINGHAM is always top of my list when it comes to Christmas shopping.
Every year I hop on the train and head straight to the Bullring, where the huge choice of stores guarantees I have everyone’s presents covered without having to brave the winter weather.
This year I discovered my one-stop shopping trips meant I had been missing out on a whole host of experiences the city has to offer during the festive season.
When I arrived at New Street Station after a short journey on a London Midland train, I took a 10-minute walk to Victoria Square, where the Frankfurt Christmas Market transformed the streets with colourful lights, tempting smells and intriguing crafts.
The largest outdoor market in the country stretches out over Chamberlain Square and New Street and the array of unique handmade gifts puts a new twist on Christmas shopping.
The festive spirit is tangible as carols play from the bandstand and mulled wine washes down traditional German treats, including sausages, cheese, stollen, waffles and pancakes.
I walked to the Hippodrome theatre to see the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s version of the fairytale classic, Cinderella.
The performance is enchanting as music and dance leads the audience through a tale of desperate sadness and overwhelming joy, with moments of slapstick comedy from the ugly sisters.
Stunning costumes capture the essence of the characters. The Fairy Godmother streams white light in a dazzling silver dress and the sisters are caricatures, Skinny swamped by an oversized nightgown and Dumpy filled out with padding.
The dancing is breathtaking and the music expresses the tension, humour and romance of the traditional tale, which proves spellbinding for all the family.
Places to stay abound and the Ramada Encore is perfectly situated within walking distance of the main attractions in the city centre.
It is a clean and modern space, suited for an express visit for business or pleasure.
I found the staff full of local knowledge and happy to give directions and make recommendations. The “hot and healthy” breakfast set me up for a day of sightseeing.
I walked along to the Electric Cinema, the oldest working picture house in the UK.
It feels like a step back in time as the titles roll up on the small screen and the film is paused in the middle for an intermission.
Mainstream and independent films can be viewed from comfy leather sofas.
There is no popcorn in sight. Instead, tortillas, chorizo, nuts, pretzels and sweets are eaten from ceramic bowls. A licensed bar serves beers and wines and there is even an absinthe fountain.
Birmingham is a hub of culinary creations from all corners of the world.
Independent South American cantina, Bodega, offers a unique dining experience unlike any other in the city. The menu draws inspiration from the traditional cuisines of Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Cuba and Argentina.
Friendly staff talk new diners through the menu and the relaxed atmosphere is equally suited for trying out a selection of plates, tapas-style, a light bite or a three-course meal.
The Bodega selection is the perfect introduction to contemporary Latin food and is more than a generous portion for two.
I enjoyed authentic tacos, quesadillas and nachos, accompanied by crisp sweet potato fries and my personal favourite, frijoles, a creamy rice and cheese dish with black beans.
It is an ideal venue for a catch-up with a group of friends, especially given the extensive cocktail list.
It boasts one of the largest drinks selections around, which can also be enjoyed at weekends in the arty Sugarloaf bar, in the basement below.
Bodega’s signature punch was delicious as was the quirky blueberry and elderflower margarita, made with one of the 30 tequilas stocked at the bar.
Over in Brindley Place there are more bars and eateries to choose from, including many well-known chains.
Piccolino is a brasserie-style Italian restaurant popular for chic but informal dining.
Foccacia, pizza and calzone can be seen emerging from the fiery oven and diners can watch their meals being prepared from scratch in the open kitchen.
The menu is a mixture of rustic and contemporary dishes, including pasta, risotto, pizza, meat and fish.
As all food is cooked to order from fresh, it gives groups a chance to chat in the leather booths which snake down the middle of the dining room.
Couples may choose tables that line the glass wall looking out on to Brindley Place.
I enjoyed warm foccacio straight from the oven with fresh salsa verde, followed by fusilli with smoked salmon, peas, asparagus, lemon and herb mascarpone.
The dessert menu is a selection of Italian specialities, such as tiramisu, gelato and panna cotta.
The trip opened my eyes to different aspects of Birmingham. The diverse range of attractions and entertainment make it a vibrant and exciting place to visit over the Christmas period.
It is only a 50-minute train ride from Kidderminster so I will definitely continue to explore all the city has to offer beyond the Bullring.
To find out on what’s on in Birmingham over Christmas, visit christmasinbirmingham.com