A day in Leamington Spa & Birmingham with West Midlands Railway
Day trips via train in the West Midlands
Any free time I have I love to organise day trips with friends and family to explore new places, eat plenty of food and shop. Especially at this time of year to spend quality time with loved ones in the run-up to Christmas. Since there are so many fantastic places to visit in Birmingham and the surrounding West Midlands area last weekend my friend Nadine and I decided to go to Leamington Spa in collaboration with Visit Birmingham . We were both looking forward to the trip as it’s a place we had never visited before.
TRAIN TO LEAMINGTON SPA FROM BIRMINGHAM
To get to Leamington Spa from Birmingham we travelled with West Midlands Railway , with a return ticket costing approximately £10.30 depending on what time you choose to go. Trains leave regularly, and the journey takes around 30 minutes, so we were in Leamington Spa in no time.
West Midlands Railway has some great off-peak and group fare tickets available, meaning you can save some cash to put towards shopping, food and local attractions instead. They also have routes all over the region, making travelling via train super convenient.
BRUNCH AT BILL’S – LEAMINGTON SPA
Food was the first thing on our agenda as we arrived in Leamington Spa, so we had a short stroll from the station and picked Bill’s restaurant for brunch. On a Saturday at 11:30 am Bill’s was a popular choice for many, so I recommend booking a table in advance to avoid disappointment.
We were shown to our table promptly and handed a brunch menu. Firstly, we ordered a round of drinks, so that we had something to both warm us up and sweeten us up! I went for a hot chocolate (£2.95) which came with a Cadburys flake and a watermelon, peach and raspberry juice (£3.25). Whereas my friend had a Cappuccino (£2.70) and an orange juice (£3.25).
For food, I picked the Bill’s Vegetarian Breakfast (£8.95) it comes with roasted plum tomatoes, mushrooms, tomato hummus, smashed avocado, sweet chilli sauce, basil, toast and poached free-range eggs however I swapped the eggs for crispy rosti. The brunch was just what I needed to start the day off, it was delicious, and I especially loved it soaked in the sweet & tangy chilli sauce. Nadine opted for the Bill’s Garden Breakfast (£9.95) with poached eggs, halloumi, roasted plum tomatoes, charred red peppers, smashed avocado, hollandaise sauce, pea shoots, mixed seeds and toast which she also thoroughly enjoyed.
EXPLORING JEPHSON GARDENS
After our healthy vegetarian brunch, we crossed the road to have a little stroll around the beautiful Jephson Gardens . The grassed gardens in the centre of town was once a place for wealthy locals to be seen which seems fitting since The Royal Baths and Pump Room is located opposite the entrance to the park.
The garden is named in honour of Dr Henry Jephson who set up a medical practice in Leamington Spa in 1828. He believed that the local mineral springs had health-giving properties and so had many wealthy patients including the Royal family. However, he treated the poor free of charge. For this reason, a memorial for Jephson was erected in 1849 and his statue was carved by Birmingham sculptor, Peter Hollins.
It was lovely to see families together walking around Jepson Gardens admiring the River Leam which runs through it. Besides from the abundance of trees, flowers and walkways, there is also a Sensory Park, plenty of historical statues, a café and The Glasshouse which is free to enter.
The Glasshouse is home to a range of tropical plants, an observation beehive and a goldfish pond, so is a great place to visit if you love nature. Around the corner you’ll also find The Aviary Café which has inside and alfresco seating, it’s a lovely spot to take a break, grab some food and enjoy a hot drink.
SHOPPING AT THE ROYAL PRIORS
Within an approximate 10-minute walk of the Jephson Gardens, you’ll find The Royal Priors shopping centre with plenty of well-known brands to choose from. For shopping, there’s M&S, New Look, Topshop, Topman, Waterstones, The Perfume Shop, The Entertainer and Sports Direct etc so you’re sure to be able to tick off that Christmas shopping list and for when you are all shopped out there’s plenty of coffee shops including Patisserie Valerie.
Outside The Royal Priors, there are many more shops and dining options to pick from on Royal Leamington Spa high street as well as plenty of historical buildings with stunning architecture to admire.
BULLRING & GRAND CENTRAL SHOPPING
After a lovely day out in Leamington Spa, we effortlessly caught the next West Midlands Railway train home to Birmingham. When I’m visiting new places especially towns, I always prefer travelling via train, so I can relax more and not have to pay for overpriced parking (that’s if you even manage to find a space) or worry about being back in time so I don’t get a ticket.
When we arrived in Birmingham, we headed straight to the new Arket store which is a Scandinavian home & fashion brand with an in-store café selling delicious sandwiches including vegan wraps! There’s only a handful of Arket stores in England, mostly in London so it’s great to see a Scandi homeware brand move into the Bullring & Grand Central. I can see myself shopping there often, as you may know, I’m obsessed with Nordic interior design.
Also new to Birmingham is Morphe, an internationally well-known makeup brand. They’ve just opened a store in the Bullring and it’s the only store outside of London. So, if you are looking for a new makeup style this party season, Morphe is the place to visit for inspiration and tutorials.
With the addition of the new stores, Bullring & Grand Central has a fantastic range of shops to suit everyone’s budget. From everyday affordable brands to premium designer brands. There’s also many independent shops and foodie places to go to on Link Street which connects Bullring & Grand Central together. Birmingham is also home to Selfridges and a flagship John Lewis store.
INDEPENDENTS AT GREAT WESTERN ARCADE
There are so many fantastic independent retailers and food places all over Birmingham. But one of my favourite places to find them is the Great Western Arcade with entrances on Colmore Row and Temple Row. The gorgeous Victorian Grade II listed building has a charming and unique appeal with an interesting history dating back to 1875. Inside the Independent hub, you can find an array of accessories, gifts, art, fashion, hair, beauty and food & drink places to go.
1847 VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
One unique place you certainly need to visit in the Great Western Arcade is the 1847 restaurant which was named the best vegetarian restaurant outside of London last year. 1847 is a sophisticated restaurant with an à la carte menu and five or seven-course tasting menu that contains fresh local produce. There is also an extensive wine list.
To start the evening, we ordered drinks and nibbled on snacks & bread. I went for a pineapple sour mocktail (£6.95) made with Seedlip spice, pineapple and lime whilst Nadine opted for the Chilinero, Merlot red wine (£7.85 – 250ml).
The first of our seven courses were the Mushroom rice porridge with braised Shiake, mushroom ketchup and herb oil. Before it came, we weren’t too sure what to expect with it being porridge, but it tasted just like a risotto, we loved how spicy it was and the succulent mushrooms. We both agreed this was our favourite.
Next up was the Tofu scallops with buttermilk, charred leek, kohirabi and chive. Considering I’m not keen on leeks, we both thoroughly enjoyed this dish since it has just the right balance of flavours and textures to complement each other.
My least favourite dish was the roasted celeriac with onion velouté, crispy capers and pickled raisin. I just felt like the celeriac needed just a dash of seasoning, however, I did love the juicy sweet flavours bursting from the raisins.
Fourth on the tasting menu is the Caramelised cauliflower with makhana sauce, pickled mango and compressed rice. We loved the variety of delicious flavours in this dish, especially how the cauliflower and sweet mango complemented the fluffy rice.
The fifth dish of pressed potato & turnip terrine consisted of parsnip, onion puree, cavalo nero and red wine sauce. The rich flavours were beautiful, we agreed we could have easily eaten more of this dish as well as the mushroom porridge. Despite wanting more of these two dishes, the quantity of all seven dishes was spot on, as we were pleasantly full, not overstuffed like I usually am when I have just three standard courses.
Our sixth dish was a dessert made of Coconut sago, blackberry sorbet, pistachio and chia tuile. It was a yummy surprise to find the sweet blackberry sorbet hidden under the coconut sago and the nutty pistachio sprinkling was lovely too although I wasn’t sure on the chia tuile because of its overly toasted taste, however, Nadine loved it since the crunchy and the creamy textures worked well together.
The seventh and final dish of the night was Dark chocolate delice with carrot, stem ginger, chocolate soil and tarragon. Since the dessert was made of chocolate you may not be surprised to hear I loved this rich and flavoursome chocolate dish.
Overall, we had a wonderful time in 1847, the tasting menu was outstanding, full of unique flavours and the service was fantastic too. The five courses are priced at £35 and seven courses are £45 with drink pairing an additional £22-£30.
Our day exploring Leamington Spa and Birmingham was lovely, they are both great places to shop in the West Midlands. If you are looking for a weekend break over the festive season then I highly recommended visiting the region since there are so many great reasons to visit, from its many attractions, local history and an abundance of retailers and restaurants to choose from. Just like Leamington Spa, Birmingham has some great national retailers that can be found in Bullring & Grand Central or amazing independents located in the Great Western Arcade. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to Christmas shopping or picking the perfect NYE outfit!
To see all the photos from our day trip, see my Facebook album.
If you are new to Birmingham or don’t visit this amazing city often, you’ll find travelling to the region convenient and affordable via a West Midlands Railway train since they have many direct and regular routes coming into the city from all over the Midlands throughout the day. Once you’re in Birmingham there are so many great things to do and see making it totally worth the trip. Here are just a few of the most popular destinations in Birmingham that you should visit:
Named the Creative Quarter of Birmingham. Home to a great variety of independent retailers, foodie places and entertainment venues. My favourites are The Warehouse Café (vegan restaurant), Digbeth Dining Club, Mockingbird Cinema, Custard Factory, Cow Vintage and Ghetto Golf. You may also find my blog post on the best independent things to do in Birmingham this season helpful too if Digbeth sounds like a place you would visit.
The Jewellery Quarter is rich in history with stunning Georgian buildings and is known as an industry hub with plenty of museums, diamond dealers, independent retailers and eateries. For unique food places to go in the Jewellery Quarter see my blog post Ana Rocha Bar.
Broad Street is the liveliest of streets in Birmingham, with an array of restaurants, hotels and nightclubs. So, if you love cocktails and dancing till the early hours then Broad Street is for you!
In the direction of Broad Street, you will be heading West and come across Five Ways leisure complex, Edgbaston, Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Broadway Plaza. My favourite places to go to Westside are Edgbaston Village and the ODEON Luxe cinema. See my blog post a day at Edgbaston Village for all my favourite places to go in this lovely upmarket destination outside the city centre.
At Brindleyplace you can choose from a variety of well-known restaurants and bars as well enjoy a trip on a Canal boat, visit the National Sea Life Centre, Ikon Gallery and the ICC & Symphony Hall. Close by is also The Library of Birmingham. My favourite place to eat in Brindleyplace is Siamais a Thai restaurant in Birmingham. Fun fact: Birmingham has more canals than Venice, 9 more miles to be exact!
Birmingham International is a short 15-minute journey via a West Midlands Railway train from New Street station. Here you will find the airport, NEC, The Bear Grylls Adventure and Resorts World. See my post on all my favourite things to do at Resorts World Birmingham for inspiration.
Among many of the city’s top universities there is the Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum at Millennium Point.
Within the Mailbox is Harvey Nichols, a range of designer retailers, restaurants and the BBC Visitor Centre. Outside overlooking the canal is the iconic Cube building as well as the independent Every Man Cinema and a great variety of cocktail bars and hotels. Across the road from the Mailbox is my favourite vegan restaurant and live music venue, Natural Bar & Kitchen, it’s a place I highly recommend and visit often. Their vegan tofu ‘fish’ & chips are amazing!
Disclaimer: Sponsored by Visit Birmingham and West Midlands Railway. All photos and words are my own.