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What to do in Coventry, the UK's City of Culture 2021

The West Midlands city is embracing its artistic side as it takes up the mantle of UK City of Culture 2021 — here’s what not to miss.

By Richard Franks
Published 29 Jun 2021, 08:07 BST
Electric Wharf by Coventry Canal is home to work lofts, apartments and low-energy homes.

Electric Wharf by Coventry Canal is home to work lofts, apartments and low-energy homes.

Photograph by Alamy

The self-proclaimed ‘city of peace and reconciliation’ is ready to shout about itself. Coventry proudly dons the UK City of Culture crown for 2021, kicking off with the vibrant, city-wide event Coventry Moves on 5 June — a playful, cross-city display of dance, music and visual arts that reaffirms the city’s status as a booming UK arts hub. Coventry has also enjoyed a welcome boost with funding secured off the back of the year-long initiative helping the hmv Empire music venue find a larger home, while new food hall Factory gets ready to move into creative quarter FarGo Village.

Running until May 2022, Coventry’s eclectic programme of performing arts, spoken word, music and more will undoubtedly attract visitors for its thriving creative scene, breadth of attractions and extraordinary events. No better example is the esteemed British arts accolade The Turner Prize, previously won by the likes of Damien Hirst and Grayson Perry, which swoops into the city from 29 September. Its exhibition of nominated artists will be on show at the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum until 12 January, and the winner, decided by a jury including actor Russell Tovey, will be revealed on 1 December.

Continuing the trend of landmark events, annual BBC poetry and spoken word festival Contains Strong Language makes its West Midlands debut from 23 to 26 September, with the billing celebrating bright sparks from the city and beyond through its schedule of performances.

From October onwards, Coventry Biennial presents a bumper, four-month-long programme of visual art and culture, highlighting the legacies of local activism and artist-led teaching from the 1960s to the present day. Meanwhile, in the same month, Sound Systems brings unmistakable reggae sounds to the city with a music festival that leans on Coventry’s proud ties with its twinned city, Kingston, Jamaica. Further music can be found in November as two-week digital arts event Random String Festival, focused on the sights and sounds of the Coventry Canal, provides a series of environmental workshops, installations and live performances in association with the Canal & River Trust.

But perhaps Coventry’s most poignant event comes on 27 October, as a 11.5ft-tall puppet of a young refugee arrives in the city. Starting its journey 5,000 miles away at the Syria-Turkey border, Little Amal will pass through mainland Europe and the UK before arriving in Coventry for the highly anticipated, participatory event The Walk, which is sure to tap into those reconciliatory values.

Set in the former newsroom of the Coventry Telegraph, Telegraph Hotel – Coventry offers 88 1960s-inspired rooms. 

Photograph by nicksmithphotography.com

What’s new in Coventry
 

Telegraph Hotel – Coventry
Set in the former newsroom of the Coventry Telegraph, this hotel offers 88 rooms, a restaurant and a rooftop bar. Its 1960s-inspired rooms have playful names (‘Snug’, ‘Big’, ‘Bigger’), while its largest offering, the Lord Iliffe Suite, paying homage to the newspaper’s founder, has its own terrace and hot tub. 

Belgrade Café & Nineteen 58 Bar
The Grade II-listed Belgrade Theatre stands proud opposite the Telegraph Hotel. Its adjoining cafe and upstairs bar have both enjoyed an extensive refurbishment and are now reopened in all their joint splendour. Laid-back atmosphere, cinema-style decor and locally sourced food — what’s not to like? 

hmv Empire
The Empire was already well-versed in bringing impressive artists like The Libertines and Primal Scream to Coventry. Its move to a shiny city-centre venue with a larger capacity should attract even bigger bands. Look out for City of Culture events here too. 

Get the guide
111 Places In Coventry That You Shouldn't Miss is the ultimate guide for uncovering Coventry’s panoply of secrets. The new release includes everything from the building shaped like an elephant to the Boxing Hall of Fame. RRP: £13.99

Did you know?
The idiom ‘sent to Coventry’ – meaning to ostracise somebody – originated during the English Civil War, when Coventry was a parliamentary stronghold. Royalist prisoners were sent there and shunned by locals.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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