Coventry gets a lot of bad press. Before coming to university and since getting here, my friends and family all told me to avoid it because they’d heard that it’s dangerous and run-down. When the time came to choose my accommodation for next year, my parents urged me to avoid Coventry at all costs and I have to admit that I too was initially sceptical about the merits of this much-hated city. However, as I come to the end of my first year, I can safely say that I have come to appreciate its unique charm.
This won’t be the typical student guide to Coventry. At some point this year, you’re bound to hop on the 11, 12X or U12 and take the twenty-minute trip into the local city. I’m sure none of you need to be told of the nightlife at Kasbah or the popular LGBT+ venue that is The Yard. Similarly, we’re all bound to end up on a trip to Wetherspoons (there are three) or writing our essays in our favourite pick of Costa, Café Nero or Starbucks. I don’t need to tell you about the main city centre shopping area, with Primark, New Look, Waterstones and Greggs, among others. Instead, I’m going to share what makes Coventry special, starting with the most obvious landmark.
It’s very welcoming to tourists and well worth a visit for the architecture alone
As you walk through the city centre, it’s impossible to miss the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Destroyed by bombs in 1940, these Grade I listed ruins are an imposing presence in the more historic area of Coventry city centre. They present an excellent opportunity to try out some edgy photography, and for a small cost, it’s also possible to climb up the tower. Admittedly the views from the top are decidedly urban, but they have a charm of their own.
Next to the destroyed cathedral stands its modern replacement. Even if you wouldn’t normally consider visiting religious buildings, it’s very welcoming to tourists and well worth a visit for the architecture alone as the ceilings and stained-glass windows are stunning. Also, near to the cathedrals, you can find Spon Street, a historic street featuring pubs, boutiques, restaurants and independent shops, all housed in medieval buildings.
Another location for an unusual shopping experience can be found in the FarGo Village. This is a creatively redesigned indoor and outdoor space which is home to more than 40 independent businesses, selling products ranging from food and art to books and records as well as several tattoo parlours.
I was particularly surprised to find green spaces spread around the outskirts of the city
In Coventry, you’re also spoilt for choice in terms of food and drink. Besides the aforementioned chains of coffee shops and pubs, I have to highlight Arabian Bites, a cafe and social enterprise staffed entirely by refugees and serving vegan Middle Eastern cuisine. At £12 for an all-you-can-eat meal, it’s also a student-friendly bargain. Myrtle’s Coffee in Earlsdon is definitely worth a mention as an independent coffee shop with a lovely atmosphere, friendly staff and delicious freshly baked cakes.
If you’re looking to cook for yourself but want to shop somewhere other than the major supermarkets, Coventry Market is somewhere you can get fresh fruit and veg for a fraction of the price of Tesco, as well as exploring a huge range of family-run stalls selling everything from clothes and bags to homeware to incense and even hot food.
As well as the historic quarter, other cultural attractions include the Herbert Art Gallery, which has a very interesting roof, and the Transport Museum. While, like most students, I am not particularly fascinated by transport, this was surprisingly interesting as a chance to learn about the history of Coventry as a commercial hub and the world’s ‘bicycle city’. It was also interesting to gain an understanding of how Coventry became the place it is today, with the decline of the manufacturing industry leading to mass unemployment and the city’s unfortunate reputation.
Despite its reputation, Coventry is a very special city
As a rather industrial city, I was particularly surprised to find green spaces spread around the outskirts of the city. Memorial Park is perhaps the most obvious spot, popular for picnics and summer revision, as well being home to Coventry’s Parkrun and an outdoor fitness trail.
Closer to home, don’t forget Tocil Wood, situated right on the edge of campus (walk behind Bluebell and turn left). Leaving campus on the trail through this nature reserve, it’s possible to walk all the way to Memorial Park through wooded areas – the perfect excursion on a sunny day. The part of this walk that goes via Canley Ford, just off Kenpas Highway is the most picturesque, consisting of areas of birch woodland, ponds, several grassy meadows and some interesting artwork to discover.
Despite its reputation, Coventry is a very special city which I believe truly deserves its position as City of Culture 2021. From nightlife and shopping to museums and walking trails, there is something for everyone.