Sparkbrook is an inner-city area in Birmingham about 2 miles south of the city centre. Over the years it has played host to successive waves of immigrants including Irish, South Asian and Somali. Each community has made its own contribution to the area.
Sparkbrook currently has a large Somali population and is often refered to as Little Somalia.
It is situated on the main A3400 Stratford Road. Several local buses, such as the 2, the 4, and the 6, run through it.
Most of Sparkbrook's shops and restaurants are around Stratford Road and Ladypool Road. All are within easy walking distance of each other.
Sparkbrook's most famous resident was probably Joseph Priestly, one of the founding fathers of modern chemistry. Unfortunately, his magnificent 18th century mansion was burnt down by rioters in 1791!
Most of Sparkbrook is now cheap housing so there's not much to see - it's just a case of eating and buying.
There are several Somali-run shops on Stratford Road which sell khat, a legal but psychologically addictive stimulant. Trying it once shouldn't do any lasting harm, but make sure you're in a safe environment if you do try it.
If you walk down Ladypool Road beyond the junction with Highgate Road, you'll reach the main shopping area. Most of the shops here are Asian-run and sell all the clothes, food, jewelry, etc. that you'd expect to find on the Indian sub-continent. There are also dozens of balti restaurants and a few discount shops were backpackers can stock up on cheap provisions.
Sparkbrook is probably best known for the Balti Triangle. This is an area of restaurants between Stratford Road and Ladypool Road which converges on to it. A balti is probably best described as a curry in a wok, and is typically accompanied by a large circular bread known as a naan.
The word balti in Hindi literally means bucket - this type of meal is virtually unknown in the Indian sub-continent as it was developed by British Asians as a form of fastfood. The original Balti restaurants were very cheap and were used by ordinary working people. They are still one of the cheapest type of restaurant in Birmingham but some are now moving upmarket. These are easy to spot as they will have licences to sell alcoholic beverages. Some of the cheaper balti restaurants will allow you to bring in your own alcoholic drinks, but ask first as many are run by observant Muslims; other restaurateurs just don't want people getting drunk on their premises.
There are very few pubs left in Sparkbrook, but the Shakespeare on the corner of Stratford Road/Henley Street (by the railway bridge) has an authentic atmosphere unlike many of the manufactured pubs in the city centre. It also offers cheap bed and breakfast accommodation.
One or two cheap hostels on Stratford Road but best avoided as are often frequented by homeless people with drink or drug problems.
There are several Somali-run internet cafes on Stratford Road which offer cheap internet access at around £1 per hour.
Walking around Sparkbrook is as safe as any other part of the city if you blend in. This is easy as it has been a multicultural area since the 1960s while recent immigrants from eastern Europe are giving it a definite Bohemian character.
The busy restaurant trade means that the main roads in Sparkbrook are fairly safe during both the night and the day. However, tourists, as everywhere else, are more vulnerable than locals so if this is obvious, get a minicab, cheap and also saving you from getting lost. The driver should also be able to take you directly to a decent restaurant.