As the biggest (and easily the best) city in the West Midlands, Birmingham has a reputation as an exciting and friendly place, with one foot in the past and another in the future. There’s a reason most still consider it the second city of the United Kingdom after all these years. From historic locations to some of the country’s most exciting restaurants (with six Michelin star restaurants!), it’s an exciting city to say the least. But, here are just twenty of the best things to do in Birmingham you’ve got to try at least once in your life.
They say that The Old Crown in Digbeth dates back to the 14th century and is as old as the Ming dynasty in China. Both were founded in 1368, but only one is still going strong. You’ll often find The Old Crown overflowing with merriment and full of friendly faces. (They also serve a range of local ales, which is a plus.) Adding to the community spirit, The Old Crown also throws regular events – from screenings of sporting events to massive disco parties, quiz nights and coffee clubs. There’s always something to bring the community of Digbeth together.
2. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Cadbury World
The chocolate company that conquered the world began here in Birmingham. (The Cadbury family originally built Bournville for its employees.) Now discover how your favourite confectionary is made with a trip to Cadbury World – Birmingham’s very own Willy Wonka Factory.
Your journey might appear normal enough to begin with by making your own choc. But you’ll soon be on a chocolate mad adventure to an Aztec Temple to discover the origins of the cocoa bean quickly enough. With its mix of multi-sensory cinema, interactive digital displays and demonstrations, Cadbury World has remained refreshingly bizarre over the decades. There’s enough chocolate here to send anyone doolally too. Learn more here.
Birmingham is the place for foodies. It was recently called one of the most exciting food destinations in the country and, with more Michelin stars than anywhere else outside of London, we see why. There are six (six!) restaurants with Michelin stars in Brum now. All deserving of your consideration.
Grace & Savour in Solihull is the most recent to join this club with its immersive dining experience becoming increasingly popular since opening early in 2022. But no should forget about the self-taught Brummie chef Brad Carter and his Carters of Moseley; Simpsons in the leafy suburbs of Edgbaston; the sleek and sophisticated Adam’s; Opheem, the only Indian restaurant in Birmingham with a Michelin star; and the legendary Purnell’s.
There are a number of Brummie legends to be proud of (From Joe Lycett to Lenny Henry, Ozzy Osbourne to Julie Walters), but one we often forget about is JRR Tolkien. Often more associated with Oxford, the family is actually from Sarehole. At 12 years old, Tolkien then went to live at The Oratory in Edgbaston and was educated at King Edward’s School. Both the natural environment of Birmingham and its giant industrial buildings would later inspire the world of Middle Earth.
There’s Sarehole Mill which inspired The Old Mill in The Hobbit, which Bilbo passes on his way to start the long journey to The Lonely Mountain. Then there’s Moseley Bog that inspired The Old Forest, where Frodo meets the mysterious Tom Bombadil in Fellowship of the Ring. Other inspirations include Edgbaston Waterworks tower on Minas Morgul and Perrott’s Folly on Orthanc. Take our Tolkien Tour here.
If there’s only one dish you try in Birmingham make sure it’s the Balti. So famous it has its own area named after it: between Stratford Road, Alcester Road and Wake Green Road, including the popular Ladypool Road and Stoney Lane. All types of South Asian and Indian food plays an important role in Birmingham’s food landscape, but here the Balti is king.
Named after the vessel in which this Brummie curry was first cooked, it was invented in Birmingham back in the mid-70s. Unlike other curries, balti curries are cooked quickly over a high heat, like a stir-fry. And are also usually served with large, family-sized naan breads. Adil’s on Stoney Lane, which sadly closed after 43 years in the Balti Triangle last year, is often credited with the dishes invention. But Shabab’s is probably the biggest, arguably the best, still going.
No, it’s not made of custard – nor does it make custard. (At least not anymore.) But there are plenty of other reasons to visit… Just across the river from The Bullring is The Custard Factory in Digbeth.
Once the home of Bird’s Custard, it’s now a one-stop-shop for all your (trendy) needs. From furniture flea markets to cool cocktail bars (like Passing Fancies), cinema experiences at The Mockingbird and fine dining at 670 Grams, there’s so much to do. Even if it’s just a quick haircut at Stag Digbeth or a quick bite at Baked In Brick pizzeria. There aren’t many reasons to leave!
7. Get in the Peaky Blinders spirit at this strange museum
The whole world has gone Peaky Blinders mad with everyone keen to follow the trials and tribulations of Birmingham’s most infamous gang. The city has become a tourist destination for many based on the TV show alone. Luckily there’s plenty of Peaky Blinders-themed activities to get involved with, from escape rooms to walking tours, there’s a lot to do.
One of the best ways to feel like you’re reliving the show, however, is to head over to the Black Country Living Museum. Not only were some of the most dramatic moments of the show shot here. But you’ll also find 26 acres of reconstructed shops, pubs and houses to explore and historic characters to meet at this museum. They also run regular Peaky Blinders-themed evenings!
It’s a fact every Brummie knows off by heart: Birmingham has more canals than Venice. But it’s not technically true. What our beloved Birmingham has is more miles of canal. 35 miles of it. Making it the capital of the country’s canal system and a great place to walk the beauty of English waterways. You won’t find any Venetian gondolas here (or Brummie ones either) but there are some other spectacular ways to cruise the canals… from boat parties to kayaks. Check out Birmingham’s best boat trips here.
9. Tap into Brum’s exciting street food scene
Birmingham might boast a number of Michelin stars, but on the other side of the price range it has plenty of exciting cheap eats too. In particular, it’s the street food that really steals the show on Birmingham’s hospitality scene. At the centre of this is Digbeth Dining Club (the team behind Hockley Social Club and Herbert’s Yard) who shine a spotlight on the very best local street food vendors. The likes of Low ‘n’ Slow and Yardbirds made their name on the circuit. But locals are still buzzing about vendors like Buddha Belly, Patty Freaks, Cleopatra’s Kitchen, West Midlands Jerk Centre and so much more.
10. Catch a movie at the oldest known working cinema in the country
The Electric cinema is just as charming as it was when it opened back in 1909. But it has had a tweak or two over the years. It now boasts luxury service to those with tickets to the rear sofas! As independent cinemas go, film buffs should make the trip on the history alone. But showing a mix of blockbuster, independent newbies and cult classics, it can easily entertain any visitor. It also hosts private bookings and weddings in its ancient walls!
When it comes to competitive socializing, Birmingham might be the best place to go in the UK. In the mood for bowling? Roxy Lanes. Crazy golf? Golf Fang. Pinball? Tilt. If you can think of it, the odds are Birmingham has it. From board game cafes like Chance & Counters to arcade bars like NQ64, the city is brimming with ways to beat your mates. You’ll have to start up a league table to see who the very best among you truly is. That all these places also sell booze just increases the fun tenfold! To see the best activity bars in Birmingham head here.
12. Immerse yourself in the wild at this National Nature Reserve
Just a little north of Birmingham you’ll discover over 2000 acres of parkland. Sutton Park is considered to be one of the largest urban parks in Europe. It has a rich diversity of landscape – including open heathland, woodlands, lakes, wetlands, and marshes – each with unique plant and wildlife. Discover a wildside of Birmingham that’s difficult to experience elsewhere in the concrete jungle. Sutton Park makes for the perfect day trip.
The historic 116-year-old Moseley Road Baths opened way back in 1907 and has kept our city swimming for generations. Many of the original striking features remain today: including the 100ft Gothic renaissance terracotta façade ornate ceilings, an oak Edwardian ticket booth and the tiled 21m pool.And from aqua aerobics to adults-only lanes, classes for toddlers and teenagers, and even a swim class for those learning to speak English, Moseley Road Baths is still just as important.
An Adult swim costs £5, while a Junior swim (4 to 15 years old) is £2.80 and under-4s go free. If you’re a family of four, however, you can all go together for just £12. Of course, if you’re an avid swimmer, you’ll want to be taking advantage of these stunning swimming baths as much as possible. A monthly swim pass will cost you £28.50 for 30 days, while for students the same will cost you just £25.
We’re pretty blessed in Birmingham when it comes to cocktail bars, we have some of thebest in the country. From mad scientist’s serving up crazy concoctions to simple sophisticated classics in speakeasies, you’ll find some of the country’s best bars here. Picking just two, Couch in Stirchley is modern and refreshing while Fox & Chance offers a trip back in time with a more old-school offering. To see some of the best cocktail bars in Birmingham head here.
15. See the beauty of Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Designed by J.C. Loudon, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens are one of the most gorgeous sights in Birmingham. Across 15 acres of landscaped gardens, you’ll discover thousands of wonderful flowers and rare plants. As well as an aviary, a zoological collection, and 19th century glasshouses among its other highlights.
The experience is only improved by lending its backdrop to some unforgettable Candlelight concerts. These open-air concerts see a talented string quartet take to the outdoor stage, surrounded by nature, and perform masterpieces composed by the likes of Vivaldi, Hans Zimmer, ABBA and more. A truly unique experience in this breathtaking setting bathed in the glow of hundreds of flickering candles.
For shopping in Birmingham, you could go to the Bullring & Grand Central. The iconic mall is bursting with every high-street shop you could imagine, plus plenty of restaurants. But for a special retail spot, it has to be the Great Western Arcade. Built in 1876-1877, the gorgeous building boasts a beautiful balcony, intricately-crafted archways, ornate chandeliers and lamps, tiled floors and an unbelievable apexed roof.
But it’s the incredible array of independent businesses that makes it worth the visit. For colourful, eye-popping sweet treats, head to Miss Macaroon, while Anderson & Hill will meet your cheese and cured-meats needs. It also houses the fine dining vegetarian restaurant LAND, plus artisan bakery the Bread Collection. Learn more here.
17. Take a trip to the past at Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham has a thing for keeping the past alive and well in the present. Nowhere is this better exemplified than at Birmingham Back to Backs. The National Trust site is one of the best things to do in Birmingham with kids, as it lets you experience the lives of working people from 200 years ago. Moving from the 1840s through to the 1970s, you’ll discover how these small houses operated. Plus, see Mr Levi’s bedroom-turned-workshop, Mrs Oldfield’s mealtime kitchen and peek inside George Saunders’ tailor’s shop. You can also visit the second-hand bookshop on site.
While Balti Triangle gets all the headlines when it comes to Birmingham’s diverse food culture, the Chinese Quarter should be equally celebrated. For one, Lunar New Year is a massive event in the area each year that has parades, funfair rides and fireworks. But when it’s not on, however, endless dumplings to crispy duck should be enough to entice you here. (Plus, it’s very pretty to wander around at night.) The oldest Chinese restaurant in the city, Chung Ying Cantonese, sits on the corner of Wrottesley Street and to many is still considered Birmingham’s best.
19. Get artsy at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery
To say Ikon Gallery is iconic would be an understatement: It’s Ikon-ic. The internationally acclaimed contemporary art venue shows work by artists from around the world and a variety of media is represented, including sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, sculpture and installation. In the spring months, it’s also a great spot for catching the cherry blossom in Birmingham.
20. Lose yourself in The Library of Birmingham
If you don’t recognised this building, then you’ve never truly been to Brum. The Library of Birmingham is the largest public library in the United Kingdom. So you could easily (and happily) get lost in here. There are ten levels to explore, plus two outdoor garden terraces, children’s spaces, a panoramic viewing gallery, an outdoor amphitheatre and a studio theatre. So whether you just need to get some quiet work done, or you want to check out the Library of Birmingham’s many events, you’ll likely stick around for longer than you bargained for!