Top places to visit on a city break in Birmingham
Our guide on the best things to do in Birmingham
Visiting Birmingham for 2022’s Commonwealth Games? Our in-depth guide to Brum highlights some of the city’s best places to visit along with more than a few surprises. Fancy splurging on jewellery and walking in the footsteps of the Peaky Blinders before sinking into a mirrored hot tub and then heading out for Michelin-starred Indian food and cocktails at a hidden speakeasy that was crowned the World’s Best Gin Bar? You best read on then.
Things to do in Birmingham
Birmingham, West Midlands
By order of the Peaky Blinders, step into the story behind the BBC’s hit show as you stalk the same streets as the real-life 1920s gang on a Peaky Tour. From Digbeth to the lock-up at Steelhouse Lane Police Station where the Peaky Blinders were incarcerated, Professor Carl Chinn MBE brings to life the real gangs that terrorised the racecourses of England in the early 20th century. If that’s not enough, why not initiate yourself into the gang by tackling one of the two Peaky Blinders-themed escape rooms at Escape Live Birmingham? Help destroy incriminating evidence in The Raid or infiltrate Alfie Solomon’s gang in Double Cross. Or, if you just fancy a wander around some of the show’s iconic filming locations, visit the Black Country Living Museum, just a short drive or train ride away in Dudley.
More activities to enjoy
Dig into Birmingham’s creative side by scouting out the city’s amazing street art on the self-guided Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk, a 2.5-mile route that you can follow for free on your phone. Also in Digbeth, In A Box, In A Box, In A Box combines virtual reality and immersive entertainment for a wealth of exciting 4D puzzles, missions and digital escape games. Fun Fact – it was also a filming location in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Alternatively, travel back in time to the 16th century on the Shakespeare Express. Running from Birmingham to Stratford-Upon-Avon and back, you’ll be able to experience the industrial past of the city mixed with the Warwickshire countryside aboard a vintage steam train.Find more things to do in Birmingham
Restaurants in Birmingham
Birmingham bursts with a wide variety of cuisines and cooking practices, ranging from exotic street food to high-end Michelin star restaurants. In part due to its large south-Asian population, Indian cuisine is also famous here, with many of its best restaurants located within the iconic Balti Triangle, in the southeast of the city. If you want to give the Balti a run for its money, however, try a unique Michelin-style twist on Indian cuisine at the highly rated Opheem. Born to Bangladeshi parents, chef-owner Aktar Islam takes you on a journey through India with his 5 and 10-course tasting menus. Try Orkney scallops in tamarind broth in Nepal, lamb loin with kohlrabi, wild garlic and Rogan sauce in Kashmir and a milk loaf served with spiced pate in Mumbai. It’s a flavour sensation.
More places to eat
Birmingham isn’t short of innovative eateries, so if you’re in the market for something unique, book a seat at 8 Birmingham, an immersive dining experience inspired entirely by the number 8, from its opening times to its dishes with names like Eight Days a Week and Square Root of 8. In Digbeth, 670 Grams is the brainchild of Michelin’s Young Chef of the Year, Kray Treadwell and serves dishes based on common food gone fancy. Plant-based diners will love Land which, as its name suggests, has a menu inspired by the land and only uses seasonal ingredients. Alternatively, if you like to mix and match cuisines, Hockley Social Club will be right up your street. This elite street food venue serves up the likes of dirty fries, currywurst, gyoza and indulgent cheesecakes from a range of rotating vendors.Find more places to eat in Birmingham
Shopping in Birmingham
Home to over 800 jewellers and retailers, and more than 200 listed buildings, Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter has become something of a crown jewel over the past 250 years. In the market for something new and sparkly? Try long-time institutions like Mitchel & Co and Victoria James before learning more about the city’s history with metalworking and jewellery at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. At this former factory, you can see demonstrations of jewellery-making techniques as well as the Earth’s Riches display, which showcases jewellery made from all sorts of nature’s finest objects like whale teeth, diamonds and coral. The area is also now home to a number of independent coffee shops and cafés perfect for a pick-me-up after all that bling browsing. Be sure to check out The Hive which uses ingredients from its rooftop garden.
More places to shop
Peruse some of the world’s biggest brands at Bullring & Grand Central, one of the largest city-centre shopping centres in the UK. The heart of commercial Birmingham since the 1100s, The Bullring was once the location of Birmingham’s bull-baiting, a popular sport in the 16th century. Today, it’s still home to a bull (in statue form) as well as retailers like Selfridges and LEGO, and even the world’s biggest Primark. For independent boutiques and specialist food shops, wander through the Great Western Arcade, a Victorian shopping arcade that survived WWII bomb damage. If you’re visiting around Christmas, be sure to take a stroll down New Street – leading from the Bullring to Victoria Square – to experience the city’s annual Christmas Market, filled with traditional German stalls.Find more shopping in Birmingham
Places to stay in Birmingham
Staying Cool at Rotunda
Stay in one of the most iconic architectural feats of Birmingham’s skyline at Staying Cool – 35 stylish, 1960s-inspired apartments found in the upper levels of the Rotunda. With picture-perfect vistas across the city, accents of colour and all the luxuries you would expect in a modern hotel, Staying Cool’s apartments suit all, from family-friendly staycations to romantic getaways. Each boutique apartment is fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows, a fully fitted kitchen complete with complimentary cereals, milk and fresh oranges and grapefruit to use in the juicer, board games and aromatherapy toiletries. The aparthotel is also just steps away from the city’s shopping hubs, top-rated pubs and vibrant nightlife, meaning you don’t have to go far to experience the best bits of Birmingham.
More hotels in Birmingham
The Edgbaston is a curious but sleek mix of award-winning cocktail lounge and boutique hotel, where Victorian architecture meets art-deco interiors and 20 individually designed bedrooms. Alongside the high-end shops and swish restaurants housed inside a former Royal Mail sorting house is Malmaison Birmingham, a plush hotel with an onsite spa and moody lighting. Book the Nirvana Signature Sweet for an utterly outrageous stay, complete with mirrored jacuzzi, giant bed and flamboyant furnishings. Gamers will love Pentahotel, with its modern, spacious rooms and dedicated Playerpad Rooms, which come with free movies and a PS4 or an old-school Pacman device, while money-conscious travellers should check out Selina. This eclectic Latin-inspired hotel in the Jewellery Quarter has both private and shared rooms and has been designed to reflect the city’s creative spirit with hand-painted murals, an onsite coffee shop and a Latin-American restaurant.Find more places to stay in Birmingham
Bars and pubs in Birmingham
40 St Pauls, St Pauls Square
You’ll have to knock on what looks like an average front door to access 40 St Pauls, an intimate speakeasy-style den in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. With just 24 seats, this low-lit, intimate bar is famed for its 140-strong gin collection – so much so that it’s won not one but four awards for it, and was even voted the World’s Best Gin Bar back in 2019. From Thursday to Sunday you can hide away in one of the dark booths and sip on one of the bar’s marvellous concoctions while learning about each cocktail in the book-like menu. Gin tastings are also available, as well as gin, cheese and chocolate experiences where you’re paired five gins with award-winning cheeses and handmade truffles.
More places to drink
Craft beer, speciality coffee and pinball collide at Tilt – one of the UK’s most unique bars. Set across three floors, Tilt has a mix of vintage and new pinball machines, all available at just a quid per game. For something extra-Instagrammable, head to Sky by the Water. This rooftop bar has incredible views of the Birmingham skyline, along with covered pods for when it’s chilly. Over on New Street, the Post Office Vaults has a great selection of guest ales from microbreweries around the country, as well as over 200 brands of imported bottled beers, while The Village Inn is the venue for all your disco-dancing needs. One of the city’s most established LGBTQ+ spaces, this late-night haunt is the beating heart of the Gay Village and hosts everything from bingo and karaoke to live cabaret and stellar local drag talent.Find more pubs and bars in Birmingham
Top museums in Birmingham
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
When it opened up back in 1885, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was considered one of the finest museums outside London – and with Anglo Saxon treasures and the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world, it’s easy to see why. Inside this magnificent building in Victoria Square, you can peruse artworks from the 17th-19th centuries, explore the Pinto Collection with its 6,000 plus toys made out of wood and take in insightful displays that uncover the city’s history and include archaeological finds dating back to the Stone Age.
Throughout 2022, the museum is hosting a series of pop-up displays and events to celebrate the city’s hosting of the Commonwealth Games, with exhibitions in the Round Room and Industrial Gallery bringing together themes of cultural identity, community and media.
More places to visit
More of Birmingham’s history is revealed at historic houses such as Aston Hall, a Grade I-listed Jacobean mansion whose period rooms are filled with locally made paintings, furniture and metalwork. The Back to Backs – a collection of homes built around a central courtyard – also take you back in time, providing a unique insight into the conditions in which the working classes lived during the 19th and 20th centuries. For a deep dive into the traditions of coffin-making (including the fitting made for Winston Churchill), head to the fascinating Coffin Works, while Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum is the ultimate destination for hands-on, science-based exhibits. Explore a Spitfire Gallery with authentic WWII-era aircraft, a Science Garden and an epic planetarium.Find more Birmingham museums and galleries
Entertainment in Birmingham
Symphony Hall, Centenary Square
A gleaming centrepiece of Centenary Square, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall is a must-visit for live music. This opulent concert hall has some of the best acoustics in the world thanks to its movable canopy above the stage that creates the ideal sound for each performance. In its lifetime it’s hosted everything from opera to prestigious international orchestras, and comedy acts to world-famous artists like Bruce Springsteen. Over in Victoria Square, its sister venue, Town Hall, is equally as magnificent, regularly featuring A-list singers alongside being home to the City of Symphony Orchestra. Resembling a Roman temple, this Grade I-listed building and former city hall has seen the likes of Nina Simone and even Charles Dickens grace its stage.
More night-time pursuits
Dance along to jazz, blues and rock bands at The Jam Café, the brainchild of Jools Holland based in the Jewellery Quarter. It’s hosted Chaka Khan, The Specials and Jools and his Rhythm ‘n’ Blues Orchestra in its time, so you’re more than guaranteed a good night out. If you want a night at the theatre, check out The Rep, the jewel in the crown of Brum’s theatre scene. Over a century old, the venue is known for its inclusive homegrown productions as well as hosting touring musicals, dramas and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. For more intimate shows, head to the Old Joint Stock – a former Victorian bank-turned-pub with a hidden cabaret theatre – while The Glee Club is the place to go for comedy shows, drag, cabaret and spoken word.Find more nightlife in Birmingham
Days out in Birmingham
Cadbury World, Bourneville
Explore the rich and tasty history of Cadbury at one of the UK’s most unique attractions. Cadbury World takes you on a journey through time, starting with the very origins of chocolate and how it became a global phenomenon through to mass production in the heart of Birmingham. Featuring plenty of tasting opportunities, this magical tour through a former Cadbury factory should be on any Brum itinerary.
More days out
Feeling more adventurous? The Bear Grylls Adventure Centre, found in the east of the city, is the first of its kind in the world, offering a variety of high-octane activities, including Europe’s tallest high-ropes, indoor shark diving and a military assault course. For rainy day ideas in Birmingham, head to the National Sealife Centre where you can walk through the UK’s only 360-degree Ocean Tunnel and marvel at sharks, turtles, rays and tons of tropical fish swimming above, around and below you. The Centre is also home to the country’s first sea otters, as well as Gentoo penguins, reams of coral reef creatures and over 500 species of stingrays in the Bay of Rays.Find more top attractions in Birmingham
Outdoor activities in Birmingham
Gas Street Basin
With over 35 miles of canals, Birmingham is rumoured to have more canals than both Venice and Amsterdam. Whether that’s true or not, the tangle of waterways provides a unique way to get around and see the city’s industrial roots and modern developments from a different perspective. Starting at Gas Street Basin, take the 15-mile Canal Walk through floodlit archways and atmospheric tunnels out into the peaceful West Midlands countryside or hop on one of Sherborne Wharf’s narrowboats to discover Birmingham’s canals and rich industrial heritage. Cruising along quiet stretches of the canal, you’ll get to see parts of Brum that used to be alive with the sound of cargoes shipping everything from chocolate to glass through the industrial heart of the city.
More outdoor spaces to enjoy
Escape the concrete jungle with a trip to Moseley Bog, a green idyll on the fringes of the city. Full of wildlife, gnarly old trees and carpets of bluebells each spring, this nature reserve was once regularly visited by JRR Tolkien and is said to be his inspiration for The Shire. Sutton Park, one of the largest urban parks in Europe, is worth a wander too. Covering 2,400 acres, this nature reserve is made up of heathland, woodland, wetlands and seven lakes, and you may be able to spot a string of wild ponies grazing on the land. Or how about glimpsing insects from as far east as the Philippines at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens? Spread across 15 acres of gardens and glasshouses, this tropical attraction houses an array of dazzling flora, exotic birds and butterflies.Find more outdoor activities in Birmingham