Birmingham: 20 Things To Do, See Or Eat In England’s 2nd City

Birmingham, the “Second city” of England, is also often the most underrated in the country. The city made its name as an Industrial centre, a hotbed for manufacturing, aided by the intricate canal system that runs through it. It underwent extensive bombardment in 1940 but rose like a phoenix after the “Birmingham Blitz” to redevelop as a cosmopolitan and important trade centre of the country.

Birmingham now is a completely different story. The shift has been gradual, but over the last couple of decades, it has re-invented itself once again as a city that provides the locals and its visitors alike with ample opportunities to experience the good things in life be it culture, food, cinema, entertainment, education, architecture, or the chance to simply admire the hospitality of the multicultural residents that have made Birmingham an admirable destination.

There’s something for everyone in Birmingham; Want to catch a film in UK’s oldest working cinema or have an authentic Asian meal in the famous Balti Triangle? Maybe spend a day relaxing under the summer sun at the park or take the kids out for some educational fun at one of the many museums and playcentres?

How about some dance lessons learning Bhangra or you could be a flâneur for a day walking around the city centre appreciating the architecture and sculptures that dot the region? Birmingham is a wealth of experiences.

The strongest characteristic of the city is its multiculturality that has helped Birmingham become an amalgamation of traditions, experiences, and events that cover the entire world. Culture and art is seeped into it with multitude of local events taking place throughout the year that celebrate the diversity that Birmingham is so proud of.

To know Birmingham is to know its people, but even though most of the activities in the city are usually confined to the centre, it can be a daunting task to discover them all. Here is a list of 20 Things to Do, Eat, or See in Birmingham that makes this city special and one that should be part of your travel plans.

1. Library of Birmingham

Birmingham: library

Residents of Birmingham have always been proud of their reading culture. While the old library in the heart of the city centre was a place of learning and activities, the newer more modern building, inaugurated in 2013, has become the latest addition to the developing architectural marvels that are part of this city.

A massive building filled with books of all kinds from around the world, it is open to the common public and thus has attracted tourists and visitors from far and wide.

Besides literary richness, the library hosts a number of exhibitions, activities, screenings, and two roof top gardens that are excellent places to have a quick snack, take in some rays, and admire spectacular views of the city’s skyline.

2. Ikon Gallery

Birmingham: ikon

Art installations, books talks, family events, Ikon is a free entry gallery that has been at the forefront of promoting art and culture in the city of Birmingham.

They have represented artists from all fields and have never shied away from the controversial or the unique.

Housed in a beautiful “neo-gothic” building, the Ikon also comprises of the cutest art bookstore in the region and the in-house Café Opus provides a place to satisfy your hunger as you ponder over the intricacies of the art you have just witnessed.

3. The Electric

Birmingham: electric

Cinematic history has long been a part of Birmingham in the form of the “Oldest working cinema in the UK”. The Electric is a small two screen building with a simple façade that brings the old-world charm back to a night out at the movies.

A tiny entrance, a bar that serves drinks in non-plastic glasses, and tickets that resemble vintage stubs, if you are looking to add that little extra to your film watching experience then The Electric is the place to go.

For a little more comfort, the cinema has special comfortable couches that let you watch your favourite film in the lap of luxury. In addition to that, The Electric also hosts annual events such as the Shock and Gore movie festival which have become iconic in their own rights.

4. The Pen Museum

Birmingham: pen museum

Birmingham has a longstanding relationship with the art of pen making. In the 19th century, the city was responsible for 75% of the pens being used in the world. It is this heritage that the Pen Museum shines a spotlight on and honours.

A collection of vintage typewriters on display, stamps from the past, a braille machine, every visitor is privy to some of the classic and antique equipment that was used in the olden days for writing.

A more hands-on approach is encouraged at the Museum as one can try writing with a wooden nib pen or take calligraphy classes on special days.

As a souvenir, a variety of pen nibs to glass inkwells and other stationery is available that can be bought from the gift shop.

5. Jake’s Coffee Box

Birmingham: jakes

You want quirky?

You’ve got the epitome of British quirkiness with Jake’s Coffee Box in Birmingham. A coffee shop that is operated out of the iconic British red telephone box that serves a selection of tea, coffee, and quick bites which can be enjoyed in in a leisurely fashion or on the move.

Jake’s Coffee Box is also an example of British ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that has prevailed in the region for many centuries.

We recommend having a nice cup of hot cappuccino and a warm Potato Bomb while you listen to some music and chat with the proprietor of the coffee shop, Jake.

6. Brindleyplace

Birmingham: brindlyplace

Primarily a business district, Brindleyplace has also become a family destination due to the wealth of events they hold throughout the year.

An annual open-air movie festival, monthly farmer’s markets in the summer months, food festivals, live music, dragon boat race, there is always something happening in Brindleyplace.

Small open spaces in the vicinity further provide visitors with places to sit and relax or maybe have a quick afternoon bite, adding to the charm of this community.

Moreover, the presence of a number of diverse bars and restaurants brings a foodie richness to the area that is incomparable to any other place in the city.

7. Cannon Hill Park

Birmingham: cannon hill

A vast oasis of green, Cannon Hill Park is the go to place for the family on weekends. Whether it is to lie back and enjoy a sunny afternoon picnic or spend some time appreciating the local flora and fauna, the park has long been an integral part of the local community.

A conservation centre, the park is also host to the Mac Birmigham which in turn arranges a number of art and theatrical performances throughout the year.

In addition, Cannon Hill Park also comprises of a lake, a sports centre, and on pleasant sunny days a number of activities suitable for children and adults can be found taking place across the grounds.

8. Birmingham Canals

Birmingham: canals

What was once the primary transportation route for the many industries that operated in the region has now become the city’s biggest draw.

The canals in Birmingham have become the perfect place for romantic boat rides, leisurely walks along the water, a refreshing path for a morning run, or just the perfect location to have an evening drink at one of the many canal-side pubs and restaurants to wash away the daily grind.

For the slightly more adventurous, it is also possible to rent out a canal boat and take it out for a duration of your choice. Otherwise, for those wanting a more tranquil cruise, a number of hour long historical tours to dinner cruises run the route that can be a great way to see the city and the natural beauty that surrounds it.

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9. Broad Street & Walking with the Stars

Birmingham: broad st

Feel like dancing? Want to have a drink after a hard day at work? Just want to relax over a glass of wine? Broad Street is where your search ends in Birmingham.

Lined with restaurants and bars on both sides, this street becomes the place to see and be seen as the sun begins to set.

Catch a movie at Cineworld, have an Indian meal at Pushkar’s, maybe enjoy the laidback attitude of Walkabout – an Australian bar, or dance away the night at one of the clubs, but remember to walk on Broad Street with your eyes down because along the way you are likely to find “stars” commemorating local legends in the form of “Walk of Stars”.

10. Treat: Greek Deli

Birmingham: treat deli

The diversity of Birmingham is most evident in the variety of food options that are available across the city. This in turn has led to it becoming a premier food destination of the country.

Treat is a tiny Greek cafeteria among a collection of gourmet and boutique shops that call the Great Western Arcade their home.

An assortment of authentic Greek products line the walls and a lingering smell of the tastiest Koulouri fill the air.

Treat is famous for its fresh salads and smoothies, baguettes and sandwiches made with Greek ingredients, and their coffee is one of the finest in the city, something that they are extremely proud of.

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11. Rag Market

Birmingham: rag market

A setup of indoor and open shops that sell clothes, food, and other daily necessities, the “World Famous Birmingham Rag Market” is a great place to just take a stroll, even if you have nothing to buy.

Besides being a place for business The Rag Market is also heavily involved in the local community for the benefit of trade and often holds or supports causes.

The Rag Market is the place to go when you are looking for the one thing that cannot be found anywhere else, or to grab a bargain that will bring a smile to your face.

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12. Botanical Gardens

Birmingham: botanical gardens

A 15-acre land situated in Edgbaston, Birmingham, the Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses is a continued effort by the city to keep it green and also offer an opportunity for a tete-a-tete with nature within the city limits.

The uniqueness of the activities – Falconry, Bonsai demonstration, theatre in the park – at the Botanical Gardens makes it’s a must visit destination especially for horticulturists or students and adults with even a modest interest in nature.

It also serves as an event space to make that special celebration in your life even more distinct and remarkable.

13. Victoria Square

Birmingham: victoria square

A public space at one end of New Street in Birmingham’s centre, Victoria Square consists of a number of interesting architectural and political buildings along with noteworthy sculptures.

The Council House and the Greek looking Town Hall cover two sides whereas the Iron Man, The River – which has been converted from a fountain to a “garden”, and a statue of Queen Victoria also stand in the square.

Victoria Square often comes alive during special celebrations or at lunch hour every weekday as surrounding office workers head on there to sit and grab a quick bite in some fresh air.

14. Bullring

Birmingham: bullring

The Bullring is the primary shopping complex of Birmingham that has a wide variety of shops ranging from clothing to entertainment and restaurants to open spaces that host special promotional events especially on weekends.

Selfridges with its unique modern architectural extension takes up a considerable part of the Bullring and can satisfy all your high-end clothing needs.

The best time to visit Bullring is during the sales because it’s easy to grab a really good bargain on something that you have had your eyes on for a long time.

15. Friska

Birmingham: friska

If you are in search of the best Korean Pulled Pork Burrito or the most scrumptious Pho Noodles in Birmingham, then Friska is where your journey ends.

Situated in Brindleyplace, catering primarily to the office crowd, the restaurant is open only on weekdays and that too for breakfast and lunch.

Friska’s unique selling point is that they make in-house tea, coffee, and naturally flavoured drinks everyday guaranteeing freshness. Add to that a drool worthy breakfast menu of toasties, muffins, or various boxes, and you have got yourself the perfect meal to fuel your day.

16. Think Tank Science Museum

Birmingham: Think Tank Science Museum

The Think Tank Science Museum is the textbook place to visit for some family fun and education all rolled into one complete day.

Learn about marine life or the function of human organs or see a show at the in-house planetarium and then explore the marvels that the future holds for us; there is something new to learn about the world every time you visit the museum.

For some more hands on action, visit the Science Garden that incorporates science with activities and equipment which can be enjoyed by children of all ages.

17. Frankfurt Christmas Market

Birmingham: Xmas market

The annual German Christmas market has become the most anticipated event of the winter season as traders from across the Channel head over to Birmingham to showcase their authentic goods and serve up some delicious food and confectionaries.

While a cup of Glühwein is good enough to warm the heart, there is a lot more on offer such as traditional German sausages, schnitzel, and huge pretzels.

A number of booths also sell German made handicrafts and artisanal products which make for excellent and exclusive Christmas gifts.

18. Mailbox

Birmingham: Mailbox

In the mood for some high-end shopping or maybe just a stroll admiring art?

The Mailbox is a covered complex that houses brands like Armani, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith, and Harvey Nichols.

The annual Harvey Nichols sale is legendary in Birmingham, and the art galleries and fashion boutiques that are part of the Mailbox ooze pure luxury.

However, the real charm of The Mailbox is in the string of restaurants that are situated towards it back, along the canal end.

Whether it is a gourmet burger that you want or a freshly made pizza, the restaurants in the vicinity cater to all kinds of customers and tastes.

19. Bookshops

Birmingham: Bookshops

For a bit of bookish therapy, head to one of two book shops that stand out in the city.

Waterstones recently renovated their site into a 7-floor mecca of literary goodness in the heart of the city’s shopping district next to the famous Bullring shopping complex.

Floor after floor is filled with all things scholarly and erudite with a friendly staff and even a coffee-shop that lets you take a breather from all the reading, although still surrounded by words.

For a more independent feel, head to Nostalgia & Comics, a bookshop on Smallbrook Queensway that is filled with the latest graphic novels and superhero memorabilia that is every comic book lovers dream come true.

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20. The Potato Man

Birmingham: The Potato Man

The best jacket potatoes in all of West Midlands and more, the Potato Man is a food trailer that is parked on New Street in the main shopping district of Birmingham.

The Potato Man had humble beginnings as originally it was a tiny stand that would operate primarily around lunch time some years ago. Now, it is a full-fledged trailer that serves the yummiest of baked potatoes with a choice of multiple fillings both for those that are health conscious and ones who don’t mind a bit of extra butter with their meal.

Whether it is light snack you are looking for during a shopping spree or a healthy after work lunch, the only thing you need to be wary of is the line that forms outside The Potato Man during lunch hours.