When you visit Birmingham for the first time, you might be pleasantly surprised. With its historical status as an industrial powerhouse, Birmingham is sometimes wrongly associated with concrete, factories and monochrome urban spaces.
In reality, the UK’s second-largest city is a place where colourful art, culture, and creativity blend with bustling business, shopping, and entertainment districts.
There is no shortage of things to do during your stay in the city, from going on a street-art walk to meandering along the canals.
Here is a list of the 6 best things to do in Birmingham.
- 1. Go on a stroll around Digbeth, Birmingham’s hippest neighbourhood
- 2. Explore the landscapes that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
- 3. Find your happy place in Birmingham Botanical Gardens
- 4. Explore Brindleyplace and the Canal Quarter
- 5. Lounge around the Jewellery Quarter
- 6. Treat yourself to a memorable dining experience
- FAST FACTS
1. Go on a stroll around Digbeth, Birmingham’s hippest neighbourhood
The Sunday Times named Digbeth the ‘Coolest Neighbourhood in Britain’ for good reason. It’s a real hipster enclave.
Awaken your bohemian spirit by admiring sky-scraping murals created by world-renowned artists.
Visit the Trinity Street Car Park with its entrance made from crushed car parts (possibly the coolest car park in the UK!), or head to Red Brick Market to buy original items from independent traders.
Getting there: Digbeth is a 10-minute walk from Moor Street Station or Birmingham New Street Station. It’s also a short walk from Bullring – the major Birmingham shopping centre.
Touring there: To book a public Digbeth walking tour, go here.
Alternatively, click here to download a free graffiti art map for a self-guided walk (side note: some murals are here today and gone tomorrow; you may find different murals from those shown on the map).
2. Explore the landscapes that inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings
“I was born in Bloomsdale in South Africa…then, to have just at the age when imagination is opening out, suddenly find yourself in a quiet Warwickshire village, I think it engenders a particular love of what you might call central Midlands English countryside. Based on good water, stones and elm trees and small quiet rivers and so on, and of course, rustic people about”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Located only four miles south of the centre of Birmingham, the eighteenth-century Sarehole Mill is the starting point for a guided Tolkien tour.
Tolkien lived close to the Mill area as a child, and that’s where he found inspiration for ‘The Shire’, the home of the Hobbits.
The Mill is now a museum where you can see the Middle-Earth exhibition.
Spot Tolkien’s favourite willow tree and relax around the millpond, watching ducks, herons, moorhens or even bats if you visit at dusk.
Take a look at the author’s first Birmingham home, located on Wake Green Road, and head off on a scenic walk around Moseley Bog, an enchanting woodland that inspired ‘The Old Forest’.
Getting there: From Birmingham City Centre, take bus number 5 and get off at the Sarehole Mill, Cole Bank Road bus stop. Check your timetable here.
Alternatively, take a train from Birmingham Moor Street Station to Hall Green Station. Check the timetable here.
If you travel by car, there is a free car park at Sarehole Mill.
Touring there: Book the Origins of Middle-Earth: J. R. R Tolkien and Sarehole Guided Walk here.
Guided tours are available on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Alternatively, you can download a map for a self-guided tour.
3. Find your happy place in Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Listen to birdsong, smell the fragrance of exotic flowers and learn about tropical plants as you stroll through the ornamental gardens and Victorian glasshouses of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
The Gardens, located in Edgbaston, less than 2 miles from the city centre, are home to over 7000 plants.
Don’t miss the exhibit of tropical butterflies from the Philippines, Central America and Africa. Butterfly House is open from late May until the first Sunday in September.
After a walk through the gardens, unwind with a cup of tea at the on-site café with a view.
Check the website of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in advance to find out about current events, including flower shows, festivals and photography workshops.
Getting there: You can easily reach the Gardens by bus 23, 24, 1, X8, 9, X10, 12, 12A, 13, 13A, 13B, X21 or 126. Click here to plan the best route.
Touring there: You can book a guided tour of the gardens here.
4. Explore Brindleyplace and the Canal Quarter
Brindleyplace was a manufacturing site during Birmingham’s industrial past, but it has been rejuvenated into a leisure area that links to Birmingham’s canals.
It’s the ultimate destination for foodies with its bustling waterside cafés and bars.
From Brindleyplace, go on a stroll along the canals (the locals brag that they have more canals than Venice!), take a canal boat tour or enjoy a picnic on the water on a relaxing Sunday lunch cruise.
Getting there: Brindleyplace is just a ten-minute walk from the centre of Birmingham and is easily accessible by bus or tram. The closest stop is on Broad Street.
5. Lounge around the Jewellery Quarter
Birmingham Jewellery Quarter is the UK’s centre for jewellery and has been described by English Heritage as a ‘national treasure’.
It’s a fascinating area with over a hundred shops selling handcrafted jewellery.
Treat yourself to a unique jewellery piece from a local designer, try your hand at calligraphy at The Pen Museum, stroll around idyllic and leafy St. Paul’s Square or enjoy the vibe at one of the trendy local cafés, bars, or chocolateries.
6. Treat yourself to a memorable dining experience
Birmingham has plenty to offer when it comes to unique dining experiences. It’s a great destination for foodies, with more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other UK city outside of London. You can try Carters, Purnell’s, Adam’s or Opheem to taste exceptional cuisine.
But there are many other great independent eateries with food options from all over the world.
As Birmingham is known as the ‘curry capital’, why not try this Indian speciality in elegant Lasan (the restaurant that was featured on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word in 2010) or the award-winning Asha’s.
For delicious but more affordable food options, try Indian street food in Zindiya. You will love not only the food but also their immersive, casual and trendy décor.
Birmingham has two major railway stations: Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International. Check the National Rail website here for the most convenient connections.
The quickest way to get to Birmingham from London is to take a train from Euston or Marylebone Stations. The journey lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Birmingham is also served by the National Express; check their website for the best bus routes here.
Clayton Hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of Birmingham New Street Station. This upscale hotel offers stylish and spacious rooms with high-tech amenities and a fully equipped fitness centre. The restaurant offers a great variety of breakfast options and freshly prepared food using locally sourced ingredients.
Aston Conference Hotel is a great option for those travelling on a budget. Located on the Aston University campus and within walking distance of Birmingham City Centre, the hotel offers contemporary guest rooms, access to the Victorian sports centre and indoor swimming pool, and a buffet breakfast.
Pentahotel Birmingham is the perfect place for those looking for hip accommodation with an avant-garde vibe. Located less than a mile away from Birmingham City Centre, the hotel offers a trendy communal area, comfortable rooms with minimalist designs, a 24/7 restaurant area, a fitness centre and a buffet breakfast.
Birmingham has a great network of public transport, including buses, trains and trams. You can find timetables here:
The city centre is quite compact and can be easily explored on foot or by bike.
An umbrella – it does rain a fair bit in Birmingham.
For an attraction-packed city break and to experience the friendliness of the Birmingham locals, aka Brummies.