Birmingham has been through more changes than most other British cities in the 21st century. Long gone are the dull concrete skyscrapers. Thanks to a host of regeneration projects, the best things to do in Birmingham take advantage of the city's intriguing mix of urban cool and industrial heritage.

From the mirror-fronted façade of Birmingham’s Grand Central station to the ‘bubble-wrapped’ Bullring mall, modern architectural landmarks are scattered throughout the city center. Add to this an impressive sporting pedigree and an eclectic food culture – everything from pop-up street dining to (arguably) Britain’s greatest balti restaurants – and the reasons for exploring Britain's 2nd city become clear. 

What are the best things to do in Birmingham?

  • 1

    Bullring Shopping Centre

    Shop for designer gear in Selfridges department store

    Bullring Shopping Centre
    • Food
    • Shoppers

    One of Birmingham’s first modern marvels, the sci-fi-looking Bullring is one of the city’s best places to shop. Check out the gear of some of Britain’s best designers in Selfridges department store, with plenty of other prominent boutiques from the likes of All Saints and Karen Millen to choose from. High street brands include H&M and Foot Locker.

    If you’re out and about in central Birmingham, you’re almost guaranteed to come across the Bullring as it’s walking distance from New Street station and surrounded by several other prominent attractions. Come meal times, you can choose from French bistro snacks to Asian noodles and plenty in between. And if you're looking for the best areas to stay, some of the biggest hotel chains are found near the Bullring Shopping Center.

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    Location: Birmingham B5 4BU, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)121 632 1500

    Map
  • 2

    Cadbury World

    Make your own chocolate at this chocolate-themed attraction

    Cadbury World
    • Families
    • History

    Cadbury World, one of the UK’s most loved chocolate brands, is just a few miles out from Birmingham city center. Take the family-friendly tour to see how chocolate is made, sample some new recipes and enjoy exciting rides and experiences, including a 4D short movie and a mini rollercoaster. It’s all themed around famous Cadbury brands.

    You can no longer take a look at the actual Cadbury production line, but there is a chance to see workers producing handmade chocolate items for the gift shop. Consider the afternoon tea set as a suitably sweet end to the tour, and choose a hotel option that's closeby to Cadbury World, so you don't have far to go after a long day.

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    Location: Linden Rd, Bournville, Birmingham B30 1JR, UK

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)844 880 7667

    Map
  • 3

    The Belfry golf course

    Visit one of the world’s most iconic golf courses

    The Belfry golf course
    • Adventure
    • Luxury

    The Belfry is where passionate golfers can experience some of the world’s best courses. Situated about a 15-minute drive from the center of Birmingham, there are 3 professional-level courses to choose from, namely the Brabazon Course, The Derby and the PGA National.

    As you might expect from a golf course of this stature, there’s luxury found in every corner of The Belfry. While the courses are its main attractions, there’s also a full spa and impressive dining venues. If you decide to visit with your kids, there’s even a 12-hole miniature golf course to keep them entertained.

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    Location: The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield B76, Sutton Coldfield, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)1675 622701


  • 4

    St. Philip’s Cathedral

    Watch the choir singers on Tuesday evenings

    St. Philip’s Cathedral
    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    For a spot of sightseeing in the swanky surroundings of Colmore Row, you can stop and gaze at St. Philip’s Cathedral. Built in 1715, the baroque stylings are pretty in any season and you can see some beautifully preserved stained-glass windows.

    Surrounding the cathedral, you’ll find excellent shopping options, including a high-end department store, on one side, and a collection of pubs and bars on the other. Mass takes place every Sunday, with free, guided tours and choral performances throughout the week.

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    Location: Colmore Row, Birmingham B3 2QB, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)121 262 1840

    Map
  • 5

    International Convention Center

    Explore Incredible Events

    International Convention Center

    The International Convention Center is one of the most popular places in the city for a wide variety of events and shows in an architectural marvel located along the canal. Inside, you'll find a wide-open atrium with several connecting bridges and walkways to ease travel on the upper floors.

    Even when there aren't any events going on, the surrounding walkways and bridges over the canal can make for a lovely stroll. When there isn't an event taking place, people generally spend about an hour in the area enjoying the connecting Centenary Square and canal.

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    Location: Broad St, Birmingham B1 2EA, UK

    Open: Daily from 7 am to 11 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1212 002000

    Map
  • 6

    NEC National Exhibition Center

    Visit One of the Largest Event Spaces in the UK

    NEC National Exhibition Center

    The NEC National Exhibition Centre is a massive conference center that hosts all sorts of shows and conventions in both indoor and outdoor spaces. This center was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976, and it has used the decades since to expand and push the limits of its industry.

    The wide variety of events put on here draw in all kinds of crowds, as this venue hosts trade shows, auto shows, expos and conventions. Depending on the event, a trip to this exhibition center is typically an all-day affair or lasts at least 3 or 4 hours.

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    Location: North Ave, Marston Green, Birmingham B40 1NT, UK

    Open: Monday–Wednesday from 9 am to 6 pm, Thursday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 8.45 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)1217 804141

    Map

    photo by Snowmanradio (CC BY 3.0) modified

  • 7

    Jewellery Quarter

    Browse the shops and soak up the history

    Jewellery Quarter
    • Couples
    • Luxury
    • Shoppers

    This close-knit community of 150 jewelers and craftspeople lets you experience the industrial heritage of Birmingham. It’s said that up to 40% of Britain’s jewelry business is traded through this enclave of manufacturing on the northern edge of the city center. You can easily walk to the Jewelry Quarter from New Street station in less than 20 minutes or take the train 1 stop to Jewelry Quarter station.

    Interspersed between specialist jewelry shops, you’ll find pubs, museums, art galleries, auctioneers, and other boutiques specializing in everything from wedding arranging to home furnishings. The Jewellery Quarter Festival takes place every July, featuring live music, parades, and lots of shopping opportunities. Book your hotel in advance to stay near the Jewellery Quarter.

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    Map
  • 8

    Victoria Square

    Check out the portrait gallery in Birmingham Council House

    Victoria Square
    • Budget
    • History
    • Photo

    Victoria Square is home to many of Birmingham''s most beautiful Victorian buildings and landmarks. The Town Hall and Birmingham Council House are 2 of the best examples of the city’s proud heritage. You’ll find the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery here, which contains several rooms of paintings and sculpture to enjoy for free. 

    The Baroque-style Birmingham Council House has an imposing dome and a clocktower, which has for many years been a popular meeting spot. The whole area is pedestrianized, which makes walking around easy. Every winter, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is set up in Victoria Square and is extremely popular with shoppers looking for presents, handicrafts, and mulled wine.

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    Location: Waterloo St, Birmingham B1 1BB, UK

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)121 303 1111

    Map
  • 9

    Black Country Living Museum

    Learn about the local history of Birmingham

    Black Country Living Museum
    • Families
    • History

    The Black Country Living Museum is a fascinating open-air museum that tells the unique story of Birmingham’s industrial history. Spanning more than 10 hectares, the Black Country Living Museum features reconstructed shops, houses and industrial sites that celebrate steam power and manufacturing in the city’s past.

    During your trip, you can take a ride on heritage vehicles, play historic street games and see live industrial demonstrations like nail making and chain making. You can also see a short film in a 1920s-era movie theater, test your knowledge with a 1912 school lesson or have an old-fashioned drink in the Bottle & Glass Inn.

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    Location: Tipton Rd, Dudley DY1 4SQ, United Kingdom

    Open: Wednesday–Sunday 10 am to 4 pm (closed Monday–Tuesday)

    Phone: +44 (0)121 557 9643

    Map

    photo by Phil Sangwell (CC BY 2.0) modified

  • 10

    Library of Birmingham

    Get inspired by art exhibitions, live theatre and poetry recitals

    Library of Birmingham
    • Budget
    • Families
    • Photo

    The Library of Birmingham has reimagined the whole concept for the digital age, with surprises in store, inside and out. The building itself is a real head-turner, with a 7th-floor garden and several spacious viewing platforms. Forget what you think you know about libraries.

    There’s a full program of events to attend for free. Watch live theatre in the amphitheater or explore the permanent exhibition dedicated to William Shakespeare, Britain’s most celebrated playwright. For movie buffs, the entire National Film Archive is available in private booths, courtesy of the British Film Institute.

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    Location: Centenary Square, Broad St, Birmingham B1 2ND, UK

    Open: Monday – Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm (open till 7 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays. Closed on Sundays)

    Map
  • 11

    Balti Triangle

    The birthplace of the balti curry

    Balti Triangle
    • Food

    It might sound strange, but Birmingham’s most famous culinary creation is the balti. It first started appearing in Birmingham restaurants in the 1970s, in an area referred to as the Balti Triangle. To try for yourself, head to Ladypool Road, just south of the city center.

    This fiery Pakistani/Indian dish, served in a metal bowl, is now a staple on menus throughout the country. Meat is roasted in a tandoor oven and then added to a rich curry that comes in several levels of spice. Most Balti restaurants don’t serve alcohol, but you are free to bring your own to enjoy with your meal.

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    Location: Ladypool Road, Birmingham B12, UK

    Open: lunch and dinner (most restaurants close around midnight)

    Map
  • 12

    Watch a game of soccer at a Birmingham stadium

    Experience the roar of the crowd at a Premier League soccer match

     Watch a game of soccer at a Birmingham stadium

    Birmingham is blessed with many professional sports teams, but in the hearts and minds of most locals, soccer – locally known as “football” – comes first. There are 4 major teams playing in and around the city. Aston Villa is probably the most famous, but Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion are also popular.

    Watching soccer live is one of the best things to do in Birmingham, and the intense experience when you first walk up into the packed stands can really get the adrenaline pumping. Throughout the 90-minute match, the crowd will chant and sing, which is a big part of the experience. The soccer league runs from August to May every year with most matches played on Saturday afternoons. If you’re here in the summer, you could go to watch a game of cricket instead. Warwickshire County Cricket Club play at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, around 3 miles from the city center.

  • 13

    Brindley Place

    Stroll along the canal and hop from bar to bar

    Brindley Place
    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Brindley Place is a popular area of Birmingham that's packed with dining and nightlife options and crisscrossed by canals. It’s a surprising fact that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice. There has been a real push to regenerate the waterways around the city, and the best place to see this is around Brindley Place. The whole area is alive with trendy bars, restaurants, and attractions.

    Simply stroll along and stop when a bar or restaurant takes your fancy, be it a German beer hall or demure cocktail lounge. A prominent focal point just next to Brindley Place is The Mailbox – the old central post office, which now features high-end restaurants, bars, and BBC television studios. You’ll also find Ikon Gallery, the National Sea Life aquarium and the Arena Birmingham concert hall, as well as plenty of hotel options nearby to Brindleyplace.

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    Location: Brindley Place, Birmingham, B1, UK

    Map
Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveler