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Birmingham Do List
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The 21 best things to do in Birmingham right now

Bold buildings, splendid sport and mould-breaking music – our round-up of the best things to do in Birmingham has it all

By James Brennan
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March 2021: It’s been devastating to have seen Birmingham quiet and shuttered for the last year. Soon, however, it should be kicking back into life. Under the current lockdown easing road map, the reopening of this diverse, buzzing city looms tantalizingly on the horizon. From April 12, non-essential shops will be able to re-open and restaurants, bars and pubs will be able to serve food and drink outside, with indoor dining on the cards from May 17. If all goes to plan most restrictions will be lifted by June 21, meaning the city’s eclectic nightlife and other cultural venues like its world-class theatres and galleries will be open again by this date. Time to get planning your next city trip. 

What to do in the City of a Thousand Trades? Birmingham’s proud industrial history, from Matthew Boulton and the Lunar Society to Bird’s custard and Cadbury’s chocolate, is only part of the story. The UK’s second city is an irrepressible cultural force, full of fine art and fine dining, shopping excess and sporting endeavour, bars and bold buildings, mould-breaking music and museums. Whether it’s the urban grit of the Peaky Blinders or the glorious greenery of Edgbaston, Birmingham will certainly have something that floats your canal boat. Here’s our definitive round-up of the very best experiences Brum has to offer.

Done something on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDoList and tag @TimeOutEverywhere. You can also find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Best things to do in Birmingham

Moseley Bog
Photograph: Courtesy TripAdvisor.com

1. See the inspiration for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ at Moseley Boga

What is it? A green idyl on the fringes of the city on the site of an old millpond. 

Why go? Wander around this nature reserve full of plants, animals and insects, gnarled old trees and gorgeous carpets of bluebells each spring. The site also has great archeological interest, having two burnt mounds, the remains such of an old mill dam and the foundations of Victorian greenhouses.

Don’t miss: JRR Tolkien, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ author grew up around Moseley Bog in the 1890s, and it’s said to be the inspiration for hobbit-hangout The Shire. Down the road in Edgbaston, a Victorian waterworks is said to have formed the basis for the evil Sauron’s towering lair. Slightly less bucolic, obvs.

Botanical Gardens
Photograph: Shutterstock

2.  Find tropical plants, birds and butterflies at the Botanical Gardens

What is it? Fifteen acres of ornamental gardens, glasshouses and exotic birds in indoor and outdoor aviaries.

Why go? A trip to the Botanical Gardens, an exotic world of tropical plantlife hidden in the unassuming suburb of Edgbaston, makes for an excellent family day out. The glasshouses are filled with all manner of strange flora, while the lawns and shrubbery outside are perfect for a stroll during the sunnier months.

Don’t miss: The butterfly house full of tropical insects from as far as the Philippines, Central America and tropical parts of Africa.

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Brindleyplace
Rob Greig

3. Explore Brindleyplace and the canal quarter

What is it? Birmingham’s vibrant canal quarter is home to some of the city’s best bars and restaurants, as well as the National Sealife Centre and IKON Gallery.

Why go? The oft-quoted ‘more canals than Venice’ claim is a bit iffy – Birmingham is soooo much bigger that it’s a daft comparison – but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on a walk around the canal quarter. It’s a real Cinderella part of town, having been hugely redeveloped and crammed full with restaurants and bars.

Don’t miss: Use the historic Roundhouse building as a base from which to explore by boat, bike or foot.

Jewellery Quarter
Photograph: Shutterstock

4.  Experience popular part of town, the Jewellery Quarter

What is it? Pack in a full day – and night – of fun in this increasingly popular part of town, where you’ll find everything from exhibitions to nightclubs.

Why go? With more than 200 listed buildings and over 250 years of history, Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter should be on any Brum itinerary. According to English Heritage, Europe’s largest cluster of jewellery businesses is a ‘national treasure’. Even if you’re not in the market for silver or gold, you’re sure to be entertained by its many other charms. Museum nerds will love the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, the Pen Museum and Newman Brothers Coffin Works. And with all the pubs, restaurants, galleries and independent boutiques here, there’s something for everybody else too.

Don’t miss: If you’re making a night of it, check in to BLOC, close to Jools Holland’s ever-popular JQ nightclub. Try Jam House, or if you have something even later and livelier in mind, Brum’s up-for-it generation descend upon the Actress & Bishop from about 1am, with no intention of making it a quiet one.

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Walking Tours
Photograph: Shutterstock

5. Discover city secrets on a walking tour

What is it? If the weather holds out – and that’s a big if – there’s no better way to see Birmingham than on foot.

Why go? There are some excellent guided walking tours, from Positively Birmingham’s Edward Burne-Jones pre-Raphaelite art tour, to Birmingham Heritage Walking Tours’ Lost Pubs of The Jewellery Quarter tour. Intrepid types can just go and wander around on their own – if you get lost, just ask a friendly Brummy (most don’t bite).

6. Fill up in style at the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants

Restaurants

What is it? Birmingham has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city outside the capital. 

Why go? Purnell’sSimpsonsAdam’s and Carters, and most recently Peel’s (of Solihull), will all bamboozle you with their culinary delights. And with more high-end independents opening all the time, you could well get in before the Michelin inspectors do. A quiet food revolution has been rumbling through Birmingham in recent times – now’s your time to sample it.

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The Bartons Arms
Photograph: Courtesy Flickr/Tony Hisgett

7. Sink a pint in grand Victorian pub The Bartons Arms

What is it? A grand Victorian pub with original stained glass, engraved mirrors and snob screens.

Why go? Surely one of the world’s greatest pubs, The Bartons Arms is a rare treasure among the mean streets of Newtown. Built in 1901 as a Victorian gin palace, it’s still beautifully ornate with original features such as Minton tiles, a grand horseshoe bar replete with snob screens and a stunning wrought iron staircase once climbed by the likes of Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.

Don’t miss: Book a tour or choose a pint from its fine range of Oakham ales and something spicy from the Thai menu.

8. Fill up on thalis at Raja Monkey

Restaurants Indian

What is it? A South Indian restaurant with a canteen vibe. 

Why go? If you really want to dine like a Brummie, then a trip to a curry house is mandatory. The Balti Triangle – located south of the city centre – is famed for its long-established restaurants, but we suggest you head to Raja Monkey. This Hall Green spot serves thalis and street-food snacks like dosa and uttapam with cheerful informality. 

Don’t miss: Try the £10-ish thalis for a taste of what's on offer.

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Grand Hotel in Birmingham
Photograph: Geograph / John M

9. Wine and dine at the refurbished Grand Hotel

What is it? A Grade II listed Victorian hotel in the city centre undergoing a modern transformation.

Why go? The legendary Grand Hotel re-opens in the summer of 2020 following an 18-year closure and a painstaking multi-million-pound restoration. The Grade II-listed building has hosted a plethora of historical figures, from Winston Churchill to Malcolm X, and now you can explore its striking Victorian and Art Deco interiors, including the jaw-dropping Grosvenor Ballroom and a new rooftop garden terrace.

Don’t miss: The brand new outdoor terrace in the central courtyard. Perfect for Covid-safe drinks. 

Mailbox Canal mall, Birmingham
Rob Greig

10. Fill your bags at one of the city’s iconic shopping destinations

What is it? A marketplace since the 12th century, Birmingham is still a city for shoppers. 

Why go? The Bullring is now a giant mall incorporating the part amorphous blob, part crash-landed UFO that is the Selfridges building. Across town, the Mailbox is a classier joint with the likes of Harvey Nichols and Emporio Armani.

Don’t miss: Most interesting are the independents, which you’ll find scattered all over town and in places like the splendid Great Western Arcade.

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Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Photograph: Shutterstock

11. Discover the treasures of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

What is it? Vast space filled with treasures – from Anglo-Saxon gold to finds from Greece and Egypt, and more contemporary pieces just around the corner. 

Why go? Housing the largest collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world and occupying one of the city’s finest buildings, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is not to be missed. Visitors can peruse one of the largest pre-Raphaelite collections in the world, delve into the treasures found in the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found or head up to the third level for a detailed, hands-on history of Birmingham and its people. As well as permanent collections it also has a series of fascinating temporary exhibitions. 

Don’t miss: The domed Round Room is often the location for free musical performances. Plus, make time for a slice of cake at BMAG’s refurbished Edwardian Tea Room.

Cadbury World
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Satisfy your sweet tooth at Cadbury World

What is it? Chocolate-focused attraction that features a number of sections dedicated to the sweet stuff. 

Why go? For the best views of Brum’s chocolate factory, arrive by train (13 minutes from New Street), and take a deep breath - a sweet haze envelopes the red-brick, old-world Bournville village. Designed and built for the workers of what was the centre of England’s chocolate empire, it is the main subject of Cadbury World. Tours include a deep dive into the history of cocoa, a 4D cinema and a ride in the self-styled ‘Beanmobile’.

Don’t miss: Have your Willy Wonka experience in the demonstration area (yes molten chocolate is involved; yes you get to eat it). The world’s biggest Cadbury store also awaits, boasting concoctions unavailable anywhere else.

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Black Country Living Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Tripadvisor/Dabblings

13. Follow in the footsteps of Birmingham’s baddest Victorian gang on Peaky Blinders tour

What is it? Stalk the very same streets the real ‘Peaky Blinders’ did on these dedicated tours.

Why go? Follow in the footsteps of Birmingham’s baddest Victorian gang with a Peaky Tour in Digbeth, visit the Lock-up at Steelhouse Lane police station where some of the gang were incarcerated.

Don’t miss: The wonderful open-air Black Country Living Museum where you can see the TV show’s sets for yourself, ride on heritage vehicles, visit a 1930s fish and chip shop and a 1920s cinema or test your timetables in a 1912 school lesson.  

14. Meet the city’s creatives at the Custard Factory

Things to do Event spaces

What is it? A restored Victorian factory, now a hub for creatives and independent businesses. 

Why go? Alfred Bird invented custard powder in Birmingham in 1837. These days, the only gooey yellow stuff to be found at the old Bird’s Custard factory in Digbeth might be paint, as it’s now a studio complex at the heart of Birmingham’s creative community. Not only is it the home of artists and the like, it’s also full of galleries, independent shops, cafés, restaurants, bars and the Mockingbird Cinema. With its graffiti-strewn walls and regular arts events, the whole area is well worth a few hours of mooching.

Don’t miss: Look out for regular open studio events to meet the designer-makers who make this place so special. 

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Villa Park
Photograph: Shutterstock

15. Tour the hallowed grounds of Villa Park

What is it? Take a tour of Aston Villa’s hallowed grounds, or even catch a game. 

Why go? There aren’t many football grounds in the world like Villa Park. The 42,000-capacity stadium has been home to Aston Villa since 1897, and it has an aura that few sporting institutions can match, especially when full and on song. Sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour or catch the boys in claret and blue play a Premier League game. 

Don’t miss: Try Villa's highly acclaimed but surprisingly affordable restaurant, VMF (that's Villa Midlands Food to you and me). It’s situated in the salubrious surrounds of the Directors Suite, and offers dinner on Fridays and Saturdays together with sell-out roasts on Sundays. But, not on match days of course. 

Edgbaston
Photograph: Shutterstock

16. Go behind-the-scenes at Edgbaston cricket ground

Museums Sport

What is it? The home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club. 

Why go? There’s nothing as quintessentially English as a game of cricket, and Birmingham boasts one of the very best places to watch one. Edgbaston is renowned as one of the country’s most atmospheric grounds, and 2019 saw several Cricket World Cup games played here, as well as an Ashes test. 

Don’t miss: Take a tour of the stadium to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Warwickshire and England changing room, the field, the media centre and more. 

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Symphony Hall
Photograph: Shutterstock

17. Treat your ears to a concert at Symphony Hall

Music

What is it? Opulent concert hall that’s home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. 

Why go? This grandiose venue was opened in 1991 and has delivered a rich programme of gigs and concerts ever since. Fun fact: it was recently voted as having the seventh-best concert-hall acoustics in the entire world, which is, well, music to our ears. Plus, it welcomes some of the biggest acts in the business, which is what it’s all about, right? 

Don’t miss: If you don’t know your Schubert from your Haydn, ease yourself in by attending an event at the hall’s oh-so festive December calendar. We can’t think of a time when the Hall looks better than at its 2,262 person capacity for candlelit carols.

National Motorcycle Museum
Flickr: Steve Watkins

18. See the largest collection of British motorcycles at the National Motorcycle Museum

What is it? The world's largest collection of British motorcycles.

Why go? A must-see for all petrolheads visiting Birmingham, this Bickenhill museum has more than 1,000 different motorcycles, dating all the way back to an 1898 Beeston Humber Tricycle. There are also plenty of pretty serious modern superbikes, for those more partial to today’s two-wheelers.

Don’t miss: Book a guided highlights tour with an experienced guide to get a behind-the-scenes look at the collections. 

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Hippodrome
Photograph: Jack Spicer Adams

19. See world-class theatre at Hippodrome

Theatre

What is it? Bringing in the big shows from the West End, this is the place to catch dazzling theatre performances, ballet shows and opera.

Why go? If there’s a massive West End production looking to come to the second city, you can be sure its destination will be the Birmingham Hippodrome. The Hippodrome has made a name for itself as the home of spectacular productions along the Lion King/Wicked side of things, offering considerable stage space and state-of-the-art technology to accommodate leaping lions and warbling witches. It’s come a long way from its beginnings as a variety theatre in the early 1900s, building strong links with Welsh National Opera over the years and acting as home to the globally acclaimed Birmingham Royal Ballet. 

Don’t miss: The Hippodrome also does brisk business with its annual Christmas panto – one of the highest grossing in the UK.

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Photograph: Flickr / Guy Evans / Bill Cooper

20. Marvel at the Birmingham Royal Ballet

What is it? One of the five major ballet companies in the UK producing jaw-dropping shows. 

Why go? The arrival of Carlos Acosta as artistic director is a major coup for Birmingham Royal Ballet. The company has an illustrious history, but the celebrated Cuban dancer has bold plans to reenergise the company. Expect plenty of risks and surprises as Acosta aims to reflect 21st-century Birmingham in a programme of classic revivals and ambitious partnerships.

Don’t miss: Watch ‘Empty Stage’, Acosta's first major digital commission for the Company. Available on BRB’s website. 

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18/81
Photograph: Courtesy 18/81

21. Sip a clandestine cocktail in the city’s speakeasies

What is it? Some of Birmingham’s best bars are hidden behind unassuming storefronts and doorways.

Why go? Their unassuming appearance makes it all the more exciting to have a cocktail in one. Channeling that 1920s American prohibition spirit is the super-cool 18/81 (somewhere on Thorp Street, just ring the bell) and 40 St Pauls (there’s no sign, look for the door with number 40 off St Paul’s Square).

Don’t miss: The Peaky Speakeasy (behind a bookcase somewhere in The Peaky Blinder pub in Dale End). Bottoms up!

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The best hotels in Birmingham

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Whether it’s for business or leisure, the best hotels in Birmingham are a pleasingly varied bunch, from small one-off boutique options to glitzy international chains.

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