Birmingham local? Just visiting? Want to know if it’s worth visiting? There are so many great things to do without even leaving the city centre. Or “town”, as we Brummies call it. Here’s a Brummie Home and Abroad’s handy guide to 40 (ish) things to do in Birmingham City Centre. I was going to include places to eat and drink in here but it became WAY too long so that’s for another blog post. I might sneak one or two in here though…
(I’m also including Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter in this round-up as they’re only a short walk from the city centre, and there are so many great places that it’s be remiss to omit them…)
Brum has an eclectic selection of museums and art galleries. The centrepiece of course is the magnificent Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Chamberlain Square – still accessible despite the ever-present construction work going on around it. You can find Pre-Raphaelite works, the Staffordshire Hoard, an impressive Ancient Egypt collection and – at the time of writing – a temporary exhibition celebrating Black Sabbath and the birth of heavy metal right here in the Midlands. Entry is free although the Home of Metal exhibition is chargeable and requires pre-booked tickets. You can find more information here.
The Ikon Gallery on Oozells Square has a host of contemporary exhibitions housed in an old Victorian schoolhouse. Visit in springtime and you might get to see all the beautiful blossom on the tree-lined square. Ikon is also home to one of the city’s two Yorks Cafes – a great place to have coffee and cafe or a quick bite for lunch
The National Trust’s Back to Backs are located in Birmingham’s Southside and are a great look at the cramped housing that was common in cities in the 19th century. There’s even an old-fashioned sweet shop on site to pick up some retro sweet treats. Or if it’s pop culture that floats your boat, how about visiting St Paul’s Gallery, with it’s impressive collection of signed album cover art and limited edition musician portraits
Whilst you’re in the Jewellery Quarter area, you can find out if the pen really is mightier than the sword at the Pen Museum on Frederick Street. Did you know fact fans that during the 19th century over 75% of all pens in the world were produced in Birmingham? Lastly, if you’re into the macabre, how about an entire museum dedicated to your final resting place? The Coffin Works is a workshop-turned-museum giving a fascinating insight into the world of coffin-building.
We’re a city that’s proud of our culture, heritage and arts. And aside from the museums and galleries, there’s a whole host of other places to celebrate the culture of Brum.
The old Central Library – a divisive piece of architecture – was knocked down to make way for the new Library of Birmingham – yet another divisive piece of architecture. Not only is it a traditional lending library, but there are rare archives, art and gallery space, a cafe and a studio theatre. There are also some great outdoor spaces with views across the city. If live music is more your thing, there are plenty of places to indulge, from world-class performers at Symphony Hall and Arena Birmingham, to nostalgic nights at The Jam House and The Night Owl.
Wanna see a film? Of course Birmingham has it’s fair share of multiplexes with all the bells and whistles but for me two venues stand out. First is The Electric on Station Street. It’s the oldest working cinema in the country, and still retains it’s early 20th century charm with little 21st century comforts like waiter service and sofas. Expect themed snacks and cocktails. And down in Digbeth you have The Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen which as well a line-up of new releases also holds regular Saturday brunch events accompanied by classic films.
Prefer the stage to the screen? We have two top-notch theatres which bring large touring productions to Brum – the Birmingham Hippodrome and the Alexandra. But there also a number of other theatres around the city, including The Old Rep, The Blue Orange Theatre, The Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Crescent Theatre. One of Birmingham’s most elegant pubs, The Old Joint Stock, also has it’s own theatre.
Want to find out more about the UK’s second city? Positively Birmingham have a number of different walking tours which start from the Library of Birmingham whilst Rob and Ruby of Real Birmingham offer tours daily from Victoria Square – these are free but tips are encouraged! Or take a tour with Professor Carl Chinn – a man for whom Birmingham would surely be his specialist Mastermind subject. If you prefer the DIY approach, head down to Digbeth and follow Walk Run Cycle’s Graffiti Art of Digbeth self-guided walk.
Maybe you’re in Brum to splash the cash. There’s plenty of shopping to be done. There’s the Bull Ring, with all it’s chain stores and familiar brands. Check out the distinctive Selfridges exterior with it’s 15,000 aluminium discs. Grab a selfie with the Bull Ring Bull (who may or may not be wearing one of it’s many funky outfits). And if you must, pay a visit to the world’s largest Primark. Don’t go on a Saturday afternoon. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
But step away from the crowds and check out the independent stores hiding away in arcades and off the beaten track. In the Great Western Arcade you can try wine (or gin) tasting at Loki Wine, pick up the ingredients for a perfect cheese board at Anderson & Hill, or buy yourself a Peaky Blinder style cap at Peter Forson Hats. Wander through Piccadilly Arcade and make sure you gaze at the murals on the ceiling. If you need any shoes reheeling, drop them into Piccadilly Cobbler and the pop into Faculty for a coffee and cake whilst you wait. And there’s a beautiful florist Petals of Piccadilly. I’m biased as they did my wedding flowers…
If it’s a sparkly piece of jewellery you’re after, then Birmingham has a whole quarter dedicated to it. Cleverly named the Jewellery Quarter, there are plenty of glittering goods available as well as a burgeoning arts scene and plenty of great places to eat and drink. Or if you’re after something a little more quirky, or a little more vintage, head down to the Custard Factory in Digbeth. Yes, it was once actually a Custard Factory, built by Alfie Bird of Bird’s Custard fame. Digbeth is also home to the UK’s largest zero waste supermarket The Clean Kilo – 100% packaging free, bring your own reusable containers (or buy them there) and stock up on loads of locally sourced goods.
All work and no play makes A Brummie Home and Abroad a dull girl! So where can you go to let off a bit of steam in Brum? If adult-themed crazy golf is your thing, then head down to Digbeth where Ghetto Golf awaits. Don’t go blushing at that sex-shop themed hole now. Whilst you’re in Digbeth, you can also play a game or two of table tennis at ping pong and pizza bar Drop Shot. Pop into Dig Brew Co whilst you’re in the area. It’s ace.
If you’re more of a bowler than a ping-ponger then Lane 7 at the Cube may be the place for you. Not only is there ten-pin bowling in an elegant setting but you can also play shuffleboard and beer pong, hire the karaoke room or pit yourself against retro arcade games. And if retro arcade games are your thing, Kongs has them in spades. Prefer pinball? Then Tilt may be your cup of tea – coffee shop/craft beer bar with three floors of pinball tables.
Social darts is the latest craze to hit Birmingham, and Flight Club is an ace night out – even if you’re not much of an oche jockey. You can read all about my Flight Club experience here. Brum also has it’s fair share of escape rooms if that’s your bag, many of them around the Jewellery Quarter area. Escape Live is soon to have a Peaky Blinders room to add to their collection. I’ve managed to write 1400 words so far before mentioning Peaky Blinders. Yay me.
Ok, so this isn’t my specialist subject. Unless small humans means being 5’3″ or less. In which case I’m an expert. But if there were little Brummies in the Brummie H&A household then I would definitely take them to the Legoland Discovery Centre to test my building skills. I was great at lego as a kid. If “being great” meant building multi-coloured walls for hours on end. You’ll recognise where the entrance is when you see the 10ft lego giraffe keeping a watchful eye on the canals. Close to Legoland is the National Sealife Centre where you can spot underwater creatures from starfish to sharks, and say hello to the resident seals at the mammal rescue facility.
The Thinktank museum at Millenium Point is interactive with plenty of hand-on exhibits to educate and inspire young minds. There’s an outdoor Science Garden, a Planetarium, Marine Worlds and a Spitfire Gallery for starters. Mr Fletche and I had fun there. And we’re definitely not small humans.
The Brummie Mummies have loads of good ideas of things you can do with your small humans in and around Birmingham here.
So that’s it! A not-so-succinct round-up of 50 ish things to do in Birmingham City Centre, Digbeth and the Jewellery Quarter. If I’ve inspired you to give Brum a visit, or try something new, let me know in the comments!