City guides

City guide: What to do in Birmingham

January 9, 2023

With more miles of canals than Venice, and a heavily industrial past, Birmingham has re-invented itself. It’s home to Cadbury Chocolate, the National Sea Life Centre and the balti curry. It’s a walkable city offering plenty of family attractions, with activities for the laid-back, and adventures for the energetic. It has award-winning restaurants, canal-side cafes, cozy cocktail bars and ample craft breweries. Shoppers will love the Bullring and Mailbox, the city’s two huge malls, carrying all the big-name brands. Plus, Birmingham is easy to reach from anywhere in the UK and perfect for a cheap, fun or romantic city break or even a simple family holiday.

Birmingham Cannon Hill Park

What to do in Birmingham with the kids

Thinktank, is an award-winning science museum, with talking robots, an excellent planetarium, and hundreds of hands-on experiments. There’s also MiniBrum, a junior-sized city where children can pretend to be grown ups. The popular outdoor Science Garden has around 30 fun and interactive activities themed around transport, mechanics and engineering, with the centre piece, a giant human-sized hamster wheel.

Both educational and entertaining, the National SEA LIFE Centre is home to around 2,000 fascinating and sometimes very strange creatures. It also has the UK’s only 360-degree ocean tunnel where the kids can get up close and personal with tropical fish, sharks and giant turtles. Other exhibits include otters, penguins and octopus.

If the little ones simply want to play, there’s always the LEGOLAND Discovery centre. It’s full of LEGO-centred activities, has two fun rides, a cinema and a LEGO soft play area. A favourite is the Build and Test Zone for improving LEGO building skills and MINILAND which highlights some of Birmingham's famous landmarks (see if you can identify them!) with more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks.

The 200-acre Cannon Hill Park is one of Birmingham’s largest parks and is full of family-friendly attractions. These include mini golf, a fun fair and a miniature train service. It also contains the Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, a small zoo with a unique collection of animals including wallabies, meerkats, pandas and lemurs. They also provide daily feeding sessions and talks on endangered species.

What to do in Birmingham as a couple

For a memorable night out, the city’s flagship theatre, the Hippodrome, should be centre stage. It presents everything from West End and Broadway musicals, and the full Welsh National Opera repertoire, to the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the world’s biggest Pantomime. Opened in 1895, it’s one of the UK’s most popular theatres, attracting over 500,000 visits every year.

Birmingham also has the world-class Repertory Theatre, the forerunner to the RSC and National Theatre. It has produced over 130 new plays, delivers 60 new productions each year, and has nurtured greats like Laurence Olivier.

For lovers of botanic gardens and historic houses, then Winterbourne House, minutes from the city, is a must see. The Edwardian building, full of period antiques, is surrounded by seven acres of beautiful gardens, with over 6,000 exotic plant species, woodland walks, and a delightful Japanese Bridge. They also offer regular events, talks and courses.

While gondolas may be in short supply on Birminghams canals, you can hop aboard a luxury Sherborne Wharf narrowboat and unwind while you cruise past historic sites, like Gas Street Basin, Brindley Place and Sherborne Wharf. These sites are also worth exploring on foot for their excellent selection of restaurants and cafes, as well as trendy bars and lively pubs.

Alternatively take a unique restaurant cruise with Away 2 Dine over afternoon tea, a Sunday roast, or a romantic evening meal while you soak up the ever-changing scenery through panoramic windows.

bear grylis adventure birmingham

What to do in Birmingham with friends

If you’re looking for fun with friends then look no further. Birmingham has several ‘Escape Rooms’ where you can pit your problem-solvings skills against the clock in different themed environments, include horror, crime, fantasy and sci-fi. Among the most popular are Escape Live, ClueHQ and Escape Hunt who also offer outdoor augmented reality games and virtual reality activities, indoors.

However, if you’re a fan of Survivor-style TV shows, then put your survival skills to the test at The Bear Grylls Adventure. There are eleven exciting activities on offer - including a high ropes course, indoor skydiving, a shark dive, and axe throwing - to suit the adrenaline junkies.

Birmingham's cafes, pubs and bars are varied and plentiful, but you can’t leave without trying a famous balti curry. The dish was invented here around 1975 by enterprising locals, along with the metal cooking bowls they’re prepared in. The best place to taste an authentic balti is Birmingham’s south-east, within the Balti Triangle.

Birmingham Jewellery district

What we like to do in Birmingham

Only a short stroll from the city centre, or take the Metro, the historic Jewellery Quarter is home to over 700 businesses. Including jewellers, independent retailers, cafes, bars and restaurants. Diamond dealers rub shoulders with watchmakers, gold traders with specialist metalworkers, and together they still produce 40% of all UK-made jewellery. Once you’ve explored the numerous workshops and galleries there’s a thriving food and drink scene to immerse yourself in. You’ll find buzzing pizzerias, modern Indian eateries, hip coffee shops and cosy Victorian-era pubs serving classic English meals.

For a more in-depth glimpse of the jewellery trade and the unique working life within the Quarter, visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. It’s located within a preserved workshop and offers guided tours, where you can watch craftsmen at work.

Birmingham is perfect to explore by foot. There are plenty of walking tours to choose from: ghost walks, Tolkien tours (for fans of the Hobbit), Digbeth graffiti walks, and romantic tours. There are very popular Peaky Blinders walking tours, where you’ll learn the real history of the Birmingham gangs as well as their impact on the city.

What not to miss in Birmingham

No visit to Birmingham is complete without a visit to Cadbury World, with or without kids. It’s home to the UK’s (and possibly the world’s) most famous chocolate brand and offers an interesting, tasty and fun-packed day out. At what was the original Cadbury factory you can learn about the history of chocolate, from Aztec times, through Cadbury’s early years, to how it’s made today. You can also get your hands sticky with some chocolate making, or sit back and enjoy the 4D Chocolate Adventure zone. And for those with a really sweet tooth there is an impressive chocolate shop on site too.

For a fascinating step back-in-time and a chance to experience the lives of the working-class over the past 200 years don’t miss Birmingham’s Back to Backs. The four terraced houses, in the city’s heart, were built back-to-back style around a communal courtyard and provide a vivid glimpse into the very cramped lives of the former residents. The houses are maintained by National Trust and are guided tours only so must be booked in advance.

Where to stay in Birmingham

Birmingham is compact, easy to explore and has good transport connections whether you’re coming by road, rail or coach. It also has many options for an ideal holiday home or weekend let, from modern town houses and 1-bed apartments to central penthouses and spacious Victorian homes. At Pass the Keys, our wide selection of accommodation will cater for couples, families of all sizes, or friends on a fun group holiday. See our available properties below.

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