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Top 10 things to do in Birmingham

15 September 2016

The very best of Birmingham, a guide to the city's top attractions, including great walks and galleries.

Birmingham canals
Take a leisurely stroll along Birmingham's canals

Birmingham became known as the ‘city of a thousand trades’ during the 18th and 19th century. While its industrial base may have altered over time, its host of listed buildings, museums, parks and gardens as well as shops and restaurants, mean there is plenty to choose from in terms of art, architecture and culture. After a busy day, the cathedral provides a perfect retreat where you can take time out to marvel at the stained glass windows, designed by Burne-Jones and manufactured by the firm of William Morris and Co.

Enjoying objects of beauty – be they paintings, drawings, sculpture or artefacts – can be like a breath of fresh air, energising, uplifting and thought-provoking all at the same time. Fortunately, you don’t have to necessarily travel abroad to enjoy them. With its good transport links, a fascinating heritage and some wonderful galleries and art treasures, Birmingham is waiting for you to explore.

1. Go to the theatre

As well as the Hippodrome, check out the listings at others such as Alexandra Theatre, The Old Rep and The Crescent Theatre, to name a few. Combine with a stay at the chic Hotel Indigo for the ultimate sophisticated city weekend.

2. Shop 'til you drop at the Bull Ring

Birmingham is mecca for shoppers. From the colossal malls at the Bull Ring to the quirky markets that surround this iconic building, you'll find it quite easy to burn a hole in your wallet.

3. Stroll the canals

Enjoy a leisurely stroll along these charming waterways or hop on board a narrowboat cruise.

4. Take a tour of the BBC studios

Take a glimpse behind the scenes with a tour of the BBC Studios at the Mailboz building. Explore the world of radio and television broadcasting over time - you can even have a go at presenting your own show!

5. Discover beautiful churches

As well as two stunning cathedrals - St. Philip's and St. Chad's - Birmingham offers a collection of atmospheric churches to explore. Seek out St Edburhga's, St Laurence's, St Martin and St Giles, to name but a few.

6. Window shop in the Jewellery Quarter

Have a little browse in the area that boasts Europe's largest concentration of jewellery businesses. Even if you don't treat yourself or someone special to something sparky, why not splash out a little on a hotel?

7. Follow the Tolkien Trail

Renowned author JRR Tolkien grew up in Birmingham and drew inspiration from the city to weave into his captivating tales. Pick up a leaflet detailing the trail and you can follow in his footsteps to the local nature reserves of Moseley Bog and Joy's Wood as well as see where he once lived and studied.

8. Relax in the Martineau Gardens

This community garden is a city oasis made up of meticulously tended landscapes, complete with nature trail, orchard and its very own woodland habitat. Bring a picnic - there is indoor and outdoor seating around the pavilion.

9. Indulge in Indian food

The dining in Birmingham is exceptional but the variety of Indian restaurants might be one of the very best you can find in the UK. There is even a part of the city with the moniker 'the Balti Triangle' due to its high concentration of curry houses. Indian food aficionados will be spoiled for choice.

10. Visit Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Culture vultures will enjoy the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's interesting insights into the city's history whilst interior decor fans will appreciate the sumptuous ceilings and sweeping staircases within.

Perhaps one of the best-known UK galleries outside London is Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, home to the world’s most important public collection of Pre-Raphaelite art. This collection of some 3,000 drawings, prints and paintings, together with decorative arts, chronicles the famous ‘Brotherhood’ who changed the face of art in Britain. It includes such paintings as Prosperine and Beata Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Star of Bethlehem by Burne Jones, and Frederick Sandys’ Morgan Le Faye, providing glimpses into the initially secretive world of the Pre-Raphaelites. 

Birmingham’s collection of decorative arts shines equally brightly, one of its brightest stars being The Staffordshire Hoard. Discovered in 2009, the hoard comprises the largest collection of Anglo Saxon gold ever discovered and includes sword hilts, jewellery and helmet decorations, all wonderful examples of the art of the Anglo-Saxon goldsmith.

11. Take a trip to The New Gallery, Walsall

Simply head to The New Art Gallery in nearby Walsall, north west of Birmingham, to step forward into the 20th-century world of Epstein and Freud. The gallery’s contemporary design is an explosion of light and space where you can also enjoy works by impressionists such as Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir, later works by painters including Pierre Bonnard and Robert Delaunay, sculpture and exhibits of local interest.

12. Enjoy the Barber Institute of Fine Art

For lovers of the 18th century and earlier, a visit to Birmingham University’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts may be just the thing. Here you’ll find paintings by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Lancret, alongside earlier works by Veronese and Bellini, and later pieces by Degas and Whistler. Housed in a splendid Art Deco building, the Institute also has a fine Byzantine coin collection.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.