Birmingham is England’s second-largest city behind the capital and is a sprawling metropolis with a hugely diverse population, culture and culinary heritage. Birmingham came to life during the industrial revolution during the 18th-century and was a city known for factories and warehouses, manufacturing and transporting goods via canals. Today, Birmingham offers residents and visitors fantastic and limitless shopping options, trendy cafes and restaurants serving every cuisine under the sun and so many museums and attractions. You couldn’t possibly get bored in Birmingham!
One of the most famous chocolate brands in the world and the most popular in England, Cadbury, was founded right here and the Cadbury World attraction is still one of the top things to do in Birmingham especially for families. There are also some great museums in Birmingham such as the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum and the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. Some of Birmingham’s neighbourhoods, like the Jewellery Quarter, memorialise Birmingham’s past whereas some, like the Gay Village and Chinese Quarter, speak to its future as a progressive and inclusive place to live and visit.
Birmingham is often overlooked in favour of other English cities to the north like Manchester and Liverpool, but this travel guide will show you that the Midlands has a lot to offer visitors too. This ultimate Birmingham travel guide will show you all the top Birmingham tourist sites, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Birmingham England and things to do in Birmingham which will help you in planning a trip to Birmingham UK.
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How to get to Birmingham
If you’re an international traveller, the most convenient airport to fly into is Birmingham Airport. It’s a huge, international airport with connections to elsewhere in Europe and beyond with direct flights to Canada, the Caribbean and South America via airlines like British Airways, Emirates and many more. Birmingham Airport has a train station and it’s the easiest way to travel to Birmingham New Street, the city centre airport, as trains take around 8 minutes and depart every 12 minutes.
National Express is one of the main bus services in England if you are travelling in the UK on a budget. Travelling by train is usually faster though more expensive. Avanti West Coast rail services take less than 90 minutes from London Euston and less than two hours from Manchester. You can drive into Birmingham via the M6 motorway and there are many paid parking options in the city centre.
What to expect in Birmingham
Birmingham is a city in the UK, therefore, the main language spoken is English, though around 15% of residents have a different first language which shows you how diverse this city is. The currency is GBP/pound sterling and the UK is not part of the Schengen zone and has recently left the European Union. Since travel regulations are still not 100% confirmed, make sure you have at least six months left on your passport and the appropriate medical insurance to be as prepared as possible for your trip, and of course, check VISA requirements.
Birmingham is known as one of the UK’s most unsafe cities, but as long as you follow your intuition and common sense it is no more unsafe than London. For example, don’t carry large sums of money, don’t walk through unlit areas alone at night and keep your phone in a front pocket or bag.
How to get around Birmingham
If you are just sticking to Birmingham city centre, you’ll easily be able to wander around the main sites and many of the shopping streets are pedestrianised. However, if you want to explore the outskirts of Birmingham and beyond, you may need to use public transport.
Apart from Birmingham New Street train station, there are other stations around the outside of the city centre if there is a particular neighbourhood you’re staying in, the Jewellery Quarter for example, or would like to visit, but there are only around eight of these stations. To travel within the city, the bus network is best. It’s run by Network West Midlands and extensively covers the whole city. You can pay by cash to the driver or obtain a Pay as You Go card that you can load with money if you plan on using the bus network a lot during your Birmingham trip.
The best time to visit Birmingham
It’s common knowledge that nowhere in the UK is ideal if you want guaranteed nice weather. Both summers and winters in the UK are mild, meaning they rarely experience very warm or very cold temperatures and the weather is always unpredictable, and this is very true of Birmingham.
Accommodation prices are slightly more expensive in summer than in autumn or winter in Birmingham, but they are more likely to rise during national holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc.) than seasonally, so avoid visiting Birmingham on a holiday if you want to keep costs down. July is usually the hottest month, averaging 17 degrees Celsius so it’s still not usually very warm.
As a multicultural city, Birmingham hosts some fantastic annual cultural events. They celebrate Chinese New Year if you’re looking for things to do in Birmingham in February and they host the UK’s biggest LGBTQ+ Pride Festival over one weekend in May.
Things to do in Birmingham
Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham is known as being a hugely important industrial city in the Victorian era and there is no better time capsule to this period than the Back to Backs. Because cities were growing so rapidly during this time as people flooded in from all over the country to work in the factories, a lot of low-cost housing had to be built literally back to back to maximise space. Birmingham Back to Backs are some of the last examples of housing from this era.
All of the houses open to visitors have been preserved as much as possible and furnished to resemble what they would have looked like during the 1800s and they are just absolutely fascinating. Because the houses are very small and somewhat fragile, booking a time slot is essential as you will be led by a guided tour around the Back to Backs. There are lots of narrow staircases so check ahead if you have mobility concerns.
If you’ve visited the UK before, you probably already know that Cadbury is hands down the Nation’s favourite chocolate. Cadbury history also dates back to the industrial revolution and was founded in Birmingham. Now, the former factory is open to visitors and is absolutely one of the best things to do in Birmingham whether you’re travelling with children or you just love chocolate.
You will learn how chocolate is made from the bean to the bar, how Cadbury manufactured the chocolate back in the early 20th century and see the parts of the current manufacturing process. There are also rides, the opportunity to make chocolate and, of course, lots of opportunities to eat it! It’s an extremely popular place to visit, especially on weekends, so booking ahead is recommended. Expect to spend at least an entire afternoon here – if not a whole day!
Library of Birmingham
Believe it or not, the Library of Birmingham is the most popular visitor attraction in the UK outside of London as well as being the largest regional library in Europe. It was built in 2013 as part of Birmingham’s larger regeneration project and has one of the best Shakespeare collections in the UK.
It’s a wonderful building to visit and spend an hour or so as the library has a cafe on the ground floor for visitors and a wonderful viewing garden so you can see across the whole of Birmingham. And since it is a public library, it is 100% free to visit and there are often events and readings for children if you are travelling with young kids.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is the city’s most extensive collection of fine art, antiquities, jewellery, clothing and local history including the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. If you love visiting museums and art galleries on your travels, then this the most important attraction in Birmingham for you to visit. It’s a huge museum and would take hours to properly see it all, but you could easily concentrate on sections that interest you if you’re short on time.
Like most museums in the UK, it’s free to visit with the exception of temporary exhibitions in the Gas Hall. The temporary exhibitions are usually centred around Birmingham, for example, local artists or movements.
Bullring Shopping Centre
One of the largest shopping centres in Birmingham, though it’s not exactly a ‘cultural’ experience, there’s no denying that many people visit Birmingham because of the variety of shops on offer.
The Bullring is named after the bullbaiting that happened near the same spot hundreds of years ago, but there has been a market in one form or another on the same spot since the 12th century. Today, the Bullring houses every British high street store imaginable and popular chain restaurants.
Yet another area of Birmingham that was born during the Industrial revolution, the Jewellery Quarter was once the birthplace of many technological advancements, specifically in manufacturing. And though it’s not the industrial epicentre it once was, jewellers in this part of Birmingham still produce around 40% of the UK’s jewellery.
Nowadays, the neighbourhood has undergone regeneration and conservation to become an ‘urban village’ and a hub for creative businesses. Visiting the Jewellery Quarter has got to be one of the best things to do in Birmingham on Sunday, for example, due to all the brunch spots and cool cafes that have opened, as well as many independent and vintage clothes shops.
What to eat in Birmingham
The UK, in general, may be known for roast dinners and fish and chips but Birmingham is known for its phenomenal South Asian cuisine. Specifically, the Pakistani-style Balti curry which some say actually originated in Birmingham, not Pakistan. This type of curry is identifiable due to the fact it’s served in the big steel dishes in which it’s made. The best places in Birmingham to eat this kind of curry are the local Balti houses in the ‘Balti Triangle’ on Stoney Lane, Ladypool Road and Stratford Road.
Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter is also one of the best neighbourhoods in the UK for Chinese food, and that’s saying something as there are a few China Towns in the country. Chung Ying is a Birmingham institution with three locations in the city offering the perfect balance of authentic Chinese food catering to English taste buds.
Some other fantastic restaurants in Birmingham are Otto in the Jewellery Quarter which is a pizzeria serving wood oven-baked pizzas and Original Patty Men are famous in the city for their burgers having started as a street food staple, but they’ve upgraded to a brick and mortar business.
Where to stay in Birmingham
Budget – Since Birmingham is such a huge city, it’s not in short supply of accommodation options and there should be something to suit every type of traveller. Check out Birmingham Central Backpackers if you’re looking for the ideal hostel as it’s centrally located by the train station with a cosy and colourful common room, including an onsite bar and free breakfast. Travelodge is a UK budget hotel brand with tonnes of locations all over Birmingham. They offer cheap and cheerful lodgings at lower prices than virtually any other hotel.
Mid-range – Birmingham has some great hotels, but the ones with the most value for money are the apartment-style hotels where you get a kitchen and living space with all the convenience of a hotel. Aparthotel Adagio Birmingham City Centre is close to the Bullring shopping centre and the apartments are spacious and modern and only around £60 per night with multiple bedrooms. If you like staying in quirky, boutique hotels then Boatel Birmingham definitely ticks both boxes. It’s a brand-new hotel in a houseboat on one of Birmingham’s picturesque canals near some brilliant bars.
Luxury – Near St Phillip’s Cathedral, Hotel du Vin Birmingham is a luxurious 4-star hotel with a classic design in a historic building situated in the Jewellery Quarter and have beautifully large bathrooms with freestanding baths. Alternatively, N°8 Waterloo St Apartments at 4-star apartment-style hotel rooms for around £100 which is an absolute steal as these rooms come with great views and very tasteful, contemporary decor.
Tours to do in Birmingham
Birmingham is a city which blends modern, spacious pedestrianised neighbourhoods and with cramped, cobbled side streets and old warehouses and factories. There are parts of the city impossible to see via car or bus, so the best way to learn about Birmingham is by booking a place on this fantastic walking tour.
Lead by local, passionate guides, you’ll discover that there is more to Birmingham than shopping and how the city has grown from its industrial heritage.
If you love to nerd out on architecture when you travel to a new city, there are plenty of opportunities to do that in Birmingham! This tour covers Brutalist and Gothic architecture, specifically St Phillip’s Square, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Bullring.
The tour will concentrate on architect and designer Sir Edward Burne-Jones who was a Birmingham native and helped revive stained glass art in churches across the UK, but a lot of his work is evident in the buildings in Birmingham which you’ll learn about on this tour.
Lovers of the macabre and scary stories will like this self-guided haunted tour of Birmingham, where you will be told stories about all the supposedly haunted streets and buildings in Birmingham city centre. The tour gives you clues to figure out by visiting the locations and unlocking the next stop on the haunted tour.
Day trips from Birmingham
Harry Potter Studio Tour in London
A true bucket list item for any self-respecting Potterhead is to visit the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, and if you’re not visiting London on your trip to the UK then this is the perfect day trip for you.
Visit the studios where all eight Harry Potter films were made including sets like the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, Gringotts Bank and see all the iconic props like the Knight Bus and drink butterbeer. All transport is included and it’s a day trip you’ll never forget!
The Lake District National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of stunning natural beauty and history. If you don’t have time to make a trip to Northwest England, then this day trip from Birmingham is the next best thing. You’ll visit several lakes including Ullswater, Thirlmere, Grasmere and Buttermere and see the gorgeous panoramas from Kirkstone Pass as well as the chance to sail on a lake cruise and hike up to Ashness Bridge and Castlerigg Stone Circle.
Beatrix Potter Tour
Many people in non-English speaking countries across the world start to learn English from Beatrix Potter’s children’s books and make a pilgrimage to her former home in the Lake District and other places of significance in the area, so this is perfect for visitors who want to see the specific parts of the Lake District that inspired her books and illustrations.
Not only was Beatrix Potter a hugely influential Victorian author, but she is responsible for the conservation of large areas of the national park. On this day trip from Birmingham, you can visit her home, Hill Top Farm, as well as Wray Castle, Hawkshead village and Tarn Hows which is a beautiful lake she helped save.
Recommended tours in Birmingham
- From Canals and Victorians to Today’s City: Birmingham Walking Tour
- Skip the Line: House and Garden Admission Ticket
- The Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham
- Birmingham Ghost Hunt: Haunted City Exploration Game
- Birmingham Walking Tour: Migration Stories from the Stratford Road
- Jewellery Quarter walking tour in Birmingham
- Birmingham Self-Guided Audio Tour