Birmingham is a thriving cultural centre with awe-inspiring architecture, gleaming shopping destinations and plenty of heritage spots to explore. Here are 10 things to do there…
1. Cadbury World
In comparison to its backdrop of industrial red brick buildings emblazoned with Cadbury and Bourneville, Cadbury World seems to pale. But once inside, the company’s playful nature comes to life in bright hues of purple, yellow, red and green. Take one of the Beanmobiles on the magical Cadabra ride where you can spot familiar characters like Mr Cadbury’s Parrot, learn how your favourite chocolate bars are made, and visit a full-scale replica of Bull Street where John Cadbury had his first shop.
From marine biology to engineering, Birmingham’s Science Museum has something for everyone. Aviation enthusiasts can wander beneath the belly of a retired Spitfire as they discover its history, from design to its role in World War II. Budding astronomers can enjoy tours of the solar system or travel through the human body at a planetarium show, while dinosaur fans can meet the oldest member of Thinktank – the Ichthyosaur, a nearly 200-million-year-old marine predator.
3. Travel back in time at the Black Country Living Museum
A 30-minute drive from Birmingham’s bustling centre will bring you to one of the largest open air museums, lined by red-brick streets with colourful shopfronts, and punctuated by traditional trams, buses and even a Victorian fairground. Visitors can enjoy the display of classic vehicles manufactured in the Black Country, take a lesson at St. James’ School, or head down the mine for the museum’s unique ‘Into the Thick’ experience.
4. Go underground
Located close to the Tipton Junction, Dudley’s underground canals connect a network of caverns once used for mining limestone in the heart of the Black Country. The narrow tunnels are barely wide enough to accommodate a small barge and were built so that the miners could walk the barges through in a process called legging. Visitors can try their hand – or legs – at legging, listen to music as it echoes throughout the Singing Cavern and see the miner mannequins working in Hurst Cavern.
5. On the trail of Tolkien
Birmingham is famous for its role in the Industrial Revolution, but what you might not know is that it was also the home of renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien. On the Tolkien trail, you can see the places and hear stories of the people that acted as inspiration for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy; from the humble home of Bilbo Baggins, to the menacing Eye of Sauron, and Samwise Gamgee. Download the guide and take it at your own pace, or book a bus tour.
6. Visit the Jewellery Quarter
Back in 1981, Smith and Pepper closed their doors for the last time, leaving the jewellery factory exactly as it had been on the day the workers left; tools were left on benches, dirty overalls were hung on coat hooks and dirty tea cups were left abandoned. The frozen-in-time factory is a testament to Birmingham’s jewellery and metal-working heritage, and visitors to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter can see demonstrations of how jewellery was made using the original tools and working practices.
7. Take a day trip to Shakespeare Country
Less than an hour’s drive from the centre, in the neighbouring county of Warwickshire, is the pretty medieval market town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The charming half-timberwork houses and green spaces are a stark contrast from the industrious cityscape of Birmingham’s centre, but can be just as busy. As the “birthplace of the bard” (https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/), Henley Street is a must-visit spot for any Shakespeare fans. Other places to add to your checklist are his wife Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and his mother Mary Arden’s Farm, which is perfect for children.
8. See how Jaguars are made
Set in an industrial park in Castle Bromwich, just a short drive from the centre of Birmingham, is the curved glass facade of the Jaguar factory, recognisable by the gleaming logo at the entrance. On the Jaguar Manufacturing Tour, car enthusiasts can witness the manufacturing process, from sheet metal to car, as over a hundred robots work together in perfect synchronisation to shape, rivet and bond the elements together. Watch as skilled craftsmen add the final touches to each vehicle, and hear the engine roar for the first time during testing.
9. Shopping at the Bullring
Located in the heart of Birmingham, the “Bullring” (https://www.bullring.co.uk/) is your number one stop to shop. Its iconic Selfridges building was inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequin dress, and is home to over 160 brands to peruse at your pleasure. For a bite to eat, step out onto Spiceal Street, flagged by the iconic St Martin Church, where you’ll find a mix of Thai restaurants, tea rooms and burger bars.
10. Go behind the Screen
Struggling to get the kids away from the screen? The Mailbox, a bright red and black building that lives up to its name, is the home of BBC Birmingham, where visitors can step behind the screen. Drop into the visitor centre, where you can see show memorabilia like Dr Who’s Tardis and present your own news bulletin – admission is free. Or book a tour of the station, and see what it’s like to take part in CBBC’s Copycats quiz show, or see The Archers studio.