Welcome to Birmingham, a thriving hub of multicultural activity and officially the UK’s second city – don’t you let those pesky Mancunians tell you any differently! Home to a lively music scene, quirky bars, many a museum, and not to mention the perfect place for a curry; good old Brum has something for everyone.
If you’re new to this city, this guide will tell you all you need to know – don’t waste your time constantly promising yourself you’ll visit Cadbury World and then never actually get round to it- there is so much more to do!
And if you’ve lived here for years, you’ve probably fallen into the trap of moaning about it just because it’s the trendy thing to do nowadays, so let this guide rekindle your flame for this wonderful city and all that it has to offer.
Things To Do
- Take a canalside stroll: Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice, so I can guarantee you won’t run out of routes to explore. Taking a path that ends up in Brindley place or by the Mailbox is recommended, so that you can go somewhere nice to eat after using up all of that energy!
- See some impressive street-art: Digbeth is known as Birmingham’s creative quarter, and it’s home to the annual City of Colours festival! Any time of year though, it’s the perfect place to have a wander and admire some outstanding works by various great street artists.
- Visit Birmingham Library: The architecture itself is cool enough; but inside you’ll find that it’s a very exciting place to explore. Make sure to visit the roof-top garden for a great view of this ever-developing city!
- Shop til’ you drop: Even though we are on a student budget, we all love to have a good old shopping session from time to time, and with the recently blossomed Grand Central, the Bullring, the indoor and outdoor markets, and the Great Western Arcade; it’s safe to say Birmingham is a shopper’s paradise.
- Step back in time: ‘Birmingham Back-to-Backs’ is a restored 19th-century courtyard of working people’s houses; visit and you can glimpse for yourself what life was like for them back then in the heart of this city. Don’t miss the 1930s sweet shop!
Arts and Culture
If museums and art galleries are your jam, you’re in luck – this city is full of them!
- The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is a fantastic place to start, but you also have many more to choose from:
- For fine art enthusiasts there’s the Barber Institute
- Fans of music-related art shouldn’t miss St. Pauls Gallery
- And for fans of the contemporary, there’s the IKON Gallery, Eastside Projects, and the unique cluster of artist-led initiatives and exhibition spaces inside the Minerva Works, Digbeth.
Cinema-goers, you are also spoilt for choice.
- As well as the big classics like Vue, the Odeon(s), and of course Cineworld with its big old IMAX, there are also a couple of quirkier ones.
- There’s The Everyman, which will serve delicious food to your sofa-seat while you relax and enjoy the film, and The Electric – the UK’s oldest working cinema.
Music & Nightlife
You can’t mention Birmingham’s music scene without first a nod to The Symphony Hall, home to the CBSO (City of Birmingham’s Symphony Orchestra) and the place to be if you enjoy classical music events.
- To see all the big names touring the Midlands, the best live music venues are the Genting Arena, the Barclaycard Arena, and the 02 Academy.
- But for smaller, fresher live music, alt-acts, and comedy shows, there is a whole list of potential great nights, including The Rainbow, The Jam House, Hare & Hounds, and The Flapper.
If you fancy a drink, Birmingham is also full to the brim with pubs and bars! There are plenty to discover, but I’ll let you in on some of the quirkiest ones…
- The Jekyll & Hyde is a Victorian gin parlour, with a ‘Wonderland Courtyard’, that serves indulgent, sweet-topped cocktails.
- Nestled away underground, Bacchus bar is perfect for enjoying an ale in a merry, atmospheric setting.
- Another, seemingly traditional, pub is The Prince of Wales in Moseley, but it has a secret; a hidden, exotic Mo-Tiki bar!
When it comes to clubbing, there are lots of big-name clubs are on Broad Street
- There’s 6, Popworld, Walkabout and Players, but the most popular club with many students is Snobs, located near New Street. Snobs reopened in 2014 after a revamp, but kept its ever-popular combination of cheap drinks, quirky decor (including a disco ball and a wall of faces) and throwback music.
Places to Eat
Birmingham is full of places to eat.
- If you’re a UoB student, campus has many lunch options including Joe’s Bar (check out their infamous University Challenge dessert). Plus, there’s the farmer’s market on campus once a month where you can try exotic food such as ostrich burgers.
- A hidden gem for a cheap lunch in the centre is a shop called Eat4less. It’s a two-minute walk from New Street Station, and you can get jacket potatoes, baguettes, and Paninis in a lunch deal (including chips and a drink) for under £2!
If it’s a Birmingham Balti you’re after, you don’t have to travel very far.
- With many curry houses in Selly Oak offering amazing deals and a BYOB alcohol policy, you’re guaranteed a full stomach for under a tenner.
- One thing Foodies definitely shouldn’t miss is Digbeth Dining Club, every Friday evening, without fail, this amazing event allows visitors to sample all sorts of street food and artisan snacks, and, with something different each week, there’s no chance of ever getting bored!
Top Brummie Discounts
Living in a city can be expensive, we know that, so we’ve done some digging around and have found you the top discounts around Birmingham at the moment. You can’t say we don’t spoil you.
- Anything using an Independent Birmingham card
If you’re likely to be in Brum for a while, get yourself an Independent Birmingham card. It’s £15 for the year, or 2 for £20 (so find a friend to do it with you) and gets you 2-for-1 tickets at the Mac Theatre and discounts at over 80 bars and restaurants across the city including top picks Island Bar, the Plough in Harborne and The Dark Horse in Moseley.
- Bullring Student Sessions
If you love shopping, you’ll already know that the Bullring is the place to be in Brum. If you’re a student, you can save some serious money by attending the Bullring’s seriously popular Student Sessions event held every year. Dates for the next session have not yet been released, but past events saw up to 50% exclusive discounts at Selfridges, Topshop, H&M, New Look, Ed’s Diner, Victoria’s Secret, Handmade Burger Co., Cath Kidston, Karen Millen, and many more brands. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates.
- Student Tickets at Bramall Comedy Nights
This discount is ideal for UoB students, but worth a look-in for anyone living near campus. The Bramall building on the University of Birmingham campus offers a monthly comedy night, featuring a diverse range of hilarious comics. For students, tickets are only £5, and no travel cost for Selly students of course!
- Discounted SEA LIFE Centre visits for Students
An essential bucket-list item for Birmingham dwellers is a trip to the National SEA LIFE Centre, and they have just launched an exclusive student discount entry: two students for £25 or four for £45! So grab some mates and your student card to take advantage of this offer and see some penguins!
And, last but not least, here’s a little run down of what’s on in November and December, just so you don’t miss a single festivity:
- November 17th– December 29th: The German Christmas Market & Light Switch-on
You simply can’t be in Birmingham over the Christmas period without visiting the Christmas market; it’s a classic! Get your festive spirits up with Gluhwein, German sausages, and beautiful handmade gifts in Victoria Square. The Christmas lights switch-on coincides with the launch of the market, so be there at around 5:30pm on the 17th to see it all happen.
- November 18th-January 8th: Ice Rink and Big Wheel
If the Christmas market isn’t enough and you want more festive joy, a visit to the ice rink in Centenary Square is a must, and it wouldn’t be complete without viewing the city from the top of a ride on the big wheel.
- November 25th-January 2nd: Magic Lantern Festival
First debuted in London, this magical festival of illumination and light is soon coming to light up Birmingham’s beloved Botanical Gardens, don’t forget to book tickets online – it’s sure to be a sight to behold!