How to discover another side of Birmingham

All eyes will be on Birmingham this summer, as the region hosts the 2022 Commonwealth Games – but there’s so much more to discover. From cultural festivals and graffiti tours, to a hotel set in a zoo, Birmingham has new and quirky adventures galore, as well as a packed events calendar. It sits in the centre of Britain, drawing inspiration from all over the nation and further afield – so look forward to globetrotting dining, multicultural celebrations, and a warm welcome wherever you go.

Alternative things to do in Birmingham

Birmingham Festival Motionhouse event part of Birmingham 2022 festival

There’s a real buzz in the West Midlands this year. Alongside the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (July–August), six months of music, dance and cultural celebrations will make up the Birmingham 2022 Festival, showcasing the region’s remarkable creative spirit (March–August). But away from the spotlight, there’s plenty in Birmingham to dazzle. You can take a kayaking tour through the city centre, exploring the wildlife-rich canals which run through Birmingham’s heart, or discover vibrant street art on a free self-guided walk.

Love the great outdoors? Meet the red pandas and meerkats at Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park, or soak up the tropical splendour of Birmingham Botanical Gardens – which also hosts events throughout the year. Or take on the daredevil high-ropes at The Bear Grylls Adventure, with challenges designed by the world-renowned British explorer himself.

 Boat Dock at The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, West Midlands

The streets of Birmingham also provided the inspiration for the hit TV show Peaky Blinders. With many scenes filmed at the Black Country Living Museum, here you can walk in the footsteps of Cillian Murphy and learn how to speak like a Peaky. There’s even themed evenings in September for an immersive feel of the show. A Peaky Tour of the city reveals even more about the original gangs, with a walking tour of their former hangouts, grisly insights from expert historians, and dinner in the city’s oldest pub.

If it’s striking city views you’re looking for, venture to the top of the Library of Birmingham. This striking contemporary landmark is home to two secret rooftop gardens – they’re free to visit, as are the library’s various exhibitions, which feature leading authors and artists. But that’s just the tip of Birmingham’s diverse cultural scene. From Chinatown’s eateries and Centrala’s Eastern European art exhibitions, to the South Asian music and dancing at Birmingham Mela (27–28 August 2022), countless customs are represented here.

And foodies will love the ‘Balti Triangle’, an area of balti restaurants in the south of the city, where this spicy dish was reportedly invented in the 1970s. Fusing traditional Kashmiri recipes with British ingredients, and named after the dish in which it is cooked, this vibrant area is full of hidden gems serving their fresh take on this regional favourite.

Birmingham’s quirky places to stay

While central Birmingham has an abundance of luxury boutique hotels, including The Rotunda, Hotel Du Vin and the Frederick Street Townhouse, how about something totally unique? Just 15 miles outside the city, The Rockhouse Retreat offers an idyllic romantic retreat for two. The 800-year-old cave house, set in beautiful wild woodland, comes complete with a kingsize bed and inglenook fireplace, as well as a picturesque brook right on its doorstep.

Warwick Castle provides hands-on history by day, and an opportunity for Medieval-themed glamping by night. Visitors can stay overnight in its grounds at the Knight’s Village – book a King’s Tent (sleeps four), for a four-poster bed and throne-style seats, set amid the castle woodlands.

Or step into one of the West Midland Safari Park’s luxury lodges for a front row seat inside the animal habitats. Elephant Lodge is right next to the watering hole, while Red Panda Cottage overlooks the climbing den – and there are giraffe, gorilla, rhino and cheetah ones too. The lodges sleep up to five or six people, with two-day entry tickets to the safari park included.

Where to dine differently in Birmingham

Interior view with neon lights, people and activities at Floodgate, Birmingham

For great cocktails, street food and a whole host of games – from baseball and curling to table golf – The Floodgate is a big kids’ playground, with a buzzing bar and street eats aplenty (think juicy burgers, dirty fries, hot dogs and cinnamon waffles).

Or for table tennis, arcade games and beer pong, head to Roxy Ball Room – it’s set in a graffiti-covered warehouse, complete with a bowling alley and pool tables. The pizzas are loaded, the playlist is rocking, and there’s a huge choice of cocktails and craft beers.

If you prefer the finer things in life, the West Midlands has ten Michelin-starred restaurants and five are in Birmingham itself – that’s more than any other British city outside of London. In central Birmingham, look to Adam’s for British classics with haute cuisine flair, Opheem for sumptuous Indian dining (with veggie and pescatarian tasting menus), and Carters of Moseley for sustainably-sourced seasonal fare, plus organic and biodynamic wines.

Getting there and around

As well as Birmingham International Airport, the city also has several major railway stations. Birmingham New Street and Birmingham International connect with train services from all over the country, while fast services from London Marylebone arrive at Birmingham Moor Street, right in the city centre, in just one hour 40 minutes.

Thanks to its traffic-free cycle routes, Birmingham is easy to explore on two wheels: you can rent bikes from a West Midlands Cycle Hire hub or a Brompton Bike station. The city also has an extensive network of wheelchair-accessible buses and trams: with a pay-as-you-go Swift card, you can hop on (and off) the services throughout Birmingham and beyond.

28 Jul 2022(last updated)

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