The Perfect Itinerary for a Weekend in Birmingham, England
Most people don’t necessarily think of Birmingham, England to be a destination on its own. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the city or even where it was in England before my trip. However, when I had the chance to visit relatives in Birmingham for a weekend in December there was no way I could say no!
Grand-scale construction is abundant in Birmingham, England that makes it reminiscent of the industrial era. Whether it’s the urban grit of the industrial days that you see in Peaky Blinders or the British version of Venice’s canals, Birmingham offers something for everyone! Now with its gleaming new shopping centres and extensions to the light rail network, Brum is certainly cleaning up well.
Along with various museums, country manors, parks, canals, chocolate factories, and incredible shopping, there are so many unique things to do in Birmingham! Whether you have only a weekend, or a whole week to spend in the West Midlands there’s plenty to see. Keep reading ahead for the ultimate guide to Birmingham, England, so you can maximize your time in the city like a true Brummie!
Where to Stay in Birmingham, England
For being the second-largest city in England, the city centre of Birmingham is quite condensed and walkable in comparison to London! We took the train from London Euston Station to Birmingham New Street Station and walked to our hotel in less than two hours. Any hotel around New Street will be centrally located and easy to get to.
We stayed at the Ibis Styles Birmingham Centre, which was conveniently located between Victoria Square and Centenary Square. Breakfast was included and it was very affordable for the location and size!
Top Things to do in Birmingham, England
1. Canals & Gas Street Basin
Did you know Birmingham’s canal network is even bigger than Venice’s? The Canal Quarter around Regency Wharf is my favourite part of Birmingham! Start your walk down by the National SEA LIFE Centre and take your time exploring the area until you come to Brindley Place.
Stop and watch some of the narrowboats glide past. In fact, some boats have even been converted into little takeaway cafes. The Canalside Cafe is an old 18th-century lock-keeper’s cottage that’s also the perfect spot to stop and warm up on a chilly day.
The Gas Street Basin is the area of Birmingham that was at the centre of England’s canal system and is just five minutes from the city centre. It provides a unique experience where industrial heritage meets modern cosmopolitan life. I HIGHLY recommend taking the time to spend strolling around the area!
2. Library of Birmingham
Resembling a stack of gift boxes, the 2013-opened Library of Birmingham is an architectural triumph. The ten-level building was opened by Malala Yousafzai. It features a subterranean amphitheatre, secret garden with panoramic views over the city, and Britain’s most important Shakespeare Memorial Room collection! The ground-floor reception also provides a cafe, wifi, and tourist information. It’s located in Centenary Square, along with The REP and Symphony Hall, and cannot be missed.
3. Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery opened in 1885 and now houses an impressive collection of ancient treasures and Victorian art. They have temporary exhibitions throughout the year that range from historical collections to emerging artists. The Edwardian Tearooms are also a popular spot for afternoon tea, in addition to the museum’s casual cafe.
Undoubtedly, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is one of the best things to do in Birmingham on a rainy day! The range of exhibits from the dinosaurs to the Egyptian mummies will be sure to interest everyone in the family.
4. Victoria Square
As a pedestrian-only area at the top of New Street, Victoria Square is a perfect spot to enjoy a relaxing moment in Birmingham. During December the Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt fills the area with stalls selling Gluhwein and delicious smelling treats. I loved the feel of the festive spirit in the square! The decorations were all beautiful and the market is well laid out.
Here you’ll also find the Town Hall. It was constructed in 1834 and styled after a temple in Rome. This neoclassical building is now used as a venue for classical concerts. Outside stands the statue of Queen Victoria that overlooks the square and the start of New Street. The dome-topped Council House is the other building bordering the square. It was built in 1879 and is the seat of the local government.
5. Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market
While most people don’t think about visiting Birmingham in December, it’s actually the most festive time to visit the city. It’s the largest Weihnachtsmarkt in the UK and many of its food, drink, and craft stalls come from Birmingham’s sister-city of Frankfurt. Other local vendors also fill the city centre and down New Street during December. Wander around the festivities and enjoy a crepe and Gluhwein from the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market. Frohe Weihnachten!
6. Birmingham Cathedral
Birmingham Cathedral was built in the early 1700s and dedicated to St. Philip. This is one of the few English churches built in Baroque style and is also one of the smallest cathedrals in England. It’s beautiful but very different in comparison to the great Abbeys you see in Bath or London.
Unfortunately, St. Philip’s Cathedral was gutted during a bombing raid in 1940, but luckily its famous stained-glass windows were preventatively removed a few weeks prior. Today, these windows have been back in their place since the cathedral was rebuilt in 1948. It is a must-see part of any trip to Birmingham.
7. Great Western Arcade
The Great Western Arcade is a Victorian-era (ca. 1870s) shopping strip that’s topped with a glass roof and filled with mostly independent shops. It has had a long history in Birmingham and is situated near St. Philip’s Cathedral. Throughout the years, the Arcade has stood the test of time with suffering bomb damage in WWII that led to the rebuild of the original arched glass roof.
The best time to visit the Great Western Arcade is in the lead-up to Christmas, where the decorations give it a very festive feel. Whether or not you are in the mood for shopping, this place is definitely worth the visit!
8. St Martin’s Church
St. Martin’s in the Bullring is a Victorian Gothic church that stands across for the contrastingly modern Selfridges in the Bullring. Most of the church is from a re-build in the 1800s, but the tower itself exists from the original church that occupied the site since 1290. The area is thought to have been a place of worship as far back as Saxon times.
9. Shopping in Birmingham (Bullring & Grand Central)
One of the things I didn’t know about Birmingham is how good the shopping is! Imagine all of the variety of shops you can find in London but in a much more condensed area. The two main shopping malls are right in the centre of the city. First is Grand Central Birmingham that’s anchored by a massive John Lewis store atop the revitalized New Street Station.
The other is the Bullring which is split into the East and West Mall and has all the brands and selection you could ask for. The standout part of the Bullring is the iconic Selfridges store with its spaceship-like architecture. The Bullring has been the centre of activity in Birmingham since the Middle Ages, where the same location was used for the city’s first markets. In fact, you can still spend the whole day wandering through Birmingham’s biggest shopping centre!
10. Birmingham Back-to-Backs
The Birmingham Back-to-Backs is a quirky cluster of restored back-to-back terraced houses. The tours here take you through the lives of the working-class people that lived here beginning in the 1840s. These back-to-back homes were once prolific throughout the city and now offer unique insight into the conditions in which the working classes lived.
It’s located in the Chinese Quarter and is only a five-minute walk from the Bullring. We didn’t go inside as admission is by guided tour only. If you’re only in Birmingham for the day, then I’d certainly not make the tour a priority, but if you’re visiting for longer then this would be a very unique experience to include with your trip!
11. Newman Brothers Coffin Works
If you’re looking for a unique experience in Birmingham then this is the place! The Newman Brothers Coffin Works produced some of the world’s finest coffin fittings in its factory on the edge of the Jewelry Quarter. Today, with the original machinery working again, you can experience this unique piece of Birmingham’s industrial legacy on a guided tour.
Coffin Works has produced fittings for the funerals of Churchill, Chamberlain, and the Queen Mother. The factory was established in 1882 by Alfred and Edwin Newman. It was Birmingham’s last coffin-furniture factory, operating from their Fleet Street location for over 100 years until 1998. They specialized in the production of coffin furniture until competition from abroad and failure to modernize forced the factory to shut down.
12. Jewelry Quarter
The Jewelry Quarter is known as the “Gem of Birmingham.” The area dates back over 250 years and is still home to 500+ jewelry businesses. St. Paul’s Square is in the centre of the quarter and holds the 18th-century Georgian St. Paul’s Church.
Art galleries are also seen on almost every corner. If you’re fascinated by the history of jewelry-making, you can take a guided tour around a jewelry factory and see demonstrations of different techniques.
13. Cadbury World
The next best thing to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is Cadbury World near Birmingham! It educates visitors about the history of cocoa and the Cadbury family, features displays of chocolate-making machines, and chocolate-themed attractions. Trains run from Birmingham New Street to Bournville every 10 minutes, so it is an easy trip even without a car.
Nearby the factory, Bournville Village was built in 1860 by the Cadbury family to accommodate a large number of factory workers. The picture-perfect village of Bournville and Cadbury World are one of Birmingham’s largest and most popular attractions. Bookings for Cadbury World are essential during peak times due to its popularity!
The biggest regret of my trip to Birmingham was not having the time to stop at Cadbury world and live out my Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dreams! With only 36 hours in the city, it wasn’t enough time, as this can fill most of a day itself. If you have more time or have been to Birmingham before, then stopping here is a MUST!
Other Things to See Near Birmingham, England
- Aston Hall: Just north of the city, the 17th-century Aston Hall is a magnificent mansion situated in a beautiful park. It is was one of the final Jacobean-style houses to be built and offers display rooms that feature the role the house played during the English Civil War.
- Shakespeare Express to Stratford upon Avon: At certain times during the year you can take this special train to Stratford and combine your sightseeing there with a full Shakespeare experience.
- Moseley Bog: The Lord of the Rings author grew up in Birmingham in the area around Moseley Bog that’s said to be the inspiration for The Shire. Here you can take walks through the area and see what inspired parts of the famous series.
- Warwick Castle: Whether you’re a fan of Hogwarts or enjoy the historic architecture of 1100 castles then Warwick is a great place to visit. It has huge landscaped grounds and creates historic experiences featuring heroic knights and fun for the whole family.
Final Thoughts on Birmingham, England
While I went to Birmingham not knowing much about the city, there was so much to see and I could have easily spent another two days there. Each quarter is very unique and I was constantly surprised by everything we would stumble upon while strolling through the different areas. As a Canadian, I felt right at home when we found both a Tim Hortons and a Second Cup right across from each other on New Street! Although, sorry Tims, when I’m in England I have to be loyal to Pret and Costa instead!
Have you been to Birmingham, England before? What were your favourite spots in the city? I would love to hear your thoughts! Please also remember to pin this list for later if you’re considering Birmingham in your future travel plans!