On the whole, Birmingham is pretty cool. It’s a well-quoted fact that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice. They’ll be hosting the Commonwealth games in 2022. The City Library is the largest in Europe. And, to top it all off, Birmingham served as the inspiration for large parts of Lord of the Rings, as the birthplace of J R R Tolkien. There are also plenty of cool things to do in Birmingham. Whether a cool day out means cocktails with friends or discovering quirky museums, there’s something for you to enjoy!
Address: Lower Trinity St, Birmingham, B9 4AG
Where else could this list start that with Digbeth Dining Club? A favourite among students and local residents, it is a covered outdoor area with a huge variety of street food stalls, including Greek, Indian, Thai, Caribbean and German dishes, among others. They value quality food above everything else so there are none of the frills of a regular restaurant – guests eat at shared picnic benches. This gives it a great atmosphere and makes it perfect for a chilled day out with friends. They also have live music performances or DJs – there is never a quiet moment here!
Digbeth Dining Club also take their magic elsewhere, hosting events at 13 venues across the West Midlands including Warwick Castle, Wolverhampton and Coventry.
2. Cow Vintage
Address: 82 Digbeth Hill St, Birmingham, B5 6DY
If thrift shopping is your thing, then Cow Vintage is certainly the place for you. Located in a large warehouse in Digbeth, you can shop for absolutely anything in there, including clothes, shoes, books and records. Their collection of clothes is huge and so, whatever your style or budget, you’ll probably find something there for you.
Although probably the largest, Cow Vintage is also surrounded by other thrift stores, so why not make a day of it? Digbeth is a great place to shop for clothes if you prefer a more sustainable approach to clothing.
Address: 55-63 Hurst St, Birmingham, B5 4TE
Run by the National Trust, Birmingham Back to Backs (otherwise known as Court 15) is the last remaining West Midlands ‘Court’ – a type of housing where houses were built quickly for little money. Built ‘back to back’, they were popular in the 1830s/40s due to the growing populations in cities. Volunteers at the site explain to visitors what it was like to live in these houses during four different time periods, starting in the 1830s and working up to 1977. They delve into the lives of some of the people who lived there and guests can take a tour of the buildings.
If historical trips are your thing, then this is definitely one for your list. Back to Backs provides a fascinating insight into Birmingham’s history and into the wider social history of the UK.
4. Ikon Gallery
Address: 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS
If you like modern art, this is the place for you. Not only is it tucked away in a beautiful site just off Broad Street, The Ikon Gallery hosts exhibits by artists on the cutting edge of contemporary art. They have most recently hosted an exhibit by Kristoff Kintera (The End of Fun), which has proven hugely popular with local art fans. They aren’t shy about unconventional pieces – Kintera’s exhibit featured motion-triggered moving sculptures and rather eerie disembodied noises – so it is particularly great for any art students looking to push the boundaries.
Ikon Gallery is also home to a branch of York’s Cafe, a popular location for group or independent study sessions. It is comfy and well-lit, close to a range of other cool places in the city if you wanted to make a day of it.
Address: 179 Alcester Rd, Moseley Village, B13 8JR
Moseley is an all-round cool place to be, and there are too many things to list individually here, but the Moseley Art Market is a great opportunity to explore local art and artists and show them support. Their rules mean that everything sold at the market is made by the stallholder and has not been bought or imported from elsewhere. They host the market on the final Saturday of the month alongside the Farmers’ Market. It is a great opportunity to get to know local art and to find something truly unique for gifts or keepsakes.
Moseley is great if you are looking to pursue a more sustainable lifestyle. Alongside the markets, they have a range of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and cafes that serve delicious, locally made and produced food.
Address: Cole Bank Rd, Birmingham, B13 0BD
Sarehole Mill has a number of claims to fame that make a day out here worthwhile. It is said to have helped inspire a number of locations in Tolkien’s work, as well as having been used by Matthew Boulton, a leader in the industrial revolution in the Midlands. Guests can explore the courtyards and the mill itself, with volunteers explaining the history of the site and the functions it would have had as a working mill.
They also have an on-site bakery where guests can enjoy their ‘Pizza in the Courtyard’. Freshly made on-site, it is a great addition to a day out at Sarehole Mill. They also serve the community by baking their own bread on-site, both for sale in their community shop and available to order.
All in all, a great place to visit to find out more about Birmingham’s fascinating history.
7. Pen Museum
Address: Unit 3, 60 The Argent Centre, Frederick St, Birmingham, B1 3HS
Okay, so most people don’t immediately think ‘pen museum’ when they think of cool places in Birmingham. It is fairly niche, but it makes for an interesting and very unique day out. Located in the historical Jewellery Quarter, the Pen Museum opened in 2001 as an homage to Birmingham’s highly successful pen trade. One of the points that the museum stresses is that it was mostly women involved in manufacturing pens, unusual for the time. Guests can explore the old factories where gold nibs were produced, learn about the process of making the pens and about the pen trade in Birmingham.
It won’t be everyone’s cup to tea, but is it not often that you’ll find something this unique right at your doorstep.
Address: 13 Fleet St, Birmingham, B3 1JP
As morbid as it sounds, the Coffin Works has a very interesting history and it is well worth a visit. Guests can explore the factories where the Newman Brothers ran their successful Coffin Works in the mid-20th Century, including the process of producing furnishings for funerals and the history of the company. The original machinery has been restored to working order, so guests can also see exactly how the original owners would have done things.
These sorts of businesses don’t often become museums, so it is a rare insight into an interesting industry and into the history of the Jewellery Quarter. There are plenty of great sites in this area of Birmingham, so it is a great place for a day trip to see some really unusual pieces of history.
Address: 28 Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham, B4 6BJ
Birmingham is well known for its wealth of cocktail bars. The Jekyll and Hyde serve delicious, creative cocktails with a twist – they are a Victorian-themed bar. Their drinks are colourful and bright and each one is named after some aspect of Stevenson’s famous novel. From the outside, the bar is both unassuming and bright purple. But inside, you will be hard-pressed not to be amazed by the beautiful bar and attention that goes into their drinks.
If you want to learn for yourself what goes into making these creations, they also run cocktail masterclasses on Saturdays where guests can try their hand at making some of the Jekyll and Hyde’s best-loved drinks.
Address: Westbourne Rd, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3TR
If you prefer to be outdoors, then Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a great place for you to explore. They have a beautiful collection of plants both native to the UK and from all over the world. Guests can walk through the gardens and explore all of the different plants and flowers that grow there. They can also visit the glasshouses, each one home to plants from a different climate, including tropical, subtropical, arid and the Mediterranean.
They have an online interactive map so that you can plan your visit beforehand. Some of the plants held in the gardens are now very rare and so it is definitely worth a visit.