Head to the hills
Escape the bustle of the city and head to the idyllic Lickey Hills on the south-west edge of town for a wander in the woods and incredible views of the city. Look out for the BT Tower and the University of Birmingham’s Old Joe in the distance. (Lickey Hills, Warren Lane, Lickey, Birmingham B45 8ER, www.birmingham.gov.uk/lickeyhills).
Grab a Ruby Murray
Birmingham is renowned as the home of some of the best Indian restaurants in the country. Head to the ‘Balti Triangle’ that runs between Ladypool Road, Stoney Lane and Stratford Road around the Sparkhill area and indulge in that great Brummie tradition, a Saturday night curry. Or any other night, for that matter. (Sparkhill, Birmigham B12).
Laze on the Avon
Catch a train from Snow Hill or Moor Street on the ‘Shakespeare Line’ that connects Birmingham to the Bard’s home town, Stratford-upon-Avon. Home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as five incredibly preserved Tudor homes connected with the Shakespeare family, take a day trip to Stratford and immerse yourself in history and culture for the day. (Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk).
Feast on the street
Join the street food revolution that’s swept the country in the last couple of years at the Digbeth Dining Club. Taking place every Friday from 5.30pm under the archways of Spotlight in Digbeth, a rotating roster of food traders serve up everything from crêpes and curry to pastries and pizza. (Unit 2, Lower Trinity St, Birmingham B9 4AG, www.digbethdiningclub.co.uk).
Grab a drink and see a show
Head to The Old Joint Stock on Temple Row for a drink or two, and take a step back in time within the resplendent Victorian surroundings of this Grade II listed Fuller’s pub. The ales and pies are second to none and there’s a busy roster of cabaret, comedy and theatre in the compact performance space out back. (4 Temple Row West, Birmingham B2 5NY, www.oldjointstock.co.uk).
From the outside, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts doesn’t look like much. However, inside this unassuming building on Birmingham University’s campus is a wealth of riches from the last 500 years of European art history. There are works from the likes of Boticelli, Van Gogh, Turner and Magritte in the permanent collection, and regular short-term exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. (University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TS, barber.org.uk).
Anyone for cricket?
What better way to spend an English summer’s day than catching a game of cricket at the UK’s second largest ground, Edgbaston. Home to Warwickshire County Cricket Club and a regular host of Test. one-day and Twenty20 matches, there’s a game to watch most weekends throughout the warmer months. Hear the Edgbaston roar when England take on Pakistan in the Third Test on August 3-7, and go wild at T20 Finals Day on August 20. (Edgbaston Stadium, Edgbaston Rd, Birmingham B5 7QU, www.edgbaston.com).
Put pen to paper
Immerse yourself in the world of pens and calligraphy at the unique Pen Museum in the Jewellery Quarter, dedicated to Birmingham’s once prosperous pen industry. While it might not sound the most exciting of attractions to visit, this is no stuffy museum – interaction is actively encouraged and the knowledgeable guides really bring this charming place to life. The Jewellery Quarter is fascinating to wander round, full of workshops and galleries and a great place to buy handmade pieces direct from the makers. (Unit 3, The Argent Centre, 60 Frederick St, Birmingham B1 3HS, penmuseum.org.uk).
Home to the internationally renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the stunning Symphony Hall hosts the top names of not just classical music, but jazz, blues and contemporary, too. You’ll think music has never sounded so good – designed by acoustic engineers and fine-tuned to each style and performer, it’s considered one of the best concert halls in the world. (Broad St, Birmingham B1 2EA, www.thsh.co.uk).
Do Sunday lunch differently
Head to Chinatown for a Sunday lunch with a difference at one of the many great restaurants serving the small shareable plates known as dim sum. The long-running and much-loved original Chung Ying on Wrottesley Street is a popular choice, and for good reason, with over 40 different options to choose from, from wontons and spring rolls to dishes you definitely won’t have sampled before. (16-18 Wrottesley St, Birmingham B5 4RT, www.chungying.co.uk).
Get out in the garden
Just a few miles from the city centre is Winterbourne House and Gardens. This beautiful Edwardian Arts and Crafts villa and adjoining botanic gardens offer a real sanctuary for those frazzled by the hectic hustle of twenty-first-century Birmingham. Make your way through the house, enjoy a cuppa and a slice of cake in the tea room and maybe even join a calligraphy class or beekeeping workshop. (58 Edgbaston Park Rd, Birmingham B15 2RT, www.winterbourne.org.uk).
Do it all at once
Jump on a train to Birmingham International station and you’re just a few minutes walk away from not only the NEC but the enormous, recently opened pleasureland of Resorts World Birmingham. With an outlet shopping mall, 11-screen cinema, health spa, restaurants, bars and the Genting International Casino, there’s something for everyone here. (Pendigo Way, Birmingham B40 1PU, www.resortsworldbirmingham.co.uk).
Catch a show
There’s no need to head to London to enjoy top-drawer theatre. Birmingham’s theatres are some of the best in the country, showing everything from intimate local performances at the Blue Orange Theatre to touring West End shows at the 2,000-seat Hippodrome. (www.birminghamtheatres.com).
Marvel at music history
There’s no shortage of things to keep you busy in the historic Jewellery Quarter, but music memorabilia specialist St Pauls Gallery is a must-visit for anyone looking to own – or simply admire – a piece of rock or pop history. Housing the largest collection of licensed album cover art in the world, including pieces from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, you could easily spend a few hours (and a few pounds) in the gallery. (94 Northwood St, Birmingham B3 1TH, www.stpaulsgallery.com).
Head down to the Hall
In a city full of strikingly modern buildings, the magnificent Jacobean mansion Aston Hall is one of Birmingham’s most important and treasured buildings, bought by the city in 1864 and now managed by a community trust. The red-brick country house is stunning from the outside, but it’s the beautifully restored interiors that really dazzle. There are talks and tours for all ages, and for kids there’s a busy programme of craft sessions, storytelling, costumed characters and dress-up days. (Trinity Rd, Aston, Birmingham B6 6JD, www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/aston).
Discover more fun activities
Soak up some culture
Journey through thousands of years of history – and hundreds of years of art – at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in Chamberlain Square. Packed with treasures from across the globe and close to home, you can easily lose a day here and still not see it all. (Chamberlain Square, Birmingham B3 3DH, www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag).
Take a walk in the Gardens
Lose yourself in over 15 acres of stunning greenery at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston. In the four beautiful glasshouses you can journey through tropical, sub-tropical, Mediterranean and arid environments, and marvel at over 7,000 different plants. (Westbourne Rd, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3TR, www.birminghambotanicalgardens.org.uk).
Jump aboard a barge
It’s true – Birmingham really does have more canals than Venice. There’s no better way to explore the city and its industrial heritage than from aboard one of the daily canal boat trips departing from the city centre. Take a trip around the city or explore the canal system deep into the countryside. (Sherborne Wharf, Sheepcote St, Birmingham B16 8AE, www.sherbornewharf.co.uk).
Frolic in the forests
Move like a monkey and swing like a simian for a treetop adventure at one of the two Go Ape activity centres just outside Birmingham. Whizz down zip wires, clamber over obstacles and throw yourself off the Tarzan swings for a fun-packed few hours in beautiful scenery at the Wyre Forest near Kidderminster or Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. (Callow Hill, Kidderminster DY14 9XQ, www.goape.co.uk).
Go behind the scenes
Peek behind the scenes at the BBC’s Birmingham studios. Free to enter and open every day of the week, you can try your hand at reading the news or weather, have your photo taken with a Dalek and even peer through the glass at a live radio broadcast. (7 Commercial St, Birmingham B1 1RS, www.bbc.co.uk/showsandtours).
Step back in time
Head out of town and back in time at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley. With a brick-by-brick replica Victorian village to explore, you can stroll the streets, visit shops, homes and workshops and chat to local characters to experience a vivid slice of life during the Industrial Revolution. (2 Tipton Rd, Dudley, West Midlands DY1 4SQ, www.bclm.co.uk).
Meet the animals
Housing some of the world’s rarest and most endangered species, Birmingham Wildlife Conservation Park is a small zoo full of exotic creatures the whole family will love. (Pershore Rd, Birmingham B5 7RL, www.birmingham.gov.uk/naturecentre).
Visit the Jewellery Quarter
With over 100 retailers selling all that sparkles and much more – and four separate museums highlighting the unique history of the area – there’s loads to keep you busy in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. (Jewllery Quarter, Hockley, Birmingham, www.jewelleryquarter.net).
Shop till you drop
Birmingham takes some beating when it comes to shopping. With two landmark shopping centres, numerous department stores, plus hundreds of other independent and high street stores, not to mention the city’s numerous markets, whatever you fancy spending your hard-earned dough on, you can do it in Brum. (Various locations).
Read all about it
With its striking modern exterior housing millions of books over ten floors, The Library of Birmingham is the second city’s cultural focal point. There are hundreds of years of local history to be discovered inside, including the Shakespeare Memorial Room, within a specially built rotunda at the top of the building. (Centenary Square, Broad St, Birmingham B1 2ND, www.libraryofbirmingham.com).
Go back to back
Travel into the past at Birmingham Back To Backs, the last surviving block of housing of its type in the city, and see how the hardworking inhabitants of Brum lived during the last couple of hundred years. ( 50-54 Inge St, Birmingham B5 4TE, www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birmingham-back-to-backs).
Bring science to life
Thinktank is the most modern of science museums, packed with interactive and inspiring exhibits that bring technology and industry to vivid life. From a locomotive to a triceratops skull, a Spitfire and an awesome 360-degree fully immersive planetarium, Thinktank’s ten galleries are waiting to be explored. (Millennium Point, Curzon St, Birmingham B4 7XG, www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/thinktank).
Journey out of the city and into a wonderful world of primates at Twycross Zoo, home to the largest collection of apes and monkeys in the western world. From the UK’s only collection of bonobo apes, to gorillas, orang-utans and chimpanzees, this is the best place in the country to marvel at our furry cousins in all their fascinating glory. (Burton Rd, Atherstone, Warwickshire CV9 3PX, twycrosszoo.org).
Catch a movie
Whatever you want to watch and however you want to watch it, when it comes to settling down with the popcorn, Birmingham’s many cinemas have you covered. (Various locations).
Make for the castle
Jump on the train from Snow Hill or Moor Street and head to the magnificent 1,000-year-old Warwick Castle on the banks of the River Avon. Built by William The Conqueror in 1068, a walk around the incredibly restored castle is a journey through not just history, but myth, magic and adventure, too. (Warwick CV34 4QU, www.warwick-castle.com).
Taste the sweet life
Go cocoa crazy for the day at Cadbury World, the activity-packed visitor centre at the world famous chocolate factory in Bournville. Set in the handsome Victorian ‘model village’ built by the Quaker chocolatier for its workers, it’s a dream day out for kids and adults alike. (Linden Rd, Bournville, B20 2LU, www.cadburyworld.co.uk).
Catch a match
With Aston Villa now back in the Championship, there are at least two Second City derbies to be enjoyed in the coming season. See the beautiful game at Birmingham’s two major football stadiums, Birmingham City’s St Andrews (www.bcfc.com) and Aston Villa’s Villa Park (www.avfc.co.uk). The warmth of the local supporters is legendary and it’s an exciting day out for all the famiy.
Feed the penguins
Birmingham might be miles from the ocean, but at the National Sea Life Centre in Brindleyplace you can marvel at over 1,000 freshwater and marine creatures – including everyone’s favourite, the Gentoo penguins. (The Water’s Edge, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HL, www.visitsealife.com).
Head into the shire
Sarehole Mill in Moseley isn’t just a beautifully preserved 250-year-old watermill, it’s where onetime local resident JRR Tolkein found inspiration for ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. With its idyllic setting and tranquil millpond, it’s the epitome of rural Englishness. There's a family-friendly Tolkien exhibition, and on Wednesdays and Sundays you can see the original milling gear in action grinding flour. (Cole Bank Rd, Moseley, B13 0BD, www.birminghammuseums.org.uk).
Hang out at the park
Leave the city behind, less than two miles from the city centre, and relax as you stroll through the grass, under the trees and around the lakes of 250-acre Cannon Hill Park. There are lots of beautiful picnic spots and grassy fields to run around in, plus playgrounds, tennis courts, mini-golf and a weekend kids’ funfair. The Garden Tea Room does drinks, snacks and a full menu. (Russell Rd, Birmingham B13 8RD, www.birmingham.gov.uk/cannonhillpark).
Slurp something cool
There are a growing number of ice cream parlours around the city where you can sate that sweet tooth in style. Independent Mr Gelato in Selly Oak (mr-gelato.co.uk) is open until 11pm daily, with 36 freshly made flavours from straciatella to Snickers, great crêpes and mikshakes. Paradice Gelateria in Harborne (paradicegelateria.co.uk) is known for extravagant sundaes like the Movie Night – chocolate and vanilla gelato with popcorn, fudge cubes, whipped cream and toffee sauce. Have a coffee in the dessert lounge while the kids jump around in the soft play area.
Get on your bike
Jump onto two wheels for a ride out of town on the Rea Valley Cycle Route, taking you from the city centre along the river Rea to Kings Norton Park. Pack a picnic and you can dismount halfway and settle down in the grass of Cannon Hill Park for a well-earned rest. (www.sustrans.org.uk).
Pick your own five-a-day
Head out of the city to one of the many pick-your-own fruit farms on the edge of town. Manor Farm Fruits near Tamworth (www.manorfarmfruits.co.uk) and Waslgrove Farm outside Pershore (www.walsgrove.co.uk) are two great spots to pack a punnet from spring to autumn. Kids will love gathering their own berries and no one will mind if a couple end up in mouths, rather than baskets.
Birmingham is full of amazing art spaces, not least the internationally renowned Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but Ikon is the city’s hot spot for contemporary art, with short and long-term exhibitions by local and international artists. Founded by a group of Birmingham artists in the 1960s with a mission of education and accessibility, there are lots of talks, tours and events for adults and children. (1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham B1 2HS, ikon-gallery.org).
Be giants into a small world
Embrace Birmingham’s rich transport history in miniature at Wonderful World Of Trains And Planes in the Jewellery Quarter, where you can fly a plane over the Las Vegas strip, race a car and travel the world by model train. Test your skills on the Scalextric tracks, land a virtual 747 and take the controls of the world’s best-loved tank engine in Thomas’s Big Day Out. (3 Mary Ann St, St Paul’s Square, Birmingham B3 1BG, wonderfulworldtrainsplanes.co.uk).