Gorgeous countryside, fascinating museums and cultural institutions – Birmingham is packed with fun, free attractions to help you get the most out of your visit. Make your stay Travelodgical with these 10 free things to do in Birmingham.
1.Browse the Ikon gallery
Art lovers flock to the Ikon – Brum’s answer to The Tate Modern. It’s an internationally renowned contemporary art gallery, where you can see works from established artists and up-and-coming talent, all free of charge.
If you want to delve deeper, join a 15-minute spotlight tour – a knowledgeable member of staff will help you understand more about one of the key pieces on display. There are regular family events, too, and a lovely gift shop.
1 Oozells Street, B1 2HS. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm. Closed Mondays (except Bank Holidays.)
2.Enjoy the beauty of Lickey Hills Country Park
Lickey Hills is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. About 10 miles southwest of the centre, you’ll find 524 acres of untouched greenery to explore, all sprawling woods and sun-dappled meadows.
In fact, the hills are thought to be the inspiration for J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythical Shire featured in the Lord of The Rings books, as he spent time here as a boy. Don’t miss the toposcope at the summit of Beacon Hill, built by the Cadbury family. Sadly it’s not made of chocolate!
Warren Lane, Lickey, Birmingham B45 8ER. Open 10am – 4.30pm every day.
3.Meet the donkeys at The Donkey Sanctuary
Your little ones will love The Donkey Sanctuary in Sutton Coldfield. Founded in 1969, the sanctuary is home to a group of friendly donkeys, who have a leafy paddock all to themselves, nestled in the middle of Sutton Park. The donkeys come from all over the world – once you’ve met them, you can read more about their colourful life stories, and the Sanctuary’s work, in the visitor centre.
The Town Gate, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield B74 2YT. Open 3pm – 5pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday – Sunday.
4.Be a culture vulture at The mac
The mac is a real multi-tasker – it’s an art gallery, theatre, museum, cinema, as well as one of the region’s best venues for music, comedy and dance. It even hosts the odd food market! The building itself is a work of art, too, a modernist masterpiece rising out of the natural beauty of Cannon Hill Park, close to the University of Birmingham. It’s free to visit, take a look around, and enjoy some of the exhibitions.
Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham B12 9QH. Open 9am – 10pm every day.
5. Become a TV presenter at BBC Public Space
Head to Level 3 of The Mailbox shopping centre to find BBC Public Space, where you can explore the fascinating world of public-service broadcasting. First off, visit The Blue Room, a showcase for new, innovative BBC technologies. There are guides on hand to help explain it all. Then, head upstairs to the Public Space to deliver your own weather forecast, or try your hand at presenting the news. Can you keep up with the autocue?
BBC Birmingham, B1 1RF. Open 10am – 5pm Mondays – Saturdays, 11am – 5pm Sundays.
6.Walk the Tolkien trail
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien grew up in and around the city, and many of its landscapes influenced the wonderful fantasy worlds he created. This pretty walking trail takes you through the village of Sarehole – and Sarehole Mill, where he played as a child – Mosely Bog, recalled in the author’s ‘Old Forest’, and a pair of towers said to have influenced the ‘Two Towers of Gondor’ from his books. The walk finishes in the city centre at the Library of Birmingham.
Starts at 264 Wake Green Road. Download the map here
7.Explore the canals
Does Birmingham have more canals than Venice? Well, it depends where you draw the city boundaries. But either way, the centre of Brum is criss-crossed with plenty of picturesque waterways. Start at Sherborne Wharf in the heart of the city, dotted with cafés, restaurants, and cosy pubs. Wander past the Arena Birmingham, National SEA LIFE centre and into postcard-pretty Gas Street Basin, the end of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal – a perfectly preserved vista of 19th-century industry.
8.Visit the Library of Birmingham
Much more than just a local library, the Library of Birmingham is the largest public cultural space in Europe. A jaw-dropping, ultra-modern celebration of reading, it houses 10 floors of books and technology, as well as important historical archives, courses and seminars on every topic.
The council held an international competition to design the building, which opened in 2013 and in 2015, it was the most visited tourist attraction outside of London having had over 2 million visits. It’s as stunning inside as it is on the outside – a series of mezzanine levels, lined with bookshelves, all coiling around brightly lit escalators. Not to be missed.
Centenary Square, Broad Street, B1 2ND. Open Monday – Tuesday 11am – 7pm, Wednesday – Saturday 11am – 5pm.
9.See the Staffordshire Hoard
Pay a visit to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, housed in a Grade II-listed building. A few of the many highlights here include the biggest collection of Pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world – 3,000 paintings to be exact! – and an insightful exhibition about Birmingham’s rich heritage.
But the icing on the cake is the Staffordshire Hoard, a haul of Anglo-Saxon treasure, which has its own newly opened gallery. See it for yourself and discover more about the lives of those who created it in ‘Mead Hall’, a recreation of the world of a 7th-century Lord.
Chamberlain Square, B3 3DH. Open Monday – Thursday 10am – 5pm, Friday 10.30am – 5pm, Saturday – Sunday 10am – 5pm.
10. Browse at the Custard Factory
Off the beaten track, this funky shopping hub is home to Brum’s independent scene – rifle through second-hand record stores, try on vintage clothes and enjoy a mouth-watering burger from a pop-up restaurant.
You’ll often find fun events here, too, like craft fairs, workshops and art installations. Don’t miss the Mockingbird, a 101-seater theatre hosting music and comedy nights, with a great bistro.
Gibb St, B9 4AA. Open weekdays 8.30am – 6.30pm, Saturday 9am – 6pm, closed Sundays.