Things to do in Birmingham: chocolate tasting, stunning libraries and unbeatable shopping

Visiting Birmingham? Let our Local editor be your expert guide. From chocolate factories to Lord of the Rings inspiration, Birmingham has something for everyone.  

birmingham Mihai-Bogdan Lazar /

There are a lot of reasons why Birmingham has been named best UK city break destination twice in the last two years. This 'city of a thousand trades' has more than its industrial past to boast about – a fantastic city centre, canalside bars, world-class culture and sport, and a vibrant, confident and youthful population. And it's a fabulous place to bring up a family – great parks, hundreds of fun places to visit and many very good schools.


What's your favourite thing about Birmingham?

Birmingham has first-class theatres, live music, ballet, art galleries, science museum, sports facilities etc but the countryside is also just 20 minutes out of town. And with 600 parks across the city, the quality of life can be very good.


Before we start exploring, where can we feed the kids?

Rowheath Pavillion in Bournville is good, serving delicious cake and offering a lovely little play area for toddlers. For something a bit different, try We Are Mud in Bearwood. While you enjoy a decent coffee and well-earned cake, you can watch your toddler decorate plates or make ceramic keepsakes of baby hands and feet. Other favourites include The Kitchen Garden in Kings Heath, Mac Cafe in Cannon Hill Park and the Victorian Tea Rooms in Kings Heath park.


Right, we're ready to go! Where's the best day out in Birmingham?

If you fancy something educational and fun, head to the science museum Thinktank. Enjoy the interactive exhibits, Planetarium, and at lunchtime head outside to the Eastside Park garden with a packed lunch and let the children play on the stepping stones, the weighted swings, water-jets and other sciencey games.

Head back into town for the National Trust's Back-to-Back houses or check out what's on at BM&AG (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). Alternatively, visit Cadbury World and run off all the chocolate afterwards in the outdoor playground.


cadbury world

We like the sound of the outdoor playground. Where else is good for getting some fresh air?

The Lickey Hills are fantastic to explore, with an excellent play area. Cannon Hill Park is more modestly-sized, but has lots of smooth pathways for scooters and inexperienced cyclists. But best of all is probably Sutton Park with its lakes, wild ponies, decent-sized walks and good cafes.


If we want to avoid the crowds could you recommend any hidden gems?

Shire Country Park, which incorporates Moseley Bog and Sarehole Mill, is where Tolkien spent magical childhood days adventuring. The area is far removed from the rural idyll he knew, but once you've found the carpark and entered Moseley Bog, the ancient trees and atmospheric woodlands make it easy to recognise this as the landscape which inspired the Hobbit. Families can spend a wonderful day here rambling, den-building and wading through shallow streams. Well worth discovering.


 And what about free indoor activities?

birmingham library
Arena Photo UK /

Brummies are justly proud of the new publicly-funded £189m Library of Birmingham, which opened at a time when many local authorities were cutting library services. There's always something going on, from toddler storytimes to author visits and cinema sessions. Alternatively, simply browse the books then take a picnic on the rooftop garden whilst enjoying the view.

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts at the University of Birmingham is also a treat. It boasts recognisably world-famous masterpieces by Monet, Renoir, Rossetti, Rubens, Degas, Turner, and Gainsborough. Look out for the excellent family workshops on offer.



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It's been a cheap day so far, where can we spend some money?

It has to be the Bullring, which is easy for Selfridges and all high street shops. It's clean and parking is uncomplicated.

The Bullring Market is great for fabulous fruit and veg deals (like a bucket of mangos for a £1), the good-quality meat, game and fish. However, when shopping for something a bit special, head over to the Mailbox for Harvey Nicks. 


Now we're ready for the evening - and we've got a babysitter for the kids! Where can we go to let our hair down?

For a posh meal, the Michelin-starred Purnells is fantastic. Alternatively, catch a show at the Hippodrome and then head for China Town. Or book a sofa at the excellent Electric Cinema and order cocktails and nibbles by text whilst watching the latest release.


Birmingham's great - we're sold. Now where's the best place to settle down?


Not for nothing was leafy Bournville village (home to Cadbury's) dubbed the Joseph Roundtree Foundation's 'nicest place in Britain to live', with its attractive houses and genteel population. However, property is expensive here for Birmingham. Look at nearby suburbs of Selly Park, Edgbaston (with its large Edwardian villas), Moseley and Kings Heath.

Harborne is livelier and boasts a Waitrose, Pizza Express and the lovely Plough pub, but transport links into the city leave a lot to be desired. In the north of the city, Sutton Coldfield is a lovely place to live with a beautiful park and good transport links into town.


About the Local editor 

Sala Davies lives with her husband and three boys in South Birmingham. She says: "When I had my first baby I wasted months isolated indoors, welded to my copy of Gina Ford. I want the Mumsnet Birmingham site to be so jam-packed with inspiring ideas and information that new parents have the confidence to get out and explore what our great city has to offer families."

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Last updated: about 3 years ago