Unusual Things to Do in Birmingham

Brindley Place, Birmingham, has a pretty, canal-side location – featuring restaurants, bars and cultural attractions
Brindley Place, Birmingham, has a pretty, canal-side location – featuring restaurants, bars and cultural attractions | © John Rees / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Richard Franks
Freelance Travel & Music Writer30 July 2021

Forget Cadbury World. Discover the quirky side of Birmingham with these off-beat attractions, including adventure golf in the Bullring and stand-up paddleboarding on Edgbaston Reservoir.

These days, Birmingham is known for far more than just Cadbury chocolate and curry houses. Those who have visited the city in the past may have stumbled upon its obvious treasures, but what about those unique nuggets of fun? From riding a water bus to dressing up as Gandalf at Tolkien’s childhood playground, here are some of the more unusual things to do in Birmingham.

Visit the Birmingham Back To Backs

Historical Landmark
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Birmingham back to back houses
© i4images rm / Alamy Stock Photo
Birmingham’s last remaining Back To Back houses are a sight to behold. Located in the city centre, this exemplary set of 19th-century houses, which are cared for by the National Trust, provide a snapshot of what life was like for its working-class citizens from the mid-1800s until – believe it or not – as recently as the 1970s. Advanced booking is essential, and make sure to stop by the 1930s sweet shop on the corner.

Take a swing at Treetop Adventure Golf

Sports Center
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Enjoy a trip to the rainforest with Birmingham’s Treetop Adventure Golf at the Bullring Shopping Centre. Here, you’ll find two, fun-filled 18-hole courses – aptly named the Tropical Trail and the Ancient Explorer – with a host of eccentric jungle-themed surprises along the way, and if luck is on your side, a bonus 19th hole, too. There’s also a pizza restaurant, cocktail bar and coffee shop for that all important mid-match refuel, or post-match wind down.

Swat up on Birmingham’s pen trade

Museum
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The Pen Museum, The Argent Centre, Frederick Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, West Midlands, England, United Kingdom
© Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy Stock Photo

Did you know that Birmingham manufactured 75 percent of the world’s pens during the 19th century? The Jewellery Quarter was at the heart of the city’s pen trade, and you can discover everything for yourself at the Pen Museum. It’s not all just looking at pens though; try your hand at writing with feature quills and steel pens, while you can also check out some vintage typewriters.

Book onto a Peaky Blinders tour

Architectural Landmark
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Delve into the darkest depths of Digbeth and discover the original Peaky Blinders gang that roamed the back alleys of Birmingham’s suburbs. Led by Peaky Tours and local historian Carl Chinn, you’ll head off on a real walking tour of the same Victorian sights and haunts that the real Peaky Blinders would once frequented. The tour ends with an 1880s-themed dinner and a Q&A session with Carl Chinn himself.

Go stand-up paddleboarding

Hiking Trail, Natural Feature
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Edgbaston reservoir Birmingham UK
© Edward Moss / Alamy Stock Photo

Despite Birmingham’s landlocked location, there are plenty of ways you can get out on the water – and one of the most quirky of them is stand-up paddleboarding. Great for both beginners and experienced waterfolk, these one-hour sessions on Edgbaston Reservoir offer a fun way of keeping fit and active on Birmingham’s most popular body of water. Beginners can take an introductory session, while experts can head straight out with the paddleboards.

Hop on the water bus at Brindleyplace

Architectural Landmark
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Pink Waterbus Brindleyplace Birmingham
© LH Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Sticking with the water theme: did you know you could traverse the city centre on its canals? Birmingham actually has more miles of canal than Venice, and while many opt to walk the long way around, a short trip on Ariel the Narrowboat will slash your journey time – and take you between Brindleyplace and the Mailbox for a mere £4 round-trip ticket. Trips usually depart every 30 minutes.

Discover Birmingham’s policing past at the Lock-up

Architectural Landmark, Museum
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West Midlands Police have helped to uncover a previously unseen part of the city’s heritage, with rare ticketed open days allowing the public to explore a former police station lock-up at Steelhouse Lane. Now, having received essential funding to relocate their museum to Steelhouse Lane, the station will officially open as a public museum to uncover even more stories of its staff and prisoners, including the real Peaky Blinders.

Go all Middle Earth at Sarehole Mill

Museum, Architectural Landmark
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The lake at Sarehole Mill in Hall Green Birmingham which is a Grade 2 listed water mill and is now a museum
© Nick Maslen / Alamy Stock Photo

Providing inspiration for Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, Sarehole Mill is a 250-year-old working watermill, which hosts a very special celebration each September. The Middle Earth Festival is an annual celebration of the world-renowned author of the book series, with re-enactments, a special elven path trail, a pop-up Two Towers brewery bar and much more. Entry is free and fancy dress is encouraged; discounted entry to the Mill visitor attraction is available.

Drink craft beer and play pinball at the same time at Tilt

Bar, Beer, $$$
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It’s not often you can play vintage pinball machines in a local bar, but nestled down at City Arcade is a gamer’s haven called Tilt. With the finest craft beer on offer and some of the best coffee found in the city too, pinball lovers will be over the moon to stumble upon this place. Once you’ve got your practice in, you can even join the Pinball League held on the last Monday of every month.

Join a cookery school at Loaf

Bakery, Authentic, $$$
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Making a name for itself in the trendy South Birmingham suburb of Stirchley is Loaf – an independent, community-supported bakery. It’s a huge hit with the locals, and not only can you purchase freshly baked bread and pastries, you can also attend Loaf’s revered cookery school, where you’ll learn how to bake your own loaf, make fresh egg pasta and even butcher your own meat for sandwiches.

These recommendations were updated on July 30, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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