Whether it’s stepping away from the city centre to the peace of the countryside that you’re looking for, or immersing yourself in fascinating history and culture, Birmingham has a long list of free events and days out.
From art to history, countryside walks to the BBC and Tolkien, Birmingham offers a wealth of free activities perfect for engaging visitors of any age, some of the best of which, are highlighted below.
Despite its busy city centre, it is easy to find respite in Birmingham in the many parks and walking routes across the city.
The Birmingham canals run throughout the city with a junction in the trendy city-centre Gas Street Basin and running onwards through the Sherborne Wharf Marina. The canals stretch out into the country side, where there are plenty of walking, jogging and cycling routes, as well as providing the opportunity for wildlife spotters to look out for a range of birds (check out our article Food, Drink & Discovery on Birmingham’s Canals for more information).
Canon Hill Park is located between Mosely and Edgbaston and stretches for 80 acres, with a further 120 acres of conservation and woodland. The relaxing park is used for dog walks, jogging and picnicking, and the Boating Lake adds to the relaxing atmosphere. There is also a range of activities that you can enjoy within the park including mini golf, a trip on the land train or taking out a Swan Pedal Boat (each of which do have their own separate costs). Keep an eye out for free exhibitions and events at the mac birmingham, which is a cultural hub for local arts and a popular destination for the whole family (including events such as film screenings and workshops aimed specifically at children).
If you’re looking to get further into countryside the Lickey Hills Country Park is about 10 miles outside of the city centre and covers an impressive 524 acres. With walking trails and the famous Beacon Hill viewpoint, Lickey Hills are truly the perfect place to rest and enjoy the fresh air.
For all Lord of the Rings fans, a walk around some of the sites said to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s work would be a great day out. The trail winds around the city covering locations such as Moseley Bog, Perrott’s Folly and Edgbaston Waterworks Tower which are said to be the inspiration for the Two Towers of Gondor, and Sarehole, the inspiration for “The Shire”. The trail guide will lead you round these magical sites, as well as providing a further insight into the life and works of Tolkien.
- Birmingham Library
As boasted on their website, if the book collection in the Library of Birmingham was laid end-to-end, it would stretch from Birmingham to Edinburgh. The impressive building is a haven for book lovers and those interested in archive collections, as well as those with a passion for film (the library is also home to the BFI Mediatheque where there is free access to the National Film Archive). The Shakespeare Memorial Room located at the top of the library was opened in September 2013; with an impressive Elizabethan style interior the room is home to rare items including early editions of Shakespeare’s works. Also highly recommend is the open-air viewing platform with great views across Centenary Square and its surroundings.
The BBC visitor centre is found inside the Mailbox and is open seven days a week. With regular exhibitions, this is the perfect activity for anyone wishing to learn about what goes on behind the scenes. There is also free access to an interactive exhibition at the BBC Blue Room where you can learn about the innovative technology currently under development. Regular tours give you further access and a more detailed insight into the workings of the BBC, information and prices of which can be found online.
- Art Galleries
The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) in Chamberlain Square first opened in 1885. With over 40 galleries to explore, the museum gives an insight into culture and history, famous in particular for its Pre-Raphaelite collection of over 3000 paintings, drawings and prints. Amongst the collections are the Ancient Egypt Gallery with artefacts including pottery and mummies, and a gallery dedicated to the history of Birmingham, covering the medieval period, the Victorian period and the two world wars. The Mini Museum is perfect for introducing children to art and history through story books, games and dressing up. There is also a programme of interesting exhibitions throughout the year, including tours, talks and music recitals.
If you are more interested in modern and contemporary art, the Ikon Gallery in Oozells Square is well-worth a trip. The gallery offers a range of differing exhibitions, with the aim of promoting public engagement with contemporary art. The exhibitions include artists from around the world who use a mixture of media to create thought-provoking displays.
- University of Birmingham
Famous for its red brick buildings and Old Joe, the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world, the University campus is home to two fascinating museums. The Lapworth Museum of Geology recently underwent a £2.7 m redevelopment and is suitable for all ages who want to learn more about fossils, rocks, dinosaurs and more, with Family Fun Days also taking place throughout the year. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is home to a spectacular collection of art, including pieces by Turner, Monet and Degas, amongst other great masters. With free entry, this truly is a great opportunity to see a spectacular collection of fine artwork.
- Seasonal activities
The Brindleyplace Film Festival is an annual festival running a programme of great films shown on a big screen in Central Square. This open-air cinema experience is a great way to watch box office hits in the enchanting outdoors atmosphere. Keep an eye out on their website for their film schedule.
Arguably one of the biggest events in the calendar is the Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market runs annually over the Christmas period which attracts visitors from across the country. The market proudly boasts its claim to be the largest authentic Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria and is the perfect place to browse and enjoy the atmosphere. The market offers over 120 stands selling traditional gifts, as well as food and drink, with a programme of live music taking place in Victoria Square.
- Further afield…
If you are able to drive or get a bus there, the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire is a wonderful place to visit. A place for both peace and reflection, the Arboretum also enables you to learn more about Remembrance, commemorating the work and losses of different services. Centred around an architecturally magnificent Armed Forces Memorial, the 350 memorials in the 150-acres of gardens all carry important stories and a strong sense of reflection. Amongst the memorials stands a touching Shot at Dawn Memorial commemorating the 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for cowardice or desertion during WW1.
With such a range of activities available for all the family, Birmingham really is the perfect place to explore and have an expense-free day out.
Article by University of Birmingham intern Imogen Burgoyne