7 free things to do in Birmingham: Student edition

Free things to do in Birmingham
Birmingham's iconic waterways boasts the most intricate canal networks in the world, making it a perfect place for a leisurely stroll down the city. Source: Adrian Dennis/AFP

If you’re looking for things to do in Birmingham, the list is truly endless. As the second-largest city in the UK, its charm lies in the mishmash of industrial history and eclectic cultural scenes that have birthed a motley of things, from literary greatness to heavy metal. 

For students, Birmingham offers a truly British experience: the city is home to several world-class universities — including the prestigious University of Birmingham, a Russell Group university —  and a vibrant social life with concerts and museums at every corner. Still, we understand that having fun can be tricky when you’ve got countless options but a limited budget. 

Luckily, there’s plenty for you to enjoy that doesn’t cost a single pence. From art galleries to themed tours, here’s our pick to help you fill your weekend itinerary without breaking your bank: 

7 fabulous free things to do in Birmingham 

1)  Visit the Library of Birmingham 

Free things to do in Birmingham

One of the largest public cultural space in Europe, the Library of Birmingham is where students can peruse extensive rare collections on local history and Britain’s most important Shakespeare collections at its Shakespeare Memorial Room. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

If you’re a new student in the city, the Library of Birmingham is a must-see for bookworms. The most visited tourist attraction outside of London is a 10-storey marvel of architecture that features an outdoor amphitheatre, two outdoor garden terraces, an art gallery, and houses the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Film buffs will delight in the extensive collections by BFI Mediatheque, providing free access to the National Film Archive that are free for public view. 

2)  A stroll at The Canals

Free things to do in Birmingham

Birmingham’s canals are prominently featured in the popular show “Peaky Blinders”, and are lined with bars and restaurants for a gastronomic adventure. Source: Adrian Dennis/AFP

It’s impossible to think about Birmingham without its distinctive waterways, which is one of the most intricate canal networks in the world. The canals are even longer than the ones in Venice, and the Gas Street Basin is a hotspot you shouldn’t miss. Fans of “Peaky Blinders” would recognise the iconic brick structures and narrow boats lining its banks. Once all the walking finally wears you out, you can get your delicious grub at numerous pubs and restaurants housed within modern and traditional buildings that give you a gorgeous view of the river. 

3) A picnic at Sutton Park 

This lush 2,400-acre park is designated as a National Nature Reserve and is one of the most expansive parks in Europe. More than just an ideal picnic spot for a quick wind-down between your busy schedules, the park encompasses open heathland, woodlands, lakes, wetlands, and marshes. Each landscape comes with its own unique flora and wildlife species. If you’re lucky, you can also sport cattle and wild ponies on the park’s grounds while basking in its greenery. 

4)  Visit the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG)

One of the best things to do in Birmingham is to immerse yourself in its rich history and culture, and BMAG is just the right place to start. With over 40 galleries for you to tour, you can explore different exhibits that include the world’s largest pre-Raphaelite painting collections, the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered, and artefacts from Ancient Rome and Egypt. The museum’s building itself is a majestic structure listed as a Grade II* city centre landmark that boasts a palatial-like structure befitting its importance in housing the city’s heritage. 

5) Get artsy at The MAC

The Midlands Arts Centre, more commonly known as The MAC, is a pioneering one-stop art complex for art enthusiasts of every form. Based in Cannon Hill Park just two miles south of the city, The MAC hosts events in music, art, theatre, dance, literature, and spoken word, in addition to ceramics and jewellery-making. 

While some performances do require payment, there are a host of events that are free for everyone. You can check them online to see if anything suits your fancy. There’s an arts and crafts market that pops up on selected Sundays where you can browse handmade products that’ll make the perfect gift for special occasions. 

6) Explore the original Shire at the Tolkien Trail 

Before there was Middle Earth, there was J.R.R. Tolkien in Birmingham. The author spent his formative years in the city, where he lived near Sarehole Mill, an area he referred to as a “lost paradise”. The location was thought to be the inspiration for Hobbiton, and traces of it can be found as Bilbo Baggins sets off for his adventure in “The Hobbit”.

The Mill is now listed as a Grade II* building with a permanent Tolkien exhibition. If you don’t mind shelling a few pounds, there is a famous hour-long guided tour called “There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien and Sarehole Guided Walk” covering key areas of interest for Tolkien fans at 10 British pounds — a small price to pay for one of the coolest things you can do in Birmingham as a fan. 

7) Go behind the scenes at BBC Birmingham Visitor Centre

See Dr. Who’s blue TARDIS and Daleks up close, pretend you’re one of the judges in the show “Strictly Come Dancing”, or feel what it’s like to be a weather presenter in front of a green screen using an auto-cue. BBC Birmingham is where you can catch a glimpse of news anchors and television producers at work in real time. Since it’s a working building, no two tours are ever similar, but the fun is absolutely guaranteed. You can even make your own radio play, which you’ll get to keep as a memento of your visit.