Last Updated on 28th January 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Once home to HP sauce and as one of the largest cities in the UK (second only to London!), it’s clear that Birmingham is a big bright city with plenty to offer every visitor. From a beautiful foodie scene to a fantastic selection of bizarre, and downright weird museums on offer, even the most discerning of travellers are sure to find something they enjoy during their stay in The City of a Thousand Trades. Here’s your ultimate guide to the most unusual things to do, as well as hidden gems and secret spots in Birmingham you won’t want to miss on any visit to the city!
Though this side street offers little by way of attractions, the name of the tiny Needless Alley alone provides plenty of amusement for passersby. After all, the little lane is located just off New Street, i.e. one of the main shopping streets which cuts its way through the city centre and offers all of the chain stores you’d expect to find along such a road.
You’ll know when you’re in the right place along New Street when you spy the vintage looking sign proclaiming ‘Needless Alley’. And if you’re wondering just how the name came to be, then there are actually a few theories as to why that is! The most prominent is that the street was once called ‘Needlers Alley’ thanks to needle makers in the area and that the name was confused over time!
You may well not know this, but Birmingham is home to a number of covered shopping streets dating back several centuries. Reminiscent of the covered passages of Paris, these arcades are home to a variety of businesses, and many of the passages are beautiful architecturally in of themselves!
One of the most underrated of the Birmingham arcades is that of Piccadilly. Located close to Tim Horton’s, as well as the beautifully appointed Apple Building (seriously, the shop’s ceiling is complete with a stunning 20th-century stained glass skylight!), the covered arcade’s ceiling is adorned with, while the shops themselves are predominantly independent and well worth a wander through.
Great Western Arcade
Truth be told, one of the most beautiful places to visit in Birmingham is that of Great Western Arcade. So-called thanks to its former ties to the Great Western Railway company, today the covered shopping arcade is a hotspot for independent shops and eateries.
Among the tiny stores, you’ll soon discover a Whisky Shop, a traditional sweet vendor, and even a macaron seller whose sweets have appeared in countless magazines and online publications. Otherwise, for the best photos of the place, be sure to head to the passage earlier in the day and mid-week if possible, so as to avoid the rest of the crowds!
Old Square Plaque
In times gone by, Old Square would have been one of the focal points of bustling and busy Birmingham city life. Now a junction of sorts where several major roads crossing through the city meet, the Plaque in the small pedestrian central square stretches for several metres and depicts the story of the city. All stone carving, the Plaque features several prominent city figures, as well as some of the most famous buildings in Birmingham.
Edward Burne-Jones Glass, Birmingham Cathedral
Fans of Pre-Raphaelite artwork will be delighted to discover that there are several examples of the Victorian Burne-Jones stained glass windows are to be found within Birmingham Cathedral. All muted tones and focused on the beauty of the design, you can also see a number of Burne-Jones drawings and designs for free within the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
Birmingham has no shortage of brilliant bars serving a plethora of quirky cocktails and unusual beverages. Many of the best drinking establishments in the city are focused around the historic city centre, close by to Birmingham Cathedral (and for those who love plants, we particularly loved our drinks at The Botanist).
And so if you’re looking to head out with friends, or even on a romantic date night, then you’ll probably want to head to this district of the city! Hands down, one of the more unique places to spend an evening is at the Flight Club, where games of all kinds can be found in abundance (electronic games, dart boards with a twist, etc).
46 Gas Street
One of the more picturesque spots of modern-day Birmingham is alongside the Birmingham Canals close to the ICC, where the water reflects the canal boats slowly making their way along the gently flowing water. On the opposite side of The Canal House bar and restaurant, there’s a tiny brick building which was once the company head offices of Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company.
The Floating Coffee Company
One of the most unusual things to in Birmingham is to actually enjoy your coffee while sitting inside a canal boat! If you’re in a rush, there’s even a takeout window where you can order your hot beverage or snack to go! Otherwise, head inside the well-reviewed floating café to enjoy a selection of foodstuffs (including a fantastic breakfast) and drinks!
De Bermingham Coat of Arms, Birmingham Museum
Of course, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is one of the top attractions in the city and is by no means a ‘hidden gem’ by any stretch of the imagination. After all, it’s here where you’ll find treasures such as the Staffordshire Hoard (the largest discovery of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered) and the Pre-Raphaelite galleries.
However, step inside the building during opening hours and you’ll soon discover that the architecture of the Museum itself is well worth a closer inspection. For example, on the floor directly below where the Staffordshire Hoard collections are displayed, there’s some stunning stained glass windows depicting the early 15th-century City of Birmingham Coat of Arms.
The Coat of Arms is said to date back to the 1400s when the de Bermingham family were one of the most influential families in town. Meanwhile, the story goes that the Victorian window displaying the Arms were boarded up during WWII, only to be forgotten. It wasn’t until the 1990s when the windows were rediscovered and unveiled to the public to be admired!
Shop in a former Custard Factory!
Once upon a time, Birmingham was the biggest producer and exporter of custard in the entire world. Though the city no longer holds this title, one of the most unusual things to do in Birmingham now is to head to a former Custard Factory on the edges of town and go shopping for quirky and vintage wares!