As the second largest city in England, Birmingham offers many unique opportunities. Whether you’re looking to walk along the canals or visit the country’s oldest working cinema, much of the city’s history is freely accessible to students. So, before you sneak off in a singing elevator or rush to get your Les Misérables ticket, here are my favourite places to experience the culture of Birmingham on a budget.
Winterbourne House and Gardens
For those near the main Edgbaston campus, this early 20th century heritage site is a treat for photographers and nature lovers alike. Find a family of carnivorous plants thriving in a glasshouse, walk the Japanese bridge, and snap a selfie under a flowering pergola. At the end of your visit, explore the villa’s many private bedrooms, the kitchen, and Terrace Tea Room, each decorated in the original Edwardian period style. Free admission with your student ID.
The Ikon Gallery
Do you ever feel awkward in the elevator? Never fear, because there’s one in town trained to serenade you as it ascends the floors of this stunning neo-Gothic building. Not only is the vocal ride a mental preparation for the great contemporary art you’ll encounter in the galleries, it’s a quirky reminder that art can exist in the most unexpected places. Exhibits of sound, film, mixed media, photography, painting, and sculpture rotate throughout the year. The best part? It’s always free.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Prepare to be swept away by literal gems of history! Home to the famed Staffordshire Hoard, this museum displays the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold ever discovered. Stand in wonder before countless weapon fragments, garnet cloisonné jewellery, and the glittering replica of a rare warrior helmet. Also enjoy renowned Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Egyptian mummies, 20th century British Ceramics, and Birmingham History, an interactive exhibit reflecting on the unique social history of the city. Admission is free.
Whether you’re into opera, contemporary dance, comedy, or a fabulous mix of all three, this performance venue has something for everyone. There’s even a free annual Hip-Hop Festival! From Swan Lake to MAMMA MIA!, you can sample musicals, guest performers, and spoken word artists all year long. Up to 24 hours before a performance, take advantage of the standby rate, which gets you the best available seat at the lowest available price.
Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Known for its remarkable collection of Western art, this Art Deco style gallery represents the Renaissance period to the 20th century. Enjoy a refreshing afternoon with works by Monet, Rodin, Degas, and Vigée-Lebrun. And remember to find The Portrait of Countess Golovina, a masterful rendition of Russian nobility. Admission is free, along with most gallery talks and afternoon concerts. If you need inspiration on your next writing assignment, visit the Fine Art Library on the first floor. It’s a cosy space filled with ceiling-high bookshelves, wide desks, and plenty of natural light.
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO)
Under the new conductor Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the CBSO is celebrating its centenary this year with a flourish. Performing over 150 concerts annually, the orchestra plays everything from classical to contemporary music. This season’s program includes Tchaikovsky, Mozart, and Debussy. If you’re interested in more recent centuries, try an evening of Stephen Sondheim, Bollywood Hits, Elton John, or 100 Years of Movie Magic. Purchase your student ticket at £6, available one month in advance at select concerts.
At 6pm on the first Friday of each month, this trendy neighborhood comes alive. It’s the best place to visit new art, weird art, and amazing street food. Pop into galleries like Minerva Works, which open their doors for you to open your eyes to the latest artistic innovations. As you savor the live music and treats from food vendors like Disco Fries, don’t forget to locate your favorite street murals. You might even spot the homage to Peaky Blinders!
Lapworth Museum of Geology
With over 250,000 objects, it’s one of the oldest specialist geological museums in the UK. Named after Charles Lapworth, the first Professor of Geology at Mason College (the precursor to the University of Birmingham), this free state-of-the-art facility displays fossils, volcanic rock, stone axes, zoological specimens, and an Allosaurus dinosaur. See exceptional crystals up close and learn about the mineral wealth of the Midlands region. It’s a dazzling journey through the geological history of England and the world.