As the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham has lots of exciting things to see and do, making it a popular destination for international students.
You don’t need to worry about being on a student budget though, as many fun activities in Birmingham are cheap or even free! From museum visits to art tours, these are our top things to do on a budget in Birmingham.
1. Check out the views from the library
As a student, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time in your university’s library. However, the state-of-the-art Library of Birmingham, the city’s main public library, is well worth a visit too. Not only does the impressive building house over 30,000 books, but it also has beautiful views over the city.
In the summer, you can enjoy reading a book on the secret garden terrace on the 7th floor, which offers panoramic views of Birmingham. Or, go all the way to the 9th floor, where the beautiful Shakespeare Gallery has views over the city skyline. As the library is a public building, access to all of the popular viewing areas is free.
2. See contemporary art at the Ikon Gallery
Located in buzzing Brindley Place, close to Birmingham’s waterfront, the Ikon Gallery is a world-famous, award-winning art gallery. Here you can enjoy exhibitions from modern artists, using media from painting and sculpture to film and photography, spread across 2 floors. Best of all, admission is completely free!
Ikon Gallery is also home to the Ikon Shop, Birmingham’s only specialist art bookshop, and Yorks Café, which serves delicious food from all over the world.
3. Stroll along the canals
A surprising fact about Birmingham is that it actually has more miles of canals than Venice! You can enjoy many peaceful walks along Birmingham’s canals: start out on Brindley Place, close to Ikon Gallery, and you’ll pass many interesting cafés and restaurants that you can stop in if you need a rest.
Plus, make sure not to miss the historic Gas Street Basin, where you can see traditional narrowboats moored. In December you can often find a Christmas market in this area.
4. Take a tour of the Birmingham ‘back-to-backs’
In the 19th century, many working people in Birmingham lived in what were known as ‘back-to-back’ houses. These were a group of houses based around a shared courtyard. These houses were often very cramped and overcrowded, with families living in unsanitary conditions.
In the 20th century, this type of housing was banned and most of the back-to-backs were knocked down, but some were preserved. A tour of the Birmingham back-to-backs is a fascinating journey back in time that shows how people used to live — it will make you grateful for your modern student accommodation!
You can only see the back-to-backs by attending an official tour, but these are very good value at under £10 per person.
5. Learn about jewellery making at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
Your journey into the past doesn’t have to end at the back-to-backs. Why not visit the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter as well? The Museum is a perfectly preserved Victorian workshop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, where local industry focused on jewellery making and metal work.
There is so much to see and do here — take a guided tour to see demonstrations of jewellery making and learn what it was like to work in the factory. Explore the history of the area in the ‘Story of the Jewellery Quarter’ gallery, and see jewels made from natural resources on display in the ‘Earth’s Riches’ gallery.
You can even sign up to take a jewellery-making class! Amazingly, the cost of entry to the museum and galleries is only £5 for students.
6. Enjoy a curry in the ‘Balti Triangle’
Birmingham benefitted from a lot of immigration from countries like India in the 1980s. This led to the foundation of what is known as ‘Curry Mile’, an area of Birmingham close to the University of Birmingham, where you can find many traditional Indian restaurants.
Most of these restaurants are found on 3 streets, which form the beloved ‘Balti Triangle’. If you’ve worked up an appetite from all that walking around museums and canals, this is the perfect place to get a filling meal for a great price!
Because the restaurants on Curry Mile typically do not have licences to sell alcohol, their prices are much cheaper than average, meaning you can great value for money. The restaurants here also sell a type of curry that is very specific to Birmingham, so you can get a taste of traditional Birmingham cuisine.
7. Visit the beautiful Birmingham Cathedral
Birmingham Cathedral is the third smallest in the UK, but it is also proof that good things come in small packages. This beautiful cathedral is Grade I listed by English Heritage, meaning it is considered a very valuable and important building. It was originally built way back in 1705, and is the oldest building in Birmingham still used for its original purpose.
The cathedral regularly hold exhibitions and events, and you can also attend a free tour of the cathedral and its grounds. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is one of the biggest open green spaces in the centre of Birmingham. It’s the ideal place to come and study on a summer’s day!
8. Get inspired at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Art students will find plenty to be inspired by at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. This classical art gallery contains paintings by some of the world’s greatest artists, and holds regular temporary exhibitions too. The vibrant gallery even hosts classical concerts and other events.
The Barber Institute is part of the University of Birmingham and is found on the University’s Edgbaston campus. The price of entry? Nothing, it’s free!
9. Do a Digbeth street art walk
If fine art isn’t your thing, how about some graffiti art instead? It’s just a short walk from the city centre to Digbeth, Birmingham’s trendy art district. Digbeth is home to the iconic Custard Factory, which, as the name implies, used to make custard!
Now it’s home to a mix of artists’ studios and fashion brands, and it’s a great place to start your street art walk, as the surrounding streets are where you’ll find work by local artists. Alternatively, you can download a free app from runcyclewalk with step-by-step instructions of where to go.
10. Catch a free concert at Symphony Hall
Symphony Hall is one of Birmingham’s most famous music venues, and it’s not hard to see why! Although the building might look a little bit plain on the outside, inside it’s beautiful! The venue seats over 2,000 people and is known as one of the world’s best concert halls because of the brilliant acoustics.
Symphony Hall hosts concerts a variety of events from classical music performances to stand-up comedy. It’s also known for jazz and blues music, and you can catch many jazz concerts at Symphony Hall for free! These are usually held in the entrance hall, and although you’ll need to reserve a ticket to get in, you won’t need to pay anything. Now that’s what we call a bargain!
11. Be a TV star for the day at BBC Birmingham
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a TV presenter? How about starring on Doctor Who? You can make your dreams a reality at the BBC Visitor Centre in Birmingham. Here, you’ll find a huge collection of clothes and props from famous BBC shows like Strictly Come Dancing.
You can also watch your favourite TV newscasters as they get ready to present the local news bulletin, or try doing it yourself in the Be on TV area! The exhibitions and Be on TV area are both free to enter, but if you fancy taking a tour of the studios, it’ll cost you a very reasonable £9 with a valid student card.
12. Relax at the peaceful Winterbourne House and Garden
Winterbourne House and Garden is a calm oasis close to Birmingham’s busy city centre. The Edwardian villa has been preserved to look exactly as it would have when it was first built for social reformer John Nettleford in 1903, and is filled with interesting antiques.
The house also sits in 7 acres of beautiful botanical gardens with 6,000 different species of plants — it’s the perfect place to spend a summer’s day.
The whole Winterbourne estate is owned by the University of Birmingham. General admission to the house and garden costs just £6.20, but for current University of Birmingham students it’s free!
Study in Birmingham
Kaplan works with the University of Birmingham, to help international students get a great education in this exciting study destination.
Explore the links below to learn more about how a pathway course at Kaplan International College London or an on-campus foundation pathway at the University of Birmingham could help you start your path to a degree in Birmingham, or use the degree finder to search for degrees.