A fresher's guide to Birmingham

Are you moving to Birmingham this September? Or perhaps just want to know a little more about the city? Studying in Birmingham offers you the chance to live and work in the youngest major city in Europe with world-class restaurants, entertainment and shops. As a student at BCU, you’ll likely get to experience all of this city’s glorious hot spots – whether it’s our much-loved independents or old favourites, we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to exploring Birmingham as a fresher – consider it a checklist of where you must visit to get to know this city.


Birmingham’s nightlife scene is ever-changing, but we have a rich history of classic pubs, dating back to the year 1368, and trendy bars, some that you can play table tennis and arcade games in all night! If you want to get to know Brum, you might want to try some of the following bars:

  • The Old Crown – This is Birmingham’s oldest pub, having been there since 1368. This cosy grade II* listed building in the heart of Digbeth is a must-see in the Brum pub scene.
  • Snobs – Ask any Brummie and they will know what Snobs is! Playing a mix of indie-pop and rock and roll, this iconic bar is the perfect venue to introduce you to Birmingham nightlife.
  • Be At One –  featuring daily 2-for-1 happy hour specials - perfect for a student budget. Located just outside of New Street station, with another site at Brindley Place, this bar is the perfect place to start your night.
  • Dirty Martini – If you’re looking for a cheap student night, Dirty Martini might be for you. This plush cocktail bar also has happy hours daily, with half-price drinks to go easy on your wallet.
  • Tonight Josephine – One of the newest bars in Birmingham, this fabulous bar does a whole host of different events, from happy hours, to drag nights, to bottomless brunches and afternoon teas. This place is definitely somewhere you’ll want to try out. 
  •  The Nightingale – The Nightingale Club is Birmingham’s oldest and largest LGBTQ venue and has definitely made its mark in the UK gay scene. With three floors and four rooms of different themes, you’ll never get tired of a night out at The Nightingale.
  • The Village Inn – The Village Inn is one of the longest-established bars in Birmingham’s gay scene and is open until 8am most weekends! At night, The Village Inn transforms into one of the UK’s leading cabaret venues, presenting shows 7 days a week.


As a student, you’ll need tasty food to fuel your brain when studying. Whether it’s a slap-up meal to look forward to when you’ve finished your day, or a sweet treat to keep you going on your break, here are some of the best eateries around Birmingham:

  • Topokki - Topokki restaurant is one of the most popular Korean restaurants in Birmingham. The food is bursting with authentic Korean taste that will never disappoint!
  • Gaijin – Having opened in 2018, this sushi bar was featured in The Guardian within one month of opening, to rave reviews! At Gaijin, you will be able to undertake a unique dining experience, sitting with the chef as you watch him create sushi for you. 
  • Yorks – Born in Birmingham in 2012, Yorks has been recognised as one of the top brunch destinations in the country by both the Sunday Times and the Observer.
  • Waylands Yard – Opening in 2016, Waylands Yard aim to create friendly spaces that can be utilised by everyone. Waylands Yard is one of Birmingham’s most popular independents and can be found in the hustle and bustle of Bull Street.
  • Bonehead – If you love fried chicken and craft beer, Bonehead will be a must for you! This small independent has made waves in the Birmingham food scene recently for their edgy vibes and one-of-a-kind meals.
  • Original Patty Men – If burgers are what you’re into, Original Patty Men serve some of the best-rated burgers in Birmingham, and you can get yourself a craft beer whilst you’re at it too.
  • Baked in Brick – Baked in Brick does some of the best street food going, even winning ‘Best Street Food and Pop-up’ in 2016! Baked in Brick is all about real live fire cooking, full of spices and fresh tasty seasonal ingredients.

If you want an even more comprehensive guide to the great food that’s on offer in this city, whether it’s our Michelin-star eateries or independent traders, check out our Birmingham Food Guide.

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Just for fun

When you’re taking a break from your studies, Brum has plenty of things to do! We have a whole host of both free and ticketed attractions to see, including:

  • Birmingham Back to Backs – If you love history, or just want to learn more about Birmingham and the working class people who made it into the City of a Thousand Trades, step back in time at this quirky attraction.
  • Ikon Gallery – The Ikon Gallery is an internationally acclaimed art gallery, situated in the scenic, Brindley Place. If you’re looking for neo-gothic and contemporary art free of charge, Ikon might be the place for you.
  • Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery - Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery first opened in 1885. It is housed in a Grade II* listed city centre landmark building. There are over 40 galleries to explore that display art, applied art, social history, archaeology and ethnography.
  • Cadbury World – We all know and love a bit of Cadbury chocolate, and its headquarters are based right here in Birmingham, in the leafy suburbs of Bournville! If you want to virtually explore Cadbury World, check out our vlog with student, Shelby.
  • Clean Kilo – Clean Kilo is the UK’s largest no-waste supermarket. Customers are able to use any container they like in order to buy products from the store, or you can purchase a container there. With many other supermarkets starting to follow suit, Clean Kilo are ahead of the curve. 
  • Kitty Café – That’s right, Birmingham has its own little cat café where you can go and spend an hour or two with rescued cats. This little gem is located in Grand Central!  
  • Ghetto Golf – Ghetto Golf offers a combination of a seriously twisted 18-hole crazy golf in the heart of the Custard Factory, with an exceptional cocktail bar. Graffiti and incredible artwork everywhere make them a must-do experience in Birmingham.

As a student, you will want to save money, so we also have plenty of free things to do in Birmingham, whether that’s taking a picnic to one of our local parks, or hitting up some of our free museums. Read our list of the 10 best free things to do in Birmingham.

Plus, just a stone’s throw away from our City Centre Campus is an area called Digbeth, which some of you may already be familiar with. Nicknamed the creative quarter, Digbeth has been placed at the top of a list of the “Coolest Neighbourhoods in Britain” by the Sunday Times. If you’re looking for a day of exploring one weekend, check out our guide to why Digbeth is one of the coolest places in the UK.

Music venues

If you love seeing live music you'll be spoilt for choice. Brum has some of the most well-known music venues in the UK. Here are some of the best venues that you need to check out:

  • Sunflower Lounge - Home of indie, rock, alternative bands and musicians, you'll be sure to find yourself a new artist here to put on your Spotify playlists!
  • O2 Institute and O2 Academy - Larger, up-and-coming, more well-known artists tend to perform at the O2 venues, they have a full listing on their website where you can view everything that's coming up in the year.
  • Mama Roux’s - This venue is all about the atmosphere, nestled under the railway arches in Digbeth you will hear the underground tones of DJs all through the night - with a no-booking policy and music that will take you through the night, you must try a night or two here.
  • The NEC - This venue will blow your ears off in the best way possible! Not only do you find huge music events at The NEC, there is a whole host of other large events held here too - definitely worth looking at their calendar.
  • Utilita Arena Birmingham - Where you will find some of the biggest artists when they do their tours in Birmingham. This arena is in the centre of Birmingham by the canal, so it's a lovely spot to see some of the biggest A-listers.
  • Hare and Hounds - An impressive venue that has been around since 1820, and hosted music events since 1907. You'll find gigs for a wide range of genres suiting every taste in music.

Last but not least… Instagram hotspots!

If you’re interested in all the best places to get the perfect shot in Brum, we’ve created this handy vlog, with a little help from our student, Josi.

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