Seven reasons to visit Birmingham in 2022, from the Commonwealth Games to cocktail festivals

The second city is gearing up for a whole year of eclectic events, celebrating everything from sporting prowess and folk music to the West Midlands’ rich cultural heritage.

Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square.

Photograph by AWL Images
By Richard Franks
Published 4 Feb 2022, 06:00 GMT, Updated 22 Feb 2022, 15:52 GMT

Travellers who’ve got off at New Street station (or managed to navigate Spaghetti Junction by car) have often been pleasantly surprised with Birmingham’s wealth of cultural attractions. The city has always quietly bubbled away beneath the surface, and now, with the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in July, Brum — along with the surrounding West Midlands region — is taking centre stage.

With a packed calendar of events starting in March, 2022 marks the biggest year Birmingham has seen in a generation. The headline event is the Commonwealth Games, taking place in the summer, but running alongside the sporting spectacle is the six-month-long Birmingham 2022 Festival, too, celebrating the West Midlands’ innovation, diversity and creativity. Throw in new city cycle routes, walking trails and extensive improvements to regional rail networks, and there really has never been a better time to visit.

Performance at Birmingham Mela, which celebrates its 10th year in 2022.

Performance at Birmingham Mela, which celebrates its 10th year in 2022.

Photograph by Hannah Metcalfe

Dates for your diary

17-20 March: Birmingham 2022 Festival
The city’s year of celebrations gets off to a flying start with Wondrous Stories: an aerial spectacle involving bicycles, a colossal globe and even a flying book at Centenary Square, from 17-20 March. Located next to the mammoth Library of Birmingham, the festival’s opening extravaganza is free to watch and will feature a cast of more than 300 performers as it celebrates the West Midlands region and the people within it. The festival itself, which runs until September 2022, will feature an extended, animated schedule featuring hundreds of performances from local people spanning art, dance, theatre, photography and much more. 

28 April: The reopening of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
With its doors slammed shut for most of 2020 due to the pandemic and having remained closed since January 2021 owing to essential maintenance works, 28 April is set to be a momentous date for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (BMAG). The site will reopen with a number of Birmingham collectives collaborating on celebratory projects ahead of the Commonwealth Games, and BMAG’s standout showcase comes courtesy of Birmingham Music Archive’s In The Que: a sensory exhibition with previously unseen footage, photographs and personal artefacts on display from the city’s legendary Que Club music venue. 

8-10 July: Birmingham Cocktail Weekend
This boozy weekend is often a stand-out in the city’s calendar — and this summer’s event looks set to continue the trend. Birmingham Cocktail Weekend will raise a glass to the very best cocktails, mixologists and venues in the city, with more than 30 venues involved. Last year’s event saw popular bars including Pineapple Club, Hotel du Vin, The Florence and Saint Paul’s House take part, and this year’s is expected to showcase a similarly vibrant mix of old favourites and quirky new bars.

8 July-8 August: The Commonwealth Games
Around 30,000 spectators are expected for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on 28 July, with Peaky Blinders director Steven Knight among the team producing the major event at the redeveloped Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr. International athletes will compete in 19 different sports at a host of venues across the region, including in Birmingham, Coventry and Leamington Spa. The 12 days of top-class sport, which also features a fully integrated para-sport programme, will culminate in the closing ceremony on 8 August, marking the end of the much-anticipated home Games. 

27-28 August: Birmingham Mela
The UK’s biggest South Asian music festival is back this August bank holiday for a special 10th birthday extravaganza. Over 50,000 revellers are expected to descend on Victoria Park in Smethwick to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Birmingham Mela, with more than 150 artists from Birmingham to Bangladesh due to perform at the biggest event yet. Ticket prices are regularly kept low to support the local community, with attendees able to enjoy live music and dance, sample world cuisine and browse shopping bazaars for just £2 entry each day. 

2-4 September: Moseley Folk Festival
Always promising more than its name suggests, the Moseley Folk Festival returns with a bigger — and even more varied — line-up than ever before. Headliners include Britpop stalwarts Supergrass and American blues legend Seasick Steve, with Philadelphia psych-folkers Kurt Vile & the Violators also taking to the stage. Anaïs Mitchell, writer of the musical Hadestown, has also been announced to perform across three days in early September. Moseley Park, just a few miles south of central Birmingham, is the leafy location for the festival, which packs out the village once crowned the best place to live in the UK. 

4-13 November: Birmingham Film Festival
Film buffs needn’t look much further than this 10-day celebration of all things filmmaking. More than 200 free movie screenings dominate the schedule, with Q&A sessions, lectures, seminars and practical workshops led by top actors and directors. There’s also an awards ceremony and glitzy black-tie gala for afters. Tickets to most film screenings and events are free, but do book well in advance. 

Published in the March 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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