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A journey around the heart of the nation can take many twists as the region offers something for every type of traveller – from the foodie, to the sports fan, shopaholic or culture vulture. The hardest thing is choosing which one to do first.
Birmingham and the West Midlands is a cultural hub, packed with festivals, theatre and arts for every taste. Classical lovers can marvel at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, watch the Birmingham Royal Ballet, or The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. For something more contemporary, catch some live music in one of the city’s arenas, or smaller venues like The Mill, Digbeth. Head to Coventry’s cool FarGo Village creative hub, or take in one of its many events in the City of Culture’s festival or the Birmingham 2022 Festival celebrating creativity across the region. Finally, Peaky Blinders fans can see the city that spawned the gang with a tour or visit to an escape room.
From castles to canals, the West Midlands is awash with history, so it’s just a case of choosing where to launch your journey. Marvel at medieval Warwick Castle and wander in the footsteps of Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle. Visit the heart of the Industrial Revolution at the World Heritage Site IronBridge Gorge, or take a canal tour through Birmingham and see its industrial heritage brought back to life. Or head to the Black Country Living Museum and see what it was really like to live in the past.
You are spoilt for choice in this gastronomic region, which has cuisine from all over the globe. With an incredible five Michelin-starred restaurants in Birmingham alone, you can enjoy some of the finest food in the nation, from sustainable British fayre at Carters of Molseley to creative Indian food at Opheem. Enjoy Birmingham’s famous baltis at Shabab’s or a vegie pizza at Peacer. Then there’s little Ludlow, in Shropshire, which has been dubbed “foodie heaven,” with its array of eateries from Mortimers to The Charlton Arms.
“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote and the region certainly has many acts. You can’t visit the West Midlands without including the birthplace of the Bard, Stratford-upon-Avon, and seeing his family homes. See Shakespeare brought to life at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, with its exciting new immersive and VR performances and take a cruise along the river Avon. Book lovers can also head to Middle-Earth at the 250-year-old Sarehole Mill, which inspired nearby resident, J.R.R. Tolkien, to create his magical world. Visit the spectacular Library of Birmingham, the literary heart of the city and its Everything to Everybody: Your Shakespeare, Your Culture exhibition, running until November, where you can immerse yourself in the People’s Shakespeare Library, home to thousands of items of Shakespearean history. Then discover the fascinating story of printer John Baskerville and his palatial home next door, on a historical tour. While he met an ignominious end, his name lived on thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who lived and worked in Aston for a few years.
Birmingham is famous for its shopping and the city centre is a shopper’s dream. At one end of the budget you have designer emporiums Selfridges in its iconic building and Harvey Nichols in the upmarket Mailbox centre. The Bullring shopping centre has every brand you can think of, from Zara to H&M and bargain-lovers will adore the world’s biggest Primark store. For more independent finds, head to Birmingham Rag Market and The Custard Factory.
For those who enjoy more high-voltage activities, there is plenty of action to be had in the West Midlands. Try your hand at axe-throwing or free-flying at the The Bear Grylls Adventure centre, or have a go at treetop-walking at one of the many Go Ape forest sites in the region, including Buxton in the Peak District, Cannock Chase, Coventry and Wyre Forest. Go climbing and abseiling in the Peak District on one of its adventure tours or take a hike in the Malverns. You can even up the ante on a canal tour – trust us – with an unforgettable underground boat journey through the vast caverns of the Dudley Canal Tunnel, with the Dudley Canal Trust.
The great thing about Birmingham is you can walk everywhere – it’s easy to get around the city centre on foot and take a long walk along one of its many canals. In fact, you could walk or cycle all the way to London along the historic waterways. It’s a very green city, with outstanding parks such as the Botanical Gardens and Sutton Park. And it’s surrounded by beautiful countryside – from the lovely forest Cannock Chase to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Malverns. The Peak District National Park is also within easy reach.
Victorians used to flock to Royal Leamington Spa to “take the waters” for the health benefits of its famous springs, but now you can relax in one of its many hair and beauty salons and day spas, or make a break of it at a hotel and spa like Mallory Court Hotel and Spa or The Belfrey. Another town famous for its water is Buxton – home of, you guessed it, Buxton Water. The spa town is in the Peak District and its lovely Georgian and Victorian architecture hosts an array of independent shops, cafes, salons, clinics, spas and yoga centres.
Last but not least, get your engine running with one of the many attractions in the West Midlands for car lovers. There are many motor museums parked in the region, including the British Motor Museum, with the world’s largest collection of historic British cars; the National Motorcycle Museum and the popular Jaguar factory tour at Castle Bromwich. The Coventry Transport Museum is where you’ll find two of the world’s fastest cars including British-built ThrustSSC, which holds the current world land speed record of 763mph/1228kmph. Set in 1997, it was also the first land vehicle to officially break the sound barrier. For an unforgettable day out, head to the Land Rover Experience Solihull for a tour or thrilling off-road adventure. Or for something more genteel, take a Morgan Driving Tour of The Malverns.