West Midlands, although a relatively small county, is a melting pot for ideas. Whether you are into Arts, Science, History, or something else entirely, there are some brilliant places to visit and things to do that will trigger new ideas and plant seeds of inspiration.
Museums & Galleries
Thinktank Birmingham Science Museum
Thinktank is a forward thinking, modern Science Museum that explores aspects of all sorts of subjects – from Astronomy, Marine Biology, and Engineering; to Modern Medicine, Wildlife, and Physics.
Thinktank takes a very innovative and interactive approach to its exhibitions. The Science Garden has 30 hands-on exhibits, demonstrating concepts in Engineering, Mechanics, and Transportation.
The Planetarium provides an immersive experience that helps to bring subjects to life. Explore Space by touring the night sky, understand Biology by travelling through the human body, or shrink to the size of an atom for the most interesting Chemistry lesson you’ve ever had.
No matter what you are interested in, you will find something that pulls your attention and gives you a new concept to consider.
Thinktank is definitely worth a visit. But if there’s something specific you are hoping to see, then make sure you check the website before you go because some parts of the museum are routinely closed for maintenance.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery houses a huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, including paintings, drawings, and prints.
Highlights include the Baroque Art collection, which showcases incredible classical paintings created by some of the greatest artists of the time; the Ancient Egypt Gallery, which explores life, culture, and religious beliefs in Ancient Egypt; and the Historical Birmingham gallery, which will help you get to know the local area and how it has evolved.
When it’s time for a break, sip some tea in style in the Edwardian Tea Rooms. And here’s an insider tip: Skip the standard tables and head for a booth. Each booth has been installed with a ‘Press for Champagne’ buzzer. Forget the paintings, this is true creative genius.
Museum of the Jewellery Quarter
Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is a unique treasure trove of over 100 different independent jewellers. Around 40% of British jewellery is produced in the Jewellery Quarter, and if you’re looking for a special bespoke piece of jewellery, you will be pleasantly surprised by the prices.
But even if you’re not looking to buy, you can easily spend a few hours browsing the beautifully artistic designs and uncovering stunning hidden gems. Afterwards, you can spend the rest of the day seeing how the jewellery is made and witnessing traditional jewellery making techniques in action at the Museum.
The Museum of the Jewellery Quarter was created by chance.
In 1881, jewellery firm Smith & Pepper ceased trading and locked their door, unknowingly leaving behind a perfectly preserved workshop for future generations to find.
Today the workshop is open to the public as a museum, where you can see everything exactly as it was left on their last day of work.
If you have worked up an appetite exploring the Jewellery Quarter, there are plenty of interesting independent places to go nearby for lunch. Carnivores will love award winning steakhouse Anderson’s Bar & Grill, while caffeine fans will be pleased with the offerings at the stylish 3 Three’s Coffee Lounge. Handmade Burger Co is a great choice for families, whereas Ana Rocha Bar & Gallery is ideal if you want to continue the creative theme, combining delicious Spanish tapas with fine art.
Manor Houses & Stately Homes
When it comes to stately homes and manor houses, Aston Hall stands out amongst the rest due to its architecture and interior design.
Whilst historical Victorian mansions are relatively easy to come across in England and Wales, it is much more difficult to find an opportunity to step inside a classical Jacobean house.
Aston Hall is a red-brick, Grade I listed mansion that was built between 1618 and 1635. The interior is decorated with solid, dark wood, engraved with powerful, deliberate designs. Colours are flat, dense, and dark, and although the design details are quite decorative, with scrolls, twists, and pointed edges, the classical décor of the time gives the house a serious, formal atmosphere that is quite unique.
Outside, Lady Holte’s Garden mirrors the classic, deliberate style of Aston Hall’s architecture. Divided into symmetrical patterns, the gardens were designed to be viewed from the windows of the guest rooms, so they had to be perfect to impress any guests that were staying at the house. As you walk through the garden, take a moment to consider the amount of upkeep that must be required to maintain the garden’s perfect design. Now you have no excuse to moan about having to cut the overgrown lawn in your garden at home. Just be glad you weren’t born in Jacobean times.
A complete contrast to Aston Hall, Wightwick Manor has a lived-in feel. The interior is filled with personal items such as letters and photographs belonging to the Mander family that owned the house.
Geoffrey Mander, who inherited the house from his father, felt strongly that the house should remain a home rather than becoming an art gallery. As a result, all the artwork in the house is displayed in a domestic setting within the rooms, rather than on a gallery style wall. Instead of labels next to the items, information about each piece can be found in catalogues provided in each room, so that the domestic feel of the room is not interrupted.
Built in 1887, Wightwick Manor is decorated with Pre-Raphaelite art and examples of William Morris’ nature inspired Art Nouveau wallpaper, curtains, and carpets.
After exploring the manor, take some time out in the Arts & Crafts garden, which was designed in 1904 by renowned Arts & Crafts designer Thomas Mawson.
The Red House Glass Cone
The Red House Glass Cone is a museum in Stourbridge, and whilst it does resemble a giant cone, it is not made from glass – not that we thought it would be…
It was built in the 1700s for use by glassmakers Stuart Crystal. The cone shape of the building allowed air to channel into the furnace, which helped the fire burn hotter and improved the glassmaking process. It is one of only four Glass Cones still standing in Britain.
Entry to the Red House Glass Cone is free, and whilst you are there you can watch a glassblowing demonstration, meander through the exhibitions, or visit the craft studios of the in-house artists to see them at work. There are regular events for both children and adults, and if you are feeling inspired, you can get involved in a very reasonably priced creative workshop to learn a new skill.
Newhampton Arts Centre
Newhampton Arts Centre is a creative hub for the community. On site residents include independent artists and community groups, covering a wide range of areas from music and theatre, to arts, crafts, and photography.
The Arts Centre has a dance studio, theatre, and rehearsal space, and holds regular events and workshops for both children and adults.
Attend a class and try out a new skill, and then stop by the Jesters Café for lunch. Some of the artists in residence also have set days when their studios are open to the public, so you can see them in action.
Learning new things, developing new interests, and getting inspired shouldn’t be confined to indoor activities. West Midlands also has a lot of things to do in an outdoor setting, so if the weather is good you can make the most of it rather than being stuck indoors.
No points for guessing that Woodlands Adventure is set in the woods. But it does have some interesting activities on offer that you might not have considered.
Woodlands aims to teach life skills to both children and adults in an outdoor learning environment. Offering everything from half day workshops to week-long camping breaks, you can spend as much or as little time here as you like.
If you only have time for one activity, try a Bushcraft Workshop. You will learn survival skills such as how to build a shelter and how to make a fire using natural tools. And you never know, you might even be the next Ray Mears.
Kids can get involved in an outdoor Nature Studies session, where they will be in the perfect environment to learn about nature by interacting with it.
Camping breaks allow you to mix and match the activities you would like to try, so you get a chance to create your own itinerary and try up to four different things each day. The camp site includes toilet and shower facilities, as well as a fridge freezer, a microwave, and kettle. So your camping experience can be as wild or as comfortable as you want to make it.
Dudley Zoo has an unlikely story behind it. The site that Dudley Zoo stands on today once held Dudley Castle. After being destroyed by a fire in 1750, the castle was left in ruins.
In the early 20th Century, the owner at the time – the third Earl of Dudley – had the idea to transform the grounds into a zoo. A team of Modernist Architects began converting the site, and Dudley Zoo was opened in 1937.
Today, Dudley Zoo has some amazing animals, including rare ones that you probably haven’t even heard of, such as the African Hunting Dog – a beautiful creature which resembles a child’s drawing of an imaginary animal.
Sweet Ideas for the Foodies
As well as being a great place to visit if you are looking for inspiration, West Midlands also has a hidden talent for dessert. So if you have a sweet tooth, you’re in the right place.
Coco’s Dessert Factory
Coco’s Dessert Factory in Wolverhampton is always a big hit with kids. Desserts include stacks of pancakes, warm waffles and ice cream, crazy shakes, cookie dough, and sprinkles on everything.
If you’re a parent, this is one to reserve as a special treat. As you know, sugar fuelled children means you are in for a long day…
If however you are a grandparent, go for it. Take the grandkids, let them loose on their favourite desserts, receive all the credit, and then give them straight back to their parents (just don’t say we told you to).
Little Dessert Shop
If you’re more of a refined cake person, Little Dessert Shop in Bloxwich is a decadent, upmarket café with a fancy patisserie feel. Serving ‘premium desserts’ that foodies will love, Little Dessert Shop is a nice place to take someone for a romantic surprise, to celebrate a special occasion, or if you are trying to impress someone.
If you are looking for somewhere to take the kids, or you just want to fulfil your lifelong dream of visiting a chocolate factory, you will need to visit Cadbury World.
4D Chocolate Adventure
The 4D Chocolate Adventure is a four-dimensional cinema experience with moving seats that will take you for a ride on the Crunchie rollercoaster and dive you into liquid Dairy Milk chocolate.
After the 4D Chocolate Adventure, you’ll definitely be fancying something chocolatey. And the Café at Cadbury World is here to help.
Serving decadent hot chocolates topped with cream and dusted with powdered chocolate, creamy mochas with a hint of bitter coffee, and thick, dense slices of rocky road, there is a lot to choose from. Sure, they serve healthy food too, but who wants that after you’ve just seen pools of molten chocolate swirled around lavishly in huge containers?!
The World’s Biggest Cadbury Shop
Cadbury World is home to the World’s Biggest Cadbury Shop. So it would be rude not to have a look…
Also feel free to bring back lots of delicious chocolatey souvenirs and send them to the Tourist Trail HQ as a thank you for giving such excellent recommendations.