Fair to say that the West Midlands isn’t tourism central. But though there are more winsome cities, Birmingham has rollicking nightlife, loads of culture and more shopping than you can handle.
Remember too that the large Indian contingent has given Birmingham the best curry houses in the country, and invented the “balti”. Ever since the birth of the collieries, lime kilns and the metalworks in the 1700s this region of England has been more associated with chimney stacks than country idylls.
But you shouldn’t disregard the Black Country, certainly not if the Industrial Revolution piques your interest because towns like Dudley have kept their old kilns and factories to bring home the reality of life in those times.
Lets explore the best places to visit in the West Midlands:
Affectionately known as “Brum”, the city of Birmingham has never been known for its looks, but because of the regeneration of its centre and its huge canal system people are now see Britain’s second city in a different way.
Even before this facelift Birmingham was already much-loved for its nightlife, dining (especially Indian food in the” Balti triangle”) and shopping.
You could say that the city was the workshop of the Industrial Revolution, and if you’re curious about this period try Soho House, the 18th-century home of the entrepreneur Matthew Boulton.
This is one of many absorbing museums dealing either with the wealth that industry created, or (at the Back to Backs) what it was like for workers.
As with Birmingham, Coventry’s factories made the city a target for bombing in the Second World War.
Famously, this destroyed the gothic Coventry Cathedral, and the hollow walls, spire and tower have been kept as they were to stand as a memorial.
Coventry also has a historic association with vehicle manufacturing, especially for domestic brands like Jaguar and Rover.
You can get the lowdown on the history of car building at the Coventry Transport Museum, which has the largest collection of British road vehicles in the world.
Aircraft have also been assembled in Coventry since the early days of manned flight: Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, was Coventry-born.
The Midland Air Museum will tell you all you need to know.
3. Sutton Coldfield
A few miles west of Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield has always been a town with money.
The landed gentry and wealthy families who called Sutton Coldfield “home” built plush manors, many of which of are now hotels which will make you feel like a lord for a night or two.
There are two conservation areas in the town, looking after the cottages and townhouses from the 1600s and 1700s.
Sutton Coldfield is almost completely surrounded by parkland and nature reserves.
In the New Hall Valley Country Park is the New Hall Mill, one of only two functioning watermills around Birmingham.
Sutton Park meanwhile is one of Europe’s biggest urban parks, with more than nine square kilometres of woods and heathland, grazed by wild ponies.
During the Industrial Revolution Wolverhampton was known for its coal-mining, steel production and manufacturing, and engineering is still a cornerstone of the local economy.
Not many people would think of the city as a tourist destination, but almost everyone who comes is taken aback by what Wolverhampton has to offer.
This goes for its clutch of stately homes owned by the National Trust, like Moseley Old Hall and Boscobel House, both witness to riveting episodes in the English Civil War in the 17th century.
You could find out how the other half lived in Wolverhampton’s industrial days at Bantock House, or be impressed by the Pop Art and pre-Raphaelites at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
In a large conurbation like the West Midlands, it’s not always easy to find a town that is genuinely in the countryside.
Well, Solihull is one such town, and rates highly on England’s liveability scale.
The town is in a green belt, which demands that development is restricted, giving rise to massive green spaces like the Malvern and Brueton Park, which resembles open country but retains some civility with the help of its tea rooms.
Jaguars and Land Rovers are manufactured on the edge of Solihull and you can go behind the scenes at these state-of-the-art facilities.
The town of Dudley is often called the capital of the Black Country, which was effectively ground zero for the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The limestone quarries, kilns and ironworks turned Dudley into an industrial behemoth that made the chain and anchor for the Titanic.
You can dig a bit deeper at the Black Country Living Museum, where workers’ cottages, shops, cobblestone, lime kilns and iron mongers are all frozen in time.
Also worth your time is the Dudley Tunnel , the second-longest canal tunnel in England, at almost four kilometres.
History of a far older kind is also represented at the 13th-century Dudley Castle (the grounds of which hold Dudley Zoo) and the haunting ruins of 12th-century Dudley Priory.
The upmarket southern suburb of Birmingham was where the novelist Tolkien lived as a teenager.
It’s mostly tree-lined lanes with Victorian mansions and large houses separated from the road by long drives.
Edgbaston is posh and residential, but there’s no shortage of reasons to pay a visit.
In spring and summer that quintessentially English sport, cricket is offered at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club but also where England plays one-day and five-day matches.
In the art deco Grade II listed Barber Institute of Fine Arts you have a serious assortment of paintings by Rembrandt, Veronese, Rubens, van Dyck, Monet, van Gogh and Picasso.
Not to mention a huge coin collection that runs to many thousand pieces, mostly Roman and Byzantine.
This town was a hub of iron and leather manufacturing, activities so embedded in its culture that the local football team Walsall F.C. is nicknamed “the Saddlers”. Indeed, Walsall was the international centre of saddle-making, as you can discover at the Leather Museum, which is set in an original Victorian factory.
In recent years a lot of money has been spent on regenerating the centre, especially on the canal-front.
This has helped furnish Walsall with the New Art Gallery, replete with a surprisingly rich collection of art by Constable, Turner, van Gogh, Monet and more.
The site of a good many coal pits and mines, Halesowen was where nails were manufactured as industry took hold.
But there’s a more romantic side to the town as you’ll uncover at the Grade I-listed Leasowes Park.
In these 57 hectares is one of the England’s earliest landscape gardens, designed in the mid-1700s by the poet William Shenstone.
English gardens as we know them don’t get much older than this, and among its early visitors were John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third presidents of the United States.
Halesowen also has a crumbling old abbey, left to deteriorate after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1530 and conserved today by English Heritage.
10. West Bromwich
Although manufacturing has declined all over Britain, chemicals and engineering remain a big employer in West Bromwich, as they were in the 1700s.
A few miles from the centre of Birmingham, it’s a restrained sort of town but has done well to conserve its fragments of history.
There are two beautiful wattle and daub buildings, the West Bromwich Manor House, which has its roots in the 1200s, and the Oak House Museum, a restored yeoman’s house built around the late-1500s.
The local team West Bromwich Albion is a Premier League mainstay, and was one of the Football League’s founder members in 1888.
Not far from Coventry, Berskwell is an exceedingly pretty village of cottages from the 1600 and 1700s.
Berkswell and its local hamlets are dotted with small but satisfying things to track down and enjoy.
See the Norman Church of St. John the Baptist where there’s a crypt in two sections between the chancel and then the nave.
In the churchyard is the medieval well that puts the “well” in Berkswell, and on the village green are the actual stocks used to punish petty criminals.
Berkswell Windmill dates to the 1830s and its original mechanism still works, and lastly the 17th-century Ram Hall is now a dairy making ewe’s milk cheese.
From the 1600s up until the 20th century the local trade in Stourbridge had been glassmaking, which took off after French Huguenots came to work in the coal mines.
The Red House Cone is one of just a few of the old glassmaking kilns remaining, and was in use up to the 1930s.
There are traditional glass-blowing demonstrations at the Red House Cone, and you can go to the Ruskin Glass Centre and the Broadfield House Glass Museum for exhibitions of Stourbridge Glass.
The National Trust has one of weirdest properties in its inventory in Stourbridge, Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses is a group of old dwellings cut from a sandstone ridge below the remnants of an Iron Age hill fort.
On the boundary with Worcestershire, Hagley is in essence a commuter village for people working in Birmingham, but has a few attractions and things to see in the area.
One is the Grade I-listed Hagley Hall, which has been in the Lyttleton family since it the estate was founded in the early-1700s.
It was built in the neo-palladian style and you can book a tour to see the opulently decorated interiors and 350-acre grounds.
This might be a drag for kids, but they’ll be wild about the Falconry Centre, which has hawks, owls and eagles native to the UK and brings them out of their spacious aviaries to show them off up close.
Driving into the old village of Allesley on the Birmingham Road is a joy.
There are old iron gas lanterns, Georgian brick houses and even older half-timbered houses.
It’s only a small settlement, with a population of a few hundred, but you could idle here for an hour or two.
There has been a pub on the site of the Rainbow Inn since 1680 and the Grade I-listed All Saints Church in Allesley has a history that can be traced back to Norman times.
You can play a round at the 18-hole golf course at Allesley Park or hire an iron and putter for some pitch and putt.
Between Birmingham and Coventry, Meriden is a pleasant little village in a conservation area, and a good place to park up for a look around.
There are a few timber-framed houses going back to the 1500s with examples of medieval moated farmsteads and historic manor houses.
There was a Triumph motorcycle factory in the village, which was here until 1983, and to continue the two-wheeled theme there’s an unusual memorial on the village green for all of the cyclists killed in the First World War.
Meriden has all of the essential village amenities, like a traditional pub and tea house, as well as the dinky Church of St.
Laurence, with a nave and chancel as old as the 1100s.