One of the most affluent places in the UK outside London, Solihull is a leafy town southeast of Birmingham in the West Midlands.
Inside the borough are Birmingham International Airport, the National Exhibition Centre, the National Conference Centre and the burgeoning Birmingham Business Park.
The town’s prosperity is reflected in the shopping options at the Touchwood mall, as well as the profusion of green space at parks that used to be noble estates.
There are two National Trust properties for cultured days out, while Solihull is home to the main production plant for Land Rover, which has a top-notch visitor centre.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Solihull:
1. National Motorcycle Museum
The biggest collection of British-made motorcycles in the world, this museum has more than 850 exhibits spanning 120 years.
The collection was begun by millionaire Roy Richards in the 1970s and the museum opened in1984. It has bounced back from a catastrophic fire in 2003 with a £20m rebuild, reopening 18 months later.
There’s no better place to see British bikes like Norton, Triumph and BSA, as well as more obscure and forgotten makers like New Imperial and Coventry-Eagle.
Covering 170 marques and all recognised eras of motorcycle production, from pioneer to post-war, the inventory fills five exhibition halls and is so large that special exhibitions are made for selected models.
Do not leave without seeing the Golden Dream Brough (1938), one of only five ever produced, and a Wilkinson Luxury Tourer (1912), made by Wilkinson Sword, now known only for shaving razors.
2. Land Rover Experience
One of the world’s iconic SUVs has been manufactured in Solihull since 1948. The Land Rover Experience in Solihull is everything a Land Rover devotee could ask for.
Set at the heart of the manufacturing site, the centre has a wide choice of Land Rover-oriented experiences.
These might be a manufacturing tour, where you enter the state-of-the-art facility to see the Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover and Range Rover Discovery being assembled in perfect synchronicity.
There’s also a separate tour for the Range Rover Velar and Jaguar F-Pace, and an exhibition about the evolution of the Range Rover.
If you need to get behind the wheel the centre offers all-terrain taster, half-day and full-day driving experience in a new Discovery or a classic Land Rover Defender.
3. Malvern and Brueton Park
A yearly Green Flag winner for its facilities and level of upkeep, Malver & Brueton Park is a wonderful community asset for Solihull.
The park has a curious layout, on a rather narrow strip of land that bends round to form a U. This came about when two separate tracts of land were joined together after being acquired by the town at different times, (1926 in Malvern’s case and 1944 for Brueton). In the southern reaches there’s a charming lake created by damming the River Blythe, and on your walk you’ll find ornamental gardens, a fragrant rose garden and formal flowerbeds.
The wilder Brueton section has oak, ash and alder woodland, and features the Parkridge Centre, for workshops and exhibitions about the park’s nature reserve.
4. Packwood House
This gorgeous Tudor-style mansion was a labour of love for Graham Baron Ash, the son of a Birmingham industrialist.
He inherited Packwood House in 1925 and set about creating a vision of Tudor splendour, commissioning large-scale Jacobethan restorations and buying 16th and 17th century furniture, oak panelling and tapestries from nearby manors like Baddesley Clinton below.
The barn was converted into a Tudor great hall with sprung dancing floor for lavish parties and was linked to the main house by the refined Long Gallery in 1931. The Yew Garden outside is astounding, and was first landscaped in the 17th century.
Neatly clipped, some of these yews get up to more than 15 metres and are laid out to symbolise the Sermon on the Mount, with Twelve apostles and four Evangelists.
5. Baddesley Clinton
In Solihull you’re a stone’s throw from another sensational old property at Baddlesley Clinton.
A few miles south, this moated manor house is rooted in the 13th century and lies in the middle of the Forest of Arden.
Baddlesley Clinton passed down 12 generations of the same family, the Ferrers, before being sold off in 1940 and landing with the National Trust.
In the late 16th century, when Catholics faced persecution in England, the house was a safe haven for clergy, installed with three ingenious hiding places known as priest holes.
You’ll also get to see the great hall (1570) and its marvellous stone chimneypiece, as well as the library, Ferrers’ bedroom, drawing room and chapel.
6. St Alphege Church
Solihull’s parish church was built in the 13th century over an even older place of worship, and warrants a visit if open.
The church grew throughout the Medieval period, with transepts erected in the 14th century to complete the cruciform plan, and the tower built in the 15th century.
There’s also an enlarged north aisle that was built during this time, ending next to the chancel with a smaller partner to the church’s splendid east window.
The Decorated Gothic tracery and intricate screen work stand out at St Alphege Church, along with the corbels in the interior and the tower with its Perpendicular battlements.
The 57-metre octagonal spire is one of the newer features after its predecessor collapsed in 1757.
7. Tudor Grange Park
Laid out on former farmland after the Second World War, Tudor Grange Park is right in Solihull town centre, a couple of streets from the Touchwood shopping centre.
The park is on the Alder Brook, a stream that replenishes a lake on the north side, attracting geese, ducks, swans, moorhens and coots.
A new addition to the park is the one-kilometre cycle track, built at the suggestion of Olympic silver medallist Harry Reynolds, and there’s an 18-hole pitch & putt course for families and serious golfers who want to work on their approach play.
The playground for youngsters has the latest equipment, from mushroom stepping stones to an ability whirl carousel.
8. The Core Theatre
The programme at this 336-seat theatre is wildly diverse so you may find something to your taste if you need ideas for an evening in Solihull.
Come during the day and there are temporary exhibitions at the Courtyard Gallery and Art Space, while the ENCORE restaurant is also open for lunch.
The Core Theatre hosts lots of tribute bands, along with classic rock and pop acts and stand-up comedians.
During the school holidays there are craft workshops and shows for children in the smaller Studio theatre.
There’s a piece of Africa in an unexpected place at a garden centre in Shirley.
Akamba’s owners developed this attraction after living and working in Kenya for more than 20 years.
There’s a landscaped tropical garden with metallic sculptures of a giraffe and gorilla.
Akamba sells a variety of tropical plants, but also has an aviary and animal collection with paid entry.
There you can see a vivid array of birdlife and handle snakes and a chameleon.
Many people head to Akamba for the highly-rated Afro-Caribbean eatery cooking up curry goat and jerk chicken.
10. Elmdon Park
In the north of Solihull this park used to be the grounds of Elmdon Hall, an 18th-century Palladian house pulled down after the Second World War.
The landscaped parkland survives, while the historic walled garden has become a nature reserve looked after by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.
The park has a picturesque meadow stooping to a pair of ponds on the southwest side.
Many of the trees go back at least to the 19th century, and if you have an ear for birdsong you should hear warblers, goldcrests and nuthatches.
For exercise there’s an outdoor gym, along with a newly updated play area for children.
11. Heronfield Animal Rescue Centre
Run by volunteers and relying on donations, this animal sanctuary takes in orphaned, unwanted and injured animals.
As a rule the rescue centre tries to re-home these animals or release them back into the wild, but there are a few permanent residents kept in humane enclosures and paddocks.
The centre has goats, a chicken run, bunny lodge, a miniature Shetland pony (its owner was trying to sell it for horse meat), Chinese geese and terrapins.
There’s also a wild garden, expressly designed to attract butterflies in summer, along with a tearoom and picnic area.
People come from far and wide to the shops in Solihull, and since 2002 many have had a sleek home at the Touchwood shopping centre.
In keeping with Solihull’s upmarket image, Touchwood is anchored by a large John Lewis, complemented by H&M, Zara, Monsoon, L’Occitane, Lush, an Apple store and staples of the English high street like Schuh, Paperchase, River Island and Next.
There are more than 80 shops and 20 eateries, and if you need inspiration for a rainy day the Cineworld multiplex at Touchwood has nine screens.
Touchwood is just off the High Street in the town centre, and you won’t have to search long for other nationwide chains like TK Maxx, HMV and Clarks, as well as loads of dining spots.
13. Umberslade Adventure
On a historic estate to the south of Solihull there’s an outdoor activity centre amid dozens of acres of mature woodland.
Umberslade Adventure has a low ropes course between hundred-year-old oak trees, a rugged commando course and a 130-metre zip line.
There are nature trails with fun activities for kids like scavenger and treasure hunts, as well as archery courses and guided tree-climbing lessons to scale the park’s soaring oaks.
The story of this estate is quite interesting as the land is still owned by the Muntz family, whose ancestor George Frederick Muntz invented an alloy that was used to clad the hulls of wooden ships like the Cutty Sark.
The regal 17th-century mansion is still standing and was turned into flats in the 1960s.
14. Shirley Park
Shirley is a commercial area with lots of bars and restaurants in the west of Solihull.
The park here has recently been regenerated to the tune of £600,000, reopening in 2014 and gaining a coveted Green Flag for its facilities.
There are new shrubs and flowerbeds in the ornamental gardens, as well as community art, a skate park, a dog agility course, an outdoor gym, newly laid tennis courts and a refurbished playground for littler visitors.
If you’re passing by in summer, the Shirley Carnival happens here in July and has stalls, lots of fun activities for kids and a variety of entertainment, all raising money for local causes.
One reason you might find yourself in Solihull is for an event at the National Exhibition Centre, one of the top ten largest exhibition venues in Europe.
Less than ten minutes from the town centre, the NEC has 20 interconnected halls and integrates the Genting Arena, a 16,000-seater venue for touring international recording artists, comedians and sports events.
The list of performers at the arena is a who’s who of pop and rock over the last 50 years, and Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears had dates here in 2018. One of the largest annual events at the NEC is Crufts, the four-day dog show when some 160,000 people (and canines) pour into five halls and the Genting Arena for a trade show and dog competition.