In the Black Country, Wolverhampton is a former industrial town now dominated by the service sector.
Manufacturing is still part of the local economy, but the days of coal pits and metal works are in the distant past.
Collieries have become parks, while the art and mansions owned by industrialists have been passed over to local councils and the National Trust.
That goes for the jaw-dropping Wightwick Manor, an Arts and Crafts masterpiece, and the high-quality collections at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery.
One of the handy things about Wolverhampton is how well-connected it is to other places in the West Midlands Conurbation.
Minutes away in the interlinked towns are country parks, stately homes and high-profile attractions like Dudley’s excellent Black Country Living Museum.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Wolverhampton:
1. Wightwick Manor
A glorious snapshot of the late-19th-century Arts and Crafts and Aesthetic movements, Wightwick Manor is a must-see National Trust house.
In the half-timbered Vernacular style, Wightwick Manor was ordered by Theodore Mander, a rich Wolverhampton industrialist and built in two phases between 1887 and 1893. The foremost artists and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement are represented inside, with fabrics and wallpapers by William Morris, Kempe glass, tiles by William de Morgan and paintings by Pre-Raphaelites like Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Maddox Brown.
The house’s exceptional preservation was made possible when Geoffrey Mander and his wife Rosalie persuaded the National Trust to take over in 1938, even thought the building was less than 50 years old at that point.
They lived here as curators, safeguarding the collections and adding to them.
2. Bantock House Museum and Park
In 50 acres of grounds, this country house dates from the 1730s, but was given its last major update at the start of the 20th century.
At that time it was owned by the Bantocks, an eminent family of entrepreneurs.
Their last heir was Thomas Bantock, a two-time mayor of Wolverhampton who donated the estate to the town when he passed away in 1938. The house’s interior has been preserved in its Arts and Crafts style, and has exhibitions about the Bantocks and life in Wolverhampton in the early 20th century.
One of the many lovable things about the house is its openness to visitors, allowing you to sit on the sofas and feel at home.
In the collections are historic dolls and toys, the Bantocks’ family porcelain, Victorian Japanned ware, steel jewellery, paintings by the Cranbook Colony and a wealth of family trinkets.
3. RAF Museum Cosford
Anyone fascinated by aviation, both military and civilian, will be in heaven at this museum at the Royal Air Force base in Cosford.
In four sizeable hangars (Hangar One, Test Flight, War in the Air and Cold War), the exhibitions deal with the entire history of aviation.
At Test Flight you’ll see experimental planes and prototypes that you won’t find anywhere else, like a Saunders-Roe SR.53, a Short SB.5 and a Hawker Siddeley P.1127, a forerunner to the Harrier jump-jet.
War in the Air showcases a century of military aircraft, from Sopwith byplanes to a Japanese Mitsubishi Ki-46 and a Messerschmitt Me 410, both from the Second World War.
The Cold War exhibition recounts the massive leaps in technology that took place in a few decades, and explains the causes of the international tension in this period.
You can also peruse a massive lineup of engines, and missiles, including some rare German WWII air-to-air and surface-to-air Henschels.
4. David Austin Roses
The internationally-acclaimed rose breeder David Austin has bred a catalogue of rose cultivars, which like modern roses flower repeatedly, but also have the scent and aesthetics of old garden roses like damasks and gallicas.
David Austin roses is a combined plant centre and rose garden that Austin founded in the 1950s.
That garden is the ultimate showcase for his work and is cherished as one of the most beautiful rose gardens in the world.
Some 700 rose varieties grow in this two-acre space, all arranged into informal sub-gardens, each with their own style and delineated by hedges.
There’s a Patio Garden, Renaissance Garden, Long Garden, Victorian Garden, to name three, all abounding with blooms in summer.
5. Moseley Old Hall
This marvellous Elizabethan house is one of two properties on our list that served as a refuge for Charles II following the Royalists’ defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The heir to the throne had to bide his time before escaping to France, hiding in trees and disguising himself as a farm labourer and servant.
Charles arrived at the back door of Moseley Old Hall six days after the battle, to be put up by the Catholic Whitgreave family.
He hid in a priest hole, which you can see on a guided tour, when you’ll also get to see the four-poster bed that he slept on.
In the grounds is a distinguished parterre based on 17th-century designs and boasting topiaries, a walled garden, arbour, fruit orchard and intricate knot garden.
6. West Park
An archetypal Victorian urban park, West Park was inaugurated in 1881 and still has some beautiful architecture from the period.
The bandstand followed soon after, in 1882, and is now Grade II-listed, while the lakeside conservatory followed in 1896. This opens to the public from Thursday to Sunday.
Both buildings set a delightful scene in the summer for a short voyage around the lake in a rowboat.
The tea room was looking for a new leaseholder in summer 2018 but is a cute mock-Tudor chalet with timber framing.
7. Wolverhampton Art Gallery
In a Neoclassical purpose-built venue, constructed from Bath stone in 1884, Wolverhampton Art Gallery has a collection that punches above its weight.
Many of its works were donated by industrialist art patrons.
The most valuable work is Peace and Plenty Binding the Arrows of War (1614), by the Flemish master Abraham Janssens.
As the galleries main benefactors assembled their collections in the 19th century, there’s a very strong assortment of Victorian art, by Pre-Raphaelites like Frederic Shields and landscape artists like David Cox, Henry Mark Anthony and David Roberts.
The Georgian Room has pieces by Henry Fuseli, Johann Zoffany and Joseph Wright of Derby.
On display alongside the paintings are Chinese, Indian and British ceramics, Persian metalware, enamels and Japanese woodblock prints.
8. Wolverhampton Wanderers
When this post was written in summer 2018 Wolverhampton Wanderers (Wolves) were riding the crest of a wave.
The club had just won a promotion to the Premier League after a dominant season helmed by Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santo and powered by bright young midfielder Rúben Neves, also Portuguese.
For the last 15 years the club has flitted between the top two tiers of English professional football, but with new Chinese backers Wolves look capable of establishing themselves as a top English club.
August to May, Wolves play their home games at the 31,000-seater Molineux Stadium, which dates back to 1889. Now the team is at the top level once more, you’ll need to consult the ticket office long in advance, especially when the biggest clubs visit.
Outside there’s a statue to Billy Wright, who spent his entire career at the club and was capped more than 100 times for England.
9. Baggeridge Country Park
Four miles south of the centre of Wolverhampton is 150-acres of woods, meadows, marsh and water on hilly ground at the gateway to the Black Country.
The southernmost tracts of Baggeridge Country Park overlap with the neighbouring Himley Park and were plotted by Capability Brown.
When the weather’s good Baggeridge Country Park is somewhere for families to embrace the outdoors, battling over a high ropes course, riding a miniature railway, cycling and cutting loose at the children’s play area.
There’s a choice of walking trails, the longest of which will take about 90 minutes.
10. Northycote Farm
A local family favourite, Northycote Farm is a free animal attraction around a 16th-century Tudor house.
In the paddocks and aviaries are pigs, Shropshire sheep, Norfolk black turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks, chickens and geese.
The farm puts on a lively calendar of events and celebrations, from the Harvest Festival in autumn, to spooky goings-on at Halloween and an egg hunt at Easter.
That half-timbered farmhouse adds some gravitas to the scene and opens up for tours on select days throughout the year.
Put a cap on a visit at the tearoom or bring your own lunch to the farm’s grassy picnic area.
11. Himley Hall & Park
South of Wolverhampton, Himley Hall is a splendid Palladian mansion from the 18th century, set in 180 acres of parkland designed by Capability Brown, the leading landscape architect of the period.
The hall is owned by Dudley Council and hosts regular exhibitions for art photography and crafts.
There’s also a tearoom for scones and tea in a very cultured setting.
The park was opened to the public in the 1970s and has a nine-hole golf course and a pitch & putt, as well as a lake for boating and fishing.
There’s a fireworks display and concert on Guy Fawkes Night, and on a typical day in summer you could head here for a restful walk and picnic.
12. Grand Theatre
The oldest surviving performing arts venue in the town, the Grand Theatre is easily identified by the high arcade on its facade.
This Grade II-listed building dates from 1894 and has a capacious and magnificently furnished auditorium, seating 1,200. the Grand Theatre went into steep decline after the Second World War, but was refitted in the early 80s and is about to be updated to accommodate large-scale shows.
In 2017 started staging its own productions once more, although the programme is still dominated by touring dance companies, musicals, comedians and tribute acts.
13. Black Country Living Museum
Six miles from the centre of Wolverhampton, this attraction is actually in Dudley, but deserves to be on your agenda.
In 26 acres, on what used to be industrial land, there are dozens of shops, houses and industrial buildings from across the region known as the Black Country.
This includes a big sweep of the West Midlands, including Wolverhampton, but also Walsall, Sandwell and Dudley.
The museum taps into the region’s historic metalworking trade, with a rolling mill, nail shop, forge and chain-making shop, but there’s also a lime kiln, rural village, a street and fairground from the 1930s and a replica dock from the Birmingham Canal Navigation.
This is all populated with re-enactors, and dotted with vehicles like barges, trams, trolleybuses, vintage cars and motorbikes.
14. Boscobel House
Another day out worth making is this 17th-century timber-framed house in Shropshire where Charles II hid after the royalist defeat in the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Bocobel House was developed as a hunting lodge in the 1630s, and after the final battle of the English Civil War the Giffard family gave refuge to the defeated heir to the throne and helped him escape the country.
Charles hid in the trunk of an oak tree, the descendant of which is growing in the grounds.
He also used priest holes, designed to conceal Catholic clergy, and these have been preserved in the house, which is maintained by English Heritage.
Outside there’s a typical 17th-century knot garden, growing old species of lavender, honeysuckle and boxwood.
15. Willenhall Memorial Park
East Wolverhampton, between the town and neighbouring Walsall, Willenhall Memorial Park was laid out in the 1920s to honour First World War dead.
The park is joined to a wider green space at the Fibbersley Local Nature Reserve.
Both are set on former collieries, and the mounds in Willenhall Memorial Park are remnants of mining activity.
It’s all a pretty place to stretch your legs, with an ornamental lake and a bandstand at the centre of formal flowerbeds and lawns.
You can also find children’s playgrounds, tennis courts, a skate park and a pavilion with a cafe.