Tag Archives: museum

Top Ten Things to Do in Birmingham

Birmingham is such a huge, thriving city that it’s hard to choose just ten must-do things. My original list was much longer, and it took a long while to whittle it down, but (in no particular order) here goes…

1     Pay a visit to Cadbury World. Amongst its many claims to fame, Birmingham is home to Cadbury’s chocolate, and Cadbury World is one of the city’s biggest attractions. Discover how the chocolate is made, find out more about the Cadbury family and the impact they had on work and social conditions in Birmingham – and of course eat plenty of chocolate.

2     Wander around the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Here you will find the Staffordshire Hoard, ancient Egyptian relics, silver goods made in the city, Victorian toys, the world’s leading collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings and the recently opened Birmingham History Galleries, so wherever your particular interest lies you’re bound to find something to please. When you’re ready for a sit down you can try out the museum’s delightful Edwardian Tearoom for drinks, snacks or even a hot meal.

3     Have a drink in the Old Joint Stock. This former bank is possibly the most ornate pub you will ever enter. Make sure you look up at the ceiling while you are waiting to be served, and be sure to check out what is on at their little theatre upstairs.

4     Go shopping. You’ll definitely need your wallets as Birmingham has some of the best shopping around – from the Bullring, the largest indoor shopping centre in Europe and home to Selfridges, and the Mailbox, home to Harvey Nicholls, to the Rag market where you can pick up vintage clothing at bargain rates.

5     Have a look round one of the small but fascinating museums in the Jewellery Quarter. Choose between the JQ Museum, where you can discover what a small jewellery factory looked like a hundred years ago, and the Pen Museum which tells the story of one of the city’s most lucrative trades – or why not visit them both?

6     Relax with some of the city’s greatest talents: watch the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform at the Hippodrome theatre, or listen to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the spectacular Symphony Hall, which was designed to give the best acoustics possible.

7     Go for a balti. This is Birmingham’s signature dish, and we have a whole area, known as the Balti Triangle, devoted to this particular cuisine. No visit to Brum is complete without a taste of one!

8     Head over to Aston to see Aston Hall and gardens. The house holds the history of the English Civil War as well as a ghost or two, and the gardens are beautiful in the summer.

9     Stroll around Sutton Park – 4 square miles of woodland, common land and lakes. It’s only a short bus ride from the city centre, but the trees screen traffic sounds so well you will find it hard to remember that you are in Britain’s 2nd largest city. Keep an eye open for the wild ponies while you are there.

10  Book a walking tour with Midlands Discovery Tours. I admit I am a little biased here as I run these, along with my business partner, Michael, but you don’t just have to take my word for it. They are a good way to see parts of the city you might otherwise miss, and to find out some interesting facts to impress your friends with. Choose from a variety of routes and themes: City centre, Canals, Jewellery Quarter, City of 1000 Trades, Heroes and Villains, Ghost Walk.

Above all, enjoy your visit to the city. If you would like a private tour with a Blue Badge Guide, tailored to your individual interests, you can always get in touch with me at IAB Tours.

Think we’ve missed out something that would have been in your Top Ten? Let us know in the comments below.

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Black Country Living Museum

Visiting the Black Country Living Museum is like taking a step back in time, and there is so much to do you can easily spend a whole day here and not have time for everything.

The buildings have all been moved from their original locations around the West Midlands and rebuilt here to preserve them. Many of them have volunteer guides to tell you what life would have been like “in the olden days” living in these houses, or working in these shops.

You can catch the tram trolleybus from the entrance to the village, where you can buy sweets from a proper old-fashioned sweet shop, take a barge ride along the canals and through the tunnels, watch the blacksmiths making chains, and the glass-workers making beautifully coloured bottles, visit the old schoolrooms and go down the mines. After all that you can visit the village pub for a well-deserved drink and a sit down before visiting the fairground.

There are various additional activities running throughout the year including the popular Santa Hunt in December.

The museum is always growing as new buildings are acquired, so even if you have been before, it’s worth another visit.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

Winterbourne House and Gardens

Winterbourne House is one of Birmingham’s hidden treasures – even many of the locals don’t know it’s there. It’s just a short walk from the Birmingham University campus, and easily accessible by bus and train.

The house is small, but beautifully furnished and there are very informative displays – many of which you can touch. For the children there is a games room with clothes to dress up in and old-fashioned toys and games. Admission to the house is free.

There is a small charge if you wish to visit the gardens, but it is well worth the price. There are 7 acres of land which includes landscaped areas and woodlands, pathways, a fishpond, a greenhouse containing enormous cacti and succulents, and a chicken coop amongst other things. You will also find the old washhouse with some of the equipment used, and a selection of wooden hoops for children to play with.

There is a tearoom which offers a selection of hot and cold food, and plenty of places where you could have a picnic.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

The Pen Room

Situated in the Argent Centre, on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, just a few minutes walk from the city centre and Brindley Place, The Pen Room is one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets.

It is a privately owned museum dedicated to celebrating and preserving Birmingham’s heritage as a global centre of pen-making. With fascinating exhibits from the great pen makers of the area and a wealth of well-presented pictures and information from the archives, it is a museum that truly captures the essence of its subject.

There are lots of activities to try, and a chance to try out historic pens, ensuring that all ages will enjoy a visit. What really makes it special are the staff whose knowledge, enthusiasm and friendly welcome set the pen room apart.

Because of its location, it’s easy to combine a visit to the Pen Room with a stroll around the fascinating Jewellery Quarter, with its excellent selection of shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

To see this month’s “Highlight of the Month” visit www.iabtours.com.

SS Great Britain, Bristol

Regarded as one of Bristol’s leading attractions, and the recipient of various awards in recent years, I was eagerly anticipating my visit to SS Great Britain, especially as I have always loved ships and I’m such a fan of industrial heritage.

I have to say I was not disappointed; in fact the visit exceeded my expectations.  There are a lot of aspects to the SS Great Britain’s story – including engineering, social history, travel and navigation, migration, trade, restoration – and it is a big challenge to deal with these in a way that is accessible and interesting for all, yet still detailed enough for real enthusiasts in each area.  The attraction does this excellently, with clearly laid out and labelled exhibits, documents and audio-visual shows that allow people to explore the information and artefacts at whatever level of detail they choose.

The route around the attraction helps to build up anticipation, as you first see the dockyard, then the underside of the hull (below a tank containing a few inches of water, giving something of an underwater feel), then the exhibition and finally the main ship itself.  One of the best things about the whole experience for me was the level of access you get – there are very few roped-off areas, and you do not feel like you are constantly being watched with suspicion by staff.  This is particularly nice under the hull, where there are plenty of notices warning of the fragility of the structure, but visitors are trusted to behave sensibly when they are close enough to touch.  Obviously, the highlight is getting onto the ship itself, where you can explore the deck and various areas below, including the cabins, the first class dining room and the engines.  There are audio guides for the ship, and you can choose from different characters – the chief engineer for the technical fans, different classes of passenger for the social history fans, and even the ship’s cat for the children!

Throughout the attraction, the attention paid to accessibility is apparent.  Ramps and lifts ensure excellent wheelchair access to all areas, with special narrow wheelchairs available for some parts of the ship. For the deaf or hearing impaired, there are handheld BSL displays, while the visually impaired can use special audio guides and tactile models of the ship. It is no surprise that they have won awards for Accessible Tourism in recent times.

All in all, the SS Great Britain is definitely something I would recommend to anyone visiting Bristol.  It manages to highlight Brunel’s great engineering achievement in a way that is suitable for all. It is great value for money, and ideal for the whole family, while the excellent accessibility makes it something that can be enjoyed easily by anyone with a disability.