England isn’t just divided into the north and the south – there’s a whole stretch of the country that sits right between them, a wonderful and often overlooked area known as the Midlands. It’s here you’ll find Shakespeare’s birthplace, the rich cultural heritage of the Industrial Revolution and beautiful countryside that’s as wonderful to look at as it is to explore. To make sure you don’t miss out on any of the great stuff to do in the region, we’ve put together this handy Midlands travel guide – and our range of luxury cottages in the Midlands make a great place to stay while you explore!
The Midlands, a vast swath of land that cuts through the heart of the country, is a collection of counties often overlooked by holidaymakers in favour of the wilderness of the north or the gentility of the south. This, however, is a mistake; the Midlands has plenty to offer all types, from the historic market towns of Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire to the buzzing, cosmopolitan city of Birmingham. Wild nature awaits explorers, while towns like Stratford and Cambridge offer a rich literary legacy for heritage hunters. What’s more, without the fame of England’s more celebrated counties, the Midlands remains relatively uncrowded and you won’t have to vie with other travellers for the best photograph or picnic spot during your scenic escape.
- Stratford-upon-Avon – Explore the birthplace of Shakespeare and see one of his plays performed.
- Cambridge – Punt along the river of one of England’s most famous university towns.
- The Peak District – Escape to the rugged hills, lakes and caves of this gorgeous pocket of wilderness.
- Birmingham – Hang out in England’s vibrant and happening second city.
- Lincoln – Visit the impressive castle and cathedral in this historic town.
When to visit:
Summer in the Midlands has a better guarantee of dry weather than in many other parts of the country. Places like Stratford-Upon-Avon are blessed with more than their fair share of sunny days, during which the river glistens and the town comes to life. It’s also the best time of year to head to the countryside in places like the Peak District and the Lincolnshire Wolds – you are more likely to be able to enjoy whole days of exploring without rain. Spring and autumn bring out different colours in the landscape, but the weather can be more changeable than the summer months.
Winter in the Midlands is often characterised by grey skies and rain, many National Trust attractions close and the national parks become wet, windy and unwelcoming. However, several towns and cities also host lively Christmas markets, the pubs are particularly cosy and if you catch the hills during a spate of snow, you’ll find an untouched wonderland to explore.
- Airports: East Midlands airport is easily reachable from a number of airports across the United Kingdom and Europe.
- By train:England’s train network serves most of the towns and cities of the Midlands, with several lines heading into London. Use East Midlands Trains and Network West Midlands for timetables and fares, or use National Rail for a broader overview.
- By car:Cars are the most flexible option for travelling in the Midlands, although navigating the infamous spaghetti junction outside Birmingham can be a daunting experience for first-time visitors. Most major car rental services operate out of cities like Birmingham, Leicester and Lincoln.
- By bus:Bus travel in the Midlands is slightly more flexible than trains, and can take you to smaller villages. Visit Traveline Midlands for timetables and routes.
- On foot:Places like the Peak District, the Fens and the forests of Arden and Sherwood are best explored on foot. Walking Routes has a comprehensive list of trails across England, including tips on where to go in the Midlands.
- The gentle, rolling hills of the Lincolnshire Wolds have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and cover enough ground that a day on the walking trails, watching wildlife or taking photos can often be spent without so much as seeing another soul.
- Discover the well-preserved town centres and narrow cobbled streets of some of the Midland’s most delightful market towns. The ruins of , in a charming village of the same name, are the largest in Britain, while the medieval High Street of Henley-in-Arden is a quintessentially English sight.
- Herefordshire’s Wye River Valley, running up the border of Wales, is another little-known scenic hideout in the Midlands, often overlooked in favour of the nearby Cotswolds. Its highlights, such as the charming town of Ross on Wye and the walking trails along the river’s many meanders, are not to be missed.
- Nottingham’s occasionally unsavoury reputation in the media should not overshadow the city’s numerous appeals. The Theatre Royal and Nottingham Playhouse are artistic hubs in the county, while museums dedicated to industry, brewing and art make for interesting days out. Wollaton Park, next to the university, is the home of a grandiose mansion and herds of deer.
- The 47-kilometre walking route of Wolverhampton Ring encircles the industrial Black Country city, and was devised by a retired teacher to show off some of its undiscovered places. The route takes you up hills, through villages and along canals, with some spectacular views along the way. It’s the best way to discover a lively city that few people visit.
- The National Trust own several properties throughout the Midlands, all of which have their own unique reasons to visit. Some, such as the elegant mansion of Chatsworth House, are well-known and loved; others, like the lakeside Croome Court (home to intricate tapestries) and Stoneywell (which has an interesting artistic heritage) are less popular but just as captivating.
If a child were to list all the things they might want for a dream holiday, the chances are they could find most of them in the Midlands. Chocolate factories, high-flying adventure courses, ghost tours, museums filled with airplanes and a gigantic room full of videogames arrive straight from your kid’s wish list into the heart of England.
The fun of a family holiday also lies in introducing children to new and exciting experiences, such as cable cars that climb through the Peak District, trains that run through Shakespeare country and underground caves that are decorated with limestone stalactites.
The sheer range of activities, wide open spaces and quirky accommodation available in the Midlands makes the region an ideal destination to take the children. What’s more, you won’t be saddled with the hefty price tags of the tourist-heavy south. Embrace the excitement of everything on offer and adults, too, will discover childlike wonder once again. Here are just a few of the Midlands’ top child-oriented offerings, and our blog on the best family friendly activities in the Midlands has even more info to enjoy.
The Best Family Friendly Activities in the Midlands
- The midlands is home to Bournville, which will forever be associated with something children and adults alike can appreciate – chocolate! A visit to Cadbury World makes a fantastic day out for everyone, with exciting interactive experiences, history lessons and practical demonstrations to enjoy. And yup, you do get to do a tasting!
- The Peak District National Park offers almost endless opportunities for adventurous families, from stunning guided walks to events and activities throughout the year.
- One great way to see the amazing sights of the park is via cable car – the Heights of Abraham soars over the Derwent valley for over a kilometre, and there’s even a cafe, a museum, a play area and underground caverns to explore once you reach the top.
- For something a bit different that kids (and young-at-heart adults) are bound to enjoy, try the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham. It’s as educational as it is enjoyable, with interactive exhibits as well as the chance to play games – and even influence their future by giving developers feedback on upcoming titles.
- If battling digital aliens isn’t enough, you can enjoy another other-worldly adventure at Poole’s Cavern. Head underground to learn the history of this cave complex and take in its wondrous sights, with the stunning central show cave being the main attraction.
The Midlands’ Best Family Friendly Walking and Cycling Routes
- Sheldon Country Park offers a lot whether your family prefers walking or cycling, with a five mile loop around this park near Birmingham airport that features woodland and wetland. There’s also a small farm, so younger kids can take a look at the animals.
- You can also enjoy a great cycle around Chasewater in Burntwood. Just take a nice, casual pedal around the perimeter of the large lake – it’s a sea of tranquility in this otherwise bustling part of the midlands.
- Take to the canals near Coventry for another waterside walk, and if you head for the section between Basin and Hawkesbury Junction you’ll be treated to the ‘Art Trail,’ where local artists showcase some of their works.
- For a ramble that takes in all forms of nature, try Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. It’s an area of outstanding natural beauty, and for such a relatively small area packs a whole load of landscapes and nature in. It’s perfect if you’ve got the dog with you too!
Groups on holiday in the Midlands won’t find it difficult to fill their itineraries: action addicts can go paintballing or quad-biking, sightseers can tour macabre museums and TV filming locations, while animal enthusiasts can try their hand at falconry.If all this seems a little high energy for your taste, never fear. Those hoping for a more relaxing romantic break or laid-back group retreat can turn down the dial with some less strenuous activities. Gentle strolls in the countryside, leisurely drifts in barges and hidden-away woodland spas are also on the menu here.
Need some help filling your itinerary? We’ve got you covered – just choose from our suggestions below, or head to our blog on the best group activities in the Midlands.
Adrenaline Fuelled Activities in the Midlands
- There’s nothing quite like getting out there and indulging in a bit of adventure, and the Midlands has plenty on offer if you’re looking for a shot of adrenaline to really give your days out a boost.
- The best thing about Avalanche Adventure Ltd is that whatever you fancy, it’s pretty likely they can sort it out for you! From paintballing to quad biking to hovercraft rides to glider rides, there’s pretty much everything on offer. Check out their website for a full (and exhausting sounding!) list.
- Want to get a bit closer to nature in a new and exciting way? There’s plenty of places throughout the Midlands where you can try your hand at falconry, and even if you don’t fancy handling a bird of prey yourself it’s always an amazing spectacle to watch.
- The Falconry Centre in Hagley offer great introductory courses for falconry, and you can even have a look round and meet other majestic birds of prey.
Laid Back Activities in the Midlands
- Bit of a fan of TV, or more specifically the Midlands set gangster drama Peaky Blinders? Good news! You can delve into the real-life stories behind the show thanks to Peaky Tours, which will give you some insight into the past and history of these notorious Black Country bandits.
- It’s regularly mentioned that Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice, and while it might be quite as romantic the canals make for a great setting for walking, fishing and cycling.
- For a more in depth look at the Black Country’s canal network, take a jaunt with the Dudley Canal Trust Trip. You can enjoy a narrowboat cruise down the waterways, taking in some beautiful scenery and underground routes not normally accessible to the public.
- The Midlands is also home to some great museums and galleries, especially in and around Birmingham. The Black Country Living Museum is also a great day out that gets you right to heart of the Industrial Revolution.
- Or for something a bit different (and slightly creepy) check out the Coffin Works in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter is a museum all about the famed coffin makers Newman Brothers. Costumed guides will take you on a tour of the factory, demonstrating techniques and illuminated our ancestor’s attitude to death.
For a complete culinary experience of the Midlands, we recommend getting involved with making food yourself. Whether proving dough for your own bread, learning a few professional cooking skills or touring the food factories, the warm and friendly Midlanders are more than happy to let you inside their world.
Of course, some of you may feel that you get enough hands-on cooking experience at home and that holidays are a time for steering well clear of the kitchen. In which case, fear not – you can spend your holiday hopping between the region’s finest restaurants instead. And you won’t be stuck for choice: Choose between Indian, pub grub or trendy eateries. Birmingham has more Michelin stars than any other English city outside of London, so fine-dining won’t be an issue either.
To help you plan your culinary adventure in the Midlands, we’ve chosen a few of our favourite dining, drinking and cooking experiences. There’s more infor over at our blog too, thanks to our article on the best foodie experiences in the Midlands.
The Best Restaurants in the Midlands
- It might not look like it thanks to its unassuming exterior, but The Cross in Kenilworth is a Michelin starred restaurant. Concentrating on rustic recipes with a contemporary twist, the menu changes seasonally so you know that whatever you order, its ingredients will be at their very tastiest.
- Simpsons Restaurant in Edgbaston also can lay claim to a Michelin star, and features several tempting tasting menus to chew through. While the food’s divine, the surroundings are a treat too – the restaurant is found in a Grade II listed building.
- The Midlands is also famous for its curry, and you’ll doubtless come across some fine Indian food during your trip. Want to take your balti to the next level? Birmingham’s Lasan offers truly amazing Indian food – even Gordon Ramsey is a fan.
Must Try Foods from the Midlands
- It’s already been mentioned, but is probably worth mentioning again – the Birmingham and Black Country areas are famous for their curry houses. There are quite a few, but a friendly local will always be happy to point you towards a nearby favourite.
- The Midlands is also famed for its brewing, and there’s a number of fine beers and ales that have come out of the region. If you’re dropping into a pub (and why wouldn’t you?) look out for beer from Banks’s, Enville Ales or the Wye Valley Brewery, though any local brewery is bound to offer something tasty.
- Looking for something to go with your pint? Pork scratchings originated in the West Midlands, and make the perfect accompaniment to a local brew.
- For a hearty and traditional Midlands breakfast, keep your eye out for Staffordshire Oatcakes. A bit like a pancake made with oatmeal, this savoury snack is fantastic served with bacon and lashings of melted cheese.
Best Foodie Activities in the Midlands
- The School of Artisan Food, which you’ll find in Worksop, is actually a fully-blown cookery school where you can even earn a diploma. Luckily, they also offer shorter masterclasses in eclectic culinary skills such as curing ham, pickles and preserves and how to make the most out of your herb garden.
- Don’t think you need to head to Bordeaux or Tuscany to indulge in some top class wine tasting. Though the midlands might be light on vineyards, the Loki Wine Merchant and Tasting House in Birmingham is the place to be to try some fine vintages in a fun and informative environment.
- The pork pie is a picnic staple that originated in the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray (along, foodie fact fans, with Stilton cheese) so take a trip to Dickson & Morris of Melton Mowbray which doesn’t just sell pies and cheese but offers a workshop on how to make the perfect pork pie.
- And for dessert, those with a sweet tooth should head straight for Chocolate Alchemy in Loughborough. If the huge (and tempting!) variety in the shop isn’t enough, go hands-on and make your own sweet treats under the tutelage of one of their expert chocolatiers.