From rich historical relics to exotic botanical gardens and even a real-life equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, the attractions on offer in Birmingham are anything but predictable.
A few miles north of the city centre, the 17th century Aston Hall is one of Birmingham’s finest buildings and a magnificently preserved example of Jacobean architecture. Look for clues that the English civil war left on this listed mansion, including the hole a besieger’s cannon ball gouged in the staircase when the house was under siege in 1643. Elegant, symmetrical walled gardens reveal a more peaceful side to Aston Hall.
Selly Manor goes even further back. This 500-year tudor house, complete with restored bedchamber, family room and servants’ garret, will transport you back to the 15th century, with ancient oak furniture and an impressive fireplace. The chance to dress up in detailed replica Tudor costumes and even armour is lots of fun for adults and kids alike, and is perfect for memorable selfies.
Beyond Selly Manor, some of Birmingham’s other top historic sights include Blakesley Hall and Sarehole Mill. Another fine Tudor property, the charming Blakesley Hall boasts an orchard and traditional herb garden aflutter with butterflies. The 18th century Sareholl Mill has a working waterwheel that’s still used to grind wheat. The author JRR Tolkien lived just across the road from the mill as a young boy, later saying that it helped to inspire his vision of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings.
Among their other many philanthropic activities, a member of the Cadbury family restored Selly Manor. You can find out all about this most famous of Birmingham dynasties – and sample a lot of chocolate – at the Cadbury World attraction a few miles south of central Birmingham, easily accessible by bus or train. Cadbury World offers lots of exciting educational activities for kids. Discover the history of cocoa from the Aztec era to the present day, visit a full-scale mock-up of the historic street where John Cadbury opened his first shop in 1824, watch live chocolate-making, and enjoy a ‘4D’ cinematic chocolate adventure with motion seats.
Near the centre of the city, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens make a marvellous contrast with the thoroughly urban surrounding terrain. The British National Bonsai collection, including one 250-year-old specimen, is a highlight among the 7,000 plants on show. Conceived and built in the 19th century, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens has four glasshouses featuring exotic fauna from warmer climes, from the Tropical House to the Subtropical, Mediterranean and Arid Houses. There are also dedicated trails for kids, a children’s play area and a pavilion tea room.
Located in an elegant building designed by the famous architect Norman Foster, the National Sea Life Centre – England’s largest inland aquarium – has a million-litre main tank featuring reef sharks, giant sea turtles and Britain’s only fully see-through 360-degree tunnel. The National Sea Life Centre’s latest exhibit features Beverley, a Giant Pacific octopus who can solve tricky puzzles and negotiate a maze.