Birmingham, often considered the UK's second city, is a youthful, dynamic metropolis enjoying a cultural rebirth. And, if you venture outside the confines of the city, you'll find there’s a lot to see in the surrounding Midlands too.

From Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon to the medieval walls of Warwick Castle, or the feat of engineering at Ironbridge Gorge, a day trip from Brimingham can take you to illustrious heritage sites that tell the story of how this region of central England shaped the world. 

Enjoy spectacular scenery in the Malvern Hills

For the most scenic experience on a day trip from Birmingham, head to the Malvern Hills in rural Worcestershire. They rise 425m (1394ft) above the pretty spa town of Great Malvern, offering sweeping panoramas of the Severn Valley and beyond. Photographers should aim to get here for the golden hours of sunrise and sunset to capture what 17th-century diarist John Evelyn called “one of the godliest vistas in England”.

For those who want to get back to more urban exploring, the historic towns of Worcester and Hereford are both within 20 miles of the hills.

How to get to the Malvern Hill from Birmingham: It’s a 40-mile drive by car, which is the best way to get around these rural areas. Great Malvern can also be reached by train from both Birmingham New Street and Birmingham Snow Hill. From New Street it’s a one-hour journey, from Snow Hill it takes one hour and 20 minutes. 

People explore the beautiful grounds of a large castle with turrets and huge stone battlements
Let your imagination run wild at Warwick Castle © mihir_joshi / Getty Images

Discover medieval Britain at Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle is a proper, bona fide castle, the sort you see in movies or read about in adventure books as a child. Your imagination can run wild here with visions of kings, queens, and knights in shining armor; the castle's rising turrets and formidable walls are visible from the train as it approaches Warwick, bringing a palpable sense of excitement.

There have been fortifications at the site for over 1000 years and in that time the castle has seen attacks, fires and 36 different owners. These days it’s a family-friendly attraction featuring jousting contests, themed evenings, and an eerie dungeon.

How to get to Warwick Castle from Birmingham: Regular trains depart Birmingham Moor Street to Warwick and the journey takes around 30 minutes. From Warwick train station it’s a 15-minute walk to the castle.

A Tudor building in Stratford-upon-Avon, having a black and white appearance due to its exposed wooden frames; it houses a restaurant, while there is another next door in a more modern building.
Wander the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, lined with quaint Tudor buildings © Claudio Divizia / Shutterstock

Get to know Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon

Around 30 miles south of Birmingham, The Bard’s medieval hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon is drenched in history, with cobbled streets, quaint Tudor houses and an attractive, meandering riverside. The town center is compact and can get busy with tourists, so a gentle walk out to Shakespeare’s final resting place at Holy Trinity Church, on the banks of the River Avon, is a welcome escape.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace has an understandable lure – those looking for the full experience should also head to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to take in a play by the world’s greatest dramatist.

How to get to Stratford-upon-Avon from Birmingham: Trains depart Birmingham Moor Street for Stratford-upon-Avon twice per hour and the journey takes between 40 and 50 minutes.

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A huge iron bridge spans a gorge; it's shot at dusk with a blue hue to the surrounding light
Marvel at the Iron Bridge, a lasting symbol of the region's important role in the Industrial Revolution © joe daniel price / Getty Images

See the birth of the Industrial Revolution at Ironbridge Gorge

The Industrial Revolution arguably made the Midlands what it is today, and certainly Birmingham wouldn’t have gained its "city of a thousand trades" nickname without it. The Iron Bridge at Ironbridge Gorge in Shropshire is the only Unesco World Heritage Site in the region, and marked a turning point in engineering as the world’s first cast-iron structure.

Although Ironbridge itself is a small town, there are plenty of things to do during your day trip. The Museum of the Gorge and the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron both give a comprehensive insight into life in the 18th century and tell the story of how Ironbridge took its well-earned place in British history.

How to get to Ironbridge Gorge from Birmingham: Ironbridge Gorge is about an hour away from Birmingham by car via the M6 and M54. You can also take the train to Telford Central from Birmingham New Street. It’s about 6 miles from there to Ironbridge – take the local bus (numbers 4 and 8 go there) or pick up a taxi outside the station.

A red vintage car being driven along a recreated historic street of redbrick terraced homes and shops.
Stepping back in time at the Black Country Living Museum © Caron Badkin / Shutterstock

See history come alive in the Black Country

The clue is in the name at the Black Country Living Museum. It’s an experience like no other – a vast open-air museum allowing visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in local life at the turn of the 20th century. Spanning 26 acres, the streets are lined with faithfully recreated shops and houses complete with heritage vehicles and quirky local characters who’ll explain about their lives 100 years ago.

If Ironbridge Gorge tells the story of how the Industrial Revolution started, a day trip to this unique place in the heart of the Black Country shows what it became. There are also special events themed around Peaky Blinders, which is unsurprising as scenes from every season of the popular TV show have been filmed here. 

How to get to the Black Country Living Museum from Birmingham: The Black Country Living Museum is around 10 miles from Birmingham by car. By train it’s a short trip from Birmingham New Street to Tipton, and then a one-mile walk or an eight-minute journey via the 229 bus.

Looking up at the elaborate Gothic facade of a three-spired stone cathedral covered in statuary.
The famous three-spired cathedral in Lichfield © Miraphoto / Shutterstock

Admire three soaring spires at Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield offers a striking rarity that nowhere else in the country can match – it’s home to the only medieval three-spired cathedral in the UK. Turning the corner from Bird Street onto The Close and seeing it rise up in the distance as you approach is almost worth the visit alone.

The dramatic 800-year-old cathedral wasn’t the only notable resident of this city over the centuries. Erasmus Darwin (Lunar Society member, key thinker of the Midlands Enlightenment and grandfather of Charles), lived here during the 18th century and his residence, handily situated next to the cathedral, is open to visitors. In the town center is the birthplace of writer Samuel Johnson, most well-known for creating one of the world’s first standard English dictionaries in 1755. 

How to get to Lichfield from Birmingham: Trains from Birmingham New Street to Lichfield City are frequent throughout the day and take around 35 minutes.

You might also like:
Lonely Planet reveals the 10 best travel experiences in the UK  
How to get around in England this winter  
Bards and Roman baths: best places in England  

This article was first published October 2019 and updated January 2022

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