Days Out: Birmingham and The Black Country

Birds team leader, Kellie Piper, takes a break on the beach in Penguin Bay at Dudley Zoo
Birds team leader, Kellie Piper, takes a break on the beach in Penguin Bay at Dudley Zoo

Northampton has great train links with Birmingham and with a new scheme offering discounts for days out there has never been a better time to visit as Amanda O’Hare discovered.

A short train ride will take you from Northampton to the heart of Birmingham and all the city and surrounding areas have to offer.

In a bid to entice more visitors to the region Visit Birmingham and rail operator London Midland are offering great value two for one tickets for visitors travelling by train. There are lots of attractions and venues taking part in the scheme including the fantastic Black Country Living Museum where you can step back in time.

Discover a fascinating world when you visit this urban heritage park in the heart of the Black Country. Historic buildings from all around the area have been moved and authentically rebuilt at the museum to create a tribute to the traditional skills and enterprise of the people that once lived in the heart of industrial Britain. You are transported back in time from the modern exhibition halls to the charming canal-side village where costumed demonstrators and working craftsman bring the buildings to life with their local knowledge and practical skills.

It is a truly captivating and fascinating place and there is so much to see and experience there too. We loved the street lined with traditional shops and artefacts.

Our favourites were the sweet shop and bakers and the costumed “inhabitants” really bring a bygone era back to life. A must is a visit to the traditional working fish and chip shop where you can enjoy some incredible food, little wonder the queue snaked out of the door and along the street.

It is a magical place and it is impossible to get round everything in one visit so plan which parts you particularly want to see most. And it also gives you an excuse to return. If fish and chips are not your thing there are plenty of dining options in the nearby city centre.

Because there is so much going on in the region we stayed overnight in the chic and contemporary City Nites Apartments, specialists in luxury serviced apartments and a fantastic alternative to a cramped hotel room.

With two teenagers in tow we booked a two bedroom penthouse apartment which included balconies and stunning views of the Birmingham cityscape.

With fully fitted kitchens you can self cater but with a range of restaurants on your doorstep it make sense to eat out. We decided to try the excellent Asha’s restaurant which has been included in the Michelin Guide each year since 2009. This recommendation is well deserved as the excellence of the authentic Indian cuisine at Asha’s is superb. It is contemporary and stylish inside and was a new dining experience for our children. Staff are fantastic and crated mocktails for our two and something stronger for us. The menu is very varied but they ask you about what you like and how spicy you like things and come up with best dining options. The atmosphere was fantastic and the busy restaurant proved how popular it is with local diners and visitors alike, it had the best Indian food we had ever dined on. The food, drink and service were first class.

After our fantastic overnight stay at City Nites we were ready for another day great day out in the area. Dudley Zoological Gardens is the perfect place to enjoy a day out with the family.

The newly-launched penguin bay is home to dozens of highly endangered Humboldts. This enchanting enclosure has been turned into a wonderful walkthrough experience that has doubled the land area available to the 70-plus birds – the UK’s largest colony of Humboldts – and allows visitors to get close to the pint-sized penguins.

All of the animals are accessible to see on foot and the walk through lemur wood area was simply stunning. We stood captivated by the animated antics of the 30 plus free-roaming lemurs of different types. The lion ridge paddock is impressive and there are daily shows in the go wild theatre.

The Asiatic black bear was also a treat to see as were the zoo’s rare Rothschild giraffes- Kubwa, Mia, and Josie. The zoo is unique as the hundreds of animals are set around an 11th century castle and it incorporates the world’s largest single collection of Tecton buildings and the country’s only vintage chairlift, which has just been reopened to the public. It is a great attraction situated in a 40-acre wooded hillside with a rich geological history. As well as the lions you will find the beautiful tigers, stunning snow leopards, lynx, African hunting dogs and monkeys galore. There are plenty of smaller creatures to delight too including the playful otters, Colombian spider monkeys, red pandas and lots of parrots.

There is a farm area too and a playground, ideal for younger visitors. It is great to be able to wander around the picturesque gardens and there is a surprise at every turn, whether it is the sea lions or wallaby walkthrough. We then headed back to Birmingham city centre to try some colourful cuisine at Bodega. Don’t miss a chance to dine at this contemporary cantina, which is a riot of colour and offers homemade South American inspired cuisine. There are plenty of menu options and the portions were very generous too. Stunning flavours in a setting as vibrant as the city itself.


* Dudley Zoo on 0844 4742272

 * Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley, 0121 5215619

* City Nites Apartments, Edward Street, Birmingham, 0845 2331155

* Asha’s restaurant, Edmund House, 12 - 22 Newhall Street, Birmingham, 0121 2002767

* Bodega, 12 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham, 0121 4484267