Birmingham with kids

Leaving London we travelled to Birmingham, the heart of England. Why Birmingham? If you have read our introductory post you would know that despite both living in Australia our whole lives, we actually met in Birmingham.

There were so many changes since we left 15 years ago. There was still so much more construction ongoing around the city. Birmingham is preparing to host the 2022 commonwealth games.

This part of our trip wasn’t as kid focussed as London because we were caught up with old friends and scouted out old locations from 15 years ago when we lived there. I have focussed this post on the details of the family activities we did do.

Our first day there started with a trip to the new LEGOLAND Discovery Centre. We weren’t quite sure what to expect not having any near us in Australia and not coming across any in our travels previously. We had booked to go on a weekday and managed to see the place with only a couple of other families.

They took the obligatory green screen photo they seem to have at lots of tourist attractions in the UK then we proceeded to a ride where you had to shoot the “baddies”, then past the photo sales to the model of Birmingham made out of Lego.

This was really great. It included the city centre and helped us get our bearings with all the changes since we were last here. It had boats in the canal and even included the stadium with Black Sabbath, a band originally from Birmingham, performing.

Black Sabbath Lego

It changed to a night scene and had a fireworks display over the city.

There was a Bear Grylls high ropes centre that hadn’t even opened yet but looks like a great place to take the kids. At the time of publication, this had now opened.

The next room was a large area broken into theme areas with a 4D cinema playing a Lego movie, A Heartlake city construction section, Master building area, a Merlin themed ride and a race car building and racing section.

Off to the side of the central area was a café which we didn’t try as it was so late in the day and toilets ( also lego themed) We played in there for a good few hours only limited by closing time. Then, of course, the obligatory shop at the end. This one had some Lego exclusives such as the minifigure workshop I bought.

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We had pre-booked our tickets, although when we went it was so quiet it was probably not necessary. Although according to their website you save money pre-booking. We spent a long time there and I think if it hadn’t been closing we would have spent even longer there. A good way to spend a rainy afternoon if you like Lego.

We did a lot of walking around Birmingham before we hired our car. This was partly due to staying at Staycity, an apartment in the Arcadian centre near china town and doing activities it seemed mostly on the other side of town.

We chose this accommodation as it was only a 10-minute walk from the recently updated New Street station ( Grand Central), where we arrived from London. Also, it was an apartment with parking, as we were planning to pick up the car whilst we were there. We also wanted to wash our clothes, but unfortunately, the washing machine in our apartment was broken, a fact we discovered during our wash when water started leaking out. When we told them about this problem they said someone had already reported it but they had forgotten to inform us. To their credit, they did offer to move us but with our bags unpacked it seemed like too much hassle.

I really wanted to like this apartment but after our great experience at the Premier Inn London, it seemed a bit disappointing.

The other kid friendly activity was a trip to Cadbury world. We caught the train to Bournville which only cost £9 for the four of us to travel return from the city centre. There is also an offer to get discounted entry to Cadbury world if you travel by train but we couldn’t work out from their website if you were able to get this price and pre-book so didn’t end up getting the discount.

Walking from the station to the factory in the pouring rain was a bit of a shock after sunny warm London. We certainly noticed the difference in weather travelling further north. It was a bit difficult to sell Birmingham as a great destination to live to our kids when it was wet and cold most of the time we were there.

Luckily, as we got closer to the factory the smell of chocolate wafting out of it became stronger and stronger. We found being a weekday Cadbury world was also reasonably quiet. Their website makes it sound like pre-booking is necessary but I guess we visited at the right time. The website also says you get discounted prices from booking online.

As we walked in the door we were handed chocolate bars and over the course of the tour, you are each given 4 full-size chocolate bars which Miss 5 managed to finish before the tour was complete despite attempted rationing from her parents. The chocolate at Cadbury’s tasted different from Cadbury in Australia. Not sure what the difference is but it is certainly sweeter.

This is my third trip to Cadbury world. I think my first trip in 1995 was only a couple of years after they opened as it is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. You can feel the difference in this experience compared to a new place like Legoland.

There was a ride there as well, a bit like it’s a small world” at Disneyland, but with chocolate beans instead of dancing puppets.

There is a walk through the history of chocolate including holographic movies. We then came to the production part of the tour where we had a chance to temper some chocolate and also write our name in liquid chocolate. We watched some moulding and got to taste some liquid chocolate, at which point Miss 5 said she unbelievably said she had eaten too much chocolate!! Then the green screen photos, where we got ourselves put on a chocolate wrapper.

Cadbury personalised chocolate

After making it through the main section and another shop we went outside where it had luckily stopped raining, to go to the museum ( not as interesting for the girls) and a 4D cinema experience which was very popular with our kids. Again we had it almost to ourselves.

There was a great looking playground that the girls were very disappointed not to be able to use due to the weather and had been closed.

We spent at least 3hr at Cadbury world and felt the ticket was good value for money, even at full price. I think it was more fun than my previous visits. I am not sure if this was due to the improvements in the attraction itself of travelling with kids to see it this time. Probably, a combination of the two.

The rest of the trip involved catching up with friends and visiting our old houses which were not as exciting for the kids.

Knowle, Solihull, Birmingham

We did fit in a short visit to the new Birmingham library a cube-shaped building in Centenary Square. It is 5 stories high and had a great kids section downstairs that our girls spent ages in. There is a Shakespeare exhibit and garden upstairs but it closed the same time as the kid’s section, 5pm.

The main level of the library remained open so they moved on to pet books up there until it was time to go.

A good thing to remember is the main tourist office is in the front of the library. This should have been our first stop to help us figure out what to do.

There is a lot more we would have liked to do if we had an extra day or two.

I think the Black Country museum would have been a good choice. I last went there 23 years ago and it was mentioned to us by at least 3 different people but as it was out of town we just ran out of time., Also, the THINKtank science museum and a canal ride would have been fun. Birmingham has more canals than Venice. Or at least that is what they like to tell people.  I also was hoping to visit the Jewellery Quarter Museum.

On our last night, we had dinner in a restaurant in the updated New street station precinct called Mowgli’s. It was an Indian street food restaurant that had some swinging chairs. It had some good kid-friendly, authentic, meals like butter chicken and kid’s gunpowder chicken and menus to colour in.

A with most places there was far more to do than we had time for. 3 nights was not nearly enough, and we will have to return again, with any luck, sooner than 15 years next time.

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