It had been a while since the three of us had managed to get a weekend away together, what with me having the worst pregnancy ever and working every Saturday known to man so I could have a day off in the week with the little man, but last month the time came for us to have our own little adventure away from home.
We were paired up with amazing fellow blogger Brummy Mummy of 2 who wrote us a glorious itinerary of how to spend a weekend in her home town of Birmingham using London Northwestern Railway to get there from Liverpool Lime Street and West Midlands Railway to get around once we arrived in the city itself. We were so excited! It had been years and years since I’d been to Birmingham and I was eager to see what had changed in Britain’s “second city”: a city full of history, culture and one which is surrounded by many beautiful towns within the West Midlands conglomerate.
I am more of a driver than a train passenger (we recently drove down to London for a Mumsnet and McDonalds event) and I had absolutely no idea that the train to Birmingham, using the London Northwestern route, took less than two hours- definitely a shorter journey than trying to navigate the M6 in a car.A journey that takes less than two hours is perfect in my book, there is simply not enough time for the train fanatic toddler to get bored especially when you know the service you’re using has free onboard LOOP Wifi and Entertainment including Thomas the Tank Engine (Dexter’s current fave!)
Starting the Journey
We began our trip at Lime Street at 8.04am where we took the direct London Northwestern Railway train to Birmingham New Street. The train is equipped with comfortable seats, free on board WiFi and entertainment (incase looking out of the window gets too boring) and upgrades to First Class available, where you can find plug sockets and slightly more leg room. London Northwestern Railway also have a very handy app with live departure updates and in app mobile ticketing, making the journey even easier. (When you have a bag full of goodies to keep toddler entertained, it’s much easier to pull out your smartphone to show the conductor, rather than fishing around for paper tickets)
Birmingham New Street
I promise you, you can arrive into Birmingham New Street and not have to leave the station to actually visit the city, there is so much going on there; from John Lewis to a huge range of restaurants and eateries, the world is your oyster before you’ve even stepped outside the door. New Street itself has changed a lot since I was last here a decade or more ago. Gone are the days of shabby indoor market stall type shops and in their place is Grand Central: a glorious shopping centre with stylish department stores and the platform areas of New Street feel more like you are visiting an airport than a train station. We were very impressed.
Upon arrival at New Street, we walked ten minutes down the road and across City Park to Thinktank Museum; a science and technology museum perfect for kids and adults alike. It is easily possible to spend a whole day here, but we kept it to a couple of hours of exploring the different levels before stopping for lunch in their cafeteria. Dexter was particularly taken with the steam engines on the ground floor and Kids’ City on the second floor where imaginative play takes over and you can be whoever you want: paramedic, shop keeper, fruit and veg market seller or simply spend an hour splashing around with boats and water.
National SEA LIFE Centre
After lunch, we hopped in a taxi over to the National SEA LIFE Centre which is located next to Brindleyplace, a gorgeous area with tons of bars and restaurants nestled against a stunning canal running through the centre of Birmingham. To be honest, feeling the way I was at that point (heavily pregnant and knackered after a morning chasing Dexter around Thinktank Museum), I could have just stopped at Pitcher and Piano and had a few proseccos (wishful thinking!), however we quickly hopped into Costa opposite SEA LIFE Centre, downed a hot chocolate each and marched on with the rest of our afternoon.
I love the SEA LIFE Centre, it was one of my favourite attractions when I was growing up, so I was excited to see what Dexter thought. For a Saturday afternoon there wasn’t much of a queue to get in which was fabulous and the staff were lovely showing us where we could leave our buggy and where the toilets were. Straight away we stumbled upon the Penguin Ice Adventure exhibition where we spent the majority of our afternoon. The penguins were so cute and there was one in particular who seemed obsessed with Dexter and followed him around as he moved from window to window. The penguins are housed in a 70,000 litre tank of icy water and from one window you are able to watch them dive and swim to their heart’s content. An absolutely stunning experience, not to be missed.
As well as penguins, we also saw sharks, clown fish, octopus and sea rays. Dexter’s ultimate favourite bit of the SEA LIFE Centre had to be running under the tunnels of water, seeing all of the sea life magnified, before jumping back out at us shouting BOO! Again, just like Thinktank Museum, we could have spent a full day here and there is still so much left for us to do in the future as Dex was a little young to watch the 4-D film they have showing or take part in the talk and feeding time sessions.
A Bite to Eat
After a big afternoon in the SEA LIFE Centre, we were ravenous, and boy did we have our pick of places to choose from when it came to finding somewhere to eat. As well as Brindleyplace and Grand Central being crammed full of eateries, there is also Mailbox, a stylish shopping area, similar to the Metquarter in Liverpool, with lots of restaurants dotted around too such as Pinocchio, Tom’s Kitchen, Cafe Rouge, GBK and Miller and Carter. We decided to head in that direction considering that’s where our hotel was, when we stumbled upon our old favourite: Nando’s.
Eating out with a toddler can get pretty stressful, especially if they’ve had a long day and haven’t had a nap which is why we love Nandos. The food is yummy, it’s easy to order and most importantly it’s quick to arrive. This particular Nando’s restaurant in Mailbox did not disappoint. After stuffing our faces with chicken, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, Mediterranean veg and bottomless cokes, it was time to move on to the hotel and finally get some rest!
Somewhere to Lay Our Heads
There is a vast number of hotels to choose from in Birmingham, from the budget to the high end variety. We opted for the stylish boutique Malmaison hotel which is a mere ten minute stroll (twenty if you’re as pregnant as me!) from Birmingham New Street. It comes equipped with 193 rooms, a spa, 24 hour room service and an on site Starbucks perfect for early morning wake ups. The hotel boasts having housed guests such as Beyonce and we even sat down to breakfast next to famous comedian Harry Hill which pretty much made our day! The hotel is also child friendly, with travel cots available and huge beds in the room, meaning co sleeping is definitely an option, and one that we made the most of!
After a pleasant night’s sleep, we were up and ready to crack on with our day just in time for a full English and Continental breakfast at the onsite restaurant Chez Mal by 8am.
West Midlands Railway Service to Bournville
As I previously mentioned, New Street was a quick stroll away from our hotel so we were in the station ready to board the West Midlands Railway service to Bournville by 9am. Again, I was really taken aback by how clean and modern the platforms at New Street are, and the same can be said for the trains too. The service between New Street and Bournville takes less than fifteen minutes on a line that stops at the University. The use of electric rails, simple and concise passenger information on all the platforms and a timely service meant it felt more like a metro/tube service than a traditional chug chugging train.
We were really looking forward to the next part of our itinerary and had visions of swanning around with Willy Wonka while stuffing our faces with chocolate (every pregnant woman’s dream, right?)
Cadbury World is located around fifteen minutes away from Bournville train station (that’s thirty minutes for heavily pregnant women!) and luckily it was a cold, but beautifully fresh sunny day, which made the walk a lovely experience as we crunched our way through the leaves in this quaint, quiet suburb of Birmingham. Upon arriving at Cadbury, we joined the queue to get in and once they’d scanned our tickets, we were given handfuls of chocolate bars to enjoy.
At two and a half years old, Dex was probably a little young for some aspects of this attraction. It can get quite dark in places and there a few times where you need to sit quietly and watch the history of Cadbury, where a toddler just cannot cope. I loved hearing all about how the Cadbury family looked after their employees and grew Bournville to be the vibrant suburb it is today with football pitches, cricket fields and even a hospital; Dex felt quite overwhelmed at certain parts, especially after having such a long day the day before.
We cracked on through the tour and tried our hand at writing our name with liquid chocolate, enjoying the Cadabra car ride (which was perfect for Dexter!) and running around like mad men in the Purple Planet zone which is designed for kids to be as interactive as possible. Before finishing we made the most of the festive celebrations by meeting Santa and watching a chocolate themed pantomime, but by the end of it all, Dex was more than ready for home.
Back to New Street and Home…
Once we were back at Bournville station, it was less than 15 minutes back to New Street where we had a short wait for our train all the way back to Liverpool Lime Street. Despite it being a busy Sunday afternoon, the station was running like clockwork and I was really impressed by the detail the platform signs offer, letting you know exactly what time you will be arriving into each station on your service. We jumped onboard our train back towards Lime Street and sat in comfort for the 1h45 minute journey back to our home land, exhausted, but happy.
Reflecting back on the weekend, I still can’t believe how much we got done in such a short space of time, and of course this is thanks to the efficiently run service provided by London Northwestern Railway. I never would have thought we’d be able to cram in three amazing activities into one weekend with only one night’s stay and there’s even more we could have done. I’ve been on Visit Birmingham‘s website since we’ve been back and we’re already planning our next trip so we can visit Legoland, do some shopping in the Bullring and get out on a West Midland’s Railway service to one of the lovely suburbian towns such as Solihull.
With a fantastic train service and ticket prices, where will you go on the London Northwestern or West Midland’s Railway lines?