The West Midlands is a hive of activity – and within easy reach of some of the UK’s top beauty spots.
Despite being just 348 square miles (roughly the same size as Dartmoor National Park), the West Midlands is the second most densely populated county in the UK. Busy, bustling and culturally diverse, it’s a vibrant area in which to live and work.
What to expect when living in the West Midlands
The area was once one of Britain’s major industrial centres. It’s said the Black Country, which covers Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton, took its name from the foundries and furnaces that once dominated the landscape.
And it was here in the West Midlands that Cadbury chocolate was founded almost 200 years ago.
Today, the county’s towns and cities are packed with history, sport and culture. Yet it also boasts some picturesque escapes. Look no further than Sarehole Mill, a Grade II listed water mill in Hall Green, Birmingham, which inspired The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.
The West Midlands is within easy reach of some of the UK’s top beauty spots too. Wales – home to the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia national parks – lies to the west, the Peak District National Park to the north, and the Cotswolds to the south.
Exploring houses for sale in the West Midlands
If you're a city professional or social butterfly, you may like the look of the striking new housing developments, terraced houses and converted warehouses in Birmingham city centre.
Alternatively, there's Moseley, in south Birmingham. It was named the best place in the UK for city living by The Sunday Times in 2015, beating London’s Mayfair and Muswell Hill. Pubs, parks and village community are all on tap in this corner of the city.
The leafy suburb of Edgbaston, a popular choice for families and students, offers large, period properties. And Sutton Coldfield, which boasts one of the largest urban parks in Europe, Sutton Park, is the place to look for luxury properties.
And if you have a penchant for chocolate, try Bournville. It was established in 1879, when the Cadbury brothers built a new chocolate factory and homes for their workers. Today it has a variety of properties, a number of good schools close by and, of course, Cadbury World.
Walsall is just eight miles from the city centre (making for an easy commute) and the area is undergoing a whole swathe of new development. Keepmoat's Waters Keep for example, is currently offering a range of new-build properties, including four-bedroom family homes priced from a very 'graspable' £150,000.
There's also the opportunity to use the Government's Help to Buy scheme against many of these homes, which means only having to raise a 5 per cent deposit and getting your hands on a 20% interest-free equity loan.
Coventry was named one of the top 10 places to live and work in the UK last year by PwC and think-tank Demos. Flats, townhouses and Victorian terraces are all available close to the city centre.
Further out, you'll find semi-detached properties and bungalows in the predominantly residential area of Stivichall. Meanwhile, the sought-after suburb of Earlsdon, a former centre of the watch-making industry and birthplace of jet engine inventor Sir Frank Whittle, is known for its village feel.
Dudley offers traditional terraced houses, semis, converted apartments and more modern homes, and is popular with first-time buyers, young professionals and families.
Wolverhampton was crowned the sixth best place for families to live in England and Wales in the 2015 Family Hotspots Report. Homes in the bustling centre tend to be flats. But surrounding areas, such as Tettenhall and Bridgnorth, hold a more village-like appeal and offer a range of properties, including new-build houses and period properties. The Wards Bridge Gardens development in the village of Wednesfield two miles from the centre of Wolverhampton is also a great example of this.
Things to do in the West Midlands
Unsurprisingly for such a large city, Birmingham is well known for its shopping. It has busy high streets, Victorian arcades, markets and major shopping centres, including the Bullring and The Mailbox. Meanwhile, hundreds of jewellery businesses can be found in the dedicated Jewellery Quarter.
The city also boasts one of the UK’s liveliest nightlife scenes, in part thanks to the abundance of students in the area. There’s certainly no shortage of clubs, bars, restaurants and music venues to choose from, with Broad Street at the epicentre of the action.
There are comedy clubs, such as The Glee and Jongleurs, as well as the annual city-wide Birmingham Comedy Festival. And Birmingham Hippodrome sells more seats than any other British theatre each year, with performances ranging from dramas and musicals to pantomimes, opera and ballet.
Where food and drink are concerned, the city offers Michelin-starred restaurants, world cuisine, street dining, farmers’ markets, and the famous ‘Balti Triangle’ area of Asian cuisine, fabric and fashion.
And for art-lovers, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite artwork in the world, as well as sculpture, ceramics, silver and ancient and social history galleries. It is also the home of the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest cache of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found.
Birmingham and its surrounds are internationally renowned for competitive sport, hosting athletics, test cricket, Ryder Cup golf, trampolining, Premier League and Championship football, among other amateur and professional pursuits. Venues include the Barclaycard Arena, Alexander Stadium, Villa Park and The Belfry golf course.
One of Coventry’s best-known landmarks is Coventry Cathedral, also known as St Michael's Cathedral. The new building and the ruins of the 14th century original, which was destroyed by a German bombing campaign in the Second World War, are now poignantly merged together. You can still climb the 180 steps to the top of the Gothic spire for panoramic views.
The city offers a variety of restaurants, bars, pubs and shopping opportunities, as well as cinemas, theatres and museums, including the Coventry Transport Museum and Herbert Art Gallery and Museum. Meanwhile, the Coventry Canal Basin marks the beginning of several art trail treks through picturesque countryside.
The Ricoh Arena is another key attraction, hosting international business, sport and entertainment events.
The Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, one of the largest open-air museums in England, offers a glimpse into the area’s industrial past. And for a walk on the wild side, the borough is home to the Dudley Zoological Gardens, which has a large collection of endangered species.
Finding jobs in the West Midlands
Birmingham’s economy, once built on manufacturing and engineering, is now best known for its service sector, including public administration, education, health, finance and retail.
Conferences and events are also big business in the city, which boasts several large venues including the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) and International Convention Centre (ICC), as well as the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
National Express Group, Severn Trent Water and IMI have a significant presence in and around Birmingham, and HSBC is set to relocate its retail banking headquarters to the city.
It’s also a city of innovation, with five universities (Aston University, University of Birmingham, Birmingham City University, University College Birmingham and Newman University) and one of the highest levels of entrepreneurial activity outside London.
Once a centre of motor and motorcycle manufacturing, Coventry’s main industries now lean towards business services, finance, logistics, leisure and research. Popular employers include consultancy firm KM&T and Coventry University.
In nearby, Wolverhampton, major employers include Wolverhampton City Council, the University of Wolverhampton, the City of Wolverhampton College, Carillion, Marston’s and Birmingham Midshires.
Plans to create a West Midlands ‘economic powerhouse’ to rival London have also been unveiled by Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton authority leaders. Having formed the West Midlands Combined Authority, they are seeking to attract investment, increase productivity and create jobs.
Infrastructure in the West Midlands
The West Midlands is undoubtedly one of the best-served counties in the UK when it comes to the road network. Encircled with motorways, the M6 heads north and east, the M54 west, and the M5, M40 and M1 south. It’s also home to the famous – or should that be infamous – Spaghetti Junction interchange.
Congestion in and around Birmingham can be a major problem at peak times, but considering its population size, it doesn’t fare too badly compared to the UK’s other cities, coming in at 14th place in the TomTom Traffic Index 2016.
Birmingham New Street is the busiest railway station in the UK outside London, and is a major destination for Virgin Trains. Meanwhile, an extensive local network provides commuting and leisure travel opportunities throughout the West Midlands. The area is also set to benefit from the HS2 high speed railway development, which will run through Birmingham.
The county is well served by buses. And Birmingham Airport, the UK’s seventh largest, provides international flights – its 50 airlines operating to 143 direct routes.