Discover the many fantastic things to see and do in the historic Shropshire town of Ironbridge and the surrounding area
By now you may well be feeling ready to start thinking about travel again. And even you’re not planning to travel abroad in 2022, there are plenty of great places to explore in the UK.
The Ironbridge Gorge is a beautiful area of Shropshire, one of England’s most rural counties. But it once was a major centre of industry, and became known as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
The town of Ironbridge itself has lots to see and do, including museums, outdoor activities and places to eat and drink. You could easily spend a weekend in Ironbridge and find plenty of things to entertain you.
But if you have more time available on your holiday in Shropshire, you’ll find even more to do within a few miles of Ironbridge. In the villages of Jackfield, Coalbrookdale, Coalport and beyond, there are museums celebrating the area’s industrial heritage, exquisite houses and gardens, and fascinating medieval ruins to explore.
So read on to find out more about the top things to do in Ironbridge and the surrounding area.
The Iron Bridge
You can’t visit Ironbridge without visiting the structure which gives the area its name!
This amazing cast iron bridge has spanned the River Severn since 1779, and is a symbol of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
The Ironbridge Gorge, the town of Ironbridge and the bridge itself are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The bridge recently underwent extensive conservation work, thanks to English Heritage. This restored its original red-brown colour and helped to preserve the Iron Bridge for future generations.
You can walk across the bridge and take in the views along the River Severn, or go underneath the bridge to see its amazing construction up close.
The Ironbridge Toll House
The Iron Bridge was originally a toll bridge, with a small toll house on the south side of the River Severn.
Nowadays the bridge is only open to pedestrians, and there’s no charge for crossing it while the toll house is a tourist information centre and museum.
Update 13/02/22: Entrance to the Ironbridge Tollhouse is free of charge and it is open 10am-4pm, 7 days a week.
Museum of the Gorge
Once you’ve visited the Iron Bridge, the Museum of the Gorge is a great place to find out more about the area surrounding it.
The museum is housed in a Grade II* listed former warehouse which has a distinctive Gothic style of architecture.
Throughout its history, this building has been affected by the flooding that frequently hits the area around Ironbridge. And a line on the walls shows the highest water levels for previous floods, which nearly reach the top of the windows.
Exhibits at the museum include a 12 metre long detailed model of the Gorge. You can spot landmarks including the Iron Bridge and the Hay Inclined Plane on the model, before getting a great view of the Bridge itself.
You can learn how industry flourished in the area by watching the museum’s fascinating short film. And the Tourist Information Centre will help you plan your visit to the Gorge’s other museums.
You’ll probably spend around an hour at the Museum of the Gorge. It is next to a large car park (fees apply) and there are plenty of places nearby to get refreshments.
Update 13/02/22: The Museum of the Gorge exhibition is currently closed for essential repairs to the building. The Shop and Information Hub are currently open 10am-4pm, 7 days a week.
Treat yourself in Independent Shops
One of the great things about a small town is the fantastic range of local independent shops that you’ll find. And Ironbridge is full of cute little shops where you can find the perfect gift for someone or treat for yourself.
Down the Wharfage and around the Square, you’ll find a host of independent stores behind colourful doorways. You can treat yourself in the historic bookstore, buy a locally-made Merrythought teddy bear as a gift, or find the perfect homewares to take back with you.
Ironbridge’s independent shops are bound to have something you’ll love.
It’s also worth checking out the Ironbridge Antique, Arts and Crafts for a wide range of local crafts, antiques and even vintage clothing. And their Riverside tea room is the perfect place to refresh and revive yourself after a spell of antique hunting.
Indulge in delicious Food and Drink
There are masses of great places to eat in and around Ironbridge, so you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to food and drink.
Tuck into traditional British fish and chips, sample craft beers or cocktails, and try the fantastic smoked meats at the Swan Taphouse. Or you could treat yourself to an indulgent cream scone at Darby’s 1779, with a great view of the Iron Bridge itself.
At the moment they’ll be offering takeaway service, so why not grab something to eat and drink and enjoy a picnic?
Coming Soon: The Best Food and Drink in Ironbridge
Explore the town and countryside
I’ve lived in Shropshire since I was five, so I’m a little biased, but I do think that it’s a beautiful county.
The town of Ironbridge is very picturesque, with plenty of cute cottages, townhouses and little shops. And the area around Ironbridge is some of the most beautiful countryside you could hope to see.
Once you are in the Ironbridge Gorge, the area is very walkable. So if you’re planning a day out in Ironbridge, be sure to take a stroll along the river and pay a visit to some of the other villages around the area.
South Telford Heritage Trail
If you fancy exploring further afield, you could walk some or all of the South Telford Heritage Trail.
It’s a 12 mile circular route that will take you around the heritage sites of the Ironbridge Gorge and surrounding area.
The way-marker posts will lead you on a route following the remains of a network of canals, tramways and railways. You’ll pass the former coal-mines, brickworks, potteries and ironworks which made the area so important during the Industrial Revolution.
If you want to walk the full route, it will take you around 5-6 hours to complete. But if you prefer you can just walk the part of the route that fits in with your plans.
Shropshire Raft Tours
Why not see the Ironbridge from a different point of view, by taking to the River Severn?
Shropshire Raft Tours hire out canoes, kayaks and mini-rafts for you to explore the Ironbridge Gorge at your own pace. You can hire a craft for one or two hours, or for a full day of exploration. They’ll even drive you upriver to nearby Atcham if you fancy going a little further afield.
Or if you fancy letting someone else do the hard work, they also offer scenic tours on board their inflatable rafts. You can see one of the rafts in the photo above. On these 60 minute tours, you’ll travel downriver from Ironbridge to Jackfield and back again.
Along the way, your guide will tell you all about the fascinating history of Ironbridge. You’ll also be able to spot a variety of local wildlife including kingfishers and otters. The tours are great fun, and a wonderful way to learn about the area.
You’ll usually find the Shropshire Raft Tours little green kiosk in the car park next to the Museum of the Gorge during the high season.
Explore the area by bike
The routes are fairly quiet with plenty of places to stop off for a picnic along the way.
Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron
The village of Coalbrookdale is adjacent to Ironbridge, and at this museum, you’ll discover the pivotal role that it played in the Industrial Revolution.
Here you can see how Coalbrookdale iron has been used in everything from cookware to artworks. The Coalbrookdale Trail will lead you around the site, taking in exhibits such as the Boy & Swan Fountain, created for the 1851 Great Exhibition, and the impressive Deerhound Table with its four life-sized dogs.
The museum is also home to Abraham Darby’s original Old Furnace, which is now Grade 1 listed. This is where Abraham Darby I perfected the method of smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal in the early 1700s. This technique allowed the manufacture of iron in the quantities that made the Industrial Revolution possible.
And don’t forget to head up to the top floor of the museum to enjoy the view over the surrounding area.
You’ll probably spend around 1-2 hours looking around this museum.
And afterwards, why not pay a visit to The Furnace Kitchen? This restaurant serves contemporary British & European cuisine, under the direction of local chef Marcus Bean. At the moment, they are serving a range of takeaway coffee, cakes and savoury snacks as well as pizzas and Sunday lunch to take away!
Update 13/02/22: The Museum of Iron is open 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
The Darby Houses
After you’ve visited the Museum of Iron, a short walk up the hill takes you to the Darby Houses, the former homes of the Darby family. Rosehill House was built in 1738, and Dale House was completed shortly after Abraham Darby I’s death in 1717.
Both houses are Grade II listed, and have been restored as close as possible to their original condition.
Wandering around Rosehill House will give you an idea of what an industralist’s life would have looked like in 1850. You can see family memorabilia, including letters and clothing, and Abraham Darby III’s original desk. You can even dress up in period costume, perfect for a holiday selfie!
And of course, you can take in the stunning view out over the Upper Furnace Pool, which the Darby family would have enjoyed.
Update 13/02/22: The Darby Houses are currently closed and are due to re-open for the Summer season in April.
Enginuity is perfect for a visit to Ironbridge with children, especially on rainy days!
It’s an indoors Science and Engineering museum with plenty of hands-on puzzles and challenges. You’ll find Enginuity just down the road from the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and the Darby Houses.
Find out how you can pull a full-sized locomotive, and use water and dams to generate electricity. You can join in with design challenges and puzzles, and little ones can enjoy the soft play area. You can also see Enginuity’s amazing 34 metre long model bridge, made from 205,000 LEGO® bricks!
The museum runs workshops during the local school holidays, and you’ll probably spend around 2 hours on a visit here.
Update 13/02/22: Enginuity is open 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
Blists Hill Victorian Town
A visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town will take you back in time to the days of Queen Victoria, to explore the houses, shops and workplaces of the 1800s. The town is populated with characters who will help you to discover what life would have been like in Ironbridge in Victorian times.
Visitors to Blists Hill can explore the Fairground, have a photograph taken in Victorian costume and watch the Foundrymen working with molten iron.
Then exchange your modern money for old-fashioned Pounds, Shillings and Pence, and then spend them on 19th century style sweets, freshly baked bread or traditional Fish and Chips. There are several places to eat, and a traditional pub serving a range of drinks.
You can also take a look at the Hay Inclined Plane, an ingenious project that linked the Shropshire Canal to the River Severn. It was operational between 1793 and 1894, and is a great example of the problem solving methods of the industrialists.
You can spend a whole day here, but definitely reckon on your visit lasting at least three hours.
Update 13/02/22: Blists Hill is open 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
At the side of the road between Ironbrige and Jackfield, you’ll see the remains of a coke-fired furnace. This was previously owned by the Madeley Wood company and then bought by Abraham Darby III in 1776. It was one of the first furnaces to be built specifically for coke smelting, and by 1788 Shropshire was producing a third of all iron smelted in Great Britain.
The name ‘Bedlam Furnaces’ probably comes from a painting by John Cot Sellman entitled Bedlam Furnace Near Irongate, Shropshire. It shows the furnace buildings seen though an eerie mist.
The furnace fell into disrepair after production at the site ceased in the 1850s, but a programme of restoration started in the 1970s. The site is now covered by a protective canopy, thanks to funding rom Historic England and the Ironbridge Heritage Trust.
Although you won’t spend long at the furnace, it’s definitely worth stopping off for. There’s a small car park on site (parking fees apply) but there’s no charge to see the furnace itself.
Jackfield Tile Museum
Just a couple of miles downstream from Ironbridge you”ll find the village ofJackfield.
The Jackfield Tile Museum is housed at the Craven Dunnill Company factory, which was once at the heart of the British tile industry. Inside the factory, you’ll learn about the tile industry and the production process, as well as seeing examples of the tiles in a recreated tube station, public house, church and more.
You can peek into a reproduction of offices from the company’s hey-day, and also see examples of tiles that Craven Dunnill produced in the past. These include some designed by well-known artists like William Morris.
Jackfield is a working factory, and factory tours run most Wednesday mornings. They also offer workshops during school holidays, where you can have a go at decorating your own tile.
And while you’re at Jackfield, why not pop in to see the creative artists at Fusion. Here you can visit the artists’ studios, see their work, and maybe buy a piece of art to take home. Opening times vary, so it’s best to check ahead for details.
The museum also has an on-site cafe which serves a range of snacks and drinks.
Update 13/02/22: Jackfield Tile Museum is open 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
St Mary’s Church, Jackfield
Across the road from the Jackfield Tile Museum, you can see local tilework that is still in use today.
The church dates from 1863 and its unusual design features an ornamental turret and a magnificent west-facing window. It was constructed from materials mainly donated by local manufacturers, and the intricate design of the brickwork shows great attention to detail.
Inside the church, you’ll find five stained glass windows at the eastern end of the church. Underneath the windows, there’s also a tryptych featuring hand-painted Craven Dunnill tiles. And the floor is covered in a beautiful geometric pattern using tiles from the Maws company.
There’s no charge to enter the church, which is still in regular use by the local community, but there is a box for donations inside the church near the entrance.
Maws Craft Centre
If you love browsing through independent arts and crafts shops, you will love a visit to the Maws Craft Centre.
It’s situated in the former Maw and Co tile factory, which was operational between 1883 and 1970. Maw and Co were one of the major tile manufacturers during this time, and were well known for their encaustic floor tiles. You can see them in use at St Mary’s Church in Jackfield.
When the factory closed its doors, it stood untouched for four years before two-thirds of the site was demolished. Some of the remaining buildings were converted into apartments, and some have been turned into what is now the Maws Craft Centre.
Here, you’ll find a host of small independent arts and crafts businesses and holistic therapists, all arranged around a pretty courtyard.
And when you’ve finished shopping, you can also tuck into a fantastic range of food and drink at the Tile Press cafe.
The centre is within walking distance of Ironbridge, in between Jackfield Tile Museum and the Coalport China Museum.
Coalport China Museum
The village of Coalport was once a major centre of porcelain and pottery production, and this is celebrated at the Coalport China Museum, a little further downstream from Jackfield.
This factory was the home of Coalport China from 1795 to 1926 and even produced china that was used by Queen Victoria and the Russian Tsars. The museum now holds the National Collection of Coalport china, including the Northumberland Vase.
You’ll be able to walk inside the museum’s curious bottle shaped kilns and watch demonstrations of traditional china decorating techniques. Kids can even have a go at decorating paper plates and china flowers in the museum’s school holiday workshops.
The Youth Hostel next door has a cafe that serves snacks, drinks and light lunches. Opening times vary, so do check if you’re visiting outside the main summer season.
And for extra geek points, this museum featured as one of the outside filming locations for the Doctor Who story, Mark of the Rani!
Update 13/02/22: Coalport China Museum is open 10am-4pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
The Tar Tunnel
This is one of the most curious tourist attractions that you’ll find in the Ironbridge area.
The eerie brick-lined tunnel was dug into the hillside by 18th century miners as part of a canal project. They accidentally struck a bitumen spring, and tar from the spring still oozes through the tunnel’s brickwork.
At one point, you would have been able to walk down the tunnel. Safety concerns mean that is no longer possible, but you can view the tunnel from its entrance as part of the Coalport China Museum site tour. Tours run four times per day, and you’ll be able to learn more about the geology of the area as well as the industrialists who worked there.
Update 13/02/22: The Tar Tunnel is currently closed and is due to re-open for the Summer season in April.
Everyone knows the Iron Bridge, but further down river there is another bridge that dates back to a similar period of history. The Coalport bridge is an ornate cast iron bridge that dates back to 1818.
It sits on the former site of the Wood Bridge, which was built in 1780 as a rival to the more famous Iron Bridge. The Wood bridge was pretty much washed away by severe flooding in the winter of 1795.
Coalport Bridge was built in its place, using some of the original construction of the Wood Bridge. It is now a Grade II Listed building and is worth a visit while you’re in the area.
This museum gives you a snapshot of a factory exactly as it was left in the 1950s.
The Broseley Pipeworks was once one of the UK’s most prolific clay tobacco factories. The company had a reputation for quality, and exported its products around the world. But as demand for pipes fell, the factory closed down in 1957.
The factory is now a a time capsule, giving a glimpse into an industry that belongs to the past.
You can explore the factory on one of the four guided tours which take place each day. You’ll be able to look around the rooms where the pipes were made, and watch a video showing the skill of pipemakers.
You should allow around an hour to look around the Broseley Pipeworks.
Update 13/02/22: Broseley Pipeworks is currently closed and is due to re-open for the Summer season in April.
The Benthall family can trace their family history on the site of Benthall Hall back to Anglo-Saxon times. But the Benthall Hall that you see today dates from the 1500s.
The house has had a varied history. It played a part in the Civil War as a Parliamentarian garrison, and for some time other families owned it. But the Benthall family regained ownership in the 1930s, and in the 1960s they bequeathed the house to the National trust, with the family staying on as tenants.
Benthall Hall is a stunning house, with mullioned and transomed windows, a carved oak staircase and decorated plaster ceilings. Outside, you can explore beautiful gardens including a kitchen garden, and walk around the grounds. Car parking is available on-site.
Update 13/02/22: Benthall Hall is currently closed for the winter but is due to open for the Summer season. The estate and car park are open from 8am until dusk.
The ruins of Buildwas Abbey lie around 2 miles west of Ironbridge, in a beautiful wooded setting close to the village of Buildwas.
This Cistercian abbey was founded in the 11th century, and grew in prominence through the 12th and 13th centuries. The monastery closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, and in 1537 its ownership moved into private hands.
Nowadays, Buildwas Abbey is under the care of English Heritage. And although the roof and much of the walls are missing, it is one of Britain’s best 12th-century examples of a Cistercian church.
Update 13/02/22: Buildwas Abbey is open 10am-4pm, 7 days a week.