Coventry has a proud record of cultural innovation. Fifty years ago the city invented Theatre in Education while Warwick University was the first place that studied film in the UK. It would not be a stretch to say that it’s a place where artists have been reinventing the city for many centuries.
With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that Coventry is currently bidding to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. And across the city there is evidence of how it is vying for the coveted title – most notably in the evocatively-named Far Gosford Street, which has been remoulded into a Creative Village housing a microbrewery, a hipster barbershop, a craft market and shops selling everything from organic produce to vintage clothes to scooters.
But nor has Coventry forgotten to celebrate its rich industrial past – a fact ably demonstrated in the list below, which offers our own suggestions for twelve of the most unique things to do in the city. We hope you enjoy it.
1. Tudor World
Much like the Tudors themselves (if the size of their beds are any indication) Tudor World in Stratford-Upon-Avon is a small but perfectly formed family attraction. Housed in a Grade 2 listed Tudor property on the only remaining cobbled street in the town, the museum offers a chance for visitors to experience what life was really like in 16th Century Britain. This isn’t about admiring dusty artefacts in hushed tones – it’s about immersing yourself in living history, from royal pageants to realities of dealing with plague and poo! Ghost tours of the museum have proven very popular (as has the Shakespeare Walking Tour) and visitors are assured that no-one has been lost, died, or become insane following a ghost tour. Yet. So all’s well that ends well…
2. Belgrade Theatre
Emerging from the rubble of the Second World War, during which Coventry was blitzed by German bombing raids, was an almost entirely new physical topography for the city. Amid the reconstruction the Belgrade Theatre was born, named in recognition of a gift of timber from the Serbian capital city of Belgrade that was used in the construction of the theatre’s auditorium. Today the venue has grown to become one of the city’s foremost institutions for the performing arts, highly respected for its ground-breaking community and educational initiatives, and presenting a varied programme of performances in its two auditoria (a second was added in 2007). In recent years, a number of distinguished productions have been staged here, including Joanna Murray-Smith’s adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, and – perhaps most significantly – One Night in November, Alan Pollock’s play about the Coventry Blitz.
3. Coventry Transport Museum
Those from outside Coventry may be unaware that the city was the birthplace of the British motoring industry, with renowned automotive brands including Jaguar, Rover, Triumph, Riley and Healey all hailing from the city. It is therefore only right and proper that this fact is celebrated at a museum dedicated to Coventry’s rich transport heritage. Now fully reopened after a £9.5 million redevelopment programme, the Coventry Transport Museum offers visitors free entry and a fascinating window into the past. On display are a vast array of vehicles of every type, while exhibits also tell the real-life stories of Coventry’s innovators and entrepreneurs in the field of transportation. There’s also fun interactive features including simulators where visitors can experience the thrill of piloting a supersonic car.
4. Albany Theatre
The Albany Theatre is an art deco, proscenium arch stage theatre supported by volunteers and serving the local community. Formerly Coventry’s City College building, it was opened in 1935, with Art Deco interiors and a 620-seat theatre. After the threat of closure in 2009, the theatre was saved and re-opened in 2013, re-named as the Albany Theatre, and run by The Albany Theatre Trust. The venue’s over-arching vision is ‘Arts for Life’, a programme of events and performances to promote wellbeing, community cohesion and active citizenship.
5.Midland Air Museum
Coventry’s rich local aviation history can be seen at its best at the Midland Air Museum, which houses an impressive collection of Coventry-produced aircraft and engines. The museum, which was inaugurated in 1967 by a small group of local aircraft enthusiasts as the Midland Aircraft Preservation Society, has grown dramatically over the years, having begun with a mere five aircrafts on display. Today it features iconic and historically significant models including the Vulcan bomber, the Argosy freighter, the MiG-21 and the CMC Leopard – all under an authentic World War II Robin Hangar.
6. Fargo Village
Fargo Village is an independent shopping village with unique food, amazing coffee and incredible art – all situated among artists’ studios, creative work spaces and shops. Since its creation, the village has brought a whole new dimension to the city, supporting new businesses by helping them set up and prosper. There is a diverse mix of creative offerings in the village, including a variety of markets. In essence, Fargo Village attempts to inject a dash of London’s Camden and Brick Lane into Coventry with its independent shopping vibe to. It is a space for everyone to enjoy – whether it’s with family and friends, for retail therapy or simply to hang out and enjoy the atmosphere.
7. Coventry Watch Museum
One of the many important industries that have called Coventry “home” over the past few centuries is watch manufacturing. First recorded in the city in the 1680s, over the ensuing 200 years Coventry went on to become the national heartland of watchmaking. Indeed, in 1874 some 130 watch companies were listed as being in operation in the city. Proudly celebrating this rich horological heritage is the Coventry Watch Museum, located inside three derelict cottages and housing an impressive collection of clocks, watches (including pocket watches), artefacts, tools of the watchmaking trade, family history records and much more. Look out for the museum’s pride and joy – a working Congreve clock.
8. Astley Book Farm
Libraries and bookshops closing down almost at the same rate as pubs, it is a rare pleasure nowadays to find somewhere like Astley Book Farm. Situated within a 6,000-acre estate that was the birthplace of celebrated Victorian author George Eliot, the bookshop (and adjoining coffee shop) sits in the place of converted cow sheds, and holds some 75,000 books – making it the largest second-hand bookshop in the Midlands. The titles, which nestle on shelves flanking a maze-like series of corridors, range from antiquarian and rare and out-of-print books to fiction and non-fiction. As is traditional in bookshops, there’s no pressure to buy – after all, those comfy leather chairs aren’t just for decoration…
9. Hoar Park Craft Centre & Antique Village
Set in 141 acres of pristine North Warwickshire countryside on the outskirts of Coventy, Hoar Park Craft Centre is a popular attraction that combines a retail experience with a beautiful setting. The hub of the action can be found in a courtyard of 17th century barns that have been converted into retail and craft shops, where visitors can browse an impressive array of artisanal goods. There’s also several walking trails, a children’s farm, a fishing pool and an award-winning on-site restaurant. Weddings and private parties are hosted here too.
10. Arbury Hall
Fans of gothic revivalist buildings have got the perfect excuse for visiting Coventry. Dating back to the 19th century, the city has been home to what is arguably Britain’s finest example of this distinctive style of architecture. Built on the site of a 12th century Augustinian Priory, the beautiful Elizabethan house has been the seat of the Newdigate family for over 400 years and is the ancestral home of Viscount and Viscountess Daventry. However, visitors will have to plan their trip around infrequent opening dates, with public entry only allowed on bank holiday Sunday and Mondays throughout the year and via pre-booked visits for groups of 25+ from April to September.
11. Ryton Organic Gardens
Nestled in the heart of Rural Warwickshire, six miles from Coventry, Ryton Organic Gardens is the home of a national charity called Garden Organic. It is located on a large site split into individual gardens demonstrating organic growing practices and is the perfect destination for anyone interested in learning more about the principles and practices of organic gardening. Visitors can step into a chemical-free world and experience the benefits of gardening in harmony with nature. The gardens are buzzing with wildlife, brimming with plants, bursting with flowers and abundant in fruit and vegetables.
12. St Mary’s Guildhall
A trip to St Mary’s Hall invites visitors to explore more than six centuries of history surrounding one of the finest medieval guildhalls in the country. Nestled in Coventry’s Cathedral Quarter, the building has led a charmed life, having survived the German bombing raids during the Second World War that decimated so much of the city. Today it stands as testament to the power and wealth of medieval Coventry, boasting majestic interiors, collections of armour, ancient furniture, artworks and internationally significant tapestries. Notable inhabitants have included such luminaries as Mary, Queen of Scot, who spent time in prison in its confines, and Shakespeare, who held theatre productions here.