The 10 sites that make up the Ironbridge Gorge Museum—a World Heritage Site, spread over 6 square miles—preserve the area's fascinating industrial history in spectacular fashion. The best starting point is the Museum of the Gorge, which has a good selection of literature and an audiovisual show on the gorge's history. In nearby Coalbrookdale, the Museum of Iron explains the production of iron and steel. You can see the blast furnace built by Abraham Darby,
who developed the original coke process in 1709. The adjacent Enginuity exhibition is a hands-on, feet-on, interactive exploration of engineering that's good for kids. From here, drive the few miles along the river until the arches of the Iron Bridge come into view. Designed by T.F. Pritchard, smelted by Darby, and erected between 1777 and 1779, this graceful arch spanning the River Severn can best be seen—and photographed—from the towpath, a riverside walk edged with wildflowers and shrubs. The tollhouse on the far side houses an exhibition on the bridge's history and restoration.
A mile farther along the river is the Jackfield Tile Museum, a repository of decorative tiles from the 19th and 20th centuries. Another half mile brings you to the Coalport China Museum. Exhibits show some of the factory's most beautiful wares, and craftspeople give demonstrations; visit the restrooms for the unique communal washbasins. A short walk from Coalport is the Tar Tunnel, part of a 1787 tar mine; note the black bitumen still seeping through the walls. Nearby is Ironbridge's star attraction: Blists Hill Victorian Town, where you can see old mines, furnaces, and a wrought-iron works. The main draw is the re-creation of the "town" itself, with its doctor's office, bakery, grocer's, candle maker's, sawmill, printing shop, and candy store. At the entrance you can change some money for specially minted pennies and make purchases from the shops. Shopkeepers, the bank manager, and the doctor's wife are on hand to give you advice. If you don't fancy the refreshments at the Fried Fish shop, you could drop into the New Inn pub (in Blists Hill) for a traditional ale or ginger beer, and join one of the sing-alongs around the piano that take place a couple of times every afternoon; or, for something more formal, try the Club Room restaurant next door. Allow at least a full day to appreciate all the major sights, and perhaps to take a stroll around the famous iron bridge or hunt for Coalport china in the stores clustered near it. On weekends and national holidays from April through October, a shuttle bus takes you between sites.
B4380, Telford, TF8 7NH, England