217km (135 miles) NW of London; 58km (36 miles) NW of Birmingham; 29km (18 miles) SE of Shrewsbury
If you're looking for pretty, bucolic England, the name of Ironbridge might turn you off. But it's a rather charming tree-lined village filled with natural beauty, even though it was one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution. It is also a World Heritage Site. Today it has a cluster of museums documenting its manufacturing history from its 19th-century heyday. There are also plenty of gift shops and other stores in town selling souvenirs to remind you of your visit.
Ironbridge, located in the Ironbridge Gorge, is famous for kicking off an early stage of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, this stretch of the Severn River valley has been an important industrial area since the Middle Ages because of its iron and limestone deposits. But the event that clinched this area's importance came in 1709, when the Quaker ironmaster, Abraham Darby I, discovered a method for smelting iron by using coke as a fuel, instead of charcoal. This paved the way for the first iron rails, boats, wheels, aqueducts, and bridges, cast in Coalbrookdale in 1779. So momentous was this accomplishment that the area, originally called Coalbrookdale, was renamed Ironbridge. The area literally buzzed with the new transportation and engineering innovations that soon followed.