The 10 coolest industrial sites you must visit

For some people, travel is about seeing world-class art and beautiful landscapes. For others, it's about staring at massive factories and gawping at clanking machinery. And for the latter, there are plenty of dreamy industrial heritage sites to get happily lost in …

Ironbridge Gorge, England

In otherwise sleepy Shropshire is the gorge over the River Severn, where the Industrial Revolution is widely agreed to have started. Deposits of coal and iron ore made it ideal for Abraham Darby to first smelt iron in 1709, and his grandson Abraham Darby III opened the first bridge made from cast iron in 1781. Now the gorge is home to ten separate museums, which include tar tunnels, a former ceramics factory and the houses belonging to the Darbys. See

New Lanark, Scotland

The Industrial Revolution didn't just cause factories and mills to crop up – it spurred the creation of brand new settlements based around the industry. New Lanark was founded in 1786, with the village designed for the mill workers and welfare programmes introduced to improve living conditions. Now the village is effectively a sprawling open-plan museum of the cotton industry, and the social changes that came with it. See

Drake Well, Pennsylvania

Other countries have claims on drilling oil wells first, but the modern petroleum industry started in earnest in 1859 near Titusville in western Pennsylvania. The site around that first well is now a park and museum, with a reconstruction of the original well, plenty of fully functioning oilfield equipment and suitably geeky shows about engines and nitroglycerine. See

Blegny-Mine, Belgium

The French-speaking region of Wallonia has – or at least, had – ripe seams of coal under it, making it one of the biggest mining areas in the world. Four of the biggest mines are now grouped together as a World Heritage site, and if just visiting one, make it Blegny-Mine, which was the most recent to close in 1980. Tours take you down into the mine to walk the tunnels miners walked, and ogle serious hard core drilling machines. See

Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland

Salt was once so valuable that it was used as currency – the word ''salary'' is derived from it. Mining only stopped at Wieliczka, near Krakow, in 2007 – after first starting in the 13th century. Now the tours around the shafts, tunnels and underground lake include exhibits on the history of salt mining, plus more entertaining carvings, statues and chapels made of salt. See

Central Deborah Mine, Bendigo

Should you prefer some down the mines action closer to home, the Central Deborah Mine in Bendigo should prove just the ticket. A variety of tours go 61, 85 and 228 metres deep respectively, with hard hats donned and frankly terrifying machinery from the Victorian gold rush era still in place. See

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, Detroit

The first ever Ford factory has long since burned down, but the second – at Piquette Avenue in Detroit – has been converted into a museum. This was where Ford first experimented with moving assembly lines and first produced the Model T – the car that would make driving accessible for the masses. See

The Rideau Canal, Canada

Until the arrival of the railways, canals were vital for transporting goods and minerals from A to B. And when the concept was transferred from Europe to the Americas, the distances tended to get much greater. The Rideau Canal was vital in connecting the St Lawrence River – and thus the Atlantic Ocean – to the Great Lakes. Running from Ottawa to Kingston, Ontario, the 202-kilometre canal is the oldest continuously operating canal system on the continent. Nowadays, it's largely used for pleasure cruising. See


Tomioka silk mill, Japan

The mill in Tomioka, about 100 kilometres north-west of Tokyo, is a fabulous example of east-meets-west. It was set up in 1872, when the Japanese government decided that the traditional silk-weaving industry could benefit from pioneering practices in Europe. So a mammoth site with hundreds of silk-reeling machines was set up. The business finally collapsed in 1987, but the mill has been well preserved and is now a World Heritage site open to visitors. See

Landschaftspark Duisburg Nord, Germany

The Ruhr region of Germany is full of repurposed industrial behemoths. The 117-metre tall Gasometer gas cylinder in Oberhausen is now used for 360 degree art exhibitions, while the Zollverein complex in Essen has gone from coal to culture, hosting several museums. Most fun, however, is the Landschafts Park Duisburg Nord in Duisburg. Here, a former power plant has been turned into a massive adventure playground, complete with scuba diving, rock climbing and light shows. See

When visiting Bendigo, the writer was a guest of Tourism Victoria.