As the industrial heart of the Midlands, Birmingham (pop. 1.2 million) is steadily overcoming its reputation for lack of urban charm. At night, the city truly comes alive, fueled by world-class entertainers and a young university crowd. Twelve minutes south of town by rail lies CSCadbury World, an unabashed celebration of the famed chocolate company. Take a train from New St. to Boumville, or bus #83,84, or 85 from the city center. (451 4159. Open daily 10am-3pm; closed certain days, so call ahead to confirm. £8.80, students and seniors £7, children £6.60.) The Birmingham Jazz Festival ( 454 7020) brings over 200 jazz singers and instrumentalists to town during the first two weeks of July; try to book through the tourist office during this time. Broad St. is lined with trendy cafe-bars and clubs. Pick up the
bimonthly What’s On to discover the hotspots. Stoodibakers, 192 Broad St. has a dark decor set against a futuristic warehouse motif. (Cover £4 F-Sa after 9:30pm.) A thriving gay-friendly scene has arisen around Essex St. Head to Nightingale, Kent. St, for a predominantly gay clientele enjoying 2 dance floors, 5 bars, and a jazz lounge. (Cover £6 Sa. Open Su-Th 5pm-2am, F 5pm-4am, Sa 5pm-7am.)
Birmingham is the center of a web of train and bus lines between London, central Wales, southwest England, and all destinations north. Trains arrive in New St. Station ( (08457) 484 950) from: Liverpool Lime St. (lV&hr. 1-2 per hr. £19); London Euston (2hr. 4 per hr. £30); Manchester Piccadilly (2V6hr. every hr. £19); and Oxford (IMhr. 2 per hr. £19). National Express buses ( 08705 808 080) arrive in Digbeth Station from: Cardiff (3hr. 3 per day, £19); Liverpool (2V&ir. every hr. round-trip £9.30); London (3hr. every hr. £13); and Manchester (2V6hr. every 2hr. round-trip £10). The tourist office, in the Bullring, makes room reservations. ( 202 5099. Open M-Sa 9:30am-5:30pm, Su 10:30am-4:30pm.) Despite its size, Birmingham has no hostels, and inexpensive B&Bs are rare. Hagley Road is your best bet. To reach Wentworth Hotel Q, 103 Wentworth Rd. turn right onto Lonsdale Rd. from Harbone swimming bath and then left onto Wentworth Rd. The hotel provides luxurious baths in most rooms, a comfy lounge, and bar downstairs. (427 4546. Breakfast included. Singles £32; doubles £54.) Thai Edge , 7 Oozells Sq. serves up big portions of delicious Thai specialities. (Entrees £6-15. Open Su-Th 5:30pm-ll:30pm, F-Sa-5:30pm-midnight.) Postal Code: B2 4AA.