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193km (120 miles) NW of London; 40km (25 miles) N of Stratford-upon-Avon

England's second-largest city may lay claim fairly to the title "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution." It was here that James Watt first used the steam engine with success to mine the Black Country. Watt and other famous 18th-century members of the Lunar Society regularly met under a full moon in the nearby Soho mansion of manufacturer Matthew Boulton. Together, Watt, Boulton, and other "lunatics," as Joseph Priestly, Charles Darwin, and Josiah Wedgwood cheerfully called themselves, launched the revolution that thrust England and the world into the modern era.

Today, this brawny, unpretentious metropolis still bears some of the scars of industrial excess and the devastation of the Nazi Luftwaffe bombing during World War II. But an energetic building boom has occurred recently, and Brummies have nurtured the city's modern rebirth by fashioning Birmingham into a convention city that hosts 80% of all trade exhibitions in the country.

Birmingham has worked diligently in recent decades to overcome the blight of overindustrialization and poor urban planning. New areas of green space and the city's cultivation of a first-rate symphony and ballet company, as well as art galleries and museums, have all made Birmingham more appealing.

Though not an obvious tourist highlight, Birmingham serves as a gateway to England's north. With more than one million inhabitants, Birmingham has a vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene. Its three universities, 2,428 hectares (6,000 acres) of parks and nearby pastoral sanctuaries, and restored canal walkways also offer welcome quiet places.