In addition to exploring the Jewelry Quarter, Birmingham is a great town for shopping. There are more than 700 retail stores, and many people in the Midlands come here just to shop, especially along Cannon Street and New Street, with recently opened top-brand designer stores. The city's Mailbox complex at Wharfside Street (tel. 0121/632-1000; was once used to sort the mail. But now it's become a gargantuan shopping center, with such department stores as Harvey Nichols moving in. Emporio Armani, DKNY, Hugo Boss, Jaeger, and Crabtree & Evelyn call the Mailbox home. It also houses 12 restaurants, a spa, and the upscale Malmaison hotel. In the heart of town, the Bullring (tel. 0121/632-1500;, near St. Martin's Square, has been developed into Europe's largest city-center retail area, based around the historic street patterns of the city and linking New Street and High Street. It's more affordable and less classy than its cousin the Mailbox, with such U.S. mainstays as H&M, Gap, FCUK, and Foot Locker.

The reinvention of "Brum" (as Britain's much-maligned second city is nicknamed) is reflected by the opening of a grand department store, Selfridges, Bullring Centre (tel. 0800/123400; As a fashion emporium, its architecture was appropriately inspired by a dress. The curvaceous complex is adorned with 15,000 aluminum disks, a la Paco Rabanne's 1960 chain-mail frocks.

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