Alabama isn’t all about football. OK, maybe it is, but there is also incredible natural beauty to be found, as well as important historical destinations to discover. Learn about the state’s important role in the Civil Rights Movement by visiting the state capital Montgomery and its surrounding area. There’s the Legacy Museum, Civil Rights Memorial, and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Plus, the city has an outsized arts scene for its mid-level population.
Birmingham is the largest city in the Yellowhammer State. It’s also home to the Alabama Ballet and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, as well as the Birmingham Museum of Art—the largest of its kind in the Southeast. Time your visit right, and you’ll hit one of the many festivals that place around the city.
If you incorporate these bucket list items into your next Alabama vacation, there will be fun and surprising sights around every turn. Regardless of what you decide to do, the welcoming people of Alabama will greet you with the open arms of Southern hospitality.
10. Cahaba, Alabama
Cahaba isn’t as big as the largest abandoned cities in the world, but it’s still just as interesting. Alabama’s first state capital was empty by the early 1900s, but visitors to the area can still tour some of the historic buildings, like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, that have been preserved after the town’s addition to the National Register of Historic Places.
9. Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House Museum
Visitors to the state can’t skip out on the only Frank Lloyd Wright building in Alabama. The childhood home of noted film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum, this house perfectly showcases Wright’s Usonian style with its long horizontal lines, natural building materials, and the low cantilevered roof.
One of the most Instagrammed locations in Birmingham is a walkway under the 18th Street viaduct. San Antonio artist Bill Fitzgibbons installed colored lights in the formerly derelict area and, in the process, has transformed an otherwise drab underpass into an incredible piece of interactive public artwork. Grab some dinner, and head out for a unique nightly stroll.
7. Little River Canyon National Preserve
Little River Canyon National Preserve is one of the last untouched gems in Alabama. The National Park Service operates very few facilities inside the preserve, and the water of the Little River is one of the cleanest and untouched bodies of water in the South. Travelers can camp, hike, fish, hunt, and otherwise escape from the bustle of city life.
6. Edmund Pettus Bridge
In what is an all too common irony, this Civil Rights landmark is actually named for a Confederate general. The Edmund Pettus Bridge was the site of the infamous Bloody Sunday, a day when peaceful civil rights protesters tried to march to the state capital but were brutally beaten and attacked by police as they tried to cross the Alabama River.
5. Chilton County Peaches
Nothing says Alabama summer like a fresh juicy peach, and the best peaches around come from Chilton County (sorry, Georgia!). Located halfway between Birmingham, the state’s largest city, and Montgomery, the capital, Durban Farms Market is your best bet for a wide selection of offerings.
4. Bellingrath Gardens and Home
Now a museum, this former private residence was built by Walter Bellingrath, one of the first Coca-Cola bottlers. As you can see from his home, he found great business success, and with his wealth, he carved out 900 acres for he and his wife, 65 of which are covered in flowers. After the owners’ deaths, the property was added to both the Alabama Register of Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places.
3. Muscle Shoals
Even if you don’t think you know Muscle Shoals, Alabama, you’ve heard the name before. Lynard Skynyrd name drops the city in its hit ballad “Sweet Home Alabama.” This small town of only 13,600 people has left an oversized mark on the music industry as the home of FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound recording studios. Tour the locations where artists like Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Carrie Underwood, and Rod Stewart have all recorded hit songs.
2. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice
This new national memorial, opened in 2018, honors the victims of lynchings in the U.S. (most specifically in Southern states). The design has been lauded by architectural critics as well as visitors alike. Large steel rectangles, in the shape of coffins, represent state counties and are engraved with victim names (if known). It’s a powerful place and an important historical reminder.
1. Cathedra Caverns State Park
(image via Flickr)
Northern Alabama’s Cathedral Caverns State Park is notable for many reasons, particularly its world-record entrance opening at the mouth of the cave system. Besides tours, visitors can hike and backpack throughout the area, mine for gemstones, or camp overnight at one of the many campsites. You could also channel your inner Jonathan Taylor Thomas, as the cave was a filming location for Disney’s ‘Tom and Huck.’