Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the most iconic American cities. Founded in 1871, the Magic City played a critical role in historical events that reshaped the United States. It inspired science evolution and rapid industrial growth, thanks to its location at the intersection of two rail lines close to rich mineral deposits. In the 1950s and 1960s, Birmingham hosted pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, Birmingham is a cultural hub with rich history and stories to tell. There is no shortage of adventures and experiences in the Magic City. To help you get the most out of your tour, here are the top ten things to do and see in Birmingham, Alabama.
15. Oak Mountain State Park
(image via Oak Mountain State Park)
Oak Mountain State Park is a publicly owned leisure park located roughly 20 miles south of Birmingham, Alabama, in the northeast corner of Pelham. The Park is this state’s largest park, with 9,940 acres of pine-studded ridges and lush green foliage. While the view alone can leave you breathless, this site offers much, much more.
Vacation cottages, golf, enhanced camping, picnics, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking, mountain biking routes, backpacking, a demonstration farm, and horseback riding facilities are all available at the park. The campsites come with water and electricity. If you’re looking for a getaway either with the comforts of a cabin or pitching your own tent – this is a sure-fire spot to reconnect with nature.
14. DeSoto Caverns
(image via Desoto Caverns)
The DeSoto Caverns are a tourist attraction and a series of caves in Childersburg, Alabama. It is because it is located in the Appalachian Mountains’ foothills, it is known as “Alabama’s Big Cave.” The length of the cave tour varies based on the number of persons on the tour and how many questions the audience asks. The trip takes around an hour and there is no need to make an advance appointment.
When George Stiggens, a presidential agent, wrote to President George Washington in 1796 complimenting the cave’s majesty, DeSoto Caverns became the first cavern on record in the United States. DeSoto Caverns are famous for having one of the world’s largest collections of onyx-marble stalagmites and stalactites, as well as being the US’s first recorded cavern.
13. A Day Trip to Tuscaloosa
(image via Visit Tuscaloosa)
Tuscaloosa is a city in the southern state of Alabama. It has a long and illustrious past, as well as various local museums and houses that act as time capsules. It’s also a college town, with the University of Alabama serving as the focal point. The city’s favorite college football team is Alabama’s Crimson Tide.
The University of Alabama is located along the Black Warrior River, and the neighborhood boasts a walkable downtown with live music, outdoor activities, and local food appealing to all tastes. Tuscaloosa offers 18 locations on the civil rights trail that you are welcome to visit while you are in town.
12. The Market at Pepper Place
(image via The Market at Pepper Place)
The Market At Pepper Place is open every Saturday from mid-January until mid-December. This is a certified Alabama farmers market. The hours are always 7 a.m. to 12 p.m., rain or shine. With over 200,000 visitors each year, the state’s largest producers’ farmers market is located in the heart of downtown Birmingham. There will be two music stages with a variety of Alabama singers and songwriters performing, so bring your dancing shoes.
From freshly baked bread and breakfast burritos to your favorite salsas, desserts, and ready-to-eat goods, they’re delighted to feature some of Alabama’s best food manufacturers. Here you will find jewelry makers and graphic designers, potters, woodworkers, candle makers, and everything in between, they exhibit magnificent things made exclusively in Alabama.
11. Vulcan Park and Museum
(image via Vulcan Park and Museum)
Vulcan, standing 56 feet tall and weighing 100,000 pounds of iron atop Red Mountain overlooking Birmingham, is the world’s largest cast-iron statue. Vulcan Park and Museum are more than just a statue; it also features stunning views of Birmingham, an interactive history museum that delves into Vulcan and Birmingham’s past, a popular venue for special events, and a pleasant public park for visitors and locals to enjoy.
Inside Vulcan Center is an interactive exhibit that covers Birmingham’s history timeline. The Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau’s official information center is located at Vulcan Park and Museum, which is the first stop for visitors to the Birmingham area. This is an excellent destination for the art aficionado, historian, or anyone looking for a pleasant day out.
10. Taste the Local Cuisine
(image via Cafe Dupont)
Birmingham’s culinary wizardry reinforces its nickname as the Magic City with a unique blend of local and global delicacies. Talented chefs transform fresh ingredients from the Gulf of Mexico and local farmlands into mouthwatering dishes. Shrimp is emerging as Alabama’s official dish. Specialists like Yo’ Mama’s, Saw’s Soul Kitchen, and Granny’s Fish ‘N Grits prepare shrimp and grits with different flavors, from spicy to peppery, cheesy, creamy, and tangy.
Birmingham’s culinary fusion includes fine dining, craft cocktails, local brews, and Southern staples such as barbecue, hot chicken, and biscuits. You can indulge in barbecue at Saw’s BBQ or Dreamland Bar-B-Que Ribs, fine dining at Café Dupont, and hot chicken at Eugene’s Hot Chicken. Combine Alabama’s cultural and culinary experiences at Iron City. This concert venue offers music shows and local cuisines like grilled duck breast and Buffalo cauliflower bites. There is no shortage of culinary experiences in Birmingham, Alabama.
9. Southern Museum of Flight
(image via Southern Museum of Flight)
At 4343 73rd Street North, the Southern Museum of Flight provides insights into military aviation history. Here, you’ll find infamous planes and fighter jets like Lake Murray B-25, MiG-15, A-12 Blackbird, Stealth bomber, and F-86 Sabre. Some fighter jets on display were used during WWII, Vietnam War, and Korean War. The Southern Museum of Flight is also home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and the Little Pilots Playroom that offers experimental aviation classes for kids of all ages. Kids over 12 years and aspiring pilots can test their skills using flight simulators.
Admission is free for children under 5 years, $17 for kids and youth aged 5-17 years, $25 for adults, and $21 for seniors over 65 years.
8. McWane Science Center
(image via McWane Science Center)
McWane Science Center is a museum that strives to inspire and change minds through science and wonder. This museum features exhibits from STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The center’s Shark and Ray touch tank and dinosaur area provide kids with hands-on experiences. Visiting McWane Science Center with your child can inspire them to engage more in STEM. It is one of the top things to do in Birmingham for families with kids.
Admission for adults is $15 and $12 for kids aged 2-12 years.
7. Experience Birmingham’s Natural Side
(image via Birmingham Botanical Gardens)
Although Birmingham is not known for outdoor adventures, it offers several options for nature lovers and thrill-seekers. Outdoor enthusiasts can visit Ruffner Mountain Nature Center to hike. Old mines and quarries were converted into a wildlife sanctuary for reptiles, birds, and mammals. You can also visit Birmingham Botanical Gardens or hike the 15-mile trail at Red Mountain Park to connect with Mother Nature. Best of all, admission is free at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
6. Sloss Furnaces
(image via Jonathan Rivera)
Founded in 1881, Sloss Furnaces dominated the pig iron production sector for almost 90 years. It was producing and selling over 20,000 tons of iron annually. In 1981, the 50-acre site became a National Historic Landmark. Take a guided tour and watch short films at this museum to learn about Birmingham’s industrial age and the evolution of iron production.
Admission is free.
5. Enjoy Birmingham’s Entertainment Scene
(image via Alabama Theatre)
Along Birmingham’s 1st Avenue South, Railroad Park celebrates the city’s rich history and artistic heritage. This 19-acre park is a cultural hotspot and the venue of family-friendly concerts, nature walks, picnics, and recreation events. If you’re a newcomer in Birmingham, visit the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame to learn about the state’s rich musical heritage and jazz history.
You can experience Birmingham’s vibrant nightlife by visiting popular nightclubs like Luxe Ultra Lounge, Onyx Lounge, Tin Roof, and Nana Funks. For family-friendly entertainment, visit the Alabama Theatre on 3rd Avenue North. Founded in 1927, the 2,500-seat theater showcases the latest cartoons and hosts live events for kids every Saturday.
4. Birmingham Zoo
(image via The Birmingham Zoo)
Birmingham Zoo is a 122-acre nature reserve and Alabama’s most popular tourist attraction for families and kids. It is home to 950 animals, including rhinos, giraffes, sea lions, American black bears, Komodo dragons, penguins, and koalas. You can spend the entire day in this zoo watching animal shows, training sessions, and events, such as reptile feeding.
Kids can enjoy a ride on the Red Diamond Express or visit the Hugh Kaul Children’s Zoo to learn about animals in Alabama. Birmingham Zoo is also engaged in elephant conservation. Visiting this zoo with your kids can instill the values of wildlife conservation in them and nurture future conservationists and environmentalists.
Tickets cost $17.95 for adults, $12.95 for children aged 2-12 years, and $14.95 for senior citizens over 65 years. Children under 2 years enter for free.
3. Barber Motorsports Park
(image via Barber Motorsports Park)
If you’re into car racing, visit Barber Motorsports Park at 6030 Barber Motorsports Parkway. This 930-acre multi-purpose racing facility was founded by race driver George Barber. It has a 2.38-mile racetrack that hosts several world-class races, including the Verizon IndyCar Series, Grand-Am, Pirelli World Challenge, and Vintage Racing Series. The facilities also provide a proving ground where automakers like Mercedes Benz and Porsche test-drive their vehicles.
Barber Motorsports Park is also home to Vintage Motorsports Museum. This museum opened in 1995 with George Barber’s vintage cars and motorcycles. Today, Vintage Motorsports Museum has more than 1,400 motorcycles from over 200 manufacturers. If your kid is obsessed with their toy cars and motorcycles, a visit to this park on race day will put a long-lasting smile on their face.
Museum tickets cost $10 for children. Adults pay $15 on weekdays and $25 on Friday and weekends.
2. Birmingham Museum of Art
(image via Sean Pathasema)
This museum features more than 26,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and decorative arts from Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. American decorative arts include porcelain vases, fine silver, furniture, and textiles. You can check out African beadwork, headdresses, sculptures, and vessels, ancient Asian bronzes and earthenware, and Native American arts. The Birmingham Museum of Art also features contemporary arts by renowned artists like Dali, van Rijn, and Pissarro. Visiting this art gallery is one of the best things to do in Birmingham as a family.
Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children aged 2-12 years and seniors over 65 years. Children under 2 years are free.
1. Birmingham Civil Rights District
(image via Birmingham Civil Rights Institute)
No other US city showcases America’s civil rights struggle better than Birmingham. The city’s Civil Rights District is home to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Civil Rights Institute. On September 15, 1963, the church was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan, leading to the death of four girls. The bombing drew global outrage, resulting in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. You can visit the restored 16th Street Baptist Church to walk in the footsteps of influential activists.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on 16th Street provides insights into the human rights struggle in America, from the 1960s to the present day. In May 1963, police assaulted peaceful civil rights protesters with fire hoses and dogs at Kelly Ingram Park on 5th Avenue North. Today, the park captures that chaotic day with statues depicting different scenes. These three sites are top things to see in Birmingham Civil Rights District.
Admission to the civil rights sites costs between $5 and $15.
As you can see, Birmingham has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking to do more check out other weekend trips from nearby Birmingham.
These areas are perfect for a quick day trip or a long weekend getaway. Explore our favorite things to do or peruse some pre-built itineraries.
Fifteen Things to do in Birmingham, Alabama:
Oak Mountain State Park
Tuscaloosa Day Trip
The Market at Pepper Place
Vulcan Park and Museum
Taste the Local Foods
Southern Flight Museum
McWane Science Center
Birmingham’s Great Outdoors
Birmingham Night Life
Barber Motorsports Park
Birmingham Museum of Art
Birmingham Civil Rights District