Huntsville’s history goes back to 1805 when the first settler, John Hunt, built his cabin next to Big Spring. This city is named after Hunt and is located in Northern Alabama. In the 1960s, Huntsville gained national recognition as the center of the U.S. Space Program. This role earned Huntsville the nickname “The Rocket City” and transformed it from a sleepy farming town to a high-tech city. Today, this easy-going city is a gateway to America’s Deep South and one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Despite its high-tech connections, Huntsville did not lose its small-town feel. It strikes the perfect balance between 21st-century modernity and 19th-century laid-back charm. In Rocket City, there is no shortage of cultural experiences, outdoor adventures, and family-friendly activities.
(featured image via Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau)
14. Cathedral Caverns State Park
(image via Cathedral Caverns State Park)
Only 30 minutes east of Huntsville lies Cathedral Caverns State Park. The main attraction is the cavern system, originally called “Bat Cave” when it opened to the public in the 1950s. Cathedral Caverns has an expansive cave opening that welcomes visitors inside to view stunning rock formations. These include a large stalagmite/stalactite forest, a giant flowstone that looks like a frozen waterfall, and a “Big Room” that is nearly 800 feet long and 200 feet wide.
The state park also has ample campsites and cabins, hiking trails (above ground), and even a gem mining area. Cave tour rates are $20 per person with discounted rates for military and younger visitors. There is no self-guided tour option for the caves. Tours last around 90 minutes.
13. Muscle Shoals Day Trip
(image via Muscle Shoals Sound Studio)
Muscle Shoals, Alabama, is another easy day trip for visitors to Northern Alabama. It’s only an hour-and-a-half drive west of Huntsville. With just over 16,000 residents, Muscle Shoals isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. But this small town is the birthplace of some of your favorite blues, country, and rock ‘n roll songs. FAME Studios counts among its patrons such stars as Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. Carrie Underwood even recorded her hit “Before He Cheats” here. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio worked with The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, and others.
The Colbert County tourism website is a great resource that has several trip itineraries already planned out for you. Some tours focus on music history while others retrace the steps of famous residents. Helen Keller’s birthplace is located in neighboring Tuscumbia, as is the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
12. Burritt on the Mountain
(image via Burritt on the Mountain)
Burritt on the Mountain is related to the #4 entry on our list, Monte Sano State Park. The grounds of each connect, but Burritt on the Mountain is a separate, distinct attraction. This open-air museum consists of 167 acres on the peak of Round Top Mountain. It offers expansive views of Huntsville from above. Dr. William Henry Burritt lived on the property and built an eccentric mansion in 1938. The surrounding grounds were used as a fruit and vegetable farm and goat dairy, among other things.
After his death, Dr. Burritt left the land to Huntsville to become the city’s first museum. Today visitors can tour the 1938 mansion, explore the other 19th-century buildings on the property, and stroll the many nature trails of the grounds.
11. Bridge Street Town Centre
(image via Bridge Street Town Centre)
A quick 12-minute drive from downtown Huntsville is the Bridge Street Town Centre. Bridge Street is more than just an open-air mall. Yes, it has plenty of shopping opportunities. There’s an Apple store, Belk, H&M, Ulta, and Sephora. But Bridge Street also has numerous dining options for when you need a break from walking store to store. Options include P.F. Chang’s, Connors Steak & Seafood, Urban Cookhouse, and Kona Grill, among others.
There’s even a Cinemark movie theater if you’re looking for entertainment. Kids and adults alike will also enjoy the retro carousel overlooking the artificial lake. If you want to make Bridge Street the hub of your stay, there are even hotel options on-site, including a Westin, Element, and Hyatt Place hotels.
10. Experience Huntsville’s Live Music
(image via Stovehouse)
Although Huntsville is not known as a party city, it has a vibrant social scene and world-class nightclubs. Huntsville nightlife is all about live music and events. To discover the best tunes, visit Voodoo Lounge Bar, Stovehouse, or Humphrey’s Bar. You can combine live music and Alabama’s mouthwatering cuisines at Sidetracks Music Hall. Some breweries in Huntsville also offer live music for beer enthusiasts, including Green Bus Brewing. You can attend festivals like Rocket City Brewfest, Monte Sano Art Festival, and Crush Wine & Food Festival to enjoy high-quality music shows.
9. Harmony Safari Park
Harmony Park Safari is a federally licensed nature reserve at 431 Clouds Cove Rd. SE, Huntsville. It is home to wild and domestic animals, including zebras, llamas, ostriches, alligators, buffalos, rams, camels, and more. You can visit the reptile house and take a self-navigated safari through the park to interact with the animals. To get the best experience, buy enough animal food to feed hungry zebras, rams, and camels through your car’s window. Don’t open your window more than 8 inches. During your tour, watch out for breathtaking waterfalls in the park. Admission is $10 per person and free for kids under 3 years. Animal food buckets cost $5 each.
8. Weeden House Museum & Garden
Weeden House Museum in the historic Twickenham District was built in 1819 and acquired by Dr. William Weeden in 1845. It was owned by Dr. Weeden’s family until the 1950s and served as the home of Civil War federal officers and a former US Supreme Court Justice.
In the 20th century, Maria Weeden gained fame for her artistic portraits of African-Americans in Huntsville. During your visit, take some time to appreciate her paintings and poetry. The Weeden House Museum also offers tours and activities for children of all ages. Visiting this museum is one of the best things to do in Huntsville. Admission is $5 adults and teens and $3 children aged 12 and under.
7. Huntsville Foodie Culture
(image via Cotton Row Restaurant)
Huntsville’s food scene brings together delicacies from different regions in the US and globally. For Southern hospitality and foods, head to Cotton Row Restaurant or Farm Burger. Cotton Row Restaurant is renowned for its comprehensive menu of modern American dishes, while Farm Burger offers chef-inspired burgers and salads. You can indulge in German foods at Ol’ Heidelberg, choice seafood at Connors Steak & Seafood, and Italian foods at Pane e Vino. Huntsville can meet all your culinary needs.
6. Huntsville Botanical Garden
(image via Huntsville Botanical Garden)
Huntsville Botanical Garden is located along 4747 Bob Wallace Avenue, close to the US Space and Rocket Center. This 112-acre public space offers several family-friendly attractions, including a butterfly house, nature center, and flowering dogwoods. If you’re on a date, stroll through the romantic aquatic garden with aromatic blooming flowers. Huntsville Botanical Garden also has a 2-acre children’s zone where kids can indulge in water sports, mazes, dinosaurs, and more. It hosts several events and festivals, such as the Scarecrow Trails and the Galaxy of Lights. Admission is free for children under 3 years, $12 for kids 3-15 years, $17 for adults, and $15 for seniors, military, and students.
5. Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment
image via Lowe Mill Arts & Entertainment)
On 2211 Seminole Dr. SW, Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment celebrate Huntsville’s economic and cultural evolution. Lowe Mill was a thriving textile mill in the old days. Today, it is a vibrant arts center and home to over 200 artists. You can check artworks on display in its exhibition halls, mingle with artists in their art studios, or take an art class.
This artistic space also hosts live music, comedy standups, and other events. Several shops and cafes offer good food and snacks to nourish visitors in between activities. Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment is the perfect place to learn and indulge in North Alabama’s artistic culture.
4. Monte Sano State Park
(image via Monte Sano State Park)
Monte Sano State Park is a short drive from Huntsville and sits atop Monte Sano Mountain. The name Monte Sano is Spanish for “Mountain of Health.” This 2000-acre park offers miles of trails for hiking and mountain biking. During your hike, watch out for panoramic views of Huntsville. Monte Sano State Park is also a campers’ paradise, with 89 campsites and 14 cabins.
You can visit Monte Sano in the spring to witness the beauty of blooming azaleas. To learn about Monte Sano’s history, visit the Civilian Conservation Corps Museum. Then, indulge in stargazing at Von Braun Astronomical Society’s planetarium and observatory. Monte Sano State Park is one of the best places to visit in Huntsville. Admission is $5 for adults and teens and $2 for seniors and kids aged 4-12 years.
3. Huntsville’s Family of Museums
(image via EarlyWorks Family of Museums)
Huntsville’s family of museums includes the EarlyWorks, Alabama Constitution Hall Park, and Huntsville Depot and Museum. At the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum, children under 10 years can indulge in several hands-on experiences like dressing up for roles and riding the keelboat.
Children over 10 years can visit Huntsville Depot and Museum, a retired train station built in 1869. Here, your child will learn the history of trains and transportation, ride a vintage firetruck, and become a train conductor for a day. Alabama Constitution Hall Park is ideal for adults, youths, and teenagers. In 1819, Alabama delegates met in this hall and agreed to join the Union of the United States as the 22nd state. Visiting these museums can take you on a journey back in time. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and youths, and $5 for toddlers.
2. Big Spring Park
(image via Wikimedia)
Big Spring Park is a beautiful 12-acre outdoor space in downtown Huntsville. This sprawling gem with manicured lawns and trees snuggles a shallow lake fed by Big Spring. In 1805, the spring’s bubbling clear water enticed John Hunt to build his cabin in this spot. Here, you can walk in the footsteps of John Hunt in his search for the perfect settlement site. Take some alone time or picnic with family and friends at Big Spring Park.
Big Spring Park is home to Huntsville Museum of Art which features 19th- and 20th-century American art and temporary exhibitions. You can also attend weekly and annual live events and festivals in this park, such as Crush Food and Wine Festival. Don’t forget to take a selfie with the “Welcome to Huntsville” rocket mural. Admission is free. Public parking options cost $2 from 6 PM until 6 AM.
1. U.S. Space and Rocket Center
(image via U.S. Space & Rocket Center)
Huntsville’s history is intertwined with the US Space Program, with each influencing the other. The nickname “The Rocket City” celebrates its close connection and role in America’s space technology. You can visit the US Space and Rocket Center to learn about space rockets, missions, and the evolution of the US Space Program since the 1960s.
This center is divided into several indoor and outdoor parks, including the Rocket Park, with one of the world’s largest collections of rockets. Shuttle Park showcases rocket launch vehicles, while the Apollo 12 lunar module and Saturn V rocket sections are displayed in Saturn V Hall. Visiting the US Space and Rocket Center is one of the best things to do in Huntsville. Admission is $25 for adults and teens, $17 for children aged 5-12, and free for kids under 5 years.
As you can see, Huntsville has a lot to offer everyone. If you are looking to do more in the surrounding area, check out other weekend trips from nearby Huntsville, Alabama.
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.