As a born and bred Alabamian, I know a thing or two about my home state, especially Birmingham where I’ve lived for more than 30 years. The largest city in the state, Birmingham is known for hot and humid summers, mild winters and the celebration of all four seasons. Originally built on the steel industry, today the city is heavy in the medical field and sports a fantastic arts and culture scene with a thriving culinary community. There are so many things to do in Birmingham and this list barely scratches the surface.
Birmingham was named after Birmingham, England (the UK’s second largest city and major industrial city back in the day). Shortly after the Civil War, the southern city of Birmingham experienced rapid growth in iron and steel production earning the nickname of “Magic City.” Today, the Magic City offers a world-class university and characteristics of a southern metropolis.
Alabama Splash Adventure is a theme park and water park all in one! In the water park, visitors can enjoy the Wave Pool and other water rides like Acapulco Drop, Neptune’s Plunge, Splashdown and Upsurge. Little ones also have rides catering to their age. This park is clean, fun and offers so many extras: free soft drinks, free parking, free WiFi and free sunscreen! Minutes from Birmingham in Bessemer, Alabama Splash Adventure is worth the drive! (Note: Open seasonally so check the web site.)
Alabama Sports Hall of Fame is a Birmingham treasure with more than 5,000 sports artifacts displayed beautifully in a 33,000-square-foot building. Come learn about and celebrate Alabama’s sports heritage. Legends live on here at the Sports Hall of Fame – Jesse Owens, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays to name a few.
Barber Motorsports Park is a 2.3 mile road course as well as home to the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. The adjacent Barber Motorsports Museum is host to the world’s best motorcycle collection with some 1200 vintage and modern motorcycles, race cars and a large collection of Lotus cars. Why is it special? It’s the largest collection of this kind in the WORLD! The collection rotates, but about 600 of the motorcycles are on display at any given time so there’s plenty to see. Bikes range from 1902 to now. The Barber attractions are located just minutes from Birmingham in Leeds and are popular with tourists.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens is almost 70 acres with over 30 themed gardens broken into one of these three groups: Gardens of Collections, Gardens of Nature and Gardens of Culture. With so much natural beauty to take in, you’ll get lost in the wonderment that is Mother Nature at work.
The Birmingham Museum of Art is a local bragging point thanks to their world-renowned collection of Wedgwood, the largest collection outside of England in fact. Additionally, some 24,000 objects represent cultures like Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian and Native American through ceramics, paintings, sculpture, decorative arts and more. Oscar’s at the Museum is the on-site cafe serving lunch and it’s pretty good. Donations are welcome.
The Birmingham Zoo is a family-friendly activity with fun written all over it! Kids love animals and parents will love that the zoo is well-laid-out and clean. Aside from all the amazing animals, enjoy the Sea Lion Splash Show, take some time to feed the giraffes, ride the carousel and the train! The Trails of Africa is a must-see section as the Birmingham Zoo is a national leader in the care and conservation of threatened elephants. Good food is available at the 122-acre zoo and there always seems to be a special event. Save some time by purchasing tickets online. The Birmingham Zoo is a prized attraction for locals and for tourists to the area – it’s one of the most fun things to do in Birmingham.
Birmingham played a crucial role in the civil rights movement and details can be seen through fabulous exhibits at the Civil Rights Institute. Depicting pieces of black and white life in Alabama from the late 1800s until now, galleries tell the everyday stories of African-Americans not only in the south, but also nationwide. Visitors can learn about the early 1960s bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church (predominantly African-American house of worship) where four little girls were killed attending Sunday School, and many others were injured thanks to strong prejudice and racial divides during that time period. This is both an educational and emotional point of interest among things to do in Birmingham. (Note: The institute is not open on Sunday or Monday.)
Golf in the Birmingham area is unbelievably abundant and golfers love that the weather is almost always good for this sport. With several challenging public courses, you’ll find the perfect place to swing your sticks. The state of Alabama developed the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail staking a claim as Godfather of Great Golf with Birmingham being home to two of those trail courses (one is the third longest course in the world). Visit the full list of golf courses here.
McWane Science Center is perfect for children and families, especially if you need a rainy day activity. Hands-on learning through fun exhibits that teach all about science and discovery, dinosaurs and space. Favorites include the Giant Piano (play tunes with your feet), the High Cycle (thrilling ride teaching about gravity) and the Shark & Ray Touch Tank. Check the web site for pricing, times and to purchase tickets in advance.
Oak Mountain State Park is Alabama’s largest state park and is located only 10 minutes from Birmingham in Pelham. Here visitors enjoy all things outdoors with great trails for hiking and biking. Camping and RVing are popular here and other activities include picnicking, boating and swimming, fishing, backpacking and horseback riding. Additionally, the state park has a demonstration farm that kids LOVE! (Note: The park is also home to the Alabama Wildlife Center.)
Railroad Park celebrates the artistic and industrial heritage of the Magic City. A 19-acre green space in the downtown area, this park is known locally as Birmingham’s Living Room. Railroad Park is perfect for family outings, concerts and other cultural events. Check them out online to see what’s happening when you’re in town. There is no admission charge and the park is open daily 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.
Red Mountain Park is a family’s dream adventure with 1,500 acres full of opportunities for hiking, biking, tree houses, ziplining and so much more! And if Rover made the trip with you, check out Remy’s Dog Park – six acres of green space – the largest dog park in the state! Open daily 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Ruffner Mountain Nature Center is a 1,000-acre nature preserve located only five miles from the city center. Enjoy 10 miles of hiking trails in this urban forest setting and a wonderful city overlook at trails end. Native plants are at home in this forest area as well as certain animals. There are exhibits and a gift shop in the nature center and outside there is a covered picnic area.
Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces is not only a National Historic Landmark, but also the most haunted attraction in the area. A museum of sorts, visitors can see two 400-ton blast furnaces and other buildings of historical significance where many workers lost their lives. Guided tours are available and if you dare, check out Halloween Fright Furnace each October.
Vulcan Park and Museum is a Birmingham icon! Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world and looks out over Red Mountain. At 56-feet-tall, Vulcan has an observation balcony and is fashioned after the mythical Roman god of the forge – noting Birmingham’s powerful position in the early 20th century’s iron and steel industry. The statue was Birmingham’s winning exhibit in the St. Louis 1904 World’s Fair. The museum offers interactive exhibits offering education on the area’s history.
Where to eat in Birmingham
It’s no secret that Birmingham is a foodie’s dream! Culinary creations abound and I could write page after page on upscale, chef-driven restaurants and all the James Beard Foundation winners that are in the area. I’ll give you a great link for a complete listing, and the names of a few favorites.
Bottega Italian Restaurant is a lovely Italian and Mediterranean-style restaurant with a seasonal menu. Just want an awesome pizza? You’ll get it here where they utilize a woodburning oven. Ask about specials and enjoy al fresco dining weather permitting. Enjoy dinner only in the main dining room (reservations recommended) or come enjoy the Cafe without a reservation.
Want a real treat? Check out Chez FonFon a superb French bistro with divine food and wine. Try the country plate if you want a rich French specialty. The restaurant is beautiful and utilizes materials from vintage Birmingham buildings in this age of re-purposing. Award-winning Chez FonFon is great for celebrating special occasions or if you’re like me, any time you’re out is a special time. This establishment is open for lunch and dinner and does not accept reservations.
Hot and Hot Fish Club is a local favorite with a West Coast atmosphere. The menu is always changing and offers fares such as fresh seafood, grilled sirloin, free-range chicken, veggie plates, quail, rabbit, past and more! The open kitchen cooks either by grill or wood-fired oven. Everything is always fresh and delicious, but they are only open for dinner.
Miss Myra’s Pit Barbecue is a family-run barbecue business of more than 20 years! They used to be in the convenience store business, but the barbecue was so crazy popular, they traded the convenience store business for the food industry! You’ll think hole-in-the-wall when you pull up, and isn’t that what the best restaurants make you think of? Place your order at the register the old-fashioned way and then pick it up at the counter which looks into the barbecue pit. White sauce is the way to go with your portion of beef, chicken, ribs, smoked ham or sausage. Save room for pie because they are made fresh EVERY DAY! Unique setting – I’d say so – there are more than 500 piggies (ceramic, wooden, stuffed, etc.) that grace this restaurant. Family-friendly and really good food.
Where to stay in Birmingham
Oh course some folks love their hotel brands and some bank on those hotel points for rooms so you can check the complete listing for lodging to find favorites. I have a couple of accommodations that I personally love as well and I’ve listed below.
Aloft Birmingham Soho Square offers a modern vibe with a bar and other amenities in an urban, loft-style hotel minutes from Birmingham in Homewood’s Soho Square development. Guests are steps away from shopping and food. Aloft has a fitness center and an indoor pool to enjoy.
Sheraton Birmingham offers luxury hotel accommodations in the heart of Birmingham’s downtown business district. Enjoy functions at the adjacent Birmingham/Jefferson Convention Complex and be close to restaurants in nearby Five Points South. Of course, you’ll enjoy all of the Sheraton amenities you are used to as well like an indoor pool and Casey’s Sports Bar & Grill.
Hassinger Daniels Mansion Bed and Breakfast is one of my favorite lodging partners locally with authentic antique furnishings and a great atmosphere. You are close to great restaurants and the Five Points District.
Most folks will think of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach when they think of Alabama, but there are plenty of exciting things to in Birmingham as well. I hope you’ll travel to the south soon!
Birmingham-based photographer Barry Hamric supplied some of these photos which are noted in the captions. To see more of his work follow him on Facebook at barrygoodphotos or visit him online at barrygoodphotos.com.