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Best things to do in Birmingham, Alabama

Best things to do

Birmingham’s title as “The Magic City” comes from the astonishing growth of its population and steel industry after the American Civil War. Today, the magic of the city is attributed to many other reasons.

Its location in the north central part of Alabama makes it the epicenter of progress, activity, and culture in the state. Aside from being the county seat of Jefferson County, it also serves as the regional axis connecting the Deep South, Piedmont, and Appalachian areas.

Because of this, residents and visitors alike find an endless list of things to do in Birmingham, Alabama. It was the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement and the rapid growth of an iron and steel industry. People from all over the world now come to not only learn about crucial events that shaped America’s history, but also to see the hard-earned fruits of its labor, which continues to ensure a better life for its residents.

Birmingham is also a city that bursts with color and flavor, home to an internationally renowned food and arts scene. There’s a meal for every kind of palate, from Southern comfort food and barbecue to fine dining restaurants and global cuisine. Moreover, the Magic City houses a variety of art communities and music venues, from historic classic theaters and galleries to hole-in-the-wall venues for indie performers and up-and-coming artists.

There’s always an adventure or a celebration waiting just around the corner in Birmingham. Its location on the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains means you can enjoy easy access to a wide variety of green spaces, such as Railroad Park and Ruffner Mountain. All year round, the city hosts great events, from the Birmingham Freedom Fest during the summer to the Birmingham Bowl in winter.

Not sure where to start? Here’s our top recommendations on things to do in Birmingham, Alabama:

At a glance:

Feast at The Dinner Table of the South

Feast at The Dinner Table

Lying near the fertile farmlands lining the Appalachian foothills, as well as the bountiful port towns surrounding the Gulf of Mexico, Birmingham has given birth to a rich culinary scene. Here are some of the things on the menu:

Southern comfort food

Nothing says comfort food more than getting delicious, savory meals on the go. Convenient, filling, and budget-friendly, food trucks are a beloved dining spot for Birmingham locals.

Then there’s Birmingham’s soul-nourishing, comfort food served in eateries where the ambience is always warm and friendly.

  • Magic City Grill should be your first stop on your food trip. Serving Southern standards such as mashed potatoes, cornbread, meaty collards, and mac and cheese, it’s the best place for an immensely satisfying lunch or dinner.
  • Pizza as comfort food? Why not? Make sure to try out the thin-crust pizzas at Slice and their Southern-inspired Soul Pie.
  • If you can’t decide on a place to eat, there’s always the Pizitz Food Hall. It’s home to a wide variety of local and international cuisines and offers everything from Indian Kati rolls to classic southern fried chicken.

Global cuisine

Enjoying food in Birmingham is more than just satisfying a craving – it’s a unique experience. Taste the best of the Southern dining scene at the following:

  • Highlands Bar and Grill serves familiar southern dishes with a French twist.
  • Café Dupont and OvenBird boast award-winning local dishes that offer a taste of Birmingham’s culture and history.
  • Enjoy live music and entertainment while sampling various small plates and entrees at Iron City.

Historic breweries

Birmingham is famous for its local craft beers and breweries with ties to a storied past.

  • The location of the independently owned and operated Avondale Brewing Company along 41st Street S once housed a bank, a firehouse, a post office, and a bar called the Long Branch Saloon. Today, it serves craft beers like Kings Wit Belgian Wheat, Pachyderm Pale Wheat, or Belgian and German-style farmhouse ales. The brewery offers tours as well.
  • Trim Tab Brewing Company on 5th Ave S features a tasting gallery of flagship beers such as Post Rye Brown and Trimtab India Pale Ale. Stay for live performances and other local events at the taproom.
  • Good People Brewing Company in downtown Birmingham offers year-round and seasonal brews like the Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale and Coffee Oatmeal Flavored Stout.

Cocktails and nightcaps

There’s no better way to end a food trip in Birmingham than with a good drink, great music, and amazing company.

  • Zydeco functions as both a venue for homegrown musicians and performers as well as your go-to bar for a chill night out. Cocktails and beers on tap go well with the live music inside or hanging out at the patio area.
  • The Collins Bar, Birmingham’s first craft-cocktail bar, tailors drinks to your specific mood, taste, and preferred experience.

Discover Birmingham’s art and music

Discover Birmingham’s art

A place as lively and dynamic as the Magic City has an art scene that mirrors it, and one of the best things to do in Birmingham, Alabama is to explore its numerous galleries and exhibits:

The Birmingham Museum of Art

Situated at the heart of Birmingham’s cultural district, The Birmingham Museum of Art houses a permanent collection of over 25,000 pieces across a wide range of cultures. It is also home to one of the finest collections of Asian art in the Southeast, as well as a Kress collection of Baroque and Renaissance paintings and 18th century European decorative arts.

Alabama Theatre

Originally a movie palace for Paramount Studios, the Alabama Theatre for the Arts used to be the venue for the Mickey Mouse Club and the Miss Alabama pageant up until 1987. Now, it is home to Alabama’s renowned Mighty Wurlitzer Organ and hosts more than 300 events each year.

Virginia Samford Theatre

The Virginia Samford Theatre is a Romanesque-style playhouse that first opened in 1927 under the name The Little Theatre. After running a few first-rate productions, the theater had to close during World War II. It then reopened as the Clark Memorial Theatre in 1950 and was donated to the University of Alabama soon after. After being restored to its former glory in 1999 with the sponsorship of Virginia Samford Donovan, the Theatre is now a well-loved venue for homegrown artists and performers andlocally produced plays, musicals, and a variety of dance and musical performances.

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame

Founded in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame has a collection of musical instruments, art pieces, and memorabilia and organizes various jazz performances across the city. Its outreach extends to educational programs and dialogues at different schools in and around Birmingham.

Learn about Birmingham’s history

The City of Birmingham was a product of the post-Civil War period, but the history it witnessed stretches far beyond that. Here are some ways you can explore the events that made the city what it is today:

Wander its many galleries and exhibits

Seek out its landmarks

Birmingham is a city forged by iron and steel, and it takes great pride in its identity and origins. Many public parks and green spaces pay homage to Birmingham’s rich history and culture.

  • Kelly Ingram Park is a historic four-acre park at the heart of the country’s Civil Rights Movement. It continues to commemorate the historic events that took place through the sculptures and monuments scattered throughout.
  • The 50-ton, 56-foot-tall iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire is an iconic landmark. It sits right on top of the Red Mountain at the border of Birmingham, surrounded by a gorgeous and well-maintained park. It’s also the perfect place for hanging out while enjoying a great view of the city.
  • The Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark celebrates Birmingham’s roots in iron and steel. From 1882 to 1971, the Sloss Furnaces operated as an iron-producing blast furnace. Today, it is a fully restored historic landmark and museum that offers a metal arts program and stages concerts and festivals.

Go on an outdoor adventure

Go on an outdoor

There’s no lack of green spaces and wildlife areas in and around Birmingham, Alabama. Here are some things to do when you want to have fun outdoors:

Stroll around fabulous gardens

  • The Birmingham Botanical Gardens is perfect for nature or garden lovers. Open and with free admission throughout the year, you can see mature garden areas that have been cultivated for more than 60 years. You can also learn more about these plants and how to grow them through workshops, lectures, and various events.
  • The Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens near downtown Birmingham is a former plantation with six acres of landscaped gardens and a two-story Greek Revival home.

Connect with nature and wildlife

  • Railroad Park, also known as “Birmingham’s Living Room,” is a well-loved urban green space located south of two rail lines that cut across downtown Birmingham. With over 600 trees and several bodies of water, the Railroad Park is often the venue for local concerts, events, and activities in the city.
  • Red Mountain Park along the Red Mountain Ridge is a great place for outdoor activities, with two city overlooks, three tree houses, and around 14 miles of trails that connect to the Red Rock Trail System winding throughout Jefferson County.

Have a day out with the whole family

Have a day out

Looking for fun things to do in Birmingham, Alabama with the whole family? We’ve got you covered:

Be curious about the natural world

  • The McWane Science Center is a state-of-the-art museum filled with tons of hands-on, interactive exhibits, where kids – and the kids-at-heart – can learn more about the world of science. From dinosaurs and ancient sea monsters to the life of mice and underwater creatures, the Center guarantees hours of fun for those who want to explore this cutting-edge museum in downtown Birmingham.
  • The Birmingham Zoo is also a wildlife conservation center. It sits on 122 acres of land where you’ll find more than 950 animals, including rare species such as the double-wattled cassowary and the Komodo dragon. The zoo offers various education and outreach programs.

Know your historic roots

It’s important for kids to understand their history. Therefore, bring the little ones to:

  • The 16th Street Baptist Church, a US National Historic Landmark and a site that was integral to the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The Birmingham Children’s Theatre, one of the country’s largest and oldest professional theater companies for the youth. The theater also offers educational programs like the Young Actor’s Theatre Academy.
  • The Southern Museum of Flight, home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame and a wide range of exhibits on civilian, military, and experimental aircraft. Aside from having over 90 aircraft and aviation artifacts and engines, the museum showcases a Korean War Jets Exhibit, the Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit, and the Vietnam War Helicopters Exhibit.

Celebrate life and culture in Birmingham

Celebrate life and culture

Residents will love the Magic City’s year-round events and festivities. As a Birmingham homeowner, here’s what to expect:

Farmers’ markets and food festivals

Delicious food is always something to be celebrated in Birmingham.

  • Drop by the Pepper Place Saturday Market, where local farmers within the Birmingham area get to provide residents with fresh, quality food, and seasonal produce from April to December.
  • Slicefest is one of Birmingham’s largest food and music festivals. Hosted by Slice Pizza and & Brewhouse and held in June, it promotes local restaurants and businesses.

Major arts and film galas

As the center of artistic activity in the region, Birmingham hosts:

  • The highly anticipated Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, a state-wide festival held at the end of August to promote indie filmmakers and locally produced films.
  • Southern Voices is a three-day conference on southern culture and contemporary arts that’s held in Birmingham’s Hoover Public Library.
  • The Magic City Art Connection spotlights over 200 juried artists from all over the US. It is Birmingham’s largest art festival of the year held in April.

Big sports events and competitions

Sports fans will be glad to know that Birmingham is the place to be when it comes to major sports competitions and events.

  • The Birmingham Boat Show is the the oldest and largest boat show in the state of Alabama. It’s held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in January.
  • The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama draws thousands of race car enthusiasts to the iconic Barber Motorsports Park. The Grand Prix runs April to May.
  • World Games 2022 will be held in various locations in and around the city. Like the Olympics, the World Games is held every four year. This year, the long-anticipated event will run for 11 days and feature the world’s best athletes competing in more than 30 different sports. The competition kicks off in July 2022.

Diverse cultural celebrations

What makes the Magic City so even more magical is its rich history and multicultural communities. The city celebrates this diversity in the following:

  • The annual Juneteenth Celebration commemorates the end of slavery.
    It’s organized by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute at the Birmingham Civil Rights District.
  • Also in June, the Caribbean Festival showcases the culture through food, music, dancing, and a parade.
  • In September: The Fiesta in downtown Linn Park is the largest celebration of Hispanic art, music, food, and dance in Alabama.
  • In October:
  • In November: Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is one of the most elaborate festivals spotlighting Mexican culture. In the past, it featured art installations, a parade with massive puppets, homemade altars, music performances, plenty of costumes, and food trucks.

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