Birmingham is not called the “Magic City” for nothing. While most know it as one of the country’s major industrial centers, the city is home to a bevy of attractions that are exciting in many ways. We listed down the best places to visit in Birmingham, Alabama below so you can get to know our better.
FOR THE HISTORY BUFFS
Founded in 1871, it comes as no surprise that Birmingham is home to several historic attractions that include sites, museums, and monuments.
A visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BRCI) highlights the city’s true role in the birth of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. The museum houses remnants as well as exhibits that detail life in Birmingham when it was still a segregated city. These include a model of a Freedom Riders bus, hundreds of recorded oral histories, as well as the jail cell door that kept Martin Luther King, Jr. from exercising his civil liberties.
Another must-visit place in Birmingham is the historic 4th Avenue, also known as one of the last Black Business Districts in the Southeast. You can find a variety of Black-owned business here, from barbershops to cafes and clothing stores.
There’s also the historic Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens, Birmingham’s oldest building, which has been preserved and kept open both as a museum and events venue. Its primary attraction is the two-story Greek Revival antebellum home in the heart of six acres of private land. In here, you can view an extensive collection of memorabilia from the 19th century. Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens also hosts several events throughout the year.
Those who would like to get a closer look at one of the biggest symbols of the industrial revolutions can head to the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum. It is considered Alabama’s official railroad museum, and features a wide collection of railway cars, locomotives, and other artifacts. You can even go for a train ride! Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum is located in Calera, about 34 minutes south of Birmingham.
Another museum dedicated to the development of transportation is the Southern Museum of Flight. Aviation history fans can come and enjoy the artifacts, photographs, and paintings housed inside. They also have a rich collection of different aircraft models and engines. Some of the notable exhibits at Southern Museum of Flight include the Korean War Jets, the Tuskegee Airmen diorama, the Vietnam War Helicopters display, and the Huff-Daland Crop Duster exhibit. Don’t forget to check out the outdoor collection as well!
The Sloss Furnaces is another remnant of Birmingham’s industrialization past. Before it became a museum, it produced pig or crude iron for 90 years. Today, it is listed as a National Historic Landmark, being the only facility of its kind that remains preserved. You can join a guided tour to learn more about the place’s history, but self-guided tours are also allowed. And if you want something spooky, Sloss Furnaces is said to be haunted by James “Slag” Wormwood, a worker who died in the facility back in 1906.
FOR THE ARTS AND CULTURE AFICIONADOS
Birmingham might have an industrial past, but it’s also home to a vibrant arts and culture scene. This city, after all, is Alabama’s cultural and entertainment capital. Major performing arts companies can be found here, from ballet and opera to symphony orchestra, and more.
The Carver Theatre for the Performing Arts is the place to go for jazz concerts, plays, and even music classes. It also tells a piece of city history: opened in 1935, it originally served as a movie house and then nightlife hub. It’s also one of the very first cinemas to screen films for Birmingham’s African-American population during the contentious Jim Crow era.
The Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts (ASC) is another must-visit for culture fiends. Located within the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) expansive campus, this theater is home to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO). Apart from major productions, ASC regularly showcases fresh talent from UAB’s entertainment and arts programs.
Meanwhile, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) is a concert hall, theater, convention hall, arena, and sports complex, all in one! It also houses one of the country’s oldest and largest children’s theater, the Birmingham Children’s Theatre.
Fans of Alabama Ballet can head over to Samford University to watch them in action at the impressive 2,500-seater The Wright Center Concert Hall. It also serves as the base for Opera Birmingham and ASO often stages concerts here.
The Downtown district is also brimming with several venues and sites dedicated to the promotion of culture and the arts, such as art galleries and museums. Keep your eyes peeled for the following: the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” historic marker; Alabama Historical Radio Museum; Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame; Alabama Theatre, which opened in 1927; Reed Books and the Museum of Fond Memories; Scott Miller Projects; and the Lyric Theatre, just to name a few points of interest within the neighborhood.
Since we’re on the subject of Downtown Birmingham, don’t miss the Birmingham Museum of Art, the largest municipal art museum in the Southeast. Situated adjacent to the BJCC, the museum houses over 24,000 works of art, from paintings to sculptures. There are permanent displays to check out, as well as an ever-changing line-up of temporary exhibits that will keep you coming back to the museum.
FOR THE NATURE LOVERS
It’s simply impossible to live in Birmingham and not explore at least one of the many natural attractions it has to offer. From leisurely garden strolls to rigorous hikes, you can choose exactly the outdoor activity you like based on your mood and preferences.
If you simply want to be surrounded by lush greenery, head to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens along Westbourne Road. There are 15 acres of serene grounds to explore, from the formal lawn to Hulsey Woods. View all of their gardens here so you can plan your trip accordingly. Birmingham Botanical Gardens also hosts several educational events throughout the year—a great way to learn about the natural world, pick up a few skills, and meet new friends!
Birmingham is also home to the 1,500-acre Red Mountain Park, which dwarfs Central Park in New York City in comparison. The park has over 16 miles of multi-use trails under tree cover, winding up and down a part of a ridge called Red Mountain. As you explore the park, you might come across closed mines and other points of interest as the area was previously owned by U.S. Steel.
Meanwhile, Ruffner Mountain is a nature preserve pning 1,038 acres near the eastern boundaries of Birmingham. Runners and hikers can enjoy the full 12 miles of trail that weave around the park, designated exclusively for this use. Take in the sweeping views of Downtown Birmingham from the lookout point, or simply take your time enjoying the fresh air outdoors. And if you want to learn more about the local flora and fauna, as well as conservation efforts, head to the nature center.
FOR THE FAMILY
Finding an activity that everyone in the family can enjoy can be challenging, especially if everyone has their own interests and preferences. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to visit in Birmingham, Alabama that will pique everybody’s interest.
You don’t even have to go all too far. Right downtown is Railroad Park, otherwise known as “Birmingham’s Living Room.” This 19-acre green public space is a product of the collaboration between the local government and the Railroad Park Foundation. There’s plenty of space for play and an on-site café available for snacks and refreshments. From time to time, the park also hosts events. These range from free fitness classes to annual signature events, such as the Jingle Bell Run/Walk, the Symphony in the Summer concert series, and Cahaba River Fry Down.
To find the largest cast iron statue in the world, visit the Vulcan Park and Museum. It’s home to a 56-ft. tall statue of Vulcan, who also happens to be Birmingham’s city symbol. Why Vulcan, you ask? The roman god rules the fire and forge, two critical elements in ironwork, the industry that is responsible for Birmingham’s rise. Aside from the statue, there are a few other sites you should check out while in the park. These include the park museum and the observation tower, both of which are open every weekend.
For a more educational outing, you can bring the family to the Birmingham Zoo to learn more about the 900+ animals living there. Open from Wednesday through Sunday, the zoo has an array of daily activities. And on the weekends, you can have a chat with the resident sea lions and elephants or join the reptile feeding. If you want to join Birmingham Zoo’s conservation efforts, you can also “adopt an animal”. Doing so helps support the welfare of your chosen beneficiary. Adoption rates start at $25.
Looking for more kid-friendly places to visit in Birmingham, Alabama? Introduce the young ones to the wonderful and amazing world of science at McWane Science Center. Located inside the historic Loveman’s department store building, it features an aquarium and a 280-seat IMAX Dome Theater. In between showtimes, explore the science center’s various exhibits, some of which showcase ancient fossils and rare minerals.
For some family-friendly, sports-related activities, head over to Rickwood Field, the oldest professional baseball stadium in the country. It currently functions as a working museum, with the Birmingham Barons playing here once a year during the regular season.
Those who prefer life in the fast lane, meanwhile, can head to Barber Motorsports Park. About a 22-minute drive from Downtown Birmingham, it’s home to one of the largest motorcycles collections in the world. Every year, Barber Motorsports Park also hosts the Annual Barber Vintage Festival and the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
FOR THE FOODIES
They say that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. In that case, Birmingham’s local dining scene will make you fall in love as soon as you take the first taste. Throughout the city are myriad culinary experiences that range from casual eats to fine dining. Throw in a couple of breweries in the mix and you’re in for a delicious and filling time.
SAW’s Soul Kitchen in Avondale is an absolute local favorite. An off-shoot of SAW’s BBQ in Homewood, Soul Kitchen’s menu features comforting soul food such as pulled pork, shrimp n’ grits, deviled eggs, potato salad, and fried green tomatoes on the menu. End your feast with a serving of banana pudding.
Switch it up at Bistro 218 with their French-inspired, Gulf Coast-influenced dinners. The menu is heavily dictated by the season. Every dining experience is a little different and features the best ingredients local farmers and foragers have to offer. At the bar, you can order a glass of red or white, local craft beer, as well as craft cocktails.
Although Birmingham is a good way away from the Gulf Coast, you can still enjoy fresh seafood in the city. One of the preferred haunts is Automatic Seafood and Oysters, which was a 2020 James Beard Award finalist. Some of the crowd favorites include blackened amberjack; scallops and brisket, which is their version of surf and turf; marinated crab claws; and grilled octopus. Their desserts, such as key lime pie and peanut butter crème brûlée, are also to die for.
No culinary experience is complete without Mexican cuisine. Fortunately, Birmingham is home to several topnotch Mexican eateries. Among the best is El Barrio, which offers dedicated brunch, lunch, and dinner menus that feature multi-regional staples. Cocktails, beer, and wine are also available.
For casual small plates and great drinks, Pepper Place is home to OvenBird. Their menu takes inspiration from different cuisines, but most especially Argentinian, Paraguayan, Spanish, and Portuguese. Make a reservation ahead to secure a table out in the patio, which is arguably the best area in the restaurant.
If you want to go and try a little bit of everything, the Farmers Market at Pepper Place is highly recommended. Open every Saturday throughout the year, it’s the best place to befriend and support local farmers and small business owners. From fresh produce to souvenirs, good food, and even live entertainment, you can truly enjoy the community every weekend.
Beer aficionados would do well to stop by Good People Brewing Company. This one of the local favorites and is recognized as one of the best breweries in the city. You can learn more about them by joining a tour. Afterwards, take home some of their canned IPA. Their taproom features signatures like Hazy Snake IPA and Good People Pale Ale, as well as some seasonal brews and limited releases. Good People is also home to HotBox, which is open every Wednesday through Sunday.
Another popular brewery is Avondale Brewing Company, or simply Avondale, as fond locals call it. They offer everything you need for a fun day or night out, from good food, wholesome fun, and of course, great beer. Included in their year-round lineup are the following: Spring Street Saison, a farmhouse ale with citrus notes; Stout at The Devil, full-bodied with a hint of caramel and coffee; and A-OK IPA, which will give you summer vibes because of its pineapple flavor. Avondale also doubles as a premier live entertainment venue. Check their calendar to see upcoming events.
MAKE THE MOVE WITH SOLD BY THE BELL
Sold By The Bell would love to take you out on a tour of Birmingham so you can see for yourself what the local real estate market has to offer.