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20 things to do in Birmingham Alabama

Things to do in Birmingham Alabama

Of all the places I visited on my Alabama road trip, Birmingham was the one that had the most Big City feel, with high rise buildings and walkable streets laid out in a grid system. Known as “The Magic City”, Birmingham Alabama sprang up from nowhere in the 1870s, with rapid growth on the back of the iron and steel industry.

This is an important place to understand the Civil Rights legacy of the 1960s, when Birmingham hit the world spotlight because of protests that led to the end of legalised racial segregation in the South. As the largest city in Alabama, there’s a wide range of things to do in Birmingham, with a vibrant food scene, artistic attractions and industrial heritage that will keep you busy for a several days.

Things to do in Birmingham Alabama

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What are the top places to visit in Birmingham Al?

Birmingham Al is a large city with plenty to see, so I’ve decided to group the attractions by theme, whether you’re interested in the thought provoking Civil Rights Sites, the world class foodie scene, the industrial heritage, outdoor space or cultural attractions. If you are limited in time as I was, here’s what I’d see first:

  • Civil Rights District – the main sites are mostly clustered in one block but my top pick would be the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, followed by a walk across the street to see the sculptures in Kelly Ingram Park.
  • Vulcan Statue and Museum – a quick insight into Birmingham’s industrial heritage with fantastic views from the top of the statue.
  • Eat some BBQ or Soul food at one of the Saw’s BBQ locations or take a food tour to introduce you to the foodie scene of Birmingham and give you more restaurant recommendations.
  • Birmingham Museum of Art – a stop in the Downtown area for art lovers including the outdoor sculpture garden.
  • Railroad Park – to relax and unwind by the lake with a cup of shaved ice.

Civil Rights sites in Birmingham Al

Birmingham is one of the important stops on the US Civil Rights Trail to learn about the protest movement of the 1960s led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Rev Fred Shuttlesworth and other church leaders. At this time, the Jim Crow laws enforced the racial segregation of black and white communities across the Southern States.

The Civil Rights movement challenged this injustice, leading to often violent confrontation that brought Birmingham into the world’s gaze. Although the city has moved on from these times, I came away feeling that visiting the Civil Rights sites was one of the most inspiring things to do in Birmingham. If you are short of time, I recommend taking this 3 hour Birmingham Civil Rights tour to visit all the main sites.

1 Birmingham Civil Rights institute

A key place to understand the movement is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum that’s dedicated to the Civil Rights struggle in Birmingham. Visits start with a short video explaining the Civil Rights movement, which ends with the screen rising to reveal the first gallery of the museum showing the realities of segregation.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama

White classrooms with the latest furniture and teaching aids contrasts with the outdated and crowded black classroom A black teenager looks on enviously as white children of the same age have fun, knowing that the two groups are forbidden to meet or form friendships. Two drinking fountains sit side by side, one marked for white and the other for black.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama

The Freedom Riders in Alabama

2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, black and white activists in their 20s, who rode the Greyhound buses together in May 1961. Their aim was to challenge illegal segregation on the buses throughout the South in the face of violent opposition and you can see a replica of the Freedom Riders bus at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Alabama

I also learned about Rosa Parks who was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white woman, which sparked a bus boycott by the Black community in Montgomery that lasted a year. This is an excellent museum and I was reassured to see a focus on reconciliation rather than recrimination. It’s a must-visit in Birmingham for all ages, to illuminate the realities of life for Black and White in the 1960s in Alabama and understand why racial injustice still persists today.

Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel Birmingham Alabama

We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel – a historic hotel that is well located for sightseeing in Downtown Birmingham

2 16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church is another key place to learn about the Civil Rights movement in Birmingham Alabama, as the site of an infamous bombing in 1963, which killed 4 young girls who were attending Sunday School.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

The atrocity by white supremacists in Birmingham brought the attention of the world onto the movement and sparked further protests in the city. I visited the church and joined a tour group to hear more about those events and the striking stained glass window above the entrance, that was donated by an artist from Wales.

16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama Photo Art Meripol
16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama Photo Art Meripol

Group tours are available by prior arrangement for $5 per person but if visiting independently, you can visit the church Tuesday – Saturday and may be able to join any tours taking place. The church is closed to tours on Sunday and Monday but visitors are welcome to join the Sunday service at 10.45am.

Read more about the Civil Rights history in Alabama in my article: Discover the US Civil Rights Trail in Alabama

3 Kelly Ingram Park

Just across the road from 16th street Baptist church is the Kelly Ingram Park which is often used for community gatherings and events. There’s a charming sculpture of four little girls playing, which is chilling when you realise that these innocent children are depicted just before the bomb exploded that killed them in the church.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

Walking through the park are more sculptures that show snapshots from the civil rights protects of the early 1960s. Here are the children cowering as the water cannons are trained on them, the ferocious police dogs snarling on the leash and the children who were imprisoned en masse after the protests.

Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, Alabama

A free mobile phone tour explaining the sculptures is available to anyone with a mobile phone. The dial-in number is 205-307-5455

Birmingham Civil Rights tour

If you are short of time, I recommend taking this thought provoking 3 hour Birmingham Civil Rights Tour to visit all the main sites.

4 A G Gaston Motel

Just around the corner from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is the A G Gaston Motel which is currently going through a multi-million dollar renovation. The motel was built in the 1950s by African American businessman A G Gaston, at a time when segregation was in full force throughout the southern states.

A G Gaston Motel was one of the few places that provided accommodation and a restaurant for African American travellers. During this era such travellers would rely on guides such as “The Green Book”, which told them where they would be welcome to stay and to dine.

A G Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama
A G Gaston Motel in Birmingham, Alabama

During the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, Room 30 at the A G Gaston Motel became the War Room for the ‘Project C ‘ direct action, planned by leaders such as Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Rev Fred Shuttlesworth. The motel had been in disrepair since the 1990s, but Phase 1 renovations are now complete and its reopening is planned for 2022 as an information centre and events space, with some of the rooms renovated to their original appearance.

5 Historic Bethel Baptist Church

Across town I also visited an important church that was a centre of the Civil Rights movement, the Historic Bethel Baptist Church. While the congregation now worships at a larger, modern church just down the road, the original Bethel Baptist church has been preserved as a historic monument and is open for tours or by appointment. This was the church where Rev. Fred L. Shuttlesworth was pastor 1953 – 1961 and became a leader in the planning of Civil Rights protests in Alabama.

Historic Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol
Historic Bethel Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol

He was set upon by a mob of Ku Klux Klan members when he tried to enroll his children at an all white school and barely escaped with his life. Despite many other attacks he always advocated non-violent protest. The church became the headquarters of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights which took action against segregation and the planning centre for the Freedom Rides action on the buses.

Historic Bethel Church, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Historic Bethel Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Outside the church are information boards and you can see the ‘ghost house’ shape of the pastor’s house next to the church, which was destroyed in a bomb although Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth who was inside was miraculously unharmed. The bombing of this and other Black churches earned the city the sad name of “Bombingham” during this Civil Rights era of the 1960s. If you don’t want to drive around all the Civil Rights Sites, I recommend taking this 3 hour Birmingham Civil Rights tour to visit all the main places.

Redmont Hotel Birmingham Alabama

We recommend staying at the Redmont Hotel Curio Collection by Hilton, a newly renovated landmark hotel built in the 1920s

6 Food in Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham’s vibrant food scene attracts the top chefs and with such a varied culinary offering, the city can justify being known as ‘The Dining Table of the South’. Chefs such as Frank Stitt have put the city on the gourmet map with the Highlands Bar and Grill, judged in the prestigious James Beard Awards (The US equivalent of the Michelin Guide) as the best restaurant in the USA.

For the true taste of the south, Birmingham’s BBQ and Soul food (just like your Momma used to make) will win your heart with rib-sticking dishes and I recommend taking a food tour to taste some of the best. There’s a relaxed and cosmopolitan feel to many of the cafes, restaurants and coffee shops that focus on local and seasonal produce. Here’s a roundup of the food in Birmingham Al to look out for and restaurants I can recommend.

Alabama food

Read more about the Alabama food I tried, with 20 delicious dishes to make your mouth water!

BBQ and Soul food in Birmingham Al

Saw’s Soul Kitchen

The Southern concept of BBQ is very different to the burned sausages over hot coals that we embrace in the UK. Here BBQ means pork or beef that’s been marinated in a tasty sauce, then slow cooked overnight over wood in a smoky BBQ pit. The result is mouthwateringly tender and finger licking meat served with a few simple sides like potato salad and coleslaw.

Many of the BBQ restaurants have been established for generations, but for a modern take on the BBQ scene I headed to the trendy neighbourhood of Avondale and Saw’s Soul Kitchen. This small and unassuming diner restaurant has just a few tables, but the queues for takeaway are often stretching out the door.

Saw's Soul Kitchen in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger
Saw’s Soul Kitchen in Birmingham, Al © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger

I tried their signature Pork & Greens, with BBQ pulled pork on a soft base of grits, sweet-sour collard greens and topped with onion rings. It seemed an unlikely combination but was mouthwateringly good! Look out for Saw’s BBQ in four other locations around Birmingham, including the original Homewood restaurant.

Saws Soul Food, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Pork & Greens at Saw’s Soul Food, Birmingham, Alabama

You may also enjoy: Taste the food of Alabama USA – 20 dishes you’ll want to try!

Alabama Peanut Company

For a typical Southern snack, try the boiled peanuts at Alabama Peanut Company on the pretty cobbled Morris Avenue. Traditionally you might pick up a cup of boiled peanuts when going to the beach or a baseball game.

The peanuts are sold with classic salt, Cajun Spice or Dill Pickle, which manages to permeate through the shell to flavour the peanuts. Alabama Peanut Company is in a large, airy shop where you can see the peanuts being boiled or roasted and try them “Southern and salty” inside at one of their tables.

Alabama Peantut Co, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Alabama Peanut Co, Birmingham, Alabama

If you’re short of time it’s a good idea to take a guided tour and we can recommend:

This Birmingham Civil Rights tour will show you the key locations from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s

This Historical Highlights of Birmingham tour will give a great overview of things to see in Birmingham.

Foodies will enjoy this Birmingham Food and Drink Tour to try out some of the best local dishes and places to eat.

Check our more guided tours in Birmingham to make the most of your visit.

Relaxed and Trendy

The Essential

Also on Morris Avenue is a fun neighbourhood restaurant, The Essential, which seems to epitomise the more relaxed and trendy side of Birmingham’s food scene. They are open for brunch, lunch and dinner, with a marble topped bar and simple but elegant tables reminiscent of a French bistro.

The menu is full of well-priced dishes with a Southern take on world cuisine. I ordered the Nicoise-ish salad with barely seared tuna on greens with egg, potato and olives and the butter croissant ice cream was incredibly rich and delicious.

The Essential, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
The Essential, Birmingham, Alabama
Elyton Hotel Birmingham AlabamaElyton Hotel Birmingham Alabama

We recommend staying at Elyton Hotel Autograph Collection by Marriott – a boutique hotel in Downtown Birmingham

The Pizitz Food Hall

In the heart of downtown Birmingham is the Pizitz Food Hall, offering a kaleidoscope of food from around the world and a good place to find some healthy options if you’ve overdone the BBQ. The Pizitz was once Birmingham’s leading department store, but the building has now been converted into apartments, with the food hall on the ground floor.

Central seating means you can order from 12 different food stands or sit at the bar, which is popular for evening cocktails. I love food halls like this, which make a social place to eat with friends or family, ideal if you all have different food tastes.

Pizitz Food Hall in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger
Pizitz Food Hall in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger

I ordered a rainbow selection of salads from Eli’s Jerusalem grill and took it to the outside patio with tables and sun umbrellas. Also on offer is South Indian street food from Silver Kati, Nepalese dumplings at Mo Mo, Hawaiian/ Japanese fusion at Poke, Vietnamese and Korean at PhoPho, as well as more local hotdogs at The Standard and artisan teas at Piper & Leaf. Parking is free for the first 2 hours in the parking deck.

Top tip: We recommend taking a food tour to get an inside view of the best places to eat in Birmingham.

Pzitz Food Hall, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Eli’s Jerusalem Grill at Pizitz Food Hall, Birmingham, Alabama

Upscale and Cosmopolitan

Bottega

Chef Frank Stitt has made his mark in Birmingham with the upscale Highlands Bar & Grill, set in the Highlands neighbourhood of Birmingham, where you’ll probably need to reserve months ahead. If you want somewhere a little more relaxed that still has a special atmosphere, try Bottega, another of his restaurants set in a lovely Beaux Arts building.

Bottega, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Bottega, Birmingham, Alabama

Bottega is inspired by the relaxed wine bars and trattorias of Italy, with the more refined Bottega restaurant on one side of the building and the relaxed Bottega Cafe, serving pizzas from a wood fired oven, on the other.

I enjoyed my Dolphin fish from the specials menu and a slice of the signature coconut pecan cake which was extremely moist and moreish, with a drink of fresh lemonade with a hint of vanilla. Inspired by the French bistros of Paris or Lyon, you can also visit Frank Stitt’s restaurant Chez Fonfon in the Five Points South neighbourhood of Birmingham.

Things to do in Mobile, Alabama

You may also enjoy this article about 11 cool things to do in Mobile Alabama, which we visited on the same road trip.

Farmer’s markets in Birmingham Al

The Market at Pepper Place

Although there are numerous Farmer’s Markets in Birmingham, the best known and most popular for visitors is The Market at Pepper Place held on Saturday mornings. Pepper Place is a destination in itself, a brick industrial building that once housed the Dr Pepper soda bottling plant. This old factory site has now been converted into a trendy development of creative businesses, shops and restaurants as well as the Saturday Market.

Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham Alabama
Market at Pepper Place in Birmingham Alabama

The Market at Pepper Place operates year round with up to 100 stalls selling farm produce, crafts and artisan food from small Alabama producers. Visit to see what’s fresh and in season and buy your brunch from one of the food trucks or vendors offering food to take away. The market takes place each Saturday from 7am to 12 midday.

You may also enjoy: 50 things to do in Alabama – on my Road Trip USA

Culture and heritage in Birmingham Alabama

As befits such a bustling city, Birmingham has a lively arts scene with a leading arts museum, theatres and other heritage attractions. My top pick for arts lovers would be the Birmingham Museum of Arts which is centrally located in the Downtown area, and to check what’s on at the beautifully restored Alabama Theater or Lyric Theater.

If you want to get a great overview of Birmingham, we recommend this half day highlights tour to visit a number of historic sites with a guide.

7 Birmingham Museum of Art

I enjoyed visiting the Birmingham Museum of Art which was just across the park from my hotel. When I was there a 60s style mural was being painted in the foyer as part of the Wall to Wall project, where artists are invited to paint a mural at the museum’s entrance. The museum is known for its Asian art collection, which is considered the finest in the south-east, comprising a permanent collection of 4000 artworks.

Birmingham Art Museum, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Art Museum, Alabama

I enjoyed the Sculpture Court at the back of the glass fronted facade with shallow pools and a curvy reclining nude, the American art gallery leading off from this and the Wedgwood collection of pottery, which was rather incongruous to find something so English so far from home. Entry to the museum is free.

Birmingham Art Museum, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Birmingham Art Museum, Alabama
Things to do in Alabama USA

Read more about all the places I visited on my Alabama Road Trip:

50 things to do in Alabama

8 Alabama Theater and Lyric Theater

For lovers of the arts, it’s worth checking out what’s on at the Alabama Theater and Lyric Theater located in the Downtown area of Birmingham. Both theatres have gone through renovation to restore them to the gilded glory of their heyday in the 1920s.

The Alabama Theater was built in the 1920s as a movie palace to showcase Paramount films, and the varied musical programme includes showing nostalgic old movies, accompanied by the original Wurlitzer organ. Built in 1914, the Lyric Theater has also been renovated to its original splendour when it hosted vaudeville shows and is now used for ballet, opera and theatre performances.

Lyric Theater and Alabama Theater in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol
Lyric Theater and Alabama Theater in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol

You may also enjoy: Visit Muscle Shoals Alabama – for music history and more!

9 Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens

Just a short drive from the Downtown in Birmingham is the Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens, a mansion built in the 1840s in the popular Greek Revival style of the period. The house now serves as a decorative arts museum, with 19th century furniture, silver and paintings.

Visits are by guided tour bringing to life how the leading families of Birmingham lived here, before and after the Civil War. The house is in the Arlington neighbourhood, away from the other main Birmingham attractions, so it’s one to visit if you have a car and enjoy the history and heritage of old houses like this.

Arlington Home in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol
Arlington Home in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol

Read more about the culture of Southern Alabama: 11 cool things to do in Mobile, Alabama

If you’re short of time it’s a good idea to take a guided tour and we can recommend:

This Birmingham Civil Rights tour will show you the key locations from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s

This Historical Highlights of Birmingham tour will give a great overview of things to see in Birmingham.

Foodies will enjoy this Birmingham Food and Drink Tour to try out some of the best local dishes and places to eat.

Check our more guided tours in Birmingham to make the most of your visit.

Industrial Heritage

Birmingham seemed to spring up from nowhere in the 1870s, an industrial city founded on deposits of iron ore that were conveniently close to the railroad. Known as “The Magic City” for the speed of development, it was the iron and steel industry that attracted people seeking jobs, including many freed slaves and immigrants. There are a number of attractions that celebrate Birmingham’s industrial heritage and my top pick for a dip into this side of the city’s history would be the Vulcan Park and Museum.

If you are short of time, we recommend this half day highlights tour to visit many of the industrial heritage sites with a guide.

Valley Hotel Homewood Birmingham Alabama

We recommend staying at the Valley Hotel Curio Collection by Hilton in Homewood – a stylish hotel close to the Vulcan Park, shops and restaurants

Civil Rights Trail in Alabama

Read more about the US Civil Right Trail and the Civil Rights locations that I visited on this Alabama Road Trip:

10 Vulcan Park and Museum

I really enjoyed my visit to the Vulcan Park and Museum where you can take the lift (or climb if you are energetic) to the observation tower at the top of the Vulcan statue, which stands 56 feet tall. Made of 100,000 pounds of iron, the gigantic iron statue of the bare bottomed god Vulcan was created for the St Louis World Fair in 1904 to represent the city. Afterwards it was placed on a column overlooking the city, with a viewing platform that allows you to survey the whole of Birmingham.

Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol
Vulcan Park and Museum in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol

Exhibits within the Vulcan Center include a huge giant foot cast of the statue and lots of information about the iron industries that shaped Birmingham and brought it huge prosperity.

Vulcan Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Vulcan Park, Birmingham, Alabama

11 Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Located just outside the main city area, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is a very popular attraction for anyone who loves cars, motorbikes and motorsports in general. The museum was set up in the 1960s by Porsche racing driver, George Barber to house his collection of vintage cars, which soon expanded to include the largest collection of motorbikes in the world. Over 1600 vintage motorcycles and cars are housed here, with events and motorsports race days held at the adjoining Barber Motorsports Park.

Barber Motor Sports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama For Alabama Tourism in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol
Barber MotorSports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Art Meripol

12 Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

For a deeper dive into Birmingham’s industrial roots, visit the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark (currently open by appointment only). These furnaces for smelting pig iron, fuelled by the abundant local coal, were constructed in 1881 by Col James Withers Sloss and his Sloss Furnace Company.

In the 1980s the factory was restored as a National Historic Landmark and the boilers and blast furnaces can be visited in either a guided or self guided tour, to understand how raw materials were delivered to the site and smelted to make the finished pig iron. The Cast Sheds also house the Sloss Metal Arts Program, with events and demonstrations in the art of metalworking.

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham Alabama
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham Alabama
Paul Theroux Deep South

Recommended reading for your Alabama road trip: Read Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by Paul Theroux to soak up the atmosphere of the Deep South

13 Southern Museum of Flight

Located close to Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, the Southern Museum of Flight is dedicated to aviation from the earliest days of flight, to more recent civilian and military aircraft. The museum houses over 100 aircraft, in settings that are designed to bring them to life. Displays include Alabama’s Tuskegee Airmen African American pilots, Korean War Jets, Vietnam War Helicopters and Huff Daland biplanes from the 1920s that were used as crop dusters.

The Southern Museum of Flight near Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport.
The Southern Museum of Flight near Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport.

14 McWane Science Center

The McWane Science center is a great option if you are looking for things to do in Birmingham Al with kids. There’s hours of family entertainment at this hands on science centre, designed to inspire children in the wonder of science, technology and engineering. Activities are spread over four levels, including aquarium tanks, dinosaur exhibitions, IMAX dome and Itty Bitty Magic City play area for younger visitors. Check the website as during 2021 some interactive museum activities have been closed due to Covid restrictions.

McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger
McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger

You may also enjoy reading about Huntsville in Northern Alabama: 20 fun things to do in Huntsville Alabama

Parks and gardens in Birmingham Alabama

15 Railroad Park

I chanced upon Railroad Park as I walked around at the end of a long hot day, deciding on a whim to explore what I’d noticed on the map as one of the few large green spaces in Birmingham. Unlike many cities, Birmingham is not built on the banks of a river, so the 19 acre park which was created in 2010 provides a welcome open space for leisure and recreation.

Railroad Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Railroad Park, Birmingham, Alabama

As the name suggests, the park runs alongside the railroad and there are boardwalks and pathways beside the beautiful lake, with plenty of places to stop and relax. It was still hot even in the evening, so I bought a welcome sno-cone from the Shymeer Ice van near the Cafe pavilion and wandered around for a while, enjoying the landscaped wetlands as the sun went down. Park entry is free.

Railroad Park, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Railroad Park, Birmingham, Alabama

On your way to Railroad Park, look out for the color tunnel illuminated by coloured LED lights, that runs under the railway track. There are similar LED lit underpasses at the 14th, 16th, 18th and 20th street viaducts in Birmingham.

Color Tunnel in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger
Color Tunnel in Birmingham Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department / Chris Granger

16 Magic City sign and the Rotary Trail

Close to Railroad Park is the famous Magic City sign which is a replica of an older sign and now marks the start of the Rotary Trail. The original sign stood in front of the Birmingham terminal station. “Magic City” was a reference to the speed with which Birmingham had sprung up from the 1870s to become a thriving and prosperous industrial hub by the 1920s. This sign was re-created to mark the Rotary Trail, which is a green corridor running for half a mile for walkers and cyclists to use and links to other trails in the city.

Magic City sign, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Magic City sign, Birmingham, Alabama
Things to do in Huntsville Alabama Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

Read about the places I visited on this road trip – 20 fun things to do in Huntsville Alabama

17 Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Birmingham Botanical Gardens were established in the 1960s on 69 acres in the Mountain Brook neighbourhood to the east of the city and are free to visit. The area encompasses 30 different gardens, providing year round interest and colour and the paths can be used for walking and jogging as this garden is very much a community endeavour.

Highlights include the Japanese garden with its traditional red gate and the rose garden with pergola that’s in full bloom in the early summer. There’s also a pretty Gardens cafe and a well stocked shop with gifts for the home and garden.

Birmingham Botanical Garden, Alabama
Birmingham Botanical Garden, Alabama

18 Oak Mountain State Park

For an escape from the city, head just south of Birmingham to Oak Mountain State Park, which is Alabama’s largest state park. The park is popular for hiking and mountain biking with 50 miles of trails for visitors to choose from, including trails for horse-riding which can be arranged at the Rusted Roof Barn stables.

Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department
Oak Mountain State Park, Alabama © Alabama Tourism Department

With two lakes within the park there are also plenty of water-sports activities on offer and amazingly two sandy beaches, with an inflatable obstacle course and cable waterski at Beaver lake. For those staying in the Birmingham area a little longer, or those with children to entertain, Oak Mountain State Park has plenty of activities to keep you busy in the great outdoors.

Other natural parks and outdoor activities in Birmingham include Ruffner Mountain with 14 miles of hiking trails and Red Mountain Park. Within the city there’s the easily walkable Vulcan trail running along Red Mountain ridge from just below the Vulcan Park statue.

If you’re short of time it’s a good idea to take a guided tour and we can recommend:

This Birmingham Civil Rights tour will show you the key locations from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s

This Historical Highlights of Birmingham tour will give a great overview of things to see in Birmingham.

Foodies will enjoy this Birmingham Food and Drink Tour to try out some of the best local dishes and places to eat.

Check our more guided tours in Birmingham to make the most of your visit.

For Sports fans

19 Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum

An interesting small museum for sports lovers is the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum showcasing the baseball league that nurtured the sporting talent of the Black community in Birmingham. The museum brings together the artefacts, baseballs, player’s uniforms and trophies from the league.

More than this it tells the story of Negro league baseball – it was more than just a game! I enjoyed the hologram of legendary pitcher Satchel Paige showing just how fast he could pitch that baseball as you stand with it heading towards you. Entry to the museum is free.

Negro Southern League Museum, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Negro Southern League Museum, Birmingham, Alabama

Sports fans and lovers of baseball will want to check if there are any games to watch at Regions Field, the stadium close to Railroad Park. The Regions Park stadium is home of the Birmingham Barons for Minor League Baseball offering family friendly entertainment. The Birmingham Barons originally played at Rickwood Field, which was built in 1910 by local industrialist Rick Woodward and has now been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Also in Birmingham is the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, with a museum that celebrates leading sports men and women within Alabama and has a collection of 6000 pieces of sports memorabilia.

Muscle Shoals Alabama

Read about the places I visited on this road trip – Visit Muscle Shoals Alabama, for music history and more!

Just south of Birmingham Alabama

20 Peaches at Clanton

If you are heading south from Birmingham on the Route 65 Interstate or just want to take a side trip, it’s worth making a stop at Clanton when the peaches are in season in June. The town is known as the Peach Capital of Alabama and you can spot the well known Peach Water Tower (yes it looks like a giant peach) from the Interstate or turn off at Exit 212 to take a closer look.

Peaches in Clanton, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Peaches in Clanton, Alabama

I parked at the Headley’s Big Peach Farm shop where there were plenty of juicy peaches on sale and treated myself to one of their peachy ice lollies from the freezer counter. Just off Exit 205 is Peach Park, a farm shop and restaurant complex selling everything peachy. It has grown from the original roadside stall and now offers a whole range of food and gifts, selling peach ice cream, peach cobbler and lots of other peach products.

Peaches in Clanton, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Peaches in Clanton, Alabama

Hotels in Birmingham Alabama

Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel

For the two nights I spent in Birmingham, I was in the grand and historic Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, which is very centrally located in the Downtown area. The Tutwiler Hotel opened in 1915 and was known as the Grande Dame of Southern Hotels, hosting the great and the good of Birmingham in a hotel that reflected the city’s prosperity at that time.

Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama

Although it was replaced by in the 1970s by a high rise building for the Alabama Bank, the nearby luxury apartment building also created by Major Tutwiler, was transformed into the current 148 bedroom hotel run by Hampton Inn and Suites. The style here is classic, and I had a very elegant suite on one of the upper floors with classic wooden furniture and windows opening to the balcony.

For more accommodation options, check out these hotels in Birmingham Alabama

Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com
Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham, Alabama

Read Next

Read more about the US Civil Rights Trail and the thought provoking Civil Rights sites to visit in Alabama.

Civil Rights Trail in Alabama

More articles from my Alabama trip

11 Cool things to do in Mobile Alabama

Food in Alabama – 20 dishes you’ll want to try!

20 fun things to do in Huntsville Alabama

50 things to do in Alabama USA

Visit Muscle Shoals Alabama – for music history and more!

Map of things to see in Birmingham Al

Check out all the places we’ve mentioned on this handy map of the most fun things to do in Birmingham, Alabama.

More information for Visiting Birmingham Alabama

Lots more information is available when you visit the Birmingham tourism website or plan your visit to Alabama on the Alabama Tourism website.

Social Media: Twitter @inBirmingham | Instagram @inBirmingham | Facebook inBirmingham @GBCVB

Book your trip with America as you like it who offer bespoke self guided tours of Alabama and the USA. America As You Like It can recreate my trip with a 9 night holiday from just £1,310 per person (based on 2 people sharing) including return international flights on American Airlines, car hire and hotel stays. For more information contact 020 8742 8299, [email protected] or visit www.americaasyoulikeit.com

Tours in Birmingham: If you’re short of time it’s a good idea to take a guided tour and we can recommend

Staying in Birmingham Alabama: I stayed at Hampton Inn and Suites Tutwiler Hotel and you can check prices and book for a range of hotels in Birmingham Alabama here.

Getting around Birmingham Alabama

Getting around Birmingham Alabama: Most visitors will find it most convenient to have a car to visit all the places mentioned, although much of the downtown area is easily walkable and taxis can also be used to get around.

Getting to Birmingham Al: It’s easy to fly into Birmingham Shuttlesworth Airport from numerous US destinations and if coming from the UK you can connect via other US airport hubs. If visiting Birmingham as part of a road trip as I did, it is convenient to start in Atlanta or Huntsville and drive south through Alabama, or start in New Orleans or Pensacola and drive north.

Driving times to the next stops on your Alabama Road Trip

  • Driving time from Muscle Shoals to Birmingham – 120 miles / 2 hrs
  • Driving time from Birmingham to Selma – 90 miles / 1 hrs 40 mins
  • Driving time from Birmingham to Montgomery – 90 miles / 1 hrs 20 mins

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Fun things to do in Birmingham Alabama

This article was sponsored* by Alabama Tourism who hosted my trip and many of the experiences mentioned.

* More info on my policies page

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    rich smith
    June 7, 2021 at 11:13 am

    Thanks Heather for writing such a detailed article about Birmingham Alabama. Birmingham is a place to visit for history lovers.

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