Best Things To Do in Birmingham
Once an industrial hub of the South and ground zero for the civil rights movement, Birmingham is now a vibrant and diverse metropolis, known for its wide array of outdoor spaces and golf courses. Catch a bird's-eye view of the city from the iconic Vulcan Tower, go on a stroll through "Birmingham's Living Room" (Railroad Park) or experience an adrenaline rush zip lining through Red Mountain Park. And to better understand the history that shaped present-day Birmingham, plan a visit to the Civil Rights Institute followed by a walk through the Civil Rights District. You can also view an amazing collection of motorcycles at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum or take the kids to the McWane Science Center for some educational play.
Updated March 1, 2017
- #1View all Photos#1 in Birmingham0.9 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
To learn more about Birmingham's role in the civil rights movement, plan a visit to the Civil Rights District. This six-block area in downtown Birmingham encompasses several historic sites, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, the A.G. Gaston Gardens and the Fourth Avenue Business District, among other points of interest.
Perhaps the most significant site is Kelly Ingram Park, which played host to civil rights rallies, demonstrations and confrontations in the 1960s, including the Children's Crusade. You can take a self-led walking tour through the park to learn about the notable protesters and the significant incidents of this turbulent time in the city's history, detailed by markers along the Freedom Walk route. The park is also home to the Four Spirits statues, which honor the four African American girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. To fully experience the walk, you can access a free audio tour from your cell phone by calling 205-307-5455.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Birmingham0.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.7 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Known as "Birmingham's Living Room," the 19-acre Railroad Park is where locals gather for recreational activities, concerts and special events. The park features a lake, jogging trails, skate bowls, an outdoor gym, playgrounds and the partially covered 17th Street Plaza, which offers restrooms and the Railroad Park Dining Car.
Recent travelers said this local favorite is a gorgeous green space. Reviewers commented on the clean restrooms, beautiful gardens, picnic facilities and scenic trails. Parents noted that their kids loved watching the trains go by at the adjacent railroad yard.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Birmingham2.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Spanning more than 65 acres, these gorgeous gardens are known for their diverse plant collections. In fact, there are 30 thematic gardens divided into three categories: Gardens of Collections, Gardens of Nature and Gardens of Culture. You'll also find the only public horticultural library in the United States here. What's more, programs and workshops are available for both children and adults, and the Bruno Vegetable Garden provides food for Birmingham's needy. The gardens also feature several paths for walking and jogging, making it a great spot for both recreation and relaxation.
Recent visitors said a visit to the botanical gardens is a fun and inexpensive way to spend an afternoon outdoors. Many commented on the variety of birds, as well as the diverse landscapes, from Japanese gardens to native woodlands. All agreed that the facility is well-maintained and appreciated its many amenities, including a restaurant, lots of outdoor seating and a gift shop.
- #4View all Photos#4 in Birmingham1 mile to city centerMuseums, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1 mile to city centerMuseums, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute presents the moving story of the city's role in the civil rights movement, focusing not just on the past, but also on the continuing international struggle for human rights through permanent and temporary galleries. Exhibits detail some of the most significant events in Birmingham's history, including the tragic loss of life at the 16th Street Baptist Church during a bombing orchestrated by the Ku Klux Klan.
Most visitors call this museum a moving experience and a wonderful way to learn about the civil rights movement and its impact on our nation. Although the museum is family-friendly, some say the Confrontation Gallery (where visitors hear recorded voices of children and adults – both black and white – sharing sentiments they would only say behind closed doors) is disturbing and very emotional. Many recommend combining a visit to the institute with a walking tour of the downtown Civil Rights District.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Birmingham0.9 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.9 miles to city centerMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Despite its small size, this art museum houses a notable and eclectic collection of Asian, European, Native American and African art, not to mention one of the best collections of Wedgwood in the country (in fact, it houses the most Wedgwood outside of England).
Recent visitors were impressed with the museum's noteworthy collection of Wedgwood, along with the Samuel Kress collection of European art and its Remington works. Reviewers also appreciated the free admission and free parking, and praised the museum's other facilities, including its on-site eatery and gift shop. However, a few noted that the outdoor art installation is somewhat overgrown and neglected.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Birmingham6.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND6.1 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Recreation, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
There's something for everyone at Red Mountain Park, where miners once toiled to extract iron ore from the red soil. The 1,500-acre park features more than 15 miles of trails, two scenic overlooks, three treehouses, an off-leash dog park and adventures from zip lining and climbing to a ropes course.
Many visitors loved the zip line and ropes courses, but bemoaned the poorly marked and confusing trail signs and the lack of proper restrooms (the park does offer portable toilets). Most said the trails – not particularly long or challenging – are more for walkers than hikers, including families with strollers and small children. Pet owners also appreciated the dog park, as well as the plentiful free parking.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Birmingham8.1 miles to city centerGolfTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND8.1 miles to city centerGolfTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
One of the largest golf course construction projects ever attempted, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail showcases a collection of public courses throughout the state of Alabama, including two courses in the Birmingham area, all designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. Oxmoor Valley offers three courses: the Ridge with heavy tree cover and big elevation changes, the Valley with scenic lakes throughout and the Short course, which features 18 one-shot holes. The other local course, Ross Bridge, is one of the longest in the world and features two large lakes connected by a stunning waterfall.
Visiting golfers love both Oxmoor Valley and Ross Bridge, although many note that Ross Bridge is not only visually stunning, but also more challenging. Most reviewers complimented the excellent service at both courses and noted that one of the benefits of playing on RTJ courses is that the tee boxes vary to accommodate players from novice to expert. Experienced golfers preferred the diversity at the Ross Bridge course and said that it's in great shape, while some described the Oxmoor Valley course as "tired." Many golfers loved playing in November, when the weather is still fairly warm.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Birmingham10.7 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND10.7 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're a gearhead, you won't want to miss George Barber's collection of motorcycles – the largest in the world, according to Guinness – featuring more than 1,400 bikes from 200 different manufacturers. The museum also houses an extensive selection of Lotus Cars, if you prefer four wheels to two.
Recent visitors called this museum a "world-class facility" and said that even if you're not into motorcycles, this collection is worth seeing. Other reviewers praised the assortment of Lotus Cars and the outdoor track, which hosts the Porsche Sport Driving School. The only gripe among recent visitors concerned the museum's facilities, or lack thereof: museumgoers said they would love to see a cafe or eatery added to the grounds.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Birmingham1.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND1.7 miles to city centerMuseums, Parks and Gardens, RecreationTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Overlooking the city of Birmingham is a bearded man that pays homage to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge. The largest cast iron statue in the world, Vulcan is a reminder of the city's iron mining roots. Visitors can ascend the Vulcan tower for spectacular, open-air city views or explore the ground-level museum to learn more about Birmingham's history. The park is also home to the city's official visitor center.
Recent visitors enjoyed the local legend surrounding the statue and said the trip up the tower is well worth the ticket. Some reviewers do caution, though, that the open grated floor on the observation deck may be a problem for those with a fear of heights. Most agreed that the museum is interesting, and noted this is a good attraction to visit on Sunday mornings, when most other attractions are closed.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Birmingham0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.6 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Kids of all ages will enjoy the interactive McWane Science Center. An integral part of the revitalization of downtown Birmingham, the center is located in the historic Loveman's department store building. Hands-on exhibits include the Fox 6 Weather Lab, the High Cycle (a high-wire bicycle that teaches visitors about the laws of gravity), the Itty Bitty Magic City and the Shark and Ray Touch Tank. The center also boasts an Imax theater.
Both parents and grandparents say McWane is a "super fun" place to spend a day with the kids, especially since the center appeals to a variety of age groups. Families that visited said they appreciated the option to purchase Imax theater admission separately and enjoyed the convenience of the on-site food court. However, some reviewers said the exhibits need to be updated more often.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Birmingham0.8 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The art deco Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is located in the Carver Theatre in the heart of the Civil Rights District. Exhibits honor Alabama jazz greats, including Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Beyond its collection of memorabilia and personal effects, the theater also presents shows by local jazz artists and comedians. The theater itself also plays a significant role in the city's civil rights history: it was one of several theaters offering first-run movies to African Americans.
Recent visitors called this small museum "a hidden jewel" and a must-see for jazz fans. However, some were disappointed with its petite size (it spans more than 2,200 square feet). But with an entrance fee of just $2, most travelers say it's an enjoyable stop to see memorabilia, ranging from Ray Charles' piano to Ella Fitzgerald's Neiman Marcus credit card.
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