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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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