Birmingham, Alabama has been known for many things over the years. In its early days, it was known for the steel industry. In the 1960s, it was known for important events in the Civil Rights Movement. And today, it’s at a crossroads between the past and present. Steel mills have been repurposed into new spaces and young people have brought in a thriving music scene along with award-winning bars, restaurants, and breweries. There are also large suburban areas like Mountain Brook and Homewood worth exploring. The city hosts events like the annual Sloss Fest music festival at the Sloss Furnaces, the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, and Magic City Brewfest.
What to Do
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum– Even if cars and motorcycles aren’t your thing, the massive museum is worth the stop. The collection spans thousands of square feet with motorized bicycles, collector’s motorcycles, and even experimental bikes. The museum overlooks the Porsche test track and the park hosts races and events. 6030 Barber Motorsports Pkwy, Leeds
Birmingham Zoo– The kids will enjoy a trip to the zoo, where they have over 800 animals, including elephants, cassowaries, and orangutan. Take in the exhibits and visit during events like their Pokemon Go day. The facility now emphasizes conservation over entertainment. 2630 Cahaba Road
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute– Perhaps the most important place to visit, this museum focuses on the city’s role in the movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s stay in the nearby jail, the Children’s Crusade that was met with fire hoses and attack dogs, and the nearby bus boycotts. Give yourself at least two hours here and on Sundays, tours are by donation. 520 16th Street North
16th Street Baptist Church– Located right across the street, this still-functional church is remembered for being the site where four girls were killed when a KKK member set off a bomb before Sunday school during the Civil Rights Movement. Today, there’s a small museum and tours of the building. 1530 6th Avenue North
Vulcan Park and Museum– The best views of the city are from this hilltop park devoted to the steel industry. Head up to the observation deck of the famous statue for a 360-degree view and take time to expore the museum. You can even visit at night. 1701 Valley View Drive
Railroad Park– A former rail line has been transformed into a beloved local park complete with trails and views of the skyline. It’s a popular place for events and has a few public art projects, specifically a lit tunnel on the western side. 1600 1st Avenue South
Negro Southern League Museum– Opposite the park is this small, but excellent, museum devoted to the leagues of African-American baseball players, including those from Birmingham. Exhibits include uniforms, memorabilia, and interactive displays. 120 16th Street South
The Market at Pepper Place– Every Saturday, rain or shine, the former Dr. Pepper plant hosts a farmer’s market, live music, and cooking demonstrations. Vendors come to sell their pastries, coffee, and fresh produce. 2829 2nd Avenue South
Red Mountain– This park offers 15 miles of hiking trails, zip lines, adventure towers, and even accommodations. The area is named for the iron ore that sits beneath the mountain. 2011 Frankfurt Drive
Sloss Furnaces– Similar in history to Red Mountain, the National Historic Landmark dates back to the 1800s. It’s the perfect spot for urban exploration and I recommend going with an organized tour to get the most out of your visit. 20 32nd Street North
Birmingham Museum of Art– The extensive and diverse collection includes paintings, Asian sculpture, photography, and a large gallery of Wedgewood. Admission is free. 2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard
Where to Eat
Over Easy– You’ll find breakfast all day at this suburban restaurant. Look for stone-ground grits, locally made sausage, and egg dishes. They also serve sandwiches with their homemade pimento cheese. 358 Hollywood Boulevard, (205) 639-1910
the J. Clyde– Part beer bar, part restaurant, both make this Five Points spot a local favorite. Share some plates among friends like the beer cheese or pizzas. And, of course, ask your server about their beer selections. 1312 Cobb Lane, (205) 939-1312
Garage Cafe– Setting is everything at the Garage Cafe, which has a small indoor space and a large garden terrace covered with green plants and rusting furniture. The cash-only spot has a respectable bar menu and sandwiches. 2304 10th Terrace South, (205) 322-3220
Post Office Pies– Located in the Avondale neighborhood, the former post office operates as a pizzeria on the back end of a brewery. Brick oven pizza is the main draw, but they also have meatballs and other Italian options. 209 41st Street South, (205) 599-9900
Bottega Italian Restaurant– Well-known chef Frank Stitt’s trattoria includes a fine dining option as well as a casual cafe. Both menus include dishes like pasta, seafood, and veal along with European wines. 2240 Highland Avenue, (205) 939-1000
Saw’s Soul Kitchen– Saw’s has three different but unique locations and this one has a line out the door at lunchtime. You’ll find Southern favorites like fried chicken alongside Alabama-style barbecue. 215 41st St South, (205) 591-1409
Hot & Hot Fish Club– One of the city’s top restaurants, Chris Hastings and his team blend influences from France, California and the South. The menu emphasizes farm-to-table products in dishes like chicken with Carolina Gold rice grits and short rib tamales. 2180 11th Court South, (205) 933-5474
Where to Stay
Name a hotel chain and you’ll certainly find it in Birmingham. Most are large-scale national brands that service the business and conference crowds, but boutique brands are slowly making their way to town. The Redmont Hotel Birmingham is somewhere in the middle, a recently remodeled historic property taken over by Hilton’s Curio brand. Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham Downtown – The Tutwiler has the amenities of the chain in a unique setting. Grand Bohemian Hotel Mountain Brook, Autograph Collection is the latest to the boutique brand’s locations, managed by Marriott. Aloft Birmingham Soho Square is Starwood’s offering outside of town. The Westin Birmingham is in a great location.
If you’re looking for a different option, Airbnb is well-serviced in the city and surrounds, which will give you the opportunity to experience the cool neighborhoods rather than just downtown. Campgrounds are also available at Oak Mountain State Park with both cabins and campsites.
My stay in Birmingham was assisted by Birmingham Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and The Redmont Hotel. This website contains affiliate links that help keep the site running.
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