As the largest city in Alabama, Birmingham has a lot of unexpected surprises to offer. It’s a place where history and culture meet with beautiful gardens and a fun zoo. Explore some of the Deep South’s fascinating heritage while perusing the history and art museums, discover the sounds of Birmingham at the Jazz Music Hall of Fame, and settle down to some good food and Southern hospitality. Try out any of these attractions for a guaranteed great time!
Make a road trip out of it and drive to nearby cities. It’s a 1½ hour drive from Montgomery (100 miles), a 1½ hour drive from Huntsville (100 miles), just over 2 hours from Chattanooga (145 miles) and 2½ hours from Atlanta (150 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – Learn all about the era of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement. Multimedia exhibitions depict dramatic events which took place in Birmingham and other cities. It’s located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church (which is known for the horrific 1963 bombing that killed four young girls). This museum is part of the Smithsonian museum group and it’s a must-see for all. Admission is $12 for adults and $3 for children.
2. Birmingham Museum of Art offers an extensive collections of a variety of art forms, which includes the world-renowned Asian art collection, as well as the Kress Collection of Renaissance, Baroque European art, African, Native American, and Pre-Columbian collections. Return to see the rotating exhibits (which may charge for admission). General admission is free!
3. Birmingham Botanical Gardens features 67 sprawling acres of flora and fauna, with 12,000 different types of plants arranged in over two dozen unique gardens, as well as outdoor sculpture, a children’s garden, and miles of walking paths, the gardens are a beautiful place to spend part of a day. Best of all, it’s free!
4. The Alabama Jazz Music Hall of Fame Museum – Honoring musicians such as W. C. Handy and Erskine Hawkins, jazz lovers will this self-guided tour. Watch a short film, interviews, historical photos and voice-overs, which detail the state’s contributions to the world of jazz music. Exhibits include costumes, musical instruments, records, and playbills that help us recall Alabama’s great history in Jazz. It’s closed on Sunday and Monday. Admission is $3 for a guided tour or $2 for a self-guided tour.
5. The Birmingham Zoo– Take a meandering walk on the wild side, visiting over 1000 animals and birds housed in their natural habitats. The Birmingham zoo is Alabama’s most-visited attraction. It features ongoing and constantly changing special exhibitions, as well as many “interactivities” for children. Species include giraffes, gorillas, rhinos, tigers, hippos, and lions. The zoo also features a playground, a carousel, a train, a cafe, and a splash area in the summer. Admission is $14 for adults and $9 for children. Admission is half price every Tuesday.
6. Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens – Birmingham’s only antebellum home pre-dated the city’s founding in 1871. Arlington Antebellum Home is a fully restored Greek revival mansion built between 1845 and 1850 and set on beautifully-landscaped grounds. The mansion houses wonderful antiques and a collection of decorative arts from around the world. Truly a visit to a more genteel time. Two annual festivals, the Arlington Country Fair and Christmas at Arlington, are held here. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.
7. Splash Adventure (Previously known as Alabama Adventure & Visionland) – This 200 acre water park features 12 exciting rides, the newest include a water-filled obstacle course and a zip-line. Admission is just $5 per person and a season pass is $40 per person.
8. McWane Science Center – While science may sound a little boring, this place actually manages to make science for for all ages. The children will enjoy digging for dinosaur bones, petting stingrays, forming giant bubbles, playing in the giant water table, crawling through a giant scale model of a bass, and dancing on the giant floor piano. They are also home to an IMAX Dome Theater. General admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children.
9. Barber Motorsports Park and Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum – Experience the thrill of a 16-turn road course, used by Grand-Am Racing Series and AMA Superbikes, as well as other exciting racing events. Also enjoy some schools of racing, including the Porsche Driving Experience. Also onsite is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which houses over 1200 vintage and modern motorcycles, the oldest of which dates back to 1902, as well as an extensive collection of cars, which includes 43 exceptionally rare Lotus race cars. General admission is $30 for adults and free for children.
10. The Vulcan Statue & Museum is the world’s largest cast iron statue, weighing 50 tons and standing at 56 feet tall. Vulcan looms over Birmingham from the top of Red Mountain, and visitors can enjoy the same view, as well as a small museum that focuses on the history of Birmingham and the story of the iron industry in the region. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children.
Saw’s Juke-Joint – We reached out to American Idol winner and Paris Las Vegas headliner Taylor Hicks to ask him what his favorite restaurant in America is and he said it was Saw’s Juke-Joint. He says “It is a quintessential Southern barbecue and soul food restaurant. From the sweet tea fried chicken sandwich to the best smoked wings in the country, I love coming back to my old stomping grounds and sitting in with some fabulous Southern blues artists. The Heart of Dixie has the best food in the world – hands down.”
Flip Burger Boutique – This is not your average burger joint, as they have become well known for making burgers with unique toppings, some of which are topped with eggs, hash-browns, bleu cheese, brisket, avocado, bacon, cilantro-lime mayo, apple chutney, lamb, tuna, and even yogurt! Their innovative creations have gotten press in The Wall Street Journal, SKY Magazine, and in Food & Wine Magazine. Burger prices start at $7.5 and go up to $14.
The Cheesecake Factory – Since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1978, these restaurants have become well known for their fun atmosphere, huge portions and more than 200 menu selections to choose from. They offer 50 cheesecakes and specialty desserts, with some that are only offered seasonally. These include: Key lime cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie – Dough cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake (available from October – holidays), Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake, and after thanksgiving they even have a peppermint Bark Cheesecake!