25 Best Things to Do in Birmingham (AL)

Written by Lucas Adams
Updated on
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Birmingham is the largest city in the state of Alabama and one that played a huge part in the civil rights movements that shook America in the 1960’s, a beautiful city with an interesting history and a host of things to do.

Originally a town that was famous for its steel industry, Birmingham is now a multicultural city that is home to a world class university and some up and coming sports teams.

I’m a local of Birmingham and have traveled the state of Alabama a lot since I was young, first mainly with family but later also often with friends or just on my own. In my opinion Birmingham is definitely one of Alabama’s most vibrant cities.

With so many things to see and do here, I have created this list of what I think are the top things to do in Birmingham:

1. Meet The Animals At Birmingham Zoo

Birmingham Zoo, AlabamaSource: Wayne Hsieh78 / shutterstock
Birmingham Zoo

With over half a million visitors every year Birmingham Zoo is one of the cities star attractions, the zoo spans some 122 acres and is home to 230 different species of animals. The zoo has become a leader in animal conservation and home to endangered species from six different continents.

A new section called Trails of Africa has recently opened and focuses on protecting the African elephants. There are various activities that happen at the zoo, my favorites being the feeding of the giraffes and the Sea Lion Splash Show. The zoo caters to all age groups and I really had a memorable day.

If you’re planning to do multiple attractions/sights in a few days I’d recommend taking a look at the Birmingham Area Multi-Attraction Pass, which includes the Zoo.

2. Prepare For A Fright At Sloss Furnaces

Sloss FurnacesSource: IA Fillm Group / shutterstock
Sloss Furnaces

Well known as one of Americas haunted attractions are the Sloss Furnaces. Previously a blast furnace between 1882 and 1971, when it was closed it became the only blast furnace in the U.S. to be opened to the public.

It is currently used to hold festivals, educational programs, events, classes, etc… It is also rent out to an outside company that hosts ‘haunted attractions’.

I really enjoyed their self-guided tour but there’s also a a guided tour available (by appointment only). There’s a really scary story of a Mr James ‘Slag’ Wormwood, a foreman on the graveyard shift, but I’m not really sure if he actually existed.

3. View The Collections At Birmingham Museum of Art

Birmingham Museum of ArtSource: Tim Daugherty / shutterstock
Birmingham Museum of Art

More than 26,000 paintings, drawings, prints and decorative arts can be found in the Birmingham Museum of Art.

The artworks date from ancient to modern and show off a wide spectrum of cultures. The museum opened in 1951 and is free to enter with the exception of the occasional special exhibition that may be put on.

The museum has artwork from all continents including the largest collection of Asian art in the Southeast, the exhibition I liked most is ‘Light Play’ which explores the themes Light and Play (who would have guessed). On my last visit I only had about an hour as I had a lunch reservation, but you should really take some more time to explore the museum as this really is one of the best things to do in Birmingham.

4. Learn About Science At The McWane Science Center

McWane Science CenterSource: Ritu Manoj Jethani / shutterstock
McWane Science Center

The McWane Science Center has one very clear mission statement, “Change lives through science and wonder”. What I really enjoyed during my visit were the hands-on exhibits, like the Shark touch tank.

The center is an excellent place for children to explore and learn new things about science without even realizing they are learning. There are four levels to explore including a touch pool where you can touch the sharks and stingrays, on another floor there is a whole section devoted to dinosaurs which kids of all ages will love.

When you have finished looking around there is an IMAX Cinema to watch the latest movies or a Café to stop for some lunch.

5. Watch Some Racing At Barber Motorsports Park

Barber Motorsports ParkSource: Action Sports Photography / shutterstock
Barber Motorsports Park

Set within 740 acres of land is the Barber Motorsports Park, built by George W. Barber. The IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Alabama has been held here since 2010 and people from the across the country make their way here to view the annual spectacle.

Another part of the Park is the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, there are over 1450 vintage and modern racing cars and motorcycles housed here which is the largest collection of motorcycles in the world. For Lotus race car fans you can also see a huge collection of them as well.

6. Chill Out At Railroad Park

Railroad Park, Birmingham, AlabamaSource: Sean Pavone / shutterstock
View of Birmingham Skyline from Railroad Park

If you are looking for somewhere to relax in Birmingham then I would recommend a trip to Railroad Park. There are 19 acres of space that make up the park with half of it being left as open lawn. There are approximately 600 trees planted here as well as many different types of flower.

A beautiful lake covers 30% of the park and there are little streams to be seen all over the park. If you fancy a run there is a loop around the perimeter that you can jog around, at one point you will find yourself at the top of a hill where you can look down at the city and take in the fantastic views.

In case you’re looking for a delicious lunch or a fresh roasted coffee, I would recommend The Red Cat at Railroad Park. I had their veggie wrap (made of spinach), it had avocado, tomato, cucumber, some onion and more, it was really good!

7. Get Active At Oak Mountain State Park

Oak Mountain State ParkSource: Vladimir Ternovoy / shutterstock
Oak Mountain State Park

For those looking to burn some energy a journey to Oak Mountain State Park will see to that, at 9,940 acres it is the largest state park in Alabama and very close to Birmingham.

The most popular activities here are hiking and mountain biking, with over fifty miles of trails you can see why, one of the trails has even made it onto the International Mountain Biking Associations list of EPIC rides.

For those not wanting to hike or cycle you can rent a boat, play basketball, use the golf course and driving range and so much more. As I’m not that into mountain biking, I rented a kayak at Flip Side and had an amazing time, a great way to explore the lake at your own pace.

Related Reading: Most beautiful places to visit in Alabama

8. Go Back In Time At The Southern Museum of Flight

Southern Museum of FlightSource: Flickr
Southern Museum of Flight

The Southern Museum of Flight is a 75,000 square foot museum and one of the largest of its kind in Southeast America. The museum was set up to preserve military, civilian and experimental aircraft, right from the early day of flight until modern day.

There are over ninety aircraft at the museum as well as photographs, engines, paintings and artifacts. Whilst at the museum you should take a look at the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame that has over 65 plaques that show off the greatest of Alabama’s pilots.

9. Watch A Show At The Alabama Theatre

Alabama TheatreSource: Paul Brady Photography / shutterstock
Alabama Theatre

Right in the heart of downtown Birmingham is the The Alabama Theatre, ever since 1927 people have been entertained by the various shows, movies and concerts that have been performed here.

I suggest to check online to see what shows are playing, in case nothing tickles your fancy at the time, a walk down 3rd Avenue North to see the theatre is still worth your time.

10. Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

Ruffner Mountain Nature PreserveSource: JNix / shutterstock
Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve

Sitting on the slopes of Red Mountain is Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, originally this land was an iron-ore mine and producer of limestone until it was shut down.

Today it is a 1000 acre nature preserve that you can explore whilst examining the native plants and animals.

The park has over 12 miles of trails that lead over the mountain, these are open to the public and can be used for hiking, running and general enjoyment of the nature around.

11. Learn About The Jazz Greats At Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame

Alabama Jazz Hall Of FameSource: string_bass_dave / Flickr
Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame

Founded in 1978 the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame was built to showcase the jazz legends that were born in the state of Alabama, The museum has many legends fighting for position including the likes of Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton and Erskine Hawkins, here you will learn all about these characters as well as looking into the music that shot them to fame.

You can travel through time to where it all began with Clarence “Pinetop” Smith right up to today’s most current jazz performers. The Hall of Fame is open every Tuesday to Saturday all year round. All in all, a great thing to do in Birmingham, AL.

12. Time For Some American Football At Legion Field

FootballSource: Mark Herreid / shutterstock

Fondly known as “The Old Grey Lady” Legion Field Stadium was constructed in 1927 and has a seating capacity of 21,000. The stadium obtained its name Legion Field in honor of the American Legion.

When the stadium first opened it was not a good day for Birmingham Southern College as they were beat 9-0 by Samford University (the Howard College).

The stadium has famously hosted the Iron Bowl as well as 1996 Olympic soccer.

13. Learn The History Of Civil Rights At Kelly Ingram Park

Kelly Ingram ParkSource: Malachi Jacobs / shutterstock
Kelly Ingram Park

In the 1960’s Kelly Ingram Park was a hotbed of activity, civil rights rallies, demonstrations and confrontations all took place in this four acres section of land. It was right at the heart of the nation’s Civil Rights Movements, the second revolution of America in the struggle that African-American citizens faced in their demands for equality.

There is a mobile phone app you can download that will take you on a journey through the park and give you information about the events that took place here, there are also various sculptures of key individuals involved in the movements that took place.

14. Get Wet At Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure

Swimming PoolSource: Roman Samborskyi / shutterstock
Swimming Pool

Just a couple of minutes outside Birmingham is Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure, a huge water park that is now family owned and guaranteed to provide hours of fun for all the family.

There are flumes, water coasters, wave machines, splashdowns and many other types of water amusements to keep everyone happy. The park also has other entertainment to keep everyone happy including a Mist-ical Maze and a Wipeout adventure course.

Open all year around the park is great for small or large groups to attend.

Related reading: Best water parks in Alabama

15. Relive History At Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

Alabama Sports Hall of FameSource: Chris Pruitt / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Alabama Sports Hall of Fame

With over 5,000 sporting artifacts displayed in this huge building the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame has become the benchmark by which other sporting museums are measured.

There are sports men and women from every sport inducted into the hall of fame here including Alabama Legends such as Jack Warner and Ray Scott. There is a very strict induction process that you can learn about whilst at the museum, getting into the hall of fame is not an easy process, only true legends need apply!

16. Admire The View From Red Mountain

View From Red MountainSource: Jimmy Rooney / shutterstock
View From Red Mountain

Red Mountain is a ridge that divides Shades Valley and Jones Valley. The mountain got its name from the hard Silurian rock that has a rust stained look and the seams of red that also appear.

The mountain was also where the infamous Sloss Furnace was built. In 1970 the Red Mountain Expressway was finally completed after years were spent cutting through the rock, this led to Birmingham being connected with the suburbs in the south and led to much economic growth for the area.

There are various viewpoints on Red Mountain that can be accessed giving you excellent views over the city of Birmingham.

17. Watch Some Baseball At Regions Park

BaseballSource: David Lee / shutterstock

Birmingham has its very only minor league baseball team called the Birmingham Barons, they were originally housed at the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium before reaching their current home at Regions Park. The team is averagely successful in their league and are an affiliate club with the Chicago White Sox.

The stadium itself has a capacity of 8,500 and was opened in April 2013. For those who love their baseball this is an excellent venue to visit and cheer on your local heroes.

18. Let’s Play Ball At Bartow Arena

BasketballSource: Brocreative / shutterstock

Bartow Arena is home to the University of Alabama At Birmingham’s male and female basketball teams. Originally knows at the UAB Arena when Gene Bartow retired from coaching a unanimous decision was made to rename the arena after him.

The men’s team have a formidable record of victories at this stadium having won more than 80% of their home games, an all-time percentage of .824, as recent at the 2015/15 season the UAB Blazers won the conference championships and have been as high at the 9th ranked team in the country.

19. Catch A Film At The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival

Lyric Theater in BirminghamSource: Stephen Reeves / shutterstock
Lyric Theater in Birmingham

Every year people gather from all over the state of Alabama for one weekend at the end of August, they are here for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. Spread over seven locations in the city of Birmingham, it is an opportunity for film makers to showcase their work to the crowds and expose people to films that they would not normally get to see.

The event has been around since 1999 and the popularity of the event has turned it into an annual fixture. If you are looking to come to Birmingham on this weekend I suggest you book your hotel timely as rooms will go very quickly.

20. Check Out Some Live Music at Zydeco

Live MusicSource: Evannovostro / shutterstock
Live Music

Every now and again it is time to shake off the cobwebs and have a night on the town, why not come and check out Zydeco, an intimate venue that has an array of local as well as touring acts performing on its stage.

There are 13 different types of beer on tap here as well as cocktails and Cajun cuisine. If you do not fancy the music that night head upstairs where this is an outside patio, pool table and some video games to play. The price of entry will change depending on the band that is playing, but there is always a good night to be had here.

21. Have A Round At Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club

GolfingSource: photogolfer / shutterstock

Shoal Creek is a beautiful Alabaman golf course that is a regular on the PGA Championship, as well as being one of the most beautiful courses in the U.S. The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 1977 to the public, the course immediately became a hit and people still come from far and wide to play a round at this legendary golf course.

Shoal Creek has four guest cottages for people to stay for a few days as well as a small 3-par course known as little links, a swimming pool, tennis courts and fishing lake.

22. Visit The Vulcan Statue

Vulcan Statue, BirminghamSource: Ritu Manoj Jethani / shutterstock
Vulcan Statue

Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world today, it is made from more than 100,000 pounds of iron and stands at 56 feet tall.

The statue is of a burly, bare-bottomed, bearded man. The roman god of Fire and forge. The statue stands at the top of Red Mountain overlooking the city of Birmingham and was built as a symbol of the cities iron origins.

The park where the statue sits is a great place that has an interesting museum into the colorful history of this wonderful city.

23. Dine At Highlands Bar and Grill

DiningSource: TnkImages / shutterstock

Winner of countless awards and truly one of Americas greatest restaurants is the Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham. Owned by Frank and Pardiss Stitt the restaurant has been open and serving diners for more than thirty years.

The restaurant serves a French inspired southern dinner and offers excellent service and food to all of its visitors. Frank Stitt is not only one of the owners but also the executive chef here and has previously been named the ‘Best Chef in the Southeast’ with accolades like that you are sure to be in the best of hands.

24. Increase Your Education Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

Birmingham Civil Rights InstituteSource: Brett Welcher / shutterstock
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a large museum and research center sitting in the heart of the city. It was set up to promote understanding and appreciation for the civil rights movements that happened in the past.

In just over twenty years more than two million people have been through the doors of the institute to learn about the history of the movements, the institute still has a hugely active part in city life to this day. There are permanent exhibitions here as well as temporary ones that change on a regular basis.

25. Remember The Bombing Of The 16th Street Baptist Church

16th Street Baptist Church, BirminghamSource: Ritu Manoj Jethani / shutterstock
16th Street Baptist Church

The 16th Street Baptist Church was the first black church ever to be opened in Birmingham, in the 1960’s the church served as the headquarters for the various rallies that were in force at the time. It was believed that Birmingham at that time was the most racist city in America, a thought that was confirmed further when in 1963 the demonstrations resulted in police brutality and retaliation.

Martin Luther King Jr provided leadership at these marches. The face of this church changed forever though when on Sunday September 15th 1963 a bomb exploded killing four girls who were attending Sunday school.

The bomb made the news across the world and sent shockwaves throughout America. More than $300,000 were raised and the damaged church was restored to the site you see today.

25 Best Things to Do in Birmingham (AL):

  • Meet The Animals At Birmingham Zoo
  • Prepare For A Fright At Sloss Furnaces
  • View The Collections At Birmingham Museum of Art
  • Learn About Science At The McWane Science Center
  • Watch Some Racing At Barber Motorsports Park
  • Chill Out At Railroad Park
  • Get Active At Oak Mountain State Park
  • Go Back In Time At The Southern Museum of Flight
  • Watch A Show At The Alabama Theatre
  • Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
  • Learn About The Jazz Greats At Alabama Jazz Hall Of Fame
  • Time For Some American Football At Legion Field
  • Learn The History Of Civil Rights At Kelly Ingram Park
  • Get Wet At Alabama Adventure & Splash Adventure
  • Relive History At Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
  • Admire The View From Red Mountain
  • Watch Some Baseball At Regions Park
  • Let’s Play Ball At Bartow Arena
  • Catch A Film At The Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival
  • Check Out Some Live Music at Zydeco
  • Have A Round At Shoal Creek Golf and Country Club
  • Visit The Vulcan Statue
  • Dine At Highlands Bar and Grill
  • Increase Your Education Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
  • Remember The Bombing Of The 16th Street Baptist Church