Regarded as the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, the capital of Alabama is an important destination for those interested in American history. Located on the east bank of the Alabama River, the city also boasts a variety of activities based on and around the waterfront for those whose interests lie less with history and politics.
The birthplace of famous Americans including Nat King Cole and Zelda Fitzgerald, Montgomery is also renowned for the Bus Boycott in 1955, starting when Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus. Events such as this have secured Montgomery’s place as one of the most important historical American cities.
I’m an Alabama local and have visited Montgomery countless time to visit friends and explore all there is to do and see in the city.
From riverboat trips to historical museums, haunted hearse tours to underground jazz clubs, read on for my list of the best things to do in Montgomery, Alabama.
1. Visit the Rosa Parks Library and Museum
The Rosa Parks museum and children’s wing is dedicated to relaying information about the accomplishments of those associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Great for educating children, the museum includes a time machine that transports visitors back in time to witness segregation first hand. After experiencing the hardships of the 1800’s, the research center and museum can be visited to gain more knowledge and understanding about Rosa Parks’ courageous act in 1955.
2. Admire the collections at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
A trip to the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts is essential for all art lovers with its extensive collection of artworks and impressive sculpture garden.
Alongside a host of current exhibitions, the museum houses an impressive array of permanent collections, including African art works, decorative porcelain, American works on paper, regional art of the south-east of the USA, and 20th Century photography works.
The museum is located within Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park, making it the perfect destination for an entire day out.
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3. Relive history at the Alabama State Archives and History Museum
History buffs will love to explore the museum, discovering the stories behind the development of the state of Alabama. The records and artifacts stored here explain the history of the state, from its American Indian origins to the arrival of the Pioneers, up until the modern day.
The turn-of-the-century building itself is one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the city, the walls, pillars and staircases crafted from Alabama marble.
4. Relax by the water at Riverfront Park
It’s easy to get distracted with all of the museums and monuments in Montgomery, but spending time enjoying the waterfront is an essential part of any visit to Montgomery. Riverfront Park offers an entertainment program of concerts and events, alongside the popular splash pad, access to the river for boating and baseball games at Riverwalk Stadium.
On sunny days, bring a picnic and spend the afternoon relaxing on the grass and watching the boats go by. I suggest paying a visit to the Red Bluff Bar at the Silos, the perfect place for a nice cold beer or cocktail while watching the sunset.
5. Relive the Jazz Age at the Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
Lovers of the 1920’s should make a beeline straight for the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald museum, the only museum in the world that honors the couple.
The six galleries tell the story of the glamorous vagabond duo from Scott’s early years at Princeton University and the release of his first novels, through Zelda’s rise to fame as a Flapper Girl and onto the last years of their lives. Zelda was born in Montgomery and the couple spent some time living there together during the early 1930’s, making this the perfect setting for a museum honoring their life works.
6. Experience a production at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival
One of the ten largest Shakespeare festivals in the world is based in Montgomery, permanently housed in the Carolyn Blount Theatre. Time your visit well to experience one of the productions that are staged up to 14 times a year (including up to three Shakespeare productions).
After a shaky start in Anniston, the festival moved to Montgomery in the 1980’s when a performing arts complex set within the Winton M. Blount Cultural Park was gifted to the project, lending financial support to the critically acclaimed productions.
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7. Pay your respects at the Civil Rights Memorial
Commemorating all those who died during the Civil Rights Movement, this discreet yet moving memorial is located beside the Civil Rights Memorial Center.
The poignant monument features a moving quote by Martin Luther King: “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream”. A black granite platform positioned below the quote features the names of all those who were killed, with water constantly flowing over its surface.
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8. Haunted Montgomery Tours
If you dare, jump into a hearse to experience Montgomery’s darker side, with a night time tour of the city’s mystical legends. Tour operator, Shannon Fontaine used to work in the Police Department, and uses his personal experiences and access to archives to investigate some of the city’s most reputable haunted sites.
Expect to be scared witless as Fontaine shows you the sights of unsolved murders, mass burial grounds and suspenseful stories. As there are only six seats in the hearse and tours are limited to the Halloween period, it is recommended to book a place well in advance.
9. Spend the day at Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park
One of my favorite spots and also the perfect place for the whole family to spend an action-packed day is Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park. It is home to both the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
The 250-acre park is ideal for a sunny day, with miles of walking trails, ponds and a natural amphitheater to discover and enjoy. There are even two separate parks for large and small dogs to run around.
10. Visit Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
Situated inside the Dexter Avenue, King Memorial Baptist Church is a striking mural of Martin Luther King‘s journey from Montgomery to Memphis.
The church itself was renamed in 1978 to commemorate the memory of Martin Luther King, who was pastor of the church from 1954 to 1960 and assisted in organizing the Montgomery Bus Boycott from its basement. Next door to the church sits the Dexter Parsonage Museum, where previous pastors used to reside.
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11. Eastbrook Flea Market and Antique Mall
If searching for buried treasures interests you, take a trip to Eastbrook Antique Mall to unearth a hoard of hidden gems.
Crammed full of rare antiques, estate-sale finds and mid-century furniture, part of the fun is searching through the clutter to find what you are looking for. The main floor houses antiques, whilst the upstairs resembles a flea market and the basement is filled with smaller stalls.
There’s also a decent thrift store located right next door, for those who haven’t had their fill of browsing.
12. Visit the First White House of the Confederacy
Home to Jefferson Davis after he was inaugurated in 1861, the First White House of the Confederacy is now an homage to the former President of the Confederate States of America.
In the 1920’s, the house was moved to its present location and restored, using many items donated by Mrs Davis, including period furniture, relics of the Civil War and a collection of personal items belonging to the family.
13. Take a tour of the Alabama State Capitol
Built in a classic Greek revival style, the current State Capitol building was reconstructed in 1850 after the original building burned down in a fire.
Several important events in the history of the state of Alabama occurred in or outside this building, including an inspiring speech by Martin Luther King on its steps and Jefferson Davis taking his oath of office as President of the Confederate States of America. In case you’re in town for a few days I recommend having a look at the 3-Day Montgomery City Multi-Attraction Pass which includes entry to the Alabama State Capitol building.
14. Visit the Hank Williams Museum
Even if you are not a Hank Williams fan, the museum dedicated to the first country music superstar is sure to inspire you.
Located in downtime Montgomery, the museum houses a collection of iconic objects related to Williams and his career, including his infamous blue Cadillac, autographed records, stage costumes, life-size portraits and his 1947 Gibson guitar. Music lovers and history buffs alike will be delighted by this blast from the past.
15. Take a Segway Tour
Book onto a Segway tour for a unique way of sightseeing and discovering Downtime Montgomery. The tours commence with a short lesson on how to ride your Segway, before gliding off to discover either the sights of the Riverfront, or the historical sights associated with the Civil Rights Movement.
If you are traveling with children, the Segway tours are an ingenious way of getting them excited about viewing the historical buildings.
16. Take the kids to Montgomery Zoo
Featuring over 500 animals from five different continents, Montgomery Zoo is proud to house their animals in natural, barrier-free habitats, ideal for showing children the animals in as close to their natural habitat as possible.
Take a ride on the miniature train or explore the zoo on foot at your own pace to discover your favorite animals, including the recent addition of the giraffe calf. Book in advance for special behind the scenes experiences and educational activities.
17. Look at the stars at the Montgomery City Planetarium
For those interested in space and the stars, the Planetarium is a must-visit destination in Montgomery.
The staff here are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable, offering expert tips on where to look in the night sky to spot constellations. The presentations are achieved using the very latest projectors, displaying an informative, educational and impressive range of films.
18. Reflect on history at Court Square Fountain
Although it is the perfect place for a photo opportunity, this impressive fountain is positioned at the site where slaves were auctioned, offering a chilling reminder of America’s not so distant history.
The fountain features a statue of Hebe, the Goddess of Youth and Cupbearer to the Gods, and locals and tourists traditionally throw pennies into the water in return for wishes.
19. Take a step back in time at Old Alabama Town
Experience life as it was in Montgomery in the 19th Century at the Old Alabama town. This replica of times gone by is set up to give visitors a real taste of what life was like. The three blocks of traditional buildings include homes, a school, a church and barns, with examples of what housing was like for both the very rich and the very poor.
I suggest taking the guided tour to learn more about the history of the buildings and more about what conditions were like back then, including an explanation to as why the smallest houses had walls lined with newspapers.
20. Eat dinner on the Harriott 2 Riverboat
Offering a program of dinner, dancing and live entertainment, an evening spent on the Harriott 2 riverboat is perfect for celebrations of all kinds. Although offering special packages for birthdays and anniversaries, a river cruise can be enjoyed at any time and is an essential experience for tourists visiting Montgomery.
You can choose to take to the waters for lunch or dinner, but I highly recommend spending a moonlit evening on the river boat for an unforgettable romantic experience.
21. Experience local cuisine
Whilst in one of the southern states of America, take the opportunity to sample the mouth-watering cuisine that this area in renowned for. A melting pot of flavors, Alabama’s cuisine is influenced by Cajun, African, Native American and Spanish flavors, with predominant dishes including pickled pig knuckles, seafood gumbo, barbecue beef and cornbread.
My favorite restaurants in the city include Martin’s for classic southern-style home cooking and Filet & Vine for the best steaks in Montgomery.
22. Visit the Alley Entertainment District
Drawing to mind comparisons with New Orleans, the Alley Entertainment District is a bustling area of Montgomery that plays host to a variety of unique bars, restaurants and boutiques. Revitalized and restored only a decade ago, the area plays homage to the 1920’s jazz scene with several underground jazz clubs and bars.
Alongside the bars and eateries, you’ll find the Fitzgerald Museum, Montgomery Biscuits Baseball Stadium and the Railyard Brewing Company.
23. Witness the Dragon Boat Festival
Time your visit to Montgomery to coincide with the annual Dragon Boat races and festival, where over 70 teams from all over Alabama compete. The boat races are the highlight of the festival, when locals and tourists alike flock to the waters at Riverfront Park to witness the colorful boats and the elaborate costumes of the racers.
However, the action doesn’t stop there, with an entire day of festivities including live music, artists, exhibitions and a variety of food and drink vendors within the park.
24. Learn about the cattle industry at the MOOseum
Great for kids, the Montgomery MOOseum is a fun and interactive way to learn about the state’s humongous cattle industry.
Children can dress up as cowboys and cowgirls, have a go at pretending to be a bull at the rodeo, learn all about the history of the cattle industry, and come face to face with the farm’s cows.