You may not think of Birmingham, Alabama as the perfect destination for those who love the outdoors — but you should!
Birmingham is full of things to do for the outdoor lover in your family. Hiking trails, state parks, botanical gardens, zoos and so much more make this city a great place to visit and enjoy everything nature has to offer. Couple that with awesome restaurants and a walkable downtown — and you’ve got a perfect long-weekend destination.
Looking for outdoorsy things to do in Birmingham, AL? We’ve got them!
Kelly Ingram Park
For those who are interested in the Civil Rights movement, visit Kelly Ingram Park located in the Civil Rights district. A free cellphone audio Birmingham tour, reached by dialing 205-307-5455, guides you through the park.
You’ll pass by statues and hear about the Children’s March held in Birmingham in May of 1963. Across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church where four girls were killed when the church was bombed. Also across the street is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute mentioned above. It’s very powerful, and well worth a visit.
Vulcan Park is probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in Birmingham, and should definitely be on your list of fun things to do in Birmingham! This public park is home to the world’s largest cast iron statue in the world, Vulcan, god of the forge.
Birmingham was born as an industrial city, and the Vulcan statue was cast from local iron to show off the city for the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Now Vulcan stands atop a pedestal on Red Mountain. Climb up the pedestal for an amazing view of the city of Birmingham. There’s also a great little museum here.
Beanstalk Forest TreeTop Challenge
Note: Due to COVID-19, the TreeTop Challenge remains closed in 2021.
Zip lines have become very popular, but my favorite canopy adventures are the challenge courses. Red Mountain Park is about a 15-minute drive from Vulcan Park. This is where you’ll find the Beanstalk Forest, a treetop challenge course with 20 rope and cable obstacles, some fairly simple, others very challenging, all make it to the top of my fun things to do in Alabama list.
For even more adventure, Red Mountain also has a zip line and adventure tower.
Hiking Red Mountain
If you’re not into the ziplining and adventure courses — no worries! There is so much more to do at Red Mountain Park.
Here you’ll find 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, 2 miles of flat walking trails (perfect for strollers), three treehouses for you to explore (including an ADA accessible one), a dog park, two overlooks, and three historical iron ore mining sites. You could spend a whole day here enjoying nature!
Sloss Furnace Historical Site
This one is high on my list of things to do in Birmingham, AL on my next trip! As we already mentioned, Birmingham was founded because of the rich natural minerals found near the city. The Sloss Furnaces National Historical Landmark is the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the U.S.
Self-guided and guided tours of the site are a great way to understand the history of the Magic City (Birmingham’s moniker) and why it’s here at all. In addition to history tours, Sloss has some of the most popular special events in Birmingham, AL, like the Winter Wonderland, Halloween Haunted House, iron pours and more.
About 30 miles South of Birmingham and up the road from Tuscaloosa you will find PIG Paintball. The actual name is Paintball Is Good…ha!
PIG Paintball has a huge variety of fields. You can weave in and out between the buildings in Firetown, sneak through the foliage of the Congo, be wary of surprise ambushes at Fort Apache, and one of everyone’s favorites, defend the Castle in their two-story Castle Field. Perfect for all experience levels.
Want more to explore in Alabama? Check out the Best National Parks in Alabama!
Flipside Cable Skiing
Try “cable skiing,” visit the awesome aqua park, or rent a kayak, canoe, or SUP. If you’re looking for outdoor water adventure, this is the place to go!
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
If you’re looking for free things to do in Birmingham, AL, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is the place to go.
The Gardens have 67.5 acres with more than 30 thematic gardens (including a Japanese Garden and a Southern Living Garden), all for free! Afterwards, grab a refreshing limeade at Gilchrist in nearby Mountain Brook.
See a baseball game like they did in the heyday of the sport with wooden scoreboards, and old fashion grandstands at Rickwood Field! Rickwood Field opened in Downtown Birmingham in August of 1910 as the home field for the minor league Birmingham Barons and the Birmingham Black Barons. It’s considered America’s oldest ball park!
Baseball is still played here all year long with youth leagues, high school and college teams, but once a year in June, the park hosts one of the most anticipated Birmingham events, the Rickwood Classic. This vintage baseball game brings Birmingham’s minor league team back to the old field for a special game.
If you can’t wait for the Rickwood Classic, you can still catch a Birmingham Barons game, a double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. They now play at Regions Field, a new facility opened in 2013 on the Southside of Birmingham.
When I asked readers for suggestions on what to do in Birmingham Al, Five Points came highly recommended from pretty much everyone.
This neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Place is one of Birmingham’s first street car lined suburbs and was founded as the Town of Highland in 1887. Today with over 40 culinary destinations and 30 retailers, the area has been labeled “a town within a city.”
While you’re there, consider taking a walking tour of the area that begins at the famous Storyteller Fountain.
If you have kids, or just love animals, a day at the Birmingham Zoo is a nice way to spend time outside enjoying the city. See animals such as red pandas, lions, giraffes, orangutans, rhinos, bears, elephants, sea lions, zebras, a jaguar, a hippo and many more.
With approximately 550 animals of 180 species and endangered species from 6 continents on 122 acres, the Birmingham Zoo is the perfect place to visit any time of the year.
Need more fun things to do in Birmingham, AL? Find the best outdoor adventures, on TrekBirmingham.com.
This educational and recreational resource was put together by Birmingham-Southern College’s Urban Environmental Studies Program. It’s a terrific resource to learn about the places you’ll see before you go, including parks and popular Alabama attractions like the Zoo and Railroad Park.
Indoorsy Things To Do In Birmingham
I know this article is all about the Birmingham outdoors, but if there’s a rain shower, or you just need a break from the heat, here are just a few “indoorsy” suggestions of things to do in Birmingham, AL.
See a Show At the Alabama Theatre
See live music, enjoy ballets and symphonies, or enjoy seeing a classic movie (they even have sing-alongs!) at the Alabama Theatre.
Since 1927 the Alabama Theatre has been the home to shows and performances ranging from movies, concerts, beauty pageants, silent films and even the Mickey Mouse Club! This beautiful theatre is Birmingham’s version of Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, and it’s just as amazing.
The Birmingham Museum of Art
The Birmingham Museum of Art is one of the finest regional museums in the United States.
The BMA houses a diverse collection of more than 27,000 paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, and decorative arts dating from ancient to modern times. The collection presents a rich panorama of cultures, featuring the Museum’s extensive holdings of Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American art.
The BMA’s popular summer series — Art on the Rocks — has become a downtown tradition, bringing together thousands of guests in celebration of art.
McWane Science Center
McWane Science Center is a great place for both kids and adults to visit! Here you’ll find unique, hands-on, science-learning experiences that everyone in your group will love.
With permanent exhibits such as Itty Bitty Magic City, Alabama Dinosaurs, Sea Monsters, Shark and Ray Touch Tank, and so. much. more. — you’ll never run out of things to do here. There’s also an IMAX Dome Theater here, so you can catch a flick while you’re visiting.
Southern Museum of Flight
The Southern Museum of Flight is one of the largest aviation museums in the southeast, and is a great place to spend the day.
The 75,000 square foot facility houses over 100 aircraft, as well as engines, models, artifacts, photographs, and paintings. In addition, the Southern Museum of Flight is home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame with over 70 biographical plaques presenting Alabama aviation history.
For the kids in your group, there’s an indoor playground for little ones, and five flight simulators for those 12+.
Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame
Founded in 1978, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame honors Alabama’s jazz greats. Did you know Alabama has produced some of the most notable jazz musicians in the country such as Nat King Cole from Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa’s Dinah Washington just to name a few?
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame will be moving into the Carver Theater, and during the renovation process, the museum collection is in storage. Guided tours are available with a reservation.
Where to find Treasures to Take Home
You can’t leave Birmingham without a few treasures! Here are a couple of our favorite shopping spots.
While waiting for our table at Saws BBQ, a group of us ventured into Homewood Antiques.
There was so much of my childhood here, but what caught my eye, and my purse strings was an almost complete set of pre-1950’s Hardy Boys books. My boys, especially the oldest loved the Hardy Boys. This is either going to be a great gift or a “Mom, really?” gift. We’ll see.
The Market at Pepper Place
Every Saturday one of the best things to do in Alabama is head to the Pepper Place Market for chef demos, live music, and of course some local shopping.
If you’re looking for something to do in the summer months, Pepper Place has children’s activities too. Vendors include farmers, as well as vendors selling locally made goods.
Restaurants You’d Travel For
These amazing restaurants are worth the trip to Birmingham all by themselves!
Our stay in Birmingham started on a high note with dinner on the terrace under the lights at Chez Fonfon. If we didn’t know better, we could have been in Paris sipping craft cocktails before a sumptuous dinner topped off with coconut cake. Mmm, the coconut cake.
Fancy’s on Fifth
Note: Due to COVID-19, Fancy’s on Fifth remains closed in 2021.
Ms. Fancy was a famous elephant at the Birmingham Zoo. Her memory lives on at Fancy’s on Fifth, a casual restaurant in Birmingham’s Avondale neighborhood with a terrific oyster menu. After dinner, head upstairs to Hot Diggity Dog. Yes, I know you don’t want more food. Just trust me.
Marble Ring Speakeasy
Next to the line for hot dogs at Hot Diggity Dog is a quirky telephone booth. What’s a telephone booth doing in modern Birmingham? Well, try to make a call and you could find out.
The booth is actually the entrance to the Marble Ring Speak Easy. A fun trip back in time to the roaring 20’s. Keep your wits about you – there are little touches everywhere, from the rather risqué wallpaper, to the pull chains at the each table for service.
You can’t visit the South without getting some really good BBQ, and Saw’s is the place in Birmingham. It was named the #1 Best BBQ in America by Paula Dean and Men’s Journal, as well as garnering a bunch of other awards.
There are five different Saws locations, but we visited the original location in Edgewood where Ms. A delivered our meals that included smoked chicken with Saws signature white sauce, my tender pork BBQ and a ginormous pork stuffed baked potatoes that I don’t think anyone could finish.
Bright Star Restaurant
Near the Vintage Station shop is Bright Star, the oldest restaurant in Alabama. It’s also been recognized by CNN as one of America’s Best Historic Restaurants! (It started in 1907!)
In addition to legendary southern food (Fried catfish! Shrimp remoulade! Fried green tomatoes!), it’s also known for its murals.
Hot and Hot Fish Club
Several folks recommended Hot and Hot Fish Club, located in Five Points, before my visit.
Although we didn’t get to sample anything from here, the restaurant was recently featured in a New York Times article as the hottest ticket in town. And I’ve got to say, their menu looks divine.
Where To Stay In Birmingham
Best Near Gardens and Zoo: Located off of Interstate 459, the Drury Inn & Suites Birmingham Grandview is a smoke-free Birmingham hotel features a daily hot breakfast and a swimming pool. Both Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Birmingham Zoo are 5 miles away.
Best Near Homewood District: This Hampton Inn is located next to I-65 in the Homewood district of Birmingham, 7.5 miles from the city center. Guests of the Birmingham Hampton Inn can enjoy the outdoor pool with shaded poolside seating. A breakfast buffet including pastries, juice and coffee is served every morning.
Best Near Lake Heather: Located 1 minutes’ walk from Lake Heather, the Hyatt Place Birmingham Inverness hotel features an outdoor pool and free WiFi is provided. Birmingham city center is 9.9 mi away. Boating and hiking are 5.3 mi away at Oak Mountain State Park.
Campgrounds Near Birmingham
Take some “time away” and be the first to preview this brand new resort in Lincoln, Alabama, about 40 miles from Birmingham. Time Away RV Resort offers 200 sites, with 13-acres. The resort features large spacious sites with 30 and 50 amp full hookup service and concrete pads. The resort is a short distance to Talladega Speedway — so you can catch a race while you’re in town!