When you think about things to do in Birmingham, AL, most people’s thoughts turn to Civil Rights. In the 50’s and early 60’s, the city was considered the most segregated in the US. Protests in 1963 turned the tide of the movement and focused the US, and the world on the inequalities in the South.
Modern Birmingham does a good job of owning up to its unflattering past, and using it as teachable moments. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is definitely something to put on your to-do list, but there’s a lot more to this city than just the Civil Rights movement.
On a recent press trip, I was a little surprised to learn all of the outdoor things to do in Birmingham, AL. Couple that with some awesome restaurants and a walkable downtown, and downtown Birmingham, the largest city in the state, is a perfect long weekend destination.
Zyp Bikes. On my trip I stayed at the Redmont Hotel, a 120-room boutique hotel in Hilton’s Curio series. The best part of a stay here (other than the awesome rooftop bar) you are in the heart of Downtown Birmingham.
I was able to walk down the street and pick up a zyp bike from a rack on the street to tour downtown. Good to know – the bikes with the lightening bolt on the rear fender are electric. The other ones are only pedal power. Not too big a deal, but Birmingham does have some hills.
Kelly Ingram Park. For those who are interested in the Civil Rights movement, take the zyp bike to Kelly Ingram Park, located in the Civil Rights district, and download the walking tour. 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.
Vulcan Park. This is probably one of the biggest tourist attractions in Birmingham, and probably the state of ore Alabama, 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, 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.
However, if you are scared of heights, you may want to just look at the city from the ground. The landing at the top is a grate. I’m not usually too squeamish about heights, but looking through the holes in the grate made me have to hold on more than once. There’s also a great little museum here, but that’s inside.
Beanstalk Forest TreeTop Challenge. 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. And for those who don’t need the exercise, they also offer a Segway tour.
Hiking Red Mountain. If you aren’t into the high adventure at Red Mountain Park, there is still a lot to do here. Take a break from hiking or biking the 15 miles of trails to explore one of three treehouses, including an ADA accessible treehouse. If you have four legged friends, or just like watching dogs play, there is also the Remy dog park.
Sloss Furnace Historical Site. This one is high on my list of things to do in Birmingham, AL on my next trip. As we’ve already mentioned, Birmingham was founded because of the rich natural minerals found near the city. The Sloss Furnace Historical Site is the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the US.
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.
Fort Red Rock Paintball. This is a suggestion from my son’s friend who lives in Birmingham. Located just outside of the city, Fort Red Rock has an expansive paintball course, and even night play. My teens would love this!
Biking at Oak Mountain State Park. This is another suggestion from my son’s friend, as well as a friend of mine that lived in Birmingham; mountain biking at Oak Mountain State Park which is just outside of Birmingham in Pelham. My boys would like the Oak Mountain BMX track as well.
Flipside Cable Skiing. Looking for things to do in summer in Birmingham? Oak Mountain also has Alabama’s only cable watersports park, the Flip Side Watersports. I’ve wakeboarded before with Georgia Wakeboarding, but have always wanted to try one of the cable parks, like the one we passed in Hiawassee, Ga.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens. If you are looking for free things to do in Birmingham, AL, one of the best is the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. The Gardens has 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.
Rickwood Field. See a baseball game like they did in the heyday of the sport with wooden scoreboards, and old fashion grandstands. 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.
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.
Birmingham Barons. 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. However, now they play at Regions Field, a new facility opened in 2013 on the Southside of Birmingham.
Little Five Points. When I asked readers for suggestions on what to do in Birmingham Al, Little Five Points came highly recommended from pretty much everyone. A walking tour of the area starts at the famous Storyteller Fountain, which is meant to portray the southern tradition of storytelling. Some in the community find the statue a bit controversial – something we learned about on a guided tour of the Vulcan Park museum. One of the things the area is best known for is fine dining restaurants. Read below for our Birmingham restaurant recommendations.
Birmingham Zoo. 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. To see another side to this popular Birmingham attraction, try one of the nighttime programs.
Trek Birmingham. 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.
Birmingham Brewing Company. Chat with Master Brewer, see the equipment, but best of all taste four different beers with your own personal tutor.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. Ok this isn’t outdoorsy, but we had to add it because where else can you see 900+ mint-condition motorcycles,representing 200 different manufacturers from 20 countries.
Where to find Treasures to Take Home
Shopping at the Vintage Station. One of the most popular things to do in Birmingham, AL is shop. Vintage Station is part antique store, museum, workshop, and furniture store, the Vintage Station is a historical landmark itself. I could get lost in here.
Homewood Antiques. 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 are looking for what 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
Chez Fonfon. 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. 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 Speak Easy. 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 whits about you – there are little touches everywhere, from the rather risqué wallpaper, to the pull chains at the each table for service.
Feast and Forest. Our first full day in Birmingham began at the homey Feast & Forest. There were so many lovely pastries in the case, it was hard to decide what to try. In the end it was the pop tarts – flaky and filled with deliciousness Kellogg’s never dreamed of. Since we had a busy day planned, I had pre-ordered a breakfast biscuit which was very good, but the bowl of grits, house made sausage and poached egg was definitely my choice for next time.
Saws BBQ. 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 three 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. In addition to legendary southern food, it’s also known for it’s murals. This restaurant came recommended by readers.
Hot and Hot Fish Club. Several folks recommended this restaurant in Little 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.