Birmingham, a.k.a Magic City, earned its nickname in the early 20th century from the iron works boom in the United States. Today, it’s a Southern city that has transformed its magic into a thriving commercial, educational, and cultural hub.
Birmingham has tons to offer, whether you want to brush up on your Civil Rights history, scramble along a tree-top obstacle course, or relax with a local ale and some down-home barbeque.
If you’re thinking of visiting or relocating to this city, check out all of the fun things to do in Birmingham Alabama in the following categories:
- Parks + Outdoors
- Food & Drink
Parks + Outdoors
Birmingham has come a long way from its industrial past. Today, it offers a variety of outdoor activities, ranging from its urban parks and zoo, botanical gardens, and forest escapes. Whether you’re looking to camp at the Oak Mountain State Park or curious about the history of Birmingham Civil Rights District, the list of the best things to do goes on for any time. Except for July and August, the weather is mild and enjoyable year-round for most Birmingham attractions.
If you’re a nature lover, thrill-seeker, or enjoy soaking up the sun, there’s plenty to discover in the Magic City.
Hailed as “Birmingham’s Living Room,” Railroad Park provides a historically rich venue for local recreation, family activities, concerts, and cultural events. It also connects the downtown Birmingham, AL area with Southside and UAB’s campus.
Bordered by active railroad lines, the park is a living motif that unites its past and present. But don’t let its borders fool you. This park was a winner of the ULI Urban Open Space Award. Its 19 acres are full of flowering trees, a picturesque lake, streams, and wetlands. It’s the perfect place to wind down, toss a frisbee, or catch up on cardio. Pets are welcome but required to remain on a leash at all times.
The park’s amenities include:
- Outdoor gym equipment reminiscent of Venice’s Muscle Beach
- Two separate play areas for toddlers and children
- A designated skate area, including three skate bowls for different skill levels
- Four different walking trails, including the Magic City Loop (3/4 mile), Rail Trail (1/3 mile), Powell Avenue Promenade (1/3 mile), and Limestone Trace (1/2 mile)
The Birmingham Zoo
The Birmingham Zoo is considered one of the state’s most visited attractions, especially for families with children. At any given time, approximately 550 animals of 180 species call the 122-acre Birmingham Zoo home, including sea lions, elephants, bears, flamingos, and endangered species from six continents.
In addition, there’s:
- A playground
- A carousel
- A safari train
- A splash area for the kids during the summer months (remember bring along a towel and change of clothes!)
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Greatness begins with a vision, and that’s why today, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is considered one of America’s premier gardens. The Birmingham Botanical Society inspired passions for plants, gardens, and the environment in people of all ages since 1960.
The gardens’ mission has always been to grow its community, enhance its region, and celebrate the great state of Alabama. And, folks, that’s why admission is free! The Gardens are open 365 days a year and offer a variety of educational and environmental workshops for children and adults, including Discovery Field Trips and summer programs.
Check out some of their Special Interest Gardens below:
- Japanese Gardens, internationally known with authentically crafted tea house
- Wildflower Garden, 400+ taxa of Alabama native plants
- Fern Glade, 100+ taxa of ferns
- Southern Living Garden, features Southern Living Plant Collection1
Red Mountain Park
The park’s name comes from powdery dust that in the early 19th century painted the town red––literally. It was the residue of hematite, a type of iron ore that would eventually lead to the city’s iron and steel boom. The nickname “Magic City” was coined due to the city’s industrial might and rapid growth.
The last ore mine was closed almost thirty years ago but today, the 1,500-acre park is quickly becoming a vital urban green space and ushering in a new era in Birmingham, uniting its community toward a healthier future.2
Hiking and Biking
Red Mountain Park is a lush forest with over 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails despite its name and history. There’s a variety of destinations, including historical mining sites, three tree houses, Remy’s Dog Park (more on this in a bit), and two scenic overlooks.
The park also offers bike racks and pumping stations for minor repairs.
In addition, the park also has two high-powered off-road wheelchairs that they nicknamed The Nomad, which allows everyone to enjoy the great outdoors and its rugged terrain.
Yes, you read that right. Red Mountain Park also has an Adventure Area where thrill seekers can enjoy zip lining activities, a tree-top obstacle course, and a climbing tower. If you’re looking to boost morale in the workplace, contact Red Mountain Park and inquire about team building activities.
Remy’s Dog Park
You can enjoy 6 acres of open green space with plenty of shaded areas at Remy’s and let your pup run to his heart’s content. Hail-mary that frisbee, toss that slobbery tennis ball into the blue yonder, and let Bella or Milo rejoice in the company of other free-spirited furry friends.
Birmingham has come a long way since its days of iron and steel, and what once was a large industrial town is now a vibrant city with a rich cultural center. Whether you’re interested in the Civil Rights Movement, the history of Birmingham, AL as a booming steel town, jazz luminaries, or fine arts, there’s a museum to suit your needs. In this section we’ll cover:
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
- Sloss Furnaces National history Museum
- Birmingham Museum of Art
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI)
For thirty years, this interpretive museum and research center has been educating the public about the significance of the Civil Rights Movement and African American history in Birmingham. Located in the Birmingham Civil Rights District, It’s a living memorial to the countless heroes that stood for change and an inspiration to those who continue the fight in our country’s ongoing history for human rights.
The BCRI is part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute. It offers a variety of influential permanent and traveling exhibitions, lectures, films, and an exemplary Legacy Youth Leadership Program. While you’re in the area, you can also check out the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Kelly Ingram Park.
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark
Iron production was the predominant industry in Birmingham’s past. Relive the heydays of its industrial might by taking a tour through the massive, rust-colored relics. Learn why these blast furnaces that once produced pig iron are the only ones today being federally preserved as monuments to the by-gone era of the iron industry.
In addition to this historic landmark, Sloss Metal Arts is a program that offers workshops, exhibitions, and conferences on all aspects of metal working. Professional artists can utilize the foundry facilities to cast their work. They even offer regular sculpture workshops in casting, welding, and forging designed for newbies with no previous metal work experience.3
Birmingham Museum of Art
If fine arts tickle you pink, then perhaps so will this museum’s free admission. So why not explore one of the finest regional museums in the United States. See if you can spot The Feathered Serpent Deity, Quetzalcoatl, or Albert Bierstadt’s 19th-century painting “Looking Down Yosemite Valley.”
You’re bound to find something extraordinary in the museum’s permanent collection of over 27,000 works of art. Whether it’s the lauded Vietnamese ceramics, Rodin’s, Jean d’Aire, or nature’s own yellow-rumped warbler that may or may not be perched on the sculpture, singing a fine jubilant tune.
In addition to these mentioned, we’d also recommend checking out the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. Many jazz luminaries hailed from this neck of the woods, including Nat “King” Cole and Erskine Hawkins.
Food & Drink
A culture is only as good as its food. Well, that’s not entirely true. But if it were, Birmingham would be all the better for it. From cheap eats to fine-dining, the Magic City has a burgeoning culinary scene. And there’s no shortage of local watering holes, clubs, and live-music venues.
It was challenging to narrow down this list, but let’s take a look at the top 5 foods everyone must try in Birmingham:
- Alabama barbeque – Whether it’s pecan-infused pork shoulder, chicken soaked in white sauce, or hickory-smoked ribs, you don’t want to miss out on this southern barbeque. Head on over to SAW’S BBQ in Homewood or Avondale for plates of smoked pulled pork, chicken, and ribs, served with one of three styles of sauces and tasty sides.
- Corn dog – Believe me when we tell you this is not that lame county fair corn dog from your childhood. At Carrigan’s Public House, this street-styled fried hot dog comes bathed in hipster ranch, guajillo ketchup, cotija cheese, and a sprinkle of cilantro.
- Chicken & waffles – Talk about drawing in crowds; nobody seems to do this sweet and savory combo better than Yo’ Mama’s in downtown Birmingham. The mother-daughter duo is well known on the soul food scene, especially for its fish tacos and shrimp and grits. But nothing seems to stand out like that fluffy Belgian waffle, drizzled in homemade syrup and topped with crispy chicken wings and fresh fruit.
- Oysters – Birmingham may be 300 miles inland from the gulf shores, but they sure know how to do oysters. Check out Automatic Seafood Oysters or 5 Point Public House if you are looking for date night ideas in Birmingham, AL. Here you’ll find various fresh seafood dishes and specialty oysters.
- Beef Fat Candle – Yes, you read it correctly. It’s one of Magic City’s most talked-about dishes. You can try it at Ovenbird: a live-fire, casual restaurant located in Birmingham’s Market District. It’s a candle made of rendered beef fat that comes to the table aflame and melts into a mix of sofrito, herbs, and jus.
Local Watering Holes
This list of what to do in Birmingham, Alabama wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention a few dive bars, cocktail lounges, or lively nightclubs clubs. So here it goes:
- Lou’s Pub and Package Store – It’s a pub and liquor store combination. In fact, it’s the only on AND off-premise liquor store in Birmingham. Between the wood-paneled interior, neon lights glowing in the window, and bartenders ready to quench your thirst with a variety of recommendations from craft beers to classic cocktails, no wonder it’s a haven for locals and tourists alike.
- Nana Funks – Come check out this late-night bar and club with a vast selection of craft beers, spirits, and popular dance mixes. On Weekends, DJ Hoover plays hits from the ’90s and early 2000s, and the doors don’t close until 6 am. Every Tuesday – Friday, from 4 pm to 9 pm, is happy hour with drinks as low as $2.00.
- The Nick – Known as Birmingham’s dirty little secret, this live music venue has hosted local, regional, and national artists for the past thirty years. You can hear anything from blues, rock, punk, hip hop, and bluegrass. The list goes on. Over the years, it has held colossal household names such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, and Kings of Leon.
Find Your Alabama Magic with Common Living
The southern city of Birmingham Alabama is filled with all the best things to do, explore, and see from its parks to its history. If you’re interested in relocating to the vibrant city of Birmingham, Alabama, then make your life easier by discovering Common. Common at The Frank offers a wide range of options, including private studios and 1 bedroom apartments.
Common is much more than finding an apartment, it’s finding a thriving community to call home.