17 Cool Things to See & Do in Birmingham On Your Alabama Vacation

Passing through Alabama? A stop in Birmingham, the state’s second-largest city, is essential. And with just one look at the best things to do in Birmingham, AL, it’ll become obvious why.

Affectionately dubbed “Magic City,” Birmingham is a travel destination with tons of spunk. Despite the city’s industrial roots, the top tourist attractions in Birmingham include lovely outdoor spaces such as the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Oak Mountain State Park, and Ruffner Mountain. You’ll also find plenty of superb museums, trendy restaurants, and interesting historical landmarks.

When considering what to do in the Magic City, you’ll have a lot of options to weed through. Don’t worry: Build the perfect itinerary easily with this guide to the coolest places to visit in Birmingham, AL!

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Vulcan Park and Museum

Sitting on top of Red Mountain, the Vulcan Park and Museum is a hybrid Birmingham attraction combining outdoor recreation spaces with educational fun. The park centers around the Vulcan, a massive cast-iron statue of a Roman god. At 56 feet tall, it’s listed as the world’s largest cast-iron statue!

The Vulcan Park and Museum hosts rotating exhibitions celebrating Birmingham’s local history and culture. The exhibit for 2022/2023 is “Birmingham Bottling,” featuring cool memorabilia from Birmingham’s historic Coca-Cola bottling plants.

After checking out the museum, climb up the observation tower, where you can take in sweeping views of the city skyline.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Whether you’re an avid gardener or just looking for somewhere to take a calming walk, a trip to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens is a must. Located in Mountain Brook, not far from the Birmingham Zoo, this top Birmingham point of interest makes witnessing prized blossoms and escaping into nature a breeze.

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Throughout Birmingham Botanical Gardens, you’ll find native & exotic species, cultural gardens, and a traditional conservatory. Tourist-approved favorites include the cherry blossom grove in the spring and the showstopping floral clock. 

If you’d like to extend your visit, you’re in luck: the flora is not the only worthy attraction at this site. The Birmingham Botanical Gardens also offer an art gallery, a bustling cafe, and the only public horticulture library in the United States.

Birmingham Zoo

One of the top Birmingham attractions, the Birmingham Zoo will be loved by every member of your crew, young and old. After all, there’s nothing quite like getting an up-close look at large and tropical wildlife you won’t encounter in your day-to-day life!

Birmingham Zoo

The Birmingham Zoo has an extra-large family of southern species and Alabama natives. It’s also home to several fan-favorite exotic animals like elephants, giraffes, and lions.

If you don’t feel like a regular exhibit walk-through gets you close enough to your favorite animals, the Birmingham Zoo also offers giraffe and sea lion encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, and a series of daily zookeeper chats.

For refueling throughout the day, you can also chow down at two well-reviewed restaurants on-site.

McWane Science Center

The McWane Science Center is one of the top points of interest in Birmingham, AL, for parents who like to combine fun with a little bit of learning.

McWane Science Center

The interactive exhibits at McWane Science Center aren’t just fun for the kids. Even the adults in your crew will love conducting experiments and exploring the science of the world around them. From a shark and ray touch tank to dinosaur skeletons, the McWane Science Center has it all.

To embellish your experience, be sure to grab some tickets for one of the McWane Science Center’s IMAX movies. Though there’s always a documentary or two screening on any given day, the theatre also plays a bunch of Hollywood new releases suitable for kiddos.

Even if you don’t have a chance to make your way through the museum, a trip to the IMAX could be a great way to keep everyone entertained into the evening.

The Market at Pepper Place

For a local experience, The Market at Pepper Place is one of Magic City’s must-visits. If getting up on a Saturday morning and strolling through a farmer’s market is your idea of the ideal slow morning, you’re going to love walking around this cool market.

Running every Saturday nearly year-round, the Market at Pepper Place transforms into a buzzing venue for live music, farmer’s produce stands, artisan goods, and specialty food. 

Located in the heart of downtown, Pepper Place is a historic entertainment district that once housed the Dr. Pepper Syrup Plant and Bottling Company. Today, the district is home to several top Birmingham attractions and many of the city’s best restaurants. You can easily make a full day out of the experience here.

The Market at Pepper Place is also dog friendly; if you’re traveling with a furry family member, bring them along!

Birmingham Museum of Art

One of Alabama’s top art galleries, the Birmingham Museum of Art is practically bursting at the seams. The gallery features over 2,400 works from all over the world, across a variety of mediums, dating anywhere from 3,000 BC to the modern-day.

In addition to its impressive permanent collection, showcases, and rotating exhibitions, the Birmingham Museum of Art hosts several special events throughout the year. Check out its official events calendar for options ranging from concerts to art workshops.

Getting a little hungry? While there aren’t any cafes or restaurants on-site, the Birmingham Museum of Art has a lovely sculpture garden for dining in. Pack a picnic and enjoy the view!

Oak Mountain State Park

The largest state park in Alabama, Oak Mountain State Park is one of the top attractions in Birmingham, AL, for outdoor activities. Amateur to pro hikers will enjoy 25 miles of forested trails and a stop at a gorgeous 65-foot waterfall, where you can go for a dip in the basin below. 

Oak Mountain State Park

There’s not much you can’t do at Oak Mountain State Park: Golf, horseback riding, swimming, archery, fishing, and boat rental—the list of activities here is endless!

Traveling with kids? One of the most popular day trips from Birmingham is to check out the park’s demonstration farm to get some hands-on time with goats, donkeys, and other beloved farm animals.

Railroad Park Foundation

Nicknamed “Birmingham’s Living Room” by the locals, the Railroad Park Foundation is one of the top places to see in Birmingham, AL. This 19-acre urban green space has beautiful lawns, ideal for lounging, reading a book, or having a picnic with friends. It’s the perfect place to take it easy for a few hours.

If you’re someone who can’t sit still, not to fret: There’s still lots for you to do at this waterfront park! Use the outdoor gym to get your fitness fix for the day, go on a quick hike, or check the events calendar for this week’s goings-on. You’ll often find concerts, markets, and other events happening on the weekends.

Red Mountain Park

Want to escape the busy city streets? Venture over to Red Mountain Park. This urban oasis has 15 miles of trails to choose from, making it the ultimate destination for an afternoon hike.

Start your Red Mountain Park hiking adventure on the Butler Snow Sensory Trail. This popular trail is an easy, family-friendly loop with kids’ activities, treehouses, overlooks, and swings along the way.

Red Mountain Park is also home to a tour company offering climbing, treetop trekking, and zip-lining adventures. 

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

Learn all about Magic City’s industrial roots at the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. This famous landmark provides insight into the beginnings of the iron & steel industry that transformed Birmingham into a modern industrial city. The Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark is also the only blast furnace site still standing in the United States, making a visit to this museum a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

Self-guided tours are available for free during all open hours. Both brochures and interpretive signage help tell the story of Sloss Furnaces and the steelworkers who made it happen.

From Thursday to Saturday, you can also request a docent-led tour for the optimal Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark experience. 

The Sloss Furnaces site is a popular choice for hosting special events in Birmingham, with six different rentals to suit groups of varying sizes. If you’re celebrating something during your trip, it may be worth a look!

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

If you’re a history buff or social justice warrior, a trip to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a must on your Alabama itinerary.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

A Smithsonian Museum affiliate, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute features rotating and permanent exhibitions on various human rights topics, focusing on the civil rights movement in the U.S. 

Located in the Civil Rights District, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is an easy pairing for other socially conscious attractions such as Kelly Ingram Park.

Kelly Ingram Park

One of the top points of interest in Birmingham, Kelly Ingram Park helps acknowledge and learn more about the South’s dark and complicated past.

Kelly Ingram Park

This civil rights monument honors the lives of the men, women, and children who were violently attacked by police while demonstrating against the oppressive Jim Crow segregation laws in 1963.

You may remember “A letter from a Birmingham Jail,” written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which chronicles some of the subsequent events.

Kelly Ingram Park is home to several powerful sculpture installations depicting the fight for freedom and victories won by demonstrators whose lives were lost.

Ruffner Mountain

If you’re a nature lover, be sure to carve out time in your Birmingham itinerary for Ruffner Mountain. In the area, miles of hiking trails will take you through wetlands and forests, past a historic rail line, and up the mountainside.

Ruffner Mountain

Though you’re not able to explore Ruffner Mountain’s historic mines, caves, and quarries due to conservation policies, they’re quite a sight to see; take a moment to pause and admire them from afar. 

The nature center at Ruffner Mountain is quite spectacular in its own regard, with modern architecture and plenty to do inside.

Aside from the several natural history exhibits, you can also get a behind-the-scenes look at Birmingham’s wildlife rescue. Here, you can watch as 20-plus temporary residents are nursed back to health and prepared for release back into the wild.

Avondale Brewing Company

The Avondale Brewing Company is Alabama’s trendiest microbrewery. Seated in their taproom, you’ll find a rotating selection of craft beers, ranging from sours and Saisons to IPAs and amber ales. The brewery also offers a lively ambiance, the occasional food truck, and good banter with the bartenders. 

Though this should be enough to sell any craft beer enthusiast, it’s hardly the most interesting thing about this attraction. The Avondale Brewing Company is also a hotspot for evening concerts.

What pairs better than a cold beer and live music in the heat of summer? Nothing! Don’t miss out and snag your tickets early.

Regions Field

Home of the city’s Minor League Baseball team, the Birmingham Barons, Regions Field is the perfect place to spend a sporty afternoon under the sun.

Regions Field

During the baseball season, there are in-stadium games nearly every day. There’s always a “game highlight,” too, with fun activities for kids such as running the bases or trivia challenges. Of course, there’s beer and BBQ available at the games as well as roaming vendors selling popcorn and peanuts. 

Besides catching a game, there are plenty of other activities at Regions Field, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Challenge your athletic ability at the youth sports zone, featuring a mini wiffleball field and batting cages. Or check out the family fun park for slower-paced kids’ entertainment.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

One of the city’s quirkier attractions, visiting the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is one of the best things to do in Birmingham, AL, if you’re a car and motorbike fiend.

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

Founded by George Barber, the famed Porsche race winner, the museum is home to the world’s largest motorcycle collection. Besides bikes, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum also boasts a fantastic collection of mint-condition classics and rare cars. 

The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum building is seriously impressive, some might even say futuristic. This Hollywood-esque “millionaire’s garage” is several stories tall. It even has a glass elevator running through a column of motorbikes!

Alabama Theatre

With its rich history and opulent architecture, the Alabama Theatre is near the top of the list of what to see in Birmingham, AL. Located on Third Avenue, this grand venue makes for a postcard-perfect picture—even if you don’t manage to make it inside for an event.

Alabama Theatre

Since it opened its doors in 1927, the Alabama Theatre has been the self-proclaimed “showplace of the South.” And it certainly lives up to this lofty reputation.

Concerts, live theatre, classic films, symphonies, and ballet performances—no matter what you’re looking for, the Alabama Theatre is the Birmingham destination for all things entertainment.

Looking for more of a reason to visit? The Alabama Theatre also now operates as a non-profit. Proceeds from its shows and events are reinvested into supporting the local arts community.

Treksplorer

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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