Birmingham may get overshadowed by the South’s more-famous cities, but that doesn’t mean you should skip over this place. Take a chance on Birmingham, and we have no doubt you’ll fall head over heels for this vibrant Southern city! From bustling craft breweries to iconic civil rights landmarks to world-class museums, there’s a lot to love about Alabama‘s second-largest city.
With its industrial roots and steel industry, Birmingham is known as “The Magic City,” referring to the city’s rapid growth in the late-18th century. Fast-forward to today, and you’ll find that Birmingham pays homage to its industrial roots with unique attractions like the dystopian-esque Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and the massive Vulcan statue that’s perched on Red Mountain high above the city.
But delve a bit deeper, and you’ll find that modern-day Birmingham is a hub for culture, arts, and cuisine. You can easily spend your days getting your fill of Alabama-style barbecue in a hole-in-the-wall eatery or dining in a trendy food hall, getting a culture fix at the Birmingham Museum of Art, or catching a show at the historic Alabama Theatre. Plus, if you want to get out in nature, you’ll be spoiled for choice with the city’s green spaces and nature reserves.
With so many cool things to see, do, and eat, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Birmingham for you. Stick to these fun and unique Birmingham bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring The Magic City!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Birmingham
1. Eat Your Way Through The Pizitz Food Hall
If you’re a foodie, a visit to The Pizitz Food Hall should be at the top of your Birmingham bucket list. Set right in the heart of downtown, this is the perfect place to mingle with a group of friends over delicious food and drinks.
One of the coolest things about this trendy food hall is that you’ll have 12 totally unique food stalls to choose from – so there really is something for everyone in your group!
You can sample fragrant Vietnamese pho at Pho Pho, snack on traditional Indian street food at Silver Kati, nosh on Southern fried chicken sandwiches at J Wings, indulge with fried shrimp and oyster po’boys at The Broad Street Peaux Boys, or fill up on spicy ahi tuna poke bowls at Ono Poké. For dessert, pick up a sweet treat from Birmingham Candy Co. or Edolyn’s Pies.
For those who want to imbibe, there is a popular bar in the center of the food hall, which has 12 beers on tap and an impressive menu of specialty cocktails. Plus, they have great happy hour specials Monday through Friday from 3 pm to 6 pm!
2. Get a History Lesson at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
No trip to Birmingham is complete without educating yourself about the city’s role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. And there’s no better place to do that than the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
Located in the heart of the Civil Rights District, the museum houses all sorts of permanent, rotating, and interactive exhibitions that highlight the Civil Rights Movement, African-American life, events and conflicts in Birmingham in the 20th century, and the continued fight for human rights in general.
Explore the museum, and you’ll also find sobering relics of segregation, including separate drinking fountains and classrooms for white and black students. Depending on when you visit, the Institute also hosts a range of educational events.
Once you’ve finished perusing the Institute, you can stroll around the Civil Rights District and see the area’s top sites, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
3. Get Cultured at the Birmingham Museum of Art
Art enthusiasts can’t visit Birmingham without stopping off at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Located in the Cultural District, you’ll find over 25,000 works of art spread throughout three stories. With an impressive range from ancient to contemporary, there’s a reason this is one of the top Birmingham attractions for art experts and novices alike!
Peruse the museum, and you’ll find an incredible collection of Asian art, including an array of beautiful Vietnamese ceramics. There is also the American decorative arts collection, where you can glimpse 2,000 porcelain works, metalwork, textiles, and more. The acclaimed African art gallery is equally as impressive and features everything from intricate beadwork to ornate headdresses.
After that, head over to the European art section, and you’ll find works from the likes of Salvador Dalí and Camille Pissarro. If that’s not enough, the museum also hosts a range of events and special exhibitions. Plus, if you’re visiting in the summer months, you can attend one of the museum’s popular Art on the Rocks events!
4. Take Artsy Photographs of the Sloss Furnaces
The Sloss Furnaces operated from 1882 until 1970 and was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world. Fast-forward to today, and the Sloss Furnaces are still standing proud as a National Historic Landmark and a reminder of Birmingham’s industrial roots.
Taking a self-guided tour of the Sloss Furnaces is easily one of the most unique things to do in Birmingham. And if photography is your thing, you can’t miss out on a trip to this dystopian-esque site.
Visiting the Sloss Furnaces is a cinch since they’re located in the North Lakeview Industrial District, just a couple miles from the heart of downtown. Before embarking on your self-guided tour, you’ll need to sign in at the Visitors Center, where you can also pick up a handy self-guided tour brochure.
As you walk around the grounds, you’ll learn all about the iron-making process, the working conditions of the workers, and the site’s important role in The Magic City’s history. If you do plan to take photographs, be sure to head over to their website to read the rules on taking photos of this one-of-a-kind Birmingham attraction.
5. Meet Exotic Animals at the Birmingham Zoo
Set adjacent to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, the Birmingham Zoo is one of the best family-friendly things to do in Birmingham. The sprawling zoo is set on 122 acres of land and is home to 550 animals and 180 species, including a range of endangered species.
Explore the grounds, and you’ll find everything from red pandas, lions, and giraffes to orangutans, rhinos, and elephants. Time your visit right and you can check out all sorts of fun shows and events, including sea lion shows, animal training sessions, and reptile feeding events.
If you want to get up close and personal with creatures like sea lions or American black bears, you can purchase tickets for a variety of “Animal Encounters.” The zoo also features special sections, including Trails of Africa, the Children’s Zoo, and so much more!
6. Take a Break at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens
After you check out all of the majestic animals at the Birmingham Zoo, you can spend an hour or two unwinding in the incredible Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Located right next door to the zoo, the Botanical Gardens are displayed in a beautiful 67-acre park that offers the perfect reprieve from the hustle and bustle of downtown Birmingham.
You’ll find that most of the gardens are dedicated to a specific type of plant. Take a stroll around, and you’ll find a formal rose garden, as well as entire areas filled with nothing but lilies, irises, and rhododendrons, to name a few.
If you’re interested in checking out the local flora, you’ll love the Gardens of Nature. After that, you can move on to the Gardens of Culture, which feature everything from Japanese gardens to herb gardens. Before you leave, it’s well worth paying a visit to the gift shop for a souvenir or The Gardens Cafe for some seriously impressive locally sourced dishes.
7. Pay a Visit to Pepper Place Saturday Market
Visiting The Market at Pepper Place on a Saturday morning is hands down one of the most fun things to do in Birmingham. Time your visit right because The Market at Pepper Place is only open from 7 am to noon every Saturday.
An attraction unto itself, the market is actually set in an old industrial brick building that once housed a Dr Pepper bottling plant! The revamped building is now home to all sorts of trendy shops and restaurants.
With over 100 vendors, this Certified Alabama Farmers Market is a great spot to pick up fresh local produce if you’re planning on an extended stay. If not, you can still peruse the stalls and pick up delicious meals, picnic supplies, or handmade local goods. From pottery and jewelry to fresh fruits and baked goods, you’ll find everything here.
If you’re hungry, you’ll have a range of vendors and food trucks to choose from. You can sample Southern-style boiled peanuts at Alabama Peanut Co., dig into Thai dishes from Tay Thai Street Food, indulge in chocolate chip cookies from 450 Bake Shop, and so much more!
8. Have a Scenic Picnic at Railroad Park
One of the coolest things about Birmingham is that it’s brimming with green spaces, and Railroad Park is one of the best! Set on 19 acres of lush land in the heart of downtown, this is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Meander around Railroad Park, and you’ll come across placid lakes, babbling rivers, and scenic hiking trails. If you want to get some exercise, the popular Rail Trail is an easy 0.75 miles and boasts incredible views over the city.
If you’re in town on a Saturday, it’s well worth stopping by The Market at Pepper Place farmers’ market to pick up a spread of farm-fresh picnic supplies. With plenty of sprawling lawns and hidden corners, Railroad Park is the perfect place to have a picnic lunch when the weather is nice.
Depending on when you’re visiting, Railroad Park hosts tons of pop-up events throughout the year, including the free summer concert series, the annual Cajun Cook-Off, and the Cahaba River Fry Down!
9. Get Educated at the McWane Science Center
If you’re wondering what to do in Birmingham with kids, look no further than the McWane Science Center. Their goal is to “spark wonder and curiosity about our world through hands-on science.” With all of the fascinating interactive exhibits, fun experiments, and educational programs, there are endless things to keep you and your little ones occupied!
You’ll love exploring the permanent exhibits, which range from “Alabama Dinosaurs” to the “Fox 6 Weather Lab” to “Sea Monsters.” Explore the grounds, and you’ll also find the World of Water Aquariums, which are home to green Moray eel, moon jellyfish, and other incredible sea creatures. If you’re feeling brave, you can even get up close and personal with sea life in the Shark & Ray Tank!
After that, check out the Combustion and Lightning Strikes presentation at the state-of-the-art Rushton Science Theater, make oddly-shaped bubbles in the Bubble Room, take a trip to far-flung galaxies with the brand-new Virtual Reality Experience, and so much more! Plus, when you need to take a load off, you can head over to the on-site IMAX theater, which screens a variety of fascinating films each day.
10. Take a Scenic Hike at Ruffner Mountain
If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city center, Ruffner Mountain is the perfect place to get out in nature. Plus, this mecca for outdoor enthusiasts is set in Birmingham’s South East Lake neighborhood, just a quick 10-minute drive from downtown.
Now a 1,038-acre nature preserve, the area was used for mining from the late-1800s until the 1950s. To this day, you’ll still find forgotten ruins from the mountain’s mining past scattered around the nature preserve, including a massive quarry and defunct mines.
As one of the top Birmingham attractions, Ruffner Mountain boasts 12 miles of trails that are completely off-limits to vehicles and bicycles. If you’re up for a more challenging hike, head up the Overlook Trail, and you’ll be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the city below.
For something a bit more mellow, try Trillium Trail or the Lizard Loop. There are hiking and running trails for all abilities at Ruffner Mountain!
11. Sample Some of the Best BBQ in Alabama
No trip to Birmingham is complete without sampling the city’s top-notch barbecue and soul food dishes, complete with all the fixings. Birmingham is brimming with excellent barbeque and Southern soul food joints, but SAW’S Soul Kitchen is one of the best!
You can choose from the traditional Original Pulled Pork sandwich or the Pork n’Greens plate or go for the more creative Sweet Tea Fried Chicken Sandwich or the Fried Green Tomato BLT. Either way, you’ll want to add on some addictive sides like the Cheese Grits, Fried Pickles, and Mac and Cheese.
The iconic Dreamland Bar-B-Que is another local favorite and is the place to go for some of the best ribs in town. Founded by “Big Daddy” John Bishop, this Alabama chain has garnered tons of awards and acclaim for its barbecue. Big Daddy was even inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in 2019 – so you know this place is the real deal!
12. See a Show at the Historic Alabama Theatre
Catching a show at the historic Alabama Theatre is a great option if you’re looking for a fun, family-friendly thing to do in Birmingham. Dating back to 1927, this beautiful theater was built by Paramount and used as a movie house for 55 years. It is now listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage and the National Register of Historic Places.
Nowadays, the theater is used for all sorts of entertainment events, including classic film screenings, plays, concerts, musicals, and more! The Alabama Theatre hosts roughly 150 events each year, so it’s well worth checking out the website to see what’s going on during your visit.
It’s honestly well worth purchasing tickets to a show here just to marvel at the stunning interiors and architecture of this historic gem. Located in the heart of the Birmingham Theatre District, the Alabama Theatre and the adjacent Lyric Theatre are the only remaining theaters in the district.
13. Take in the Views from the Vulcan Park and Museum
If you’re a sucker for a good view, a trip to Vulcan Park and Museum is a must on your Birmingham bucket list. While there’s always something fun to do in Vulcan Park, a trip to the Vulcan statue and observation deck is hands down one of the coolest things to do in Birmingham!
Perched at the top of Red Mountain, the 56-foot-tall statue is the largest cast-iron statue in the world and was created to pay homage to The Magic City’s industrial roots. Aptly named, the Roman god Vulcan is actually the god of fire.
To reach the top of Red Mountain, you can either take the elevator. Or, if you feel like getting a bit of exercise, you can climb the marble stairway to the top.
Either way, you will be rewarded with sweeping views over the city. After that, it’s also well worth checking out the interactive museum, which tells the story of the city’s history and culture.
14. Geek Out at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
If you’re looking for unique Birmingham activities, you have to go to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum! Anyone who has a thing for motorsports would be remiss not to pay a visit to this one-of-a-kind museum! With so many cool things to see and do, this is a great family-friendly attraction that is sure to entertain everyone in your crew.
The whole thing was started by American businessman, former Porsche racer, and car enthusiast George Barber. While the museum started out as a collection of cars in the 1980s, Barber later shifted his focus to motorcycles. Fast-forward to today, and the museum is now home to over 1,600 motorcycles!
While the museum prides itself as the largest motorcycle collection in the world, you’ll also find all sorts of vintage cars, rare race cars, and the world’s largest Lotus collection scattered around the museum. So car aficionados will not be disappointed.
Another cool thing about the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is that it features a 16-turn, 2.38-mile racetrack, where many automakers film commercials.
15. Go Brewery Hopping in Downtown Birmingham
This may come as a surprise, but Birmingham is home to a seriously impressive craft beer scene. If you’re looking for fun things to do in Birmingham, it’s well worth spending an afternoon going brewery hopping around town with friends!
There are tons of breweries to choose from, so it might be tough to know where to start. Trim Tab Brewing Company is widely hailed as the best brewery in the state and is known for its excellent stouts, IPAs, and fruity concoctions like the popular Paradise Now wheat ale.
Just down the road – near the Sloss Furnaces – you’ll find the trendy Avondale Brewing Company. This is a great place to sip their famous Miss Fancy’s Tripel Belgian golden ale while listening to live music on the outdoor patio.
If you need something to soak up all that booze, Back Forty Beer Company is just across the way and serves up a long list of creative gourmet pub dishes and features an impressive number of local beers on tap.
After that, head over to local favorite Good People Brewing Company for their acclaimed El Gordo Russian imperial stout. And, if you’re still thirsty for more, take a chance on any random brewery you may stumble across. Odds are you’ll be impressed!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Birmingham. What’s your favorite thing to do in The Magic City?
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