The 20 Best Things to do in Birmingham for First Timers

Civil Rights Tours and Landmarks

Birmingham, Alabama is a city filled with history, art, culture and sports. There is much to see and experience when visiting Birmingham. The city is located in north central Alabama and has a population of 210,000. It was the site of many Civil War events and was established as a city in 1871 during the Civil War’s reconstruction era. The city developed as an industrial hub with the building of the railroads and mining and manufacturing iron and steel. Birmingham was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement during the mid-twentieth century. Today, Birmingham is a diverse city with an economy based on industry, economics, banking and education. The city is filled with historic landmarks and art and cultural venues. Birmingham has sporting events, shopping, dining, concerts, festivals and nightlife.

Red Clay Guided Bus Tours

20. Red Clay Guided Bus Tours

A great way to get to know any new city is a guided tour. Birmingham, Alabama has many tour companies that will help you explore the city. You will surely find places that you will definitely want to return to on your own. Birmingham is filled with history. A guided tour will show you the city from the Civil War to the Industrial Age to the Civil Rights Movement to the modern city that Birmingham has evolved into. A guided tour will lead you to historic landmarks, cultural hot spots, and dining venues. It’s a great way to get to know the city.

Lakeview District

19. Lakeview District

Birmingham’s historic Lakeview District is a must for visitors to the city. The district was established in the nineteenth century as Birmingham became a key industrialized city producing iron ore. The district is located between University Boulevard, 7th Avenue South and 29th Avenue South. It’s still filled with warehouses, many that are now trendy restaurants and nightclubs. Lakeview is known for the Lakeview Hotel and Pavilion and a park with a pool, skating rink, bowling alley and ball park. The area is surrounded by wooded countryside and magnificent homes. The quaint neighborhood runs an electric trolley which has run since 1895.

Nightlife - Clubs & Bars

18. Nightlife – Clubs & Bars

Birmingham has a vibrant nightlife. Whether you are into live music, a relaxing atmosphere or just getting to socialize with friends, there is a place for you in Birmingham. The Five Points South neighborhood is considered Birmingham’s entertainment district. Zydeco features live music. Hylands Bar & Grill is known for its martinis. Downtown Birmingham favorites include The Roof, the best rooftop bar in the city and The Nick where locals flock to for live music in a laid back atmosphere. The Lakeview District is known for Oasis Bar which features local bands and Nana Funks which stays open late into the morning.

McWane Science Center

17. McWane Science Center

The McWane Science Center is a fun and educational place for people of all ages. The science center features many exhibits that inspire interactive learning as well as weekly educational programs for individuals and groups. The many exhibits at McWane Science Center include aquariums with a shark and sting ray tank, dinosaur exhibits, nature exhibits, a special “Itty Bitty Magic City exhibit, and an arts and technology room. The Science Center also features an IMAX Theater, educational classrooms and traveling exhibits.

Sloss Furnaces

16. Sloss Furnaces

Sloss Furnaces is a national historic landmark in Birmingham. The iron blast furnaces were active from 1882 through 1970 and the site serves as a museum, educational spot, tourist attraction, and a unique venue for events and concerts. Sloss Furnaces was developed by Col. James Withers Sloss in post Civil War Birmingham. Col. Sloss helped developed he railroads during the 1850’s and helped develop Birmingham into a bustling industrial city. The 50 acre site includes 40 historic buildings and the 2 400 ton blast furnaces that were built in 1927 and 1928.

Breweries

15. Breweries

If you enjoy tasting new beers and educating yourself about craft beer making, a brewery tour or event is a fun option. There are several breweries in Birmingham. Many offer events, tours, and live music. Cahaba Brewery is located on 5th Avenue in a former train depot building. The brewery offers tasting events and tours in a relaxed atmosphere which includes televisions and arcade games. Avondale Brewery has a relaxed outdoor patio. Ghost Train Brewing Company, Good People Brewing Company and Trim Tab Brewery are other popular Birmingham brewing companies.

Aldridge Botanical Gardens

14. Aldridge Botanical Gardens

If you are a plant and nature lover, Aldridge Botanical Gardens is a must to visit. Thirty themed gardens are spread out over 67.5 acres. The themed gardens include collections of flowers, flowers native to southeastern United States, and gardens focusing on design. The Botanical Gardens offer several educational opportunities including conservation for students, young children and families. The Botanical Gardens offer several events throughout the year including seasonal plant sales, Earth Day celebration, Author events, Wine & Dine events and a beautiful private event venue.

Red Mountain Park

13. Red Mountain Park

Birmingham is filled with surrounding nature preserves and parks. Red Mountain Park is one of its largest. The mountain was used as an iron ore source in the late nineteenth century which helped build Birmingham into an industrial town. The mountains were rich in iron ore but were left depleted. When the park system took over, they restored the beautiful mountain land and continue to preserve it. Diverse wildlife and plants have returned to Red Mountain. It’s a beautiful place to hike on its several trails. There is also a dog park to let your furry friends play. Red Mountain Park has several zip line and challenge courses offered to individuals or groups for team building programs.

Market at Pepper Place

12. The Market at Pepper Place

The Market at Pepper Place was opened in 2000 by Pete Sloss and his daughter Catherine Sloss Jones to support local family farms and connect them with Birmingham residents. When it started, The Market at Pepper Place featured a few tents in a parking lot. It’s grown to include 100 tents with 200,000 visitors annually. The Saturday event used to run from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but now runs year round. Visitors can enjoy choosing locally grown fruits and vegetables and checking out local artisiens’ wares. The Saturday Market features events including local chefs offering cooking demonstrations using locally sourced ingredients.

Historic Alabama Theater

11. The Historic Alabama Theater

Birmingham has a vibrant theater life. There are several venues in the city where you will find performances of musicals, holiday shows, Broadway shows and stand up performances. The Alabama Theater is one of the finest. Built in 1927 by Paramount Studios, Alabama Theater was built as a place to show films. Although the theater ran down during the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was completely restored to its original grandeur in 1998. It continues to be a venue to see films, but it also serves as a venue for live events and concerts. Birmingham is also home to the Alabama Ballet Company since 1981.

Ghost Tours

10. Ghost Tours

If you’re interested in both history and ghosts, Birmingham has many guided ghost tours offered by tour companies. Some are walking tours led by knowledgeable, entertaining guides. It’s a great way to get to know the city which is steeped in colonial and industrial history. Popular haunted sites to explore include hotels such as The Tutwiler Hotel, Redmont Hotel and Hotel Highland which became Pickwick Hotel in the 1950’s. Haunted cemeteries in Birmingham include Old Walker Chapel Cemetery, Hodges Cemetery and Bass Cemetery. The Linn-Henley Research Library and Bottenfield Middle School. One interesting site that is supposedly haunted is Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces. As with many nineteenth century mills and industrial plants, more than 60 workers tragically lost their lives at Sloss Furnaces.

Shopping

9. Shopping

There are several great shopping venues located in Birmingham. These include Five Point West Shopping Center and Brookwood Village. The Summit is an upscale shopping center with brand name and boutique stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Apple, Trader Joes and Hannah Andersson. There is a 16 theater movie theater. There are also plenty of dining options including California Pizza Kitchen, Abhi, The Cheesecake Factory and Flemming’s Steakhouse.

Birmingham Zoo

8. Birmingham Zoo

The Birmingham Zoo is one of the largest and most popular zoos in the southeastern United States of America. The zoo has existed for 50 years and was privatized 20 years ago to focus on conservation and education. There are 700 animals in the zoo including red pandas, giraffes, lions, rhinos, bears, elephants, zebras and orangutans. Many animals are endangered species. The Birmingham Zoo offers educational activities including a Zoo Camp and Tales in the Trails. The zoo offers events including private birthday parties and group events such as Zoo Brews and a Moonlight BBQ.

Sports

7. Sports

Birmingham, Alabama is home to many sporting events. The University of Alabama Blazers are a beloved basketball team. Birmingham is home to the Birmingham Barons, an AA minor league of the Chicago White Sox that play at Regions Field. The city has hosted many sports events including motor sport events, PGA Champions Tours, Olympic soccer events and the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Birmingham is also home to the state’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival

6. Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival

The Sidewalk Film Center is located in Birmingham’s historic theater district in the Pizitz Building. The center serves as the venue for the city’s annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival, now in its 22nd year. The Center hosts year long events and programs encouraging and educating in the film industry and the advancing techniques used in the media art form. The Sidewalk Film Festival also serves as a beautiful 11,400 square foot venue for special events.

Birmingham Museum of Art

5. Birmingham Museum of Art

The city of Birmingham is filled with interesting and entertaining museums to explore. The Birmingham Museum of Art is filled with 21,000 pieces of art as well as temporary exhibits. It is the largest city museum in southeastern United States of America. The Art Museum is a great way to spend a few hours for people of all ages. The museum offers educational programs and special events throughout the year. It is also a beautiful venue for special private events.

Historic Carver Theater

4. Historic Carver Theater

The Carver Theater opened as a moving picture theater in 1935. The theater welcomed African Americans to watch first run films at a time when the city of Birmingham was highly segrerated. In 1945 the theater expanded to include 1300 seats. As with many theaters in large cities, the Carver Theater declined during the 1970’s and 1980’s, but was remodeled as a live performance theater in 1990 when the City of Birmingham purchased the building. Located in the Civil Rights District on Fourth Avenue North and 17th Street North, the theater became the home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and hosted world renown performers. The Carver Theater hosted the Taste of Fourth Avenue Jazz Fest and continues to host the annual AJHoF Student Jazz Festival.

Alabama State Fairgrounds

3. Alabama State Fairgrounds

Birmingham is home to the Alabama State Fairgrounds. The 117 acre site was built in 1947 and included a race track which hosted auto and harness racing, Kiddieland amusement park, and the State Fair Arena and Exposition Center. The Fairgrounds have hosted many events including flea markets, live music and shows, carnival rides and other fairground activities. Unfortunately, the fairgrounds all but shuttered in the early 2000’s but is set to make a comeback with an annual state fair beginning in late September.

Enjoy Southern Dining

2. Enjoy Southern Dining

Birmingham is home to some of the best southern cuisine. The city is home to local favorites includiing BBQ pulled pork, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, skillet cornbread, fried dill pickles and pecan pie. Popular restaurants include SAW’s Soul Kitchen and SAW’s Juke Joint and Dreamland BBQ. Fine dining options are also abundant throughout the city. Options include Highland Bar & Gril, Glanmarco’s, Bistro 218, and Hot & Hot Fish Club.

Civil Rights Tours and Landmarks

1. Civil Rights Tours and Landmarks

Birmingham, Alabama was once the most segregated city in the United States of America. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, the city was the location of many racially motivated bombings and became the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors to Birmingham can experience the Civil Rights Movement and its many important landmarks through a variety of guided tours. Tours include the Civil Rights Institute, the 16th Street Baptist Church where four children were murdered in a 1963 bombing, Kelly Ingram Park which was the site of many protests, Dynamite Hill where many homes were bombed, and Bethel Baptist Church which was bombed three times and became a central point of Civil Rights activity.


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