Located along the banks of the Alabama River, Montgomery is the capital of Alabama. The second-largest city in the state, Montgomery is the birthplace of notable Americans like singers Nat King Cole and Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton, actress Octavia Spencer, and writer Zelda Fitzgerald. The city also played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Selma to Montgomery March to Dexter Avenue King Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor and community organizer from 1954 to 1960. Montgomery is also a modern cultural and educational hub and home to several museums, performing arts venues, and universities.
Just a short drive from Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, and other Southeast points, the city is easy to explore on a day trip or a quick weekend getaway. From touring the Rosa Parks Museum and Library to staying in the home where literary duo F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald once resided and viewing works of art from American greats like Winslow Homer at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, these are the top 10 things to do in Montgomery.
View Great Works at Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
Located on the grounds of Blount Cultural Park, this museum has a substantial American collection, including paintings, drawings, and watercolors by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and John Singer Sargent, as well as works like quilts and crafts from regional and self-taught artists. The 4,000-work permanent collection also includes an extensive gallery of European art, African art, a decorative arts gallery, a sculpture garden, and an atrium with dedicated glassworks from Dale Chihuly and Tiffany Studios. Traveling with little ones? Visit ARTWORKS, Alabama's first interactive fine arts gallery for children, a special wing with interactive exhibits for kids. And allow ample time to explore the scenic 175-acre park, which includes miles of walking trails, a dog park, and an amphitheater that hosts the Alabama Shakespeare Company.
Experience History at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum
Located on the campus of Troy University downtown, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum sits on the site where Mrs. Parks was arrested in 1955, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott and leading to the integration of the city's public transportation. The interactive, family-friendly museum chronicles the activist's journey with exhibits that include video and photo installations, a Montgomery city bus from the 1950s, original works of art like quilts, and a restored 1955 station wagon—the "rolling church" used to transport protestors instrumental in the bus boycott and larger Civil Rights Movement.
Experience the Jazz Age at the F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum
The famed literary couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald—the latter, a Montgomery local—called an apartment in this craftsman house on Felder Avenue home between 1931 and 1932. This is where they wrote their respective works "Tender is the Night" and "Save Me the Waltz," and the downstairs museum offers tours and includes literary and Jazz Age artifacts like manuscripts, handwritten letters, period furniture, memorabilia from "The Great Gatsby" movies, and Zelda's drawings and self-portraits. Superfans can spend the night in one of the home's two upstairs apartments, aptly named the Zelda and the Scott, available for rental from Airbnb.
Visit the Civil Rights Memorial Center
Sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center and created by Maya Lin, who designed the similar Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., this outdoor, contemplative black granite and water installation honors the martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement. The stone is engraved with 40 names, honoring those killed between 1954 (the year school segregation was outlawed by the Supreme Court) and 1968 (the year of Dr. King's assassination), along with the words, "We will not be satisfied...until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream," a quote from Dr. King's 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech. The memorial is directly adjacent to the Civil Rights Memorial Center, which includes exhibits and a theatre that shows a short film outlining the city's role in the pivotal movement in American history.
Reflect at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum
Opened in 2018, this memorial is the only one in the country dedicated to chronically racial violence against Black Americans, from slavery and the Jim Crow era to present-day police brutality and mass incarceration. The somber, six-acre site incorporates sculpture, art, and text from Toni Morrison and Dr. King, with a centerpiece memorial comprised of 800 six-foot steel monuments representing lynching victims in 800 counties across the country. The adjacent, 11,000-square foot Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration includes first-person accounts, sculptures, videography, and other exhibits detailing the experiences of Black Americans.
Get Up Close with Animals at the Montgomery Zoo
This 40-acre zoo on the north side of the city houses over 700 animals from five continents, from African elephants and giraffes to Australian kangaroos and wallabies to Chilean flamingos and North American bald eagles and black bears. Other highlights include a petting zoo, a South American bird aviary, a parakeet cove, a stingray tank, and a reptile house with several species of frogs, turtles, and snakes. The zoo offers several animal encounters, including a can't-miss giraffe feeding, which gets you up close and personal with the majestic, 18-foot creatures.
Tour Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church
Now a National Historic Landmark, this downtown church is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., first preached as a young minister, ultimately leading the Montgomery Bus Boycott and other Civil Rights movements. The church offers both self-led and guided tours, including the sanctuary and notable parts of the building, such as a basement mural dedicated to his work and legacy. The Dexter Parsonage Museum, where Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King lived, is also open to the public for tours and still holds some of the couple's original furnishings. Note these two distinct landmarks are not within walking distance of each other, so plan to drive.
Stroll Through Riverfront Park
Stretching from the banks of the Alabama River to the city's central business district, the park offers wide paths for walking and cycling, a splash pad for cooling off on hot days, and an amphitheater that hosts picnics, concerts, movies, plays, and other special events throughout the year. You can also catch a riverboat ride nearby or attend a minor league baseball game in Riverwalk Stadium.
Experience a Musical Legend at the Hank Williams Museum
Country music fans won't want to miss this museum dedicated to the famous singer-songwriter who died tragically in a car accident in 1953. The car he was driving—a baby-blue 1952 Cadillac—as well as vinyl records, costumes, guitars, and costumes are on display, and visitors can also play one of the singer's signature tunes like "Hey Good Lookin'" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," on an antique jukebox. Williams is buried in the city's Oakwood Cemetery Annex, and a bronze statue of him is on display downtown on the Riverwalk.
Catch a Show at the Montgomery Performing Arts Centre
This 1,800-seat theater downtown hosts various local and touring events, from comedians to ballet to live music. Enjoy the sounds of the Montgomery Symphony, see popular musicians like Jason Isbell and Lyle Lovett perform live, or watch a classic film like "Wizard of Oz" or "The Godfather" on the big screen.