48 Hours in Birmingham: The Perfect Itinerary

Aerial view of Downtown Birmingham Alabama
Kruck20 / Getty Images

Once a booming industrial town known for its role in the steel, iron, and railroad industries, Birmingham is now a thoroughly modern city with a thriving craft beer scene, award-winning restaurants, acclaimed history and art museums, beautiful parks, and lively, walkable neighborhoods. Within driving distance of other Southeastern destinations like Atlanta and Nashville, Birmingham is also accessible via the state's largest airport and small enough to explore on a short weekend getaway. From global fare at Pizitz Food Hall and barbecue at SAW'S Soul Kitchen to local breweries and historic sites like downtown's Civil Rights District and the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, here are the can't-miss spots for 48 hours in Birmingham.

01 of 06

Day 1: Morning

8-level white stone building occupying a full city block in Birmingham, Alabama

Courtesy of the Pizitz

10 a.m.: Once you've landed at Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport, grab your rental car, hail a taxi, or use a rideshare for the 15 to 20-minute drive to downtown. While we can't guarantee early check-in, we do recommend a trio of hotels in the heart of downtown—the historic Hampton Inn & Suites Birmingham-Downtown-Tutwiler, the Art Deco-inspired The Redmont, and the chic Elyton—all of which offer skyline views and walkability to major downtown attractions such as the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and Railroad Park. Drop off your bags, freshen up, and prepare to explore the city.

11 a.m.: Head to Yo' Mama's for a late breakfast or early lunch. The mother and daughter-owned spot serves Southern staples like shrimp and grits, hot wings, and chicken and waffles. Or opt to dine at the international Pizitz Food Hall, whose restaurants and stalls offer global cuisines like Mexican tacos, Vietnamese pho, and Korean bibimbap. Grab a shawarma pocket or kebabs at Eli's Jerusalem Grill, traditional Himalayan/Nepalese dumplings at MO:MO, or a burger from The Standard.

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02 of 06

Day 1: Afternoon

Birmingham Museum of Art

 Getty Images

1 p.m.: Explore Birmingham's history by touring the six-block Civil Right District downtown, designated a national monument by President Barack Obama in 2017. The district includes several historic sites, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Fourth Avenue Business District, Carver Theatre, and Kelly Ingram Park—the site of many of the era’s protests and demonstrations which now has moving sculptures commemorating the era. After a walking tour of these landmarks, visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a Smithsonian affiliate that offers guided tours, oral histories, and permanent and rotating exhibits dedicated to significant events and figures in the city’s history. Museum highlights include photographs, multi-media displays, and the bars of the cell where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail."

2:30 p.m.: Walk a few blocks north to the Birmingham Museum of Art, which offers free admission and has more than 27,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and other works of art in its permanent collection. Museum highlights include one of the country's best collections of Vietnamese ceramics and Albert Bierstadt's Looking Down Yosemite Valley, a seminal 19th-century American landscape painting. Don't miss the outdoor sculpture garden with works ranging from Rodin to contemporary artists like Elyn Zimmerman and Valerie Jaudon.

4:30 p.m.: Head back to your hotel to check-in and freshen up. If staying at The Redmont, take the elevator to The Roof, the hotel's rooftop bar, for a drink and panoramic views of the city.

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03 of 06

Day 2: Evening

vine-covered exteriror of Highlands Bar & Grill

 Courtesy of Highlands Bar & Grill

6:30 p.m.: Now it's time to head to Five Points South, a lively neighborhood at the intersection of Highland Park and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dine at the French-inspired Highlands Bar & Grill, with a rotating menu heavy on sustainable, seasonal ingredients—many sourced from chef/owner Frank Stitt's farm. Think venison, pork, dark greens, and hearty root vegetables in the fall and winter, with brighter fare like seafood and organic fruit in the spring and summer. One item always on the menu is the storied stone-ground baked grits, one of the city's best foods.

9 p.m.: Head back toward downtown and enjoy a nightcap at the retro-cool Collins Bar, which offers a mix of local brews and creative cocktails, plus a kitchen that stays open late on weekends serving up comfort food classics like grilled cheese and meatloaf sliders. Located just a block away, the Atomic Lounge is also great for its late-night drinks and snacks, outrageous costumes, playful mid-century modern decor, and regular live music and dancing.

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04 of 06

Day 2: Morning

Display cases with uniforms in the Negro Southern League Museum

 Courtesy of Negro Southern League Museum

9 a.m.: Fuel up for your day with brunch at The Essential, an airy, European-style bistro on historic Morris Avenue. Owner and pastry chef Kristen Farmer Hall makes all the bread from scratch and standout dishes include the brioche French toast with almond pastry cream, local fruit, whipped cream, and maple syrup, and the 12 mushroom madame, a twist on the French Croque madame sandwich. The coffee from local Seeds Coffee Co. and brunch cocktails like mimosas, Palomas, and Bloody Marys are the perfect companions to your meal.

10:30 a.m.: Walk or drive to the Negro Southern League Museum near Regions Field downtown. The museum celebrates the pre-integration minor league baseball league that included the Birmingham Black Barons (which won the title three times) and has the country's largest collection of original artifacts, including 1,500 signed baseballs, Satchel Paige's uniform, the McCallister Trophy, and a Cuban Stars baseball player's 1907 contract, the oldest in the existence.

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05 of 06

Day 2: Afternoon

Railroad Park in Birmington, Al
Jeffrey Schreier / Getty Images

Noon: Take a tour of Good People Brewing Company, the state's oldest and largest craft brewery, located at the edge of Railroad Park. Sample the Muchacho—a Mexican-style lager—or one of its IPAs, stouts, and other brews in the taproom, open daily at noon.

1:30 p.m.: Stroll through Railroad Park—a 19-acre urban green space in the heart of downtown—then rent a bike from a bike-share and pedal down the Rotary Trail, an urban path that connects to the historic Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, just 1.5 miles away. Operational from 1882 to 1970, the furnace was once the world's largest pig iron manufacturer, and its original pipes and massive stoves remain intact. Take a self-guided tour of the on-site museum, which features regular exhibitions on metal art, or snap photos on the Instagram-worthy grounds.

3 p.m.: Continue pedaling to Avondale Park, an eclectic neighborhood once home to the city's first zoo and now known for its artsy vibe and notable shops, bars, restaurants, and breweries. Enjoy Alabama-style barbecue, the famed sweet tea fried chicken sandwich, shrimp and grits, and other Southern classics at Saw's Soul Kitchen. Then head next door to Avondale Brewery for tours and tastings of its signature brews, including the Spring Street Saison, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale named for the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, now known as 41st Street.

Then stroll the neighborhood's tree-lined streets or pop into its many shops. More than 100 local creatives call MAKEbhm home, and visitors can arrange a tour to see woodworkers and ceramicists at work or purchase their wares. Score a vintage graphic tee and other retro finds at the funky Manitou Supply, a husband-and-wife-owned boutique located in the MAKEbhm building, or shop for thrifted and new handmade goods, clothing, jewelry, and more at the 18,000-square-foot Sozo Trading Co. 

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06 of 06

Day 2: Evening

Birmingham, Alabama Skyline at sunset
Sean Pavone / Getty Images

6:30 p.m. After dropping off your bike rental and freshening up at your hotel, your next destination is the Lakeview District, a former industrial area now alive with restaurants, nightclubs, and music venues.

At Automatic Seafood and Oysters, the dining room outfitted with wicker light fixtures, Adirondack chairs on the outdoor lawn, and fresh seafood sourced from the nearby Gulf will transport you immediately to a laid-back beach town. Enjoy Gulf, East, and West Coast oysters at the expansive raw bar or settle into a booth for favorites like the tender Octopus a la Plancha and fish poached in duck fat.

Or opt for a more casual evening at Slice Pizza & Beer. Order a house pie like a basic pesto with house Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, Alabama goat cheese, and shaved red onions, or build your own, with options for gluten-free crust and vegan cheese. All pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven, and the menu also includes several salads, small plates like tater tots and fired-baked wings, and dessert pizzas.

9 p.m.: For your last night in town, head to Nana Funk's, which is open until 6 a.m. on the weekends. It has something for everyone: electronic dartboards, local beer tastings, DJs, and late-night dancing. Other late-night options in the neighborhood include LGBTQ+ favorite Al's on 7th—an 8,000 square-foot space with an expansive outdoor patio, three bars, and a large dance floor and stage for everything from movie screenings to karaoke and drag shows, plus local hangouts the Tin Roof for live music and bingo, and The Nick for live music from emerging punk, bluegrass, rock, and indie bands.