Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Your Trip to Birmingham: The Complete Guide

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Founded along two rail lines in the late 19th century, Birmingham, Alabama, has a storied history as an industrial town, renowned for its iron and steel production. Now the largest city in the state of Alabama, this thoroughly modern city offers some of everything to visitors: acclaimed museums, award-winning restaurants, craft breweries, dozens of parks and green spaces, and recreational activities ranging from golf to mountain climbing and hiking. From the solemn streets of downtown's Civil Rights District to the exhilarating trails of Red Mountain to the lively bars and music venues of Lakeview and Five Points South, Birmingham is an all-around great city for history buffs, outdoor enthusiasts, foodies, and music lovers.

Here's a complete guide about when to visit, where to stay, what to do, getting around, saving money, and more on your visit to the Magic City.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Birmingham is from March to May when the flowers are in full bloom, the city's festival season begins, and the weather is ideal for enjoying outdoor activities like golfing and hiking. In the fall, temperatures cool off again, hotel rates are lower, and summer crowds disperse, making it another ideal time to explore the city. Summers are long, hot, and muggy, but it is a great time to enjoy the area's many parks and recreational activities and acclaimed (and air-conditioned) museums. Winters are often chilly and rainy but still milder than other parts of the country, and seasonal lights and decorations in Railroad Park, the city's historic neighborhoods, and the Birmingham Zoo mark the festive season.
  • Language: English
  • Currency: U.S. dollar
  • Getting Around: While the downtown area is walkable and Birmingham has both tourist and public transit buses, renting a car ride or hailing a ride-share is the best way to explore the city when not on foot.
  • Travel Tip: Hotel prices are the highest in spring and summer, especially during major events like the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and the Sidewalk Film Festival. Reserve hotel rooms and tickets for major attractions in advance or plan to arrive early to points of interest to beat the crowds.
Birmingham Museum of Art

 Photo Courtesy Birmingham Museum of Art

Things to Do

From acclaimed museums like the Birmingham Museum of Art to the McWane Science Center to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame to scenic Railroad Park and the storied Civil Rights District, downtown has enough attractions to keep you busy for an entire weekend.

But don't miss Birmingham's other neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character and points of interest. Head to historic Avondale for breweries and local boutiques like Manitou Supply, gritty Lakeview for live music at Sidebar or Tin Roof, or Homewood for galleries and shops like Alabama Goods and Soho Retro.

More of the outdoorsy type? Head to Red Mountain Park, a 1,500-acre wooded recreational area that offers 15 miles of challenging hiking and mountain biking trails, plus zip-lining, aerial adventure tours, and rock climbing.

And don't forget to fuel up for your adventures: the city is home to several award-winning restaurants like the coastal-inspired Automatic Seafood and Oysters and elegant Highlands Bar & Grill, as well as several breweries, bars, and late night clubs.

  • Visit the Civil Rights District. This six-block area and national monument downtown includes several historic sites, including the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Fourth Avenue Business District, Carver Theatre, and Kelly Ingram Park, site of many of the era’s protests and demonstrations which now has solemn 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 cell bars where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. penned his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
  • Bike from Railroad Park to the historic Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. Railroad Park is a 19-acre urban green space in the heart of downtown. Besides regularly hosting yoga classes and movie nights, the park has a designated skating area, playground, and outdoor workout equipment. Settle in for a lakeside picnic, stroll along the park's walking trails, and then rent a bike share to pedal to the historic Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, just 1.5 miles away.
  • Sample craft beer. Birmingham has more than a dozen local breweries, including Good People Brewing Company, the state's oldest and largest. Sample the Muchacho—a Mexican-style lager—or one of its IPAs, stouts, and other brews in its taproom, overlooking downtown's Railroad's Park. From there, follow the Magic City Brewery tour, which includes Birmingham District Brewing Co., Ghost Train Brewing Company, and the Lakeview District's TrimTrab Brewing Co., a space that doubles as a gallery for local artists. Or book the Birmingham Brewery Tour, a $65 guided excursion that stops at three local breweries and includes four 4-oz. samples at each location.

Explore more activities in the city with our guides, the Top 13 Things to Do, and 48 Hours in Birmingham.

What to Eat and Drink

While Birmingham has its share of Southern classics—Alabama barbecue, shrimp and grits, and fried chicken—the city has a diverse food scene, where you can find everything from pho and ramen to South American-inspired small plates and Greek fare. Birmingham also has a thriving nightlife and bar scene.

For a special night out, opt for coastal fare like oysters and Octopus a la Plancha at Automatic Seafood and Oysters in Lakeview, or French-inspired, seasonal fare at the romantic Highlands Bar & Grill in Five Points South.

For those wanting a more relaxed culinary experience, get chicken and waffles and other Southern favorites at the mother and daughter-owned Yo' Mama's, pizza and beer at Slice Pizza & Brew, or plates of smoked meats like pulled pork, ribs, and smoked chicken with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce at SAW's BBQ.

Other standout restaurants include elegant bistro The Essential, late-night favorite Shu Shop, seafood-centric Hot and Hot Fish Club, and the "Greek plus three" Johnny's.

Birmingham is home to more than a dozen local breweries, many of which offer regular tours and tastings. Try downtown's Good People Brewing Company, Avondale Brewing, Birmingham District Brewing Co., Ghost Train Brewing Company, or TrimTrab Brewing Co.

The city also has a thriving nightlife scene, most of it centered around the neighborhoods Five Points South and Lakeview. Try the retro-cool Collins Bar near downtown for cocktails, Atomic Lounge for fun costumes and late-night dancing, the LGBTQ-friendly Al's on 7th for drag shows and movie screenings, and the Nick for live music. For more options, see our guide to the city's bars and nightlife.

Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham

Courtesy of Tutwiler Hotel, Birmingham

Where to Stay

  • Central City/University of Alabama at Birmingham: This is where you'll find the city's most conveniently located hotels, all of which are within walking distance to attractions such as Railroad Park, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Civil Rights District, and the McWane Science Center. For a bit of luxury, opt for the Art Deco era The Redmont, the historic Tutwiler, the sophisticated Elyton Hotel, or all-around favorite the Westin. Downtown/UAB also has several reliable chains like SpringHill Suites and Hilton Garden Inn.
  • Mountain Brook/English Village: These leafy southern suburbs are convenient to the Birmingham Zoo and Birmingham Botanical Gardens, as well as shops, restaurants, and galleries. For a splurge, opt for the glamorous Grand Bohemian in Mountain Brook. More affordable options include the modern Aloft Birmingham Soho and the Embassy Suites.

Additional accommodations and short-term rentals are available in neighboring areas like Hoover, Fultondale, and the airport, but expect a longer drive into the city.

Getting There

Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) is located 6 miles northeast of the city. It offers direct flights to and from over 15 destinations in the United States such as Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Miami via American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

From the airport, it's a 10-15 minute drive to downtown. Rent a car, catch a ride-share like Lyft or Uber, hail a taxi, or take the Magic City Shuttle.

Birmingham is an easy drive from nearby destinations like Hunstville (95 miles north), Nashville (191 miles north), and Atlanta (147 miles east). Most of the city's hotels offer self-parking or valet, and the city's streets are easy to navigate for out-of-towners.

Money-Saving Tips

  • Book a hotel in the offseason. Hotel rates can skyrocket during the tourist season (spring and summer), so try visiting during a less busy month like January or February.
  • Take advantage of free attractions such as the Birmingham Museum of Art, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, and Birmingham Botanical Gardens.
  • Opt outside. From the walking paths, playgrounds, and free concerts in downtown's Railroad Park to 15 miles of hiking trails at Red Mountain Park to Moss Creek Preserve's waterfalls, most of the city's parks and recreational areas are free. They offer a variety of activities for all ages and fitness levels.
Article Sources
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  1. City of Birmingham. "About Birmingham."

  2. United States Census Bureau. "U.S. Census, QuickFacts." 2019.

  3. Fly Birmingham. "Flying In."