From craft breweries to beautiful parks and acclaimed museums and restaurants, Birmingham offers enough activities to keep anyone occupied during a short excursion or longer stay. But when visiting the Iron City, why not sneak in a trip to nearby cities and attractions? Whether you want to escape to nature with a hike in the state's most scenic parks, explore restaurants and museums in big cities like Nashville and Atlanta, or stick even closer to your home base, here are the 12 best day trips from Birmingham.
Montgomery: Historic and Cultural Sites in the Capitol
Montgomery is a city steeped in culture and history and at just 90 miles south of Birmingham, the state's capitol is an easy day trip. Start your journey at the Civil Rights Memorial—designed by Vietnam Veterans Memorial creator Maya Lin—an outdoor, contemplative black granite and water installation downtown. Then walk to the nearby Rosa Parks Library and Museum, which chronicles the activist's journey with exhibits like video and photo installations and a Montgomery city bus from the 1950s. Finally, visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a somber, 6-acre site with sculpture, art, and an 11,000-square-foot museum with first-person accounts, videography, and other exhibits detailing the experiences of Black Americans.
Getting There: Montgomery is approximately 90 miles and 90 minutes south of Birmingham. The quickest route is I-65 South, which takes you right into downtown.
Travel Tip: Want to stay overnight? The F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald Museum—located inside the craftsman home where the literary duo lived between 1931 and 1932—has two upstairs suites available for rental on Airbnb.
Huntsville: Space Exploration and Earth-Bound Beauty
Experience the magic of "Rocket City" at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a Smithsonian affiliate with one of the world's largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia like the Saturn V moon rocket, plus virtual reality experiences and flight simulators, including the G-Force accelerator.
The city also offers plenty of opportunities to come back down to earth, with gardens, parks, and attractions like the 112-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden, which has the country's largest open-air butterfly habitat, and the Madison County Nature Trail, a gentle, mile-and-a-half path through pristine forests, ideal for a short hike, bird watching, or photography.
Getting There: Huntsville is 90 minutes and 100 miles north of Birmingham. Take I-65 North to I-565 East to downtown Huntsville.
Travel Tip: The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is closed on Mondays, and experiences such as the planetarium, virtual reality, and flight simulator are not included with general admission.
Atlanta: Big City Parks, Museums, and Rooftop Views
Located 147 miles east of Birmingham, Atlanta offers something for everyone: world-class museums, large green spaces, award-winning restaurants, and craft breweries. Start your day at one of the city's museums such as the Atlanta History Center, the High Museum of Art, or the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Then walk or take MARTA to the 185-acre Piedmont Park, Atlanta's version of Central Park, and adjacent Atlanta Botanical Gardens, which has the largest collection of orchids in the United States.
From there, stroll or rent a bike or scooter and travel down the BeltLine Eastside Trail to Ponce City Market, an adaptive reuse project in the old Sears, Roebuck & Co. building featuring shopping, a food hall, and a rooftop with an 18-hole miniature golf course, boardwalk-style games and ample seating to sip a cocktail while savoring panoramic views of the city. Finish with cocktails on the roof of the Hotel Clermont or dinner in the space's basement French-inspired restaurant, Tiny Lou's.
Getting There: Atlanta is two hours and 20 minutes and 147 miles east of Birmingham via I-20 East.
Travel Tip: Consider purchasing a CityPass, which offers discounted admission to some of the city's top attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola.
Chattanooga, Tennessee: Parks and Museums on the Waterfront
The city's downtown is a nature lover’s paradise, thanks to downtown revitalization and the Tennessee Riverwalk trail. Explore the latter on foot or bike or book the two-hour historic downtown Segway tour, which includes points of interest like the Tivoli Theatre, Warehouse Row, and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Don’t miss the Tennessee Aquarium, home to the most diverse gathering of freshwater animals in the country, and the nearby Hunter Museum of Art, which focuses on American art and includes the work of Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, and Andy Warhol.
Getting There: Chattanooga is 147 miles northeast of Birmingham, a two hour and 10-minute drive via I-59 North.
Little River Canyon National Preserve: Hiking and Kayaking
Despite its name, Little River Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in North America, carved by the winding path of its namesake mountaintop river. From dense woodlands to tumbling waterfalls and jagged rock formations, the 15,288-acre preserve offers some of the state's most beautiful scenery. Hike more than 26 miles of trails, which range from gentle forest strolls to steep, rocky paths, or rent a kayak to paddle through gentle waters or challenge yourself on rapids used as training for U.S. Olympians. Other park activities include horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, and bird-watching.
Getting There: Little River Canyon is located 97 miles northeast of Birmingham, a one hour and 40-minute drive via I-59 North.
Travel Tip: Not up for a hike? Get all of the views with none of the strain by driving the 11-mile Little River Canyon Rim Parkway (Highway 176), which has eight scenic overlooks.
Nashville: Live Music, Museums, and Hot Chicken
From the honky-tonks along Lower Broadway to independent spots like The Basement East and iconic venues like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville is one of the best places in the country to hear live music. In addition to music, the city has several notable museums, including the must-see Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the free Tennessee State Museum, and the Frist Art Museum, housed in a historic post office that offers rotating exhibits ranging from Picasso paintings to contemporary photography and multi-media installations.
And no trip to the city is complete with a taste of its signature dish: hot chicken. Try it at Prince's Hot Chicken, a family-owned business which has a food truck on 6th Avenue in SoBro and a brick-and-mortar location on Nashville's south side.
Getting There: Nashville is 192 miles north of Birmingham, about a three-hour drive via I-65 North.
Travel Tip: The city is a popular destination on weekends, so opt for a mid-week excursion to avoid the crowds.
DeSoto State Park: Scenic Hiking and Mountain Biking
Located in the northeastern corner of the state on Lookout Mountain, this 3,502-acre state preserve is the perfect destination for outdoor lovers. Highlights include 25 miles of hiking trails that wind through rushing waterfalls and colorful wildflowers, plus 11 miles of dedicated mountain biking trails, horseback riding, zip lining, aerial adventures, fly fishing, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Getting There: The park is 100 miles northeast of Birmingham, a one hour and 40-minute drive via I-59 North.
Travel Tip: While it bears the same name, the 104-foot tall DeSoto Falls—the state's highest waterfall—is only accessible via separate section of the park, 6 miles from the primary entrance.
Tupelo, Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway and Birthplace of Elvis
Yes, this small town in the northeastern corner of Mississippi's claim to fame is being Elvis Presley's birthplace, but Tupelo is also the headquarters of the historic 444-mile Natchez Trace Parkway, a 10,000 year-old path, historically used by indigenous people, that crosses three states from the foothills of the Appalachians to the lower Mississippi River. Stop by the Visitor's Center for a short film as well as exhibits and artifacts related to the Trace's history, or experience it for yourself by hiking the 6-mile Blackland Prairie Trail.
And then, of course, visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum, the two-room home in East Tupelo where the star was born, which now serves as a museum and public park.
Getting There: 136 miles away, Tupelo is a two-hour drive from Birmingham via I-22 West.
Travel Tip: The Natchez Trace is best experienced via bike, so bring yours along or rent one in town.
Oak Mountain State Park: Play at the State's Largest Outdoor Area
At nearly 10,000 acres, Oak Mountain is the state's largest park and offers a variety of activities all in one place. In addition to more than 50 miles of hiking and biking trails, the park has a BMX course, cable skiing, horseback riding facilities, basketballs courts, boat and kayak rentals, a beach with swimming and fishing access, a wildlife center, and an 18-hole golf course with driving range.
Getting There: Just 20 miles south of Birmingham, the park is a 30 minute drive via I-65 South.
Travel Tip: The entrance fee ($5 per adult, $2 for children and seniors, free for children 3 and under) must be paid in cash.
Red Mountain Park: Hiking and Zip-Lining
Yes, it's technically in Birmingham, but with more than 15 miles of trails and other outdoor adventures, you could easily spend a day at this 1,500-acre urban park. Bike or hike the challenging 3-mile Ike Maston Trail, a technical track which winds up and down the mountain. For an easier stroll, opt for the 2-mile, mostly flat BMRR South rail-trail, perfect for walking with children or strollers. The park is also home to the state's largest dog park, three scenic treehouse overlooks, and an adventure area with zip lining, a climbing tower, and a tree-top obstacle course.
Getting There: The park is 7 miles south of downtown. The drive takes 15 minutes via I-65 South.
Travel Tip: To learn more about the mountain's history and Alabama life from former miners and current park rangers, download the free TravelStoryGPS.
Memphis: Music, Museums, and More
This vibrant city on the banks of the Mississippi River is always worth a visit.
Start your journey by walking down famed Beale Street, a 1.8-miles stretch and National Historic Landmark that houses some of the city's best restaurants and bars, including B.B. King's Blues Club. Then head to one of the city's stellar museums, such as the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art—the state's largest art museum, with over 9,000 works ranging from sculpture to textiles in its permanent collection—and the National Civil Rights Museum, with oral histories and interactive exhibits and housed in the Lorraine Hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
Finally, stop into the Bar-B-Q Shop for a plate of ribs or barbecue sandwich on Texas toast or visit Graceland, TK
Getting There: It's about a three and a half hour drive, primarily via I-22 West.
Travel Tip: Don't miss the Duckmaster leading the famed Peabody Hotel ducks on their march to the fountain, which happens at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily.
Cathedral Caverns State Park: Underground Wonders
Cool off on a hot Alabama day with a trip to these stunning underground caves in Woodville. Book a 90-minute cavern tour, held daily at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to explore its unique features, like Goliath, which at 45 feet tall and 243 feet wide is one of the world's largest stalagmites. The park also offers gem mining and 5 miles of hiking trails.
Getting There: The Caverns are 93 miles north of the city. The trip takes one hour and 45 minutes via via I-65 North and AL-79 North.
Travel Tip: Reserve cave tour tickets in advance via phone (256-728-8193). Tickets are only available on the same day.