While Birmingham often steals the spotlight for anyone visiting the state, the northern part of Alabama is more than worth a trip. This is especially true of Huntsville, a city on the border of Alabama and Tennessee, which has plenty of attractions to discover including the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the Unclaimed Baggage Center. For an easy Southern escape, consider Huntsville as your next destination.
Visit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center
The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a must-see for first-time visitors to Huntsville. There are not many cities in the United States that can put on a display as grand as the Saturn V rocket standing outside the Space Museum, and there's plenty to discover inside Shuttle Park, Rocket Park, and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration.
If you're traveling with children and want to immerse them in space exploration, kids up to age 10 can enroll in space camp, an immersive day camp where kids can experience the Space and Rocket Center like never before. With opportunities to experience the Intuitive Planetarium, take part in STEAM activities, and conduct hands-on experiments in space exploration, Space Camp is the perfect daytime activity for your science-minded kids.
The Botanical Garden in Huntsville—which is just a few short miles away from the Space and Rocket Center—has special attractions, events, and opportunities to explore year-round.
Although May and October are the best months for viewing the flowers and plants, December brings with it the holiday season and the special Galaxy of Lights installation, a brilliant display of over one million Christmas lights set up throughout the 112 acres of gardens, which has won many awards for tourism in the Southeast. Other great attractions include the Purdy Butterfly House, which is open from May 1 through September 30 each year and features hundreds of butterflies fluttering about open-air atriums.
Oprah Winfrey once called the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro "the best-kept shopping secret in America," and at just about 45 minutes away from Huntsville, this destination makes for a great day trip out of the city.
Here, you can browse racks of clothes and goods that people left behind or lost in transit. Known as the only store in America to buy and sell unclaimed baggage from airlines, this unique shopping center has become a top tourist destination in the state, attracting nearly a million visitors per year.
One of the biggest delights of Huntsville is seeing the history of the Tennessee Valley at the Burritt Museum. Also known as Burritt on the Mountain, this open-air museum not only offers the best views of the city, it also has several log cabins and the estate of the original owner and local physician William Burritt, which provides an in-depth look into how people lived during the second half of the 1800s.
Since the Alabama Constitution was signed in Huntsville in 1819, it is only fitting that a whole village has sprung up to depict the life of Huntsville during the early 1800s. EarlyWorks Children Museum, Historic Huntsville Depot, and the Humphrey-Rodgers House are all located downtown and make up the EarlyWorks Museum Complex.
Maria Howard Weeden was known worldwide for her historic paintings of black people. Her drawings were used for the costumes for slaves in "Gone With the Wind" and her Federal-style home is one of the oldest in Huntsville.
First explored by Jay Gurley in 1952, Cathedral Caverns near Grant, Alabama, is now a state park. This cave claims to hold seven world records, including the widest cave entrance at 25 feet tall and 128 feet wide and the largest stalagmite, Goliath, which measures 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.
Other features of the caves include a large flowstone waterfall, a huge cavern called the Big Room, and a river that flows through the cavern known as the Mystery River. Archaeologists have also discovered a number of Native American artifacts dating back as early as 7,000 B.C.
After you finish exploring the caves, head into nearby Grant and have lunch at Mimi's Kitchen.
Located in Hanceville, over an hour away from Huntsville, the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament is certainly worth the trip and a must for anyone near Alabama. Here, Mother Angelica has built a magnificent shrine of gold, marble, and cedar in honor of Jesus.
Born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Keller was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in the United States, and the story of how Anne Sullivan taught her to understand and speak English has become an American legend passed down through various plays, books, movies, and stories.
If you're in Tuscumbia and want to experience the early life of Helen Keller, stop by Ivy Green, the childhood home of the Keller family. It is awe-inspiring to go in June and July and see "The Miracle Worker" performed in the backyard of the house where the famous story actually took place.
The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, is the ingenious work of Benedictine Monk Brother Joseph Zoetti. The amazingly accurate architectural miniatures of shrines throughout the world are set in a beautiful Alabama hillside. Expect to spend the whole day and take a picnic lunch. Don't try to do the Shrine on the same day—it's too much to pack in at once.