With its quintessential Southern hospitality, Alabama is an enticing destination for many, and is home to a huge number of unique things to see and do.
Over recent decades the southeastern US state of Alabama has succeeded in shedding the baggage of its Civil Rights era and blossomed into a burgeoning region rich in culture and entertainment, while never forgetting its often turbulent – but always fascinating – past. If you’re planning a trip to Alabama any time soon, we’ve picked out 20 of the most exceptional attractions and activities that the state has to offer.
Explore the history of space exploration
Space carries a unique fascination for many and visitors to Alabama can enjoy what is perhaps the next best thing to a trip into the cosmos by spending the day at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. One of the state’s most prestigious educational venues, the centre houses more than 1,500 items and artifacts – including a number of interactive exhibits – many of which were gleaned from legendary space programs such as the Apollo program, the International Space Station, and the Space Shuttle program. Space-themed movies are also shown daily at the on-site National Geographic and the IMAX theatres.
1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville / Mon-Fri 10am-4pm Sat 10am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm
Scale Alabama’s highest point
Set within the vast expanse of Cheaha State Park, Cheaha Mountain is the highest point in Alabama and offers a captivating reward for those who ascend it, surrounded as it is by granite boulders, wind-warped ancient trees and panoramic vistas for miles around. Intrepid hikers can reach its peak by traversing a one-mile stretch along the Lake Trail, while a less arduous option is to drive up on park roads to the stone observation tower marking the mountain’s highpoint.
Discover one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous designs
Within iconic American architect Frank Llyod Wright’s prolific portfolio, The Roenbaum House is widely considered one of his most impressive creations. Built in 1940 as a family home for a couple called Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum, the building features horizontal lines, glass windows, and cantilevered roofs and has come to be considered a key example of Wright’s ‘Usonion’ design style that arose after the Great Depression to provide affordable, functional homes that blend in with their surroundings. Today the building has been turned into a museum and is open to the public with no reservations required.
601 Riverview Drive, Florence / Mon-Sat 10am-4pm Sun 1pm-4pm
Delve into Alabama’s fascinating Civil Rights past
Few states have played such an integral role in America’s fight for civil rights as Alabama – and few cities have been so central to this effort as Birmingham. Those keen to learn more about this remarkable period in history can do so by joining a guided Civil Rights tour of Birmingham. The three-hour tour takes in some of the key landmarks where fights were fought, protests held and the futures of millions ultimately changed forever. The tour price includes hotel pick-up, transportation and on-board commentary.
Amble around a tranquil botanical garden
Drawing more than a quarter-of-a-million visitors every year, the Huntsville Botanical Garden is a veritable haven of horticultural beauty and tranquillity. Open throughout the year, come rain or shine, the enchanting venue is split into distinct areas including a biblical garden, fern glade, daylily garden, and herb garden. There are also a number of kid-friendly attractions including a fun nature trail, a butterfly house, and a special Jurassic-themed dinosaur garden.
4747 Bob Wallace Avenue SW, Huntsville / Mon-Thurs 9am-6pm Fri-Sat 9am-5pm Sun 11am-5pm
Check out Alabama’s abundant wildlife
Always a winning choice for a family a day out, Birmingham Zoo has grown significantly after opening its doors back in 1955 and is now home to some 800 animals spanning 200 different species. Among the most perennially popular areas are the Kangaroo Kountry, Predator Building, Flamingo Lagoon, Primate Building, Lorikeet Aviary, and Alligator Swamp, while during certain times of the year more intrepid visitors even have the chance to ride a real life camel.
2630 Cahaba Road, Birmingham / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
If the comparatively small selection on display at Birmingham Zoo don’t quite manage to satisfy your craving for ‘gater action, then you may want to head to the city of Summerdale, which has its very own alligator farm known as Alligator Alley. Set up in 2004 as a natural environment for rescued alligators, the philanthropic project has grown in scale and now has 450 alligators residing in its swampy environs. Visitors can explore the site at their leisure and can even take part in supervised feedings.
19950 Co Road 71, Summerdale / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Marvel at a 200 million-year-old bridge
Owing to its tender years as a nation, America is often accused of being somewhat lacking in history in comparison with its Old World counterparts. But one landmark that definitely bucks this reputation is the Natural Bridge. Said to date back over 200 million years, the bridge was formed out of iron ore and sandstone and is surrounded by lush foliage amid awe-inspiring rock formations in what is now known as the William Bankhead National Forest. While it’s not permitted to walk over the bridge due to safety, visitors can marvel at it from close quarters – and walk under it, if you dare.
Peruse a top class museum
Art enthusiasts visiting Birmingham are in for a treat thanks to the presence in the city of one of Alabama’s finest cultural institutions. Birmingham Museum of Art houses a stunning collection of more than 25,000 works of art hailing from across the globe. representing Africa, Asia, America, and Europe, as well as Native American and Pre-Columbian cultures. The museum also features Renaissance, Wedgwood, and Baroque collections, along with an acclaimed Vietnamese ceramics collection.
2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard, Birmingham / Mon-Sat 10am-5pm Sun 12pm-5pm
Like most cultural phenomena, the true origins of Mardis Gras are hotly disputed. One of the most common claims is that the iconic carnival’s true birthplace is none other than the port city of Mobile on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. As a result Mardi Gras is celebrated here each year in raucous fashion and the city even has its own museum that highlights the history of Mardi Gras. Called the Mobile Carnival Museum, it is housed within a restored historic mansion and features some 14 immersive galleries and invites visitors to see firsthand the intricate designs and artistry of majestic crowns, scepters and robes of Mardi Gras monarchs, discover the art of costume design and float construction, view videos of parades and balls, browse a gallery of photos dating back to 1886, and even experience a behind-the-mask view of a Mardi Gras street party by climbing aboard a rocking float.
355 Government Street, Mobile / Mon, Weds, Fri & Sat 9am-4pm Closed Tues, Sun & Mon
Hit some of Alabama’s best beaches
Perched on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. the city of Gulf Shores is one of the state’s best beach destinations and a mecca for water sports fans. Thirty-two miles of white-sand beaches offer a range of aquatic activities including parasailing, kayaking, jet-skiing, fishing, paddle boarding, surfing, and scuba diving, and the area also has numerous hiking trails, a pier, a golf course and a zip line that extends over expansive dunes. Wildlife spotting is a big deal here too, with sea turtles and migratory birds thriving among the area’s coastal habitats.
Join a mouth-watering food tour
Birmingham has a wonderful food scene and visitors can get a taste of its diverse culinary landscape by booking onto a food tour. From quintessential Alabama barbecue to locally-brewed craft beer, this small-group tour of up to six people will fill you up with the city’s best bites as your guide regales you with fascinating stories and facts about the origins of Birmingham’s food history. The tour runs for around 2.45 hours and the price includes downtown hotel pick-up and drop-off, transportation and live onboard commentary, all food samples and lunch.
Visit a venue steeped in music history
Spread across a 12,500-square-foot exhibition hall, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was created to honour the state’s long-standing legacy of creative genius in the field of music. The venue houses a huge assortment of memorabilia and other items from the life and careers of some of Alabama’s greatest musical performers spanning multiple genres such as Tammy Wynette, Lionel Richie, Emmylou Harris, the group Alabama, The Commodores, Nat King Cole, W.C. Handy, Hank Williams. Inductees also are commemorated with a permanent bronze star in the “Walk of Fame” in the lobby floor of the museum.
617 US-72 West, Tuscumbia / Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 10am-4pm Sun 12pm-4pm
Or for an alternative slice of musical heritage, head to the Shoals area in the state’s northwestern reaches. Here lies the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a still-operational studio where hundreds of hit records by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart have been produced down the years. Music aficionados can explore the studio on a professionally guided tour, during which you’ll learn all about the venue’s illustrious history as well as having the chance to play the actual instruments used by rock ‘n’ roll greats. Tours run every hour.
617 US-72 West, Tuscumbia / Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 10am-4pm Sun 12pm-4pm
Book yourselves onto a ghostly driving tour
Like many cities, Birmingham is steeped in tales of supernatural happenings dating back centuries and those brave enough can discover whether any of its apparitions are still around today by joining a small-group ghost tour. Guests are transported by van from one (supposedly) haunted place of interest to the next, including hotels, theatres, graveyards and mansions, as your guide shares spine-tingling stories of the city’s eery past. The tour price includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, transportation and your guide.
Attend a fun-packed festival
Step through the gates of the Alabama Medieval Fantasy Festival and into the Kingdom of Dragon Croft, where 21st Century life vanishes into the cool wooded landscape. Visitors enter a world of discovery and adventure, a place of pleasure, creativity, laughter and enchantment. History comes to life with hundreds of costumed characters re-creating a 9th Century European Marketplace, including entertainment, food & drink, and hand crafted merchandise and vendors from far and wide. Join good King Gregory and his fair Queen Annwynn for a day of adventure in a magical kingdom.
4776 Fort Dale Road, Greenville / 11-12 September
Alternatively, if you’re in Alabama this coming August, the nationally acclaimed Furnace Fest will roll back the years for its 20th anniversary this year, featuring all the punk/emo/hardcore musical action that you can handle. Taking place at the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, the three-day event will return for the first time since 2003, and promises to be as bold and brash as everyone remembers. A stellar line up of some 90-plus bands will perform across 3 separate stages in front of a raucous crowd of music lovers. Among the notable names set to appear are Face to Face, Taking Back Sunday, Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Emery, Zao, Anberlin, Beloved, Further Seems Forever, Living Sacrifice, Mae, and August Burns Red.
Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, 20 32nd Street North, Birmingham / 24-26 September
Take a wander around a charming small town
Outside of its major cities, Alabama also has a liberal sprinkling of towns and villages that ooze quintessential small-town American charm. Among the most popular is Fairhope. Situated along Alabama’s Gulf Coast, the town has earned the unofficial title of ‘the jewel of the Eastern Shore’ thanks to its sandy beaches, delightful public parks and sweeping panoramic views of scenic Mobile Bay. The downtown district is brimming with funky boutiques and hip restaurants, and there’s also a vibrant arts community in the town, with regular art walks and festivals taking place here.
With its population of just 50 residents, Mooresville, located in Limestone County in northern Alabama, is the embodiment of the phrase “small but perfectly formed”. Oozing quaint old-world charm, the tiny town is officially named on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to the impressive number of centuries-old landmarks to be found here. Two picturesque churches dating back to the 1800s are the main focal point, while other attractions include a restored tavern that has been converted into a museum that invites visitors to step back 200 years in time.
Spend a rainy day at an immersive science centre
An ideal attraction for one of Birmingham’s (albeit infrequent) rainy days, the McWane Science Center is packed to the rafters with fun and exciting exhibits and hands-on activity stations designed to spark and encourage an interest in science among children. Over half-a-million different artifacts are on display here, covering a diverse range of different scientific topics. Highlights include the Shark and Ray Touch Tank, the Fox 6 Weather Lab, a dinosaur zone, and an 80-foot whale fossil.
200 19th Street North, Birmingham / Weds-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 10am-5pm Sun 12pm-5pm Closed Mon-Tues