Visiting Birmingham - What to See and Do
(Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) Birmingham, Alabama, USA)
The Alabama city of Birmingham has made huge strides since its dark days of racial unrest during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. It is now a fairly harmonious city that showcases its role as a center of the struggle for black Americans in their quest for equality.
Birmingham is also blessed with plenty of outdoor recreational attractions right on its doorstep, thanks to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Downtown is home to one of America's top art museums, as well as several lovely historic neighborhoods that feature the antebellum wealth of the city in its heyday.
There are three halls of fame to browse, beautiful botanical gardens and a world-class motorcycle museum, as well as a speedway at the Barber Motorsports Park. Climb up to the Vulcan Statue for a panoramic view over the city or learn about the industrial heritage of the city in the historical Tannehill Park. There is plenty to see and do in Birmingham, one of the American South's most important cities.
Ten things you must do in Birmingham
- The first place to go to get your bearings is Vulcan Park. Perched atop the tallest hill, it boasts panoramic views over Birmingham, as well as a 4-hectare / 10-acre park to wander around. The city's iron-producing heritage is highlighted by a visitor center and the largest cast-iron statue (of the god Vulcan) on the planet. There is even free WiFi up here so you can Tweet your friends about it.
- The Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is the ideal attraction if you want to learn more about Alabama life in the 1800s. Within this sprawling 607-hectare / 1,500-acre property is a restored village where blacksmiths and millers still ply their trade the old way in a living-museum atmosphere. Besides the history lessons, you can go horseback riding, biking or hiking in this stunning countryside park.
- The role played by Birmingham during the Civil Rights cannot be underappreciated. Stop by the Civil Rights Institute to get the complete story of the movement, warts and all. You can easily spend a half day absorbing the sobering and inspiring exhibits, films and other displays that tell the harrowing story of the struggle of African Americans in Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s.
- The best cultural attraction in this city is found downtown at the Birmingham Museum of Art. This free gallery is one of the best in the American South, featuring a permanent collection of around 21,000 pieces of art from antiquity right through the contemporary era.
- The Alabama Jazz Music Hall of Fame is something not to be missed if you have any interest in music - jazz in particular. Listen to period interviews, watch old films and browse the extensive collection of memorabilia from some of the legends of jazz. The entry cost is very cheap, and the items on display are truly fascinating.
- Fans of motorcycles and motor racing will love the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. The dream of a single wealthy businessman, this unique venue has over 1,100 vintage motorcycles on display in its massive museum, all of which are in perfect working condition. Mechanical minds can even watch motorcycles being restored in the center's workshop, which is open to public viewing.
- If airplanes are more your thing, the Southern Museum of Flight will not fail to impress. More than 80 years of aviation are on display here, with some absolute beauties like WWII bombers, F-14 Tomcats and vintage biplanes. Plenty of information goes with each of the exhibits, and current restoration projects are open to the public.
- The Birmingham Zoo is a great little destination if you have the kids along or just love to observe wildlife. It contains more than 800 different creatures, including many star attractions like Bengal tigers and red pandas. The Children's Zoo section is particularly fun, with its miniature train ride and shady picnic areas.
- Live music, particularly blues and jazz, is a highlight of Birmingham. Head down to the Five Points South district or the downtown core, where music institutions such as Ona's Music Room and the 22nd Street Jazz and Blues Café ensure a solid performance nearly every night of the week.
- Another key Civil Rights historic site is the Kelly Ingram Park. This was the location of many of the painful events that transpired in this city during the 1960s. A self-guided audio tour relates what all the markers, monuments and sculptures mean. Just across the street is the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the infamous 1963 Ku Klux Klan bombing occurred, tragically killing four innocent little black girls.