35 Things to Do in Birmingham.

35 Things To Do In Birmingham Alabama

I’ve lived in Birmingham my entire life. Seriously – even college. The longest I’ve ever been away from this city was six weeks at the age of 16 when I went overseas.

As a kid, Birmingham was clearly a dying city. My parents told stories of what it once was, but it was impossible to imagine. Downtown was boarded up, everything happened in the suburbs, and we were all bored.

There was nothing to do.

In the past five years, my city has gone through a beautiful metamorphosis. Residents began having a new sense of optimism and burden to invest in the city. Things began to actually change, and all of a sudden, we had a vibrant, beautiful, exciting city.

(Did you know that we have the number one amount of green space per capita in the nation? A great deal of that has been created in my adulthood.)

It’s officially summertime, and it’s time to get out and explore the city – both the new and the old. If you’re not from Birmingham, you’re on your own. (And you should really consider moving here.) If you are from Birmingham, here are my suggestions.

1. Hike the trails at Red Mountain Park. [Free] They’re beautiful, have fascinating iron mining relics, and some pretty stunning views. Make a checklist of the major lookouts and treehouses and find them all.

Red Mountain Park Grace's Gap Overlook

Some of the trails even look like this. How much more magical could Birmingham get?

Red Mountain Park Railway Trails

2. Tour Birmingham’s Local Coffee Shops. [Cheap] My favorites are Seeds Coffee Company, Church Street Coffee and Books, Octane, Urban Standard, The Red Cat, Hart and Soul, and O’Henry’s. Tell me if you discover any more jewels.

Seeds Coffee Shop

3. Go shopping at The Grand River Outlet Mall. [Free to as much as you want to spend] – They have a great kid’s play area, fantastic shops, and even better deals. Make sure you stop by the welcome center in the food court and get a coupon book.

Grand River Outlet Mall

While you’re in the area…

4. Find the Leeds Memorial Park. [Free] The slides there are taller than any other slides in Birmingham. AND they still have a merry-go-round! If you have children who like thrills, it’s great. And if they don’t, there’s a little kid park, too. If you need lunch afterward, check out Rusty’s BBQ. Rusty will make you feel at home, and he has the best white sauce in the city.

Leeds Memorial Park

5. Eat a hamburger and enjoy the views at Tip Top Grill on Shades Crest Road. [Super Cheap] And while you’re there, walk down to Lover’s Leap. Just hold your kid’s hands well.

Tip Top Grill

6. Visit Aldridge Gardens in Hoover. [Free] Take a stale bag of bread to feed the fish, ducks, geese, and turtles – they’ll be expecting it. Also, find the totem pole on the other side of the lake – it’s pretty fantastic.

Aldridge Gardens

7. Eat an outdoor dinner (or lunch) at Chez LuLu. [Moderate] Leave the kids with someone else if you can – it’s quite romantic.

8. Go to a Movie in the Park at Avondale Park. [Free] The amphitheater there is fantastic, and they have a fantastic operation headed up by Marco of Silvertron Café, which is where you should eat before attending.

Avondale Park

9. Hike The Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. [Free] A largely forgotten jewel of Birmingham, this mountainside is fantastic. The views are well worth the hike, with or without kids – just don’t try to bring a jogging stroller.

Ruffner Mountain Overlook

While you’re in the area…

10. Eat lunch at The Irondale Café (of Fried Green Tomatoes fame – the food and the movie), then watch trains go by. [Cheap] Make sure you appreciate train graffiti – it’s quite magnificent.

Irondale Cafe

11. Take the kids to The McWane Center. [Moderate] It’s fun, sneakily educational, and is a great thing to do when it’s too hot to go outside.

12. Go to an ArcLight Stories night. [Cheap, not with kids] This is a unique and fascinating event where several people tell short stories from their lives. You will laugh, you will cry, you will learn to appreciate humanity.

ArcLight StoriesPhoto provided by ArcLight Stories

13. Cool down at Steel City Pops in Homewood. [Cheap] If you need lunch to boot, Nabeel’s is around the corner and Little Donkey is next door. Tip: If you have a popsicle aversion like I do (even thinking about the feeling of biting into a popsicle makes me cringe,) get a milk-based one. They’re soft and quite manageable.

14. Go to a movie at The Alabama Theatre. [Moderately Cheap] It’s unforgettable.

15. Plan a walk downtown. [Free] You’ll be amazed at the things you notice.

Downtown Finds

16. Go on a Scavenger Hunt at Crestline Park. [Free] The contest is closed, but you should still be able to find the clues!

Avondale Park Little Local Look N Find

17. Canoe the Cahaba River. [Moderate] I have very fond memories of doing this as a kid, and seriously want to do it as an adult. We did tube the Cahaba a few years ago, and I must say I was a fan of Lazy-Man’s’-Canoeing.

18. Go on a Sunset Walk along the Ridges of Red Mountain. [Free] You knew I was going to suggest this, right? I guarantee it will change your outlook on the city forever.

Birmingham Mist

19. Go to a Birmingham Barons game. [Moderately Cheap] Experience why this stadium is changing the face of Birmingham.

While you’re down there…

20. Visit the LightRails. [Free] It will make any night cheerier.

Lightrails

21. Take a short walk on the Irondale Furnace Trail. [Free] It’s a fun and easy view of some of Birmingham’s industrial history, as well as a gorgeous taste of nature.

Irondale Furnace Trail

22. Railroad Park. [Free] It’s one of our favorite places to hang out after dinner as the sun is setting. They have playgrounds, lakes, walking trails, and more.

140111 picturebirmingham - Shadows in the Sunset 7368

23. Discover the hidden trails at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. [Free] That place is GIANT. You have no idea.

24. Drive a little over an hour to Spring Valley Beach Water Park. [Moderate] It’s been a few years since we’ve visited, but we loved it. They have waterslides, a huge pool, and they allow you to bring in all of your own food.

Spring Valley Waterpark

25. Spend a day hiking, swimming, BMXing, or relaxing at Oak Mountain State Park. [Cheap]

26. Try out the Zip Lines at Red Mountain Park. [Moderate] We did this and it is fantastic. And although it makes a great date, kids can do it as well – that is, if your kids are braver than mine.

Red Mountain Park Zip Line

27. Visit Vulcan, of course. [Cheap] The free park is improved and better than ever, but it’s worth a few bucks to go to the top and see his view of the city. Also, those few bucks get you into the museum, which is always worth a walk-through.

Vulcan

28. Visit Tannehill State Park. [Cheap] I feel like half my childhood happened at Tannehill. And they’re all good memories.

29. Visit The Birmingham Zoo. [Moderate] Go in the mornings – the animals are always perkier, unlike me.

30. Walk along The Jemison Park Nature Trail. [Free] It’s beautiful, easy to manage, and shady. It also has a unique way of getting across the creek.

31. Learn in Downtown – visit The Birmingham Museum of Art and The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. [Free/Cheap]

32. Take a tour of Sloss Furnaces. [Cheap] Make sure you bring your camera – it’s more beautiful than you might think.

33. Head to the Gardendale Splash Pad. [Free] They also have an adjoining playground when it’s time to dry off.

34. Go on a drive through Mountain Brook and see who can spot the biggest house. [Free] Feel free to pretend that Birmingham’s royalty lives here.

35. Go to Bessemer and eat at The Bright Star. [Moderate] You’ll immediately feel like you’re stepping back into Birmingham’s past.

The Bright Star

Enjoy your summer. Explore. And let me know what you find.

And if you’re not in Birmingham, what do I need to come experience in your city?


See more pictures of magnificent Birmingham sights at Picture Birmingham, my photo site that benefits The WellHouse, a local ministry that rescues victims of human trafficking.

 

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Comments

  1. 1
    MamaHen says:

    I love this list. I have lived here all my life also, except for a brief 9 month stint in Charlotte, and it seems like something new is always happening. But the great thing is the old things stay the same or just get better-like Tanneyhill. :)

  2. 2
    Maggie Horton says:

    The Gardendale Splash Pad isn’t any fun. Don’t waste your time. (I’m totally kidding it’s great but ever since the word got out about our little secret it’s covered up with people.) It’s nice to have fun free options in the area. We’ll definitely be checking some of these out. If you make a trip out let me know and we can meet up!

  3. 3
    Lisa says:

    Great list! My husband and I have lived here 2 years so far, but haven’t seen much of the city. I just made a personal bucket list for things to see in the area. I may have to add some of these things to the list.

    Plus I’m a nanny so I love seeing all these free/cheap options that are good for kids. We need things to fill the days.

  4. 4
    Grammy says:

    I have lived here most of my life and many of these places and things have been here all along. You had to get out and go there to enjoy. Birmingham is the perfect place for a “staycation”.

  5. 5
    Lindsay says:

    I just discovered the Springville splash pad. It’s every bit as good as the one in Gardendale (maybe a little better in some ways) and feels closer to us (though I haven’t timed it).

  6. 6
    John "Buck" Whitten Sr. says:

    Rachel, this has to be the most awesome write up of our Birmingham, City. And adjacent cities an areas i have ever read. After spending thirty year’s of my working career here. And seeing our city almost die, and then see a report like this just made my day.

    The Mayor should present you with a key to the City of Birmingham, Along with a huge trophy. No one will ever top this awesome story.

    A million thanks for your time and hard work on this Brilliant Story of our Birmingham, Alabama.

    John “Buck”

  7. 7
    Teresa Hall says:

    Coffee shops – definitely don’t miss Tracy’s on University Boulevard! It’s a UAB favorite that ran off the Starbucks that opened next door. Their paninis are great, as well.

    Moss Rock Preserve (free) has nice hiking trails too, and the boulder field is awesome.

    Pepper Place is cool, and the original farmer’s market on Finley Blvd is interesting in a completely different way. (Both free, but you won’t be able to resist some produce or other goodies!)

    The old section of the Birmingham Public Library on Linn Park has wonderful murals. In the section that was the children’s room when I was little, the murals are fairy tale illustrations. (Free)

    Great list, Rachel. Thanks!

  8. 8
    Jill says:

    Thanks for this list – I can’t believe I found it on the day you wrote it. We’re considering a move to the Birmingham area from across the country so I was googling for info about the city. Much appreciated! :)

  9. 9
    Renee says:

    Two coffee shops that aren’t on your list but a must to try!!! Crestwood Coffee of course in Crestwood., And Lucy’s on University Blvd. downtown on UAB campus. Brunch at Crestwood Coffee is outstanding and made right there in the coffee shop.

    Thanks for the list. There are a few things I have not tried yet.

  10. 10
    Dan says:

    36. See the Alabama Symphony at Railroad Park, or in their home at the Alys Stephens Center. Birmingham is home to one of the nation’s best regional orchestras, and there’s never enough culture in your life. And while you’re at it, if it’s in season, go to an opera at Opera Birmingham–yes, the city has an opera company! Bet you didn’t know that. And it gets 4-5 stars for every single production.
    Oh, it’s not free, but the experience is [priceless].

  11. 11
    Melanie says:

    GREAT post Rachel! I get so sad when locals talk about there is nothing to do in Birmingham or it’s “too dangerous to do anything in Birmingham.” All myths! So glad you love our beautiful city so much! And nice shout out to Leeds (one of my hometowns).

  12. 12
    Andrea McCaskey says:

    Great information for those folks in recruiting! Thanks!

  13. 13
    Beth says:

    This is wonderful. I never ever ever went into downtown before college. Then I came back from college and everything was so different. It’s been so much fun re-exploring Birmingham, and I definitely just added some places to my to-visit list!

  14. 14
    Terri Hicks says:

    This is a great list, but as a local historian, I have to add a couple of items… you MUST visit Arlington Antebellum House and Gardens on Cotton Avenue. This is the only remaining antebellum home in the city and is absolutely beautiful! Admission is minimal and the experience priceless! My next suggestion would be Oak Hill Cemetery on 11th Ave. and 19th Street. This is Birmingham’s first City Cemetery and was established in 1871. The grounds are lovely and if you are lucky enough to actually get a personal tour, you will learn all about some of the famous and infamous people who created our Magic City. On a regular day, admission is free. If you watch their website, you can come on a day when they are having their history tours and the price is very small compared to the fun you can have!!!

  15. 15
    Abbey says:

    You forgot all our local breweries! It’s become a huge thing here with places like Avondale and Good People.

  16. 16
    Jonathan Harder says:

    Thank you for gathering this list together and posting it. This will keep me busy all summer and probably well into the fall. Great job showcasing this vibrant and wonderful city!

  17. 17

    These are so awesome! We’ve been looking for fun things to do in our vlogs recently for the summer, and I just asked Anna if she’d be up for doing each one! I think we are! We’re excited!

  18. 18
    Jason says:

    I was in Birmingham one time and I had a gun put to my head and I was robbed. I’ll never visit there again.

    • 18.1
      Ana Marie says:

      You probably deserved it. Stay away.

      • Jason says:

        How does someone deserve to be robbed? And you are rather callous for saying so.

      • Ginger says:

        Wow! That seems a little harsh and ignorant to say to his experience.
        Jason, I’m sorry that happened to you. There are dangerous places/times in the birmingham area. Those who aren’t familiar with the area should definitely find out details from locals before going certain places.

  19. 19
    RyanC says:

    UAB Hospital has an indoor walking trail that encompasses blocks and blocks, and crosswalk after crosswalk. http://www.uab.edu/humanresources/home/wellness/trails

    Children’s Hospital has a 200 year old statue of a little girl in its waiting rooms. Always thought that was cool.

  20. 20
    Elan Morosini says:

    Love this list – it gave me so many new ideas of fun things to do with my family and my Girl Scout Troop! And thank you, Rachel, for the shout out for Movies at Avondale Park and Silvertron!

  21. 21
    Laila Tucker says:

    You didn’t mention the Barber Motorsports Museum in Leeds. My kids (5&10) LOVE it there and you canfhot up Rusty’s and the cool park all in one trip!

  22. 22
    cb says:

    what’s a popsicle aversion?

    • 22.1

      Something about the sound a Popsicle makes when it’s bitten into gives me the chills – very akin to nails on a chalkboard. Even thinking about it makes me shudder!

      • Lesley says:

        Jason’s popsicle aversion is to the stick. Cannot stand the way it feels on his tongue. Oh, and Steel City Pops now has a location right off of Hwy 280 in the Greystone area.

  23. 23
    Jen Barnett says:

    Definitely agree about the downtown library! The even have a huge collection of old phone books. Find your house and them and see who lived there! If your home is old enough, you can even see what the former residents did for a living!

    Also the Vestavia library in the forest. The “tree house” is an amazing place to sit and read.

    Finally, try out letterboxing. You can learn more here: http://www.atlasquest.com/ There are treasures hidden all over the city!

    All free. :D

  24. 24
    Patricia Connell says:

    Great list. You mentioned Spring Valley Beach in Blount County. I grew up going there and it has gotten even better over the years. I highly recommend a trip to SVB. Other things to do in Blount County: Rickwood Caverns, not far off of I-65, is a state park. Good place to go on a hot day, They have an olympic size pool that was filled with spring water from the cave, cave tours, a minature train, camping and picnic areas. Between Oneonta and Cleveland, there is Palisades Park which has picnic areas, hiking trails and playground area. Palisades Park is free but closes at sunset. A good place to eat home cooking is Charlie B;’s which is open most days for lunch.
    In Etowah County you should visit Noccalula Falls park: train rides, picnic areas, hiking trails, animal habitat, pioneer village and camping areas. Also in Gadsden visit the Mary G. Harden Center for Cultural Art which has a chidren;s museum (Imagination Place), Miniature Train display, Art galleries and a great place to eat home cooking (The Courtyard).. The Center for Cultural Art is on Broad Street in down town Gadsden. In walking distance on Broad is Frios which has wonderful popsicles in wonderful flavors made from fresh local ingredients.. Several great coffee shops in the area: The Coffee Well and Flip Side Cafe.. Both have breakfast and lunch items available also. If you want to picnic in the downtown area go to Moragne Park on Albert Rains which has picnic table and playground equipment. Or go across the street and picnic on the river where there is a splash pad (near Chilis). Both Moragne Park and the splash pad across the street are free.

  25. 25
    Myles says:

    Another awesome local coffee shop is The Crestwood Coffee Company. They have great coffee and delicious sandwhiches. I can’t wait to try Seeds and the Red Cat!

  26. 26
    Cody says:

    You should really check out Saw’s Soul kitchen in Avondale. My favorite BBQ I have ever had. Not to mention their sweet tea fried chicken. Absolutely delicious.

  27. 27
    Delancy Gardner says:

    Great info! Thanks for sharing!!!

  28. 28
    Leeann says:

    Can I assume you know this awesome song?:)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue9lsHpGKd4

  29. 29
    Marquita Jones says:

    Are the downtown lights under the bridge nightly or special occasions only?

  30. 30
    Russ says:

    My favorite thing about this is that it acknowledges some things outside the city center. I work downtown and have been thrilled by the resurgence over the last few years. But I also live in Hoover and so many of the articles/lists like this of late largely ignore anything outside a 2-mile radius from Southside.

  31. 31
    Rebecca says:

    Don’t forget about Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson (http://turkeycreeknp.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/turkey-creek-nature-preserve-currents/). The preserve is gorgeous, and has a rich history. It’s a great lesson in conservation, too, with several threatened and endangered species within the park. They have lots of activities there throughout the year.

  32. 32
    Dave Heyssel says:

    No mention of Kelly Ingram Park or the Sixteenth St. Baptist Church? Barely a side note about the Civil Rights Institute? This list should be renamed “Thirty-Five Things for Culturally and Historically Insensitive White People to Do in Birmingham”. You stay classy, Birmingham. Those of us up North will continue to look on with amusement.

    • 32.1

      It’s entirely possible that someone could make an incomplete list of things to do without being historically insensitive or racist. Perhaps instead of being whiny super-touchy ninny muggins, you could be productive and make your own list. That would be constructive.

      Thanks for the list, Rachel.

      • Dave Heyssel says:

        An incomplete list? This list was compiled with great thought judging by the profundity of frivolous activities that the article is populated with. This is a list of activities and landmarks in Birmingham that doesn’t include the one place that actually makes Birmingham relevant in any historical context. It seems to be something too embarrassing to place on a list that is supposed to make Birmingham sound “fun and friendly”. I’m not being overly-sensitive. I’m making a valid point that this list is not entirely representative of the city and that it’s skirting the issues to the detriment of its own reputation.

        • Nathan Frye says:

          Dave, I realize your VCU education has filled you with a superiority beyond compare, However, Birmingham is much more than the mistakes of prior generations. Guilt & shame are not requirements of our identity. We have highly successful and extremely diverse leadership in our city. We celebrate the achievements of the present and plan for the future much more than we dwell on the past. History is for sober understanding, purposeful reflection, and effective decision making, not a scarlet brand on every successive generation. It’s easy to shoot condescending arrows of judgement from the statistically less-diverse town you call home, but I assure you, you make Charlottesville look like a really classy town.

    • 32.2
      teri thomas says:

      Those of you up North with attitudes like that please stay there…we don’t want or need you in our Magic City.

  33. 33
    Stan Palla says:

    Le Tour de Ham. An eclectic fun Social Bicycle Ride that celebrates our right to ride. It tours thru the bohemian fun parts of our city. It was created by Stan Palla (AlaBike) and Vero Vanblaere (Naked Art). Silvertron Cafe is the ride sponsor. It begins at 6:30 pm on Tuesdays at the restaurant in the heart of Forest Park. Please Join Alabike, Buy stuff at Naked Art, and eat at Silvertron. It will make us happy.

    This ride is for everyone. No spandex or fancy bike required. We travel 10 miles in a basically flat ride. Invite your friends

    Arrive Silvertron Cafe 15 minutes early to assemble bike, air tires, etc… WHEELS ROLL AT 6:30

  34. 34
    Tara Kepple says:

    I want to thank you for gathering this information, but in addition to these activities, the City of Birmingham has a historical meaning to our nation’s history in which those exhibits were left off of this list. People visit from many communities, states and countries just to tour the Civil Rights District. It includes the Civil Rights Museum, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. There is also the Carver Jazz Museum that has statues of the famous Motown singing group of the 60′s and 70′s; the Temptations . It would be nice to see some of these attractions also included in your list of activities.

  35. 35
    Cheryl Duke says:

    Thanks for this great article for, people that live in the Birmngham area, specifically for summer fun! Updating us on the beautiful metamorphosis, of the area, and helping us join, in the new sense of optimism. Thanks to others that noted additional treasures, with the same positive feelings, that make it all the more appealing.
    Godspeed to You and the ministry of Wellhouse

Trackbacks

  1. […] Always looking for something new and fun to get into around the area, I found this post via Reddit and thought it had many interesting activities I could give a go before eventually departing the area – http://www.graspingforobjectivity.com/2014/06/35-things-to-do-in-birmingham.html […]

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