More than 3.4 million people visited Jefferson County alone in 2018, according to the Alabama Tourism Department. This reflects a 10% increase from the year before, and this number only continues to grow. There’s no doubt that the Magic City is on the rise thanks to our award-winning food and drink scene, lively entertainment options, and exciting retail businesses. With the increased growth of visitors and new residents alike, there are a lot of places pegged as “touristy” that even locals love and always recommend to visitors. Whether you are a tried and true Birminghamian, recently moved to town or are simply planning a trip to the Magic City, these are the tourist activities we truly love.
Birmingham Tourist Attractions Even Locals Love
Highlands Bar and Grill
The caliber of incredible new bars and restaurants in Birmingham has steadily been on the rise for years, but one long-standing, exceptionally-delicious restaurant is Highlands Bar and Grill. In 2018, Highlands was awarded the James Beard Foundation Award for the most outstanding restaurant in America after nine consecutive years of nominations. Self proclaimed foodies and experts alike flock to this Five Points restaurant to experience all that Highlands and executive chef Frank Stitt has to offer. SB Tip: Make your reservations early! They are typically booked up for several months.
Vulcan Park & Museum
Home of America’s first Iron Man, the Vulcan Park & Museum is a staple in the Birmingham community that locals love. From the iconic views of downtown, to family-friendly events and outdoor concerts, to an event space that hosts hundreds of weddings, rehearsal dinners, corporate parties and meetings, the Vulcan is an incredible spot in the ‘ham that tourists are sure to enjoy. Take a step back in time at the Vulcan’s museum as you learn the history of Birmingham and ride the elevator to the top of Vulcan for the best view you can get of the downtown skyline. Before you leave, be sure to stop in their gift shop, the Anvil, to pick up a souvenir created by a local Birmingham vendor to commerate your trip to see the Big Man.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Tucked away in the heart of Mountain Brook is the beautiful Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a spacious 67.5-acre “living museum”. With more than 30 gardens, a variety of classes, plant sales, workshops, and the only public horticultural library in the United States, the botanical gardens are the perfect place to spend the day. After perusing the gardens, refuel with a bite at the Gardens Cafe, visit their beautiful plant shop on the property or stop in the public library housed in the gardens. With free admission, the gardens are a must-visit location beloved by both locals and tourists.
Since it’s revitalization in 1988, Pepper Place Entertainment District is without a doubt one of Birmingham’s most iconic spots for food, shopping, and fitness year after year. No matter the season, Pepper Place is constantly buzzing with fun events, pop-ups, and of course, their beloved farmer’s market. Whether you’re searching for home decor, local goods and produce, clothing, or gifts, there is something for everyone at Pepper Place. Be sure to come hungry and grab a table at one of the delicious restuarants in Pepper Place like Chef Chris Hastings’ Ovenbird, Bettola, and Blueprint on 3rd. After dinner, stop by for a nightcap at The Lumbar or Hop City. Looking for a unique fitness experience in the Magic City? Pepper Place has that too. With Birmingham’s only cycle studio, Ignite Cycle, and pilates studio, Aero Joe, you can certainly break a sweat in Pepper Place.
Did you know that Birmingham leads the nation in having the most urban green spaces? There are so many amazing parks for hiking, biking, and camping in the suburbs of the ‘ham but one of our favorite parks sits right in the heart of downtown Birmingham. 16 acres adjacent from Regions Field is Railroad Park, a beautiful green space full of trees, a pond, walking and running trails, a play area for children, outdoor gym equipment, a plaza, and much more. This park is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike no matter what time of year. In the spring, Railroad Park is bustling with food trucks, 5K runs and walks, and even free organized fitness classes. In the winter, Brrrmingham comes to town and Railroad Park turns into a winter wonderland with an ice skating rink and ice slide. Railroad Park is a must-see spot for all those traveling to the Magic City!
Alabama Theatre & Lyric Theatre
If you’re looking for an exciting event or lively concert, the Alabama Theatre and the Lyric Theatre are two iconic, historic theatres on 3rd Avenue that boast ornate decor and amazing acoustics. The Alabama Theatre, originally built in 1927 by Paramount Studios, underwent renovations in 1998 to become the stunning theatre it is today. Enjoy a concert, a stand-up comedy show, a ballet performance, or the occasional movie at this must-visit theatre.
Directly diagonal from the Alabama Theatre is the newly-renovated Lyric Theatre. Built in 1914, the Lyric Theatre is a tried-and-true performing arts theatre that has always been a beacon of history and entertainment in downtown Birmingham. Make plans to see the opera, symphony, or any other musical guest grace the coveted Lyric stage.
Birmingham Museum of Art
Sitting in the heart of the cultural district in downtown Birmingham is the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA). With more than 27,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings from both ancient and modern times, BMA is consistently recognized as one of the country’s top museums. Get lost perusing the countless galleries in the museum, stop for a delicious lunch at Oscar’s located inside the museum, and then head outside into their beautiful sculpture garden. SB Tip: If you’re visiting during the summer, make plans to attend one of their ‘Art on the Rocks’ events. With live music, food and drinks, special giveaways, and hands-on art demonstrations, these are some of our favorite nights of the summer!
Just a short trip down Highway 280 will lead you to a secluded getaway at luxurious Pursell Farms. Birminghamians love to take advantage of this resort’s amenities such as their award-winning golf course, spa, dining options, world-class spacious guest rooms and inns, UTV mountain tours, ORVIS sporting clays, fly-fishing and so much more. No matter what time of year, there are always fun events, dinners, and activites for the whole family to enjoy. There’s nothing quite like a quick trip to the Farms to refresh and recharge before heading back to the hustle and bustle of Birmingham!
Red Mountain Park
Birmingham has no shortage of gorgeous parks, including one of our favorites, Red Mountain Park. This highly-coveted park stretches over 15 miles of trails perfect for running, biking, and hiking. Other exciting park amenities include three treehouse overlooks named Rushing Rendezvous, Riley’s Roost and Haskell Hideaway that all boast incredible views. Remy’s Dog Park is a popular destination for the dog lovers, and the thrill-seekers will love every moment in the Adventure Area with the Zip Trip, Hugh Kaul Beanstalk Forest and Kaul Adventure Tower. Enjoy some fresh air just minutes away from downtown!
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Looking for even more things to do in Birmingham? See local events HERE.