Holidays beckon with festive decorations, fireplaces aglow, home-cooked meals and — for some of us — a house full of guests. Birmingham is a city rich with history and a thriving downtown that’ll impress any out-of-town visitor, and this list has something for every type of traveler. Whether you’re hosting a foodie, history buff or craft beer connoisseur, your guests won’t forget their Magic City stay anytime soon.
10 Things to Do with Out-of-Town Guests Over the Holidays
1. Get some caffeinated joy at a local coffeehouse.
Ask any local where they get their caffeine fix, and they’ll likely gush about their go-to spot that touts the best pour-over in the city. Birmingham is brimming with quaint and quirky coffeehouses that each have their own personality, depending on the neighborhood. Before beginning your Magic City adventure with out-of-towners, fuel up with a cup of joe at one of our favorite coffee houses:
Church Street Coffee and Books: Located in Mountain Brook’s Crestline Village, this coffeehouse actually didn’t begin with coffee. It began with books. Known for their impressive collection of titles that pique a wide range of interests, Church Street is the quintessential cafe for the scholar in your life. Oh, and while you’re there, make sure to grab a batch of their famous “Breakup Cookies.” They’ve been coined the best chocolate chip cookies in Birmingham, and we’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees.
OHenry’s Coffees: OHenry’s has been proudly serving jolts of joy in Birmingham since 1993. They have several locations throughout the Magic City, but we especially love their little nook in historic Highland Park and the founding location on 18th Street in Homewood.
Urban Standard: This coffeehouse is often credited with catalyzing the Second Avenue North area — helping it blossom into the thriving downtown neighborhood it is today. All their ingredients are meticulously sourced from nearby roasters and farmers. Treat guests to the Urban Breakfast Plate, which comes with made-from-scratch biscuits, stone ground grits, two farm-fresh eggs and a choice of bacon or Conecuh sausage. If you have time, stop by again later in the day and try one of their famous cupcakes for dessert.
For more local favorites, check out our complete roundup of Birmingham’s Best Neighborhood Coffee Shops.
2. Get artsy downtown.
If you’re seeking some time to pause and reflect (while surrounded by beautiful, original artwork), then take some time to explore Birmingham’s arts scene. Start at the Birmingham Museum of Art, which has an outstanding collection of American, European and Asian art. Located at 2000 Eighth Ave. N., the museum charges no admission.
If you’re looking for some local art, however, then check out any of the neighborhood galleries. Canary Gallery, located at 2201 Second Ave. N., has a revolving collection of art sourced from local and regional artists. (Make sure to come by at night and get a complimentary glass of wine while you peruse through the gallery’s collection.) “Whether one desires a quiet moment to drop shopping bags and enjoy a glass of wine with friends or a venue to listen to holiday music as a backdrop while viewing artworks by local and national artists, Canary Gallery is the perfect spot for visitors to Birmingham,” gallerist Libby Pantazis says. A few other local favorites are Beverly McNeil Gallery, gallery 1930., dk Contemporary Gallery, Gallery Services, SCENE at Pepper Place and Grand Bohemian Gallery.
3. Tap into Birmingham’s beer scene.
If you want to leave your guests with a story they won’t forget, then tell them about the beer-guzzling elephant that strutted its way to stardom back when Jefferson County was dry. Miss Fancy, an Indian elephant that was the star attraction at the Birmingham Zoo in the 1920s, had an uncanny penchant for beer. And, because you can’t say no to a 8,560-pound animal, Miss Fancy routinely got her illegal fix of the good stuff. Decades later, Avondale Brewery named one of their signature brews the “Miss Fancy” after the iconic elephant. The brewery, which is housed in a historic brick building that has served several purposes throughout the years, joins a growing list of Magic City breweries that serve some of the best brews in the region. Make sure to swing by Avondale, located on 41st St. S., and try one of their seasonal brews. A few other breweries we love are Good People Brewing Company, Trim Tab Brewing Company, Cahaba Brewing Company, Ghost Train Brewing Company and Red Hills Brewing Company. For more on the Magic City’s craft beer movement, check out our article on Birmingham’s craft breweries.
4. Experience the history.
Birmingham, in many ways, was ground zero for some of the nation’s most pivotal moments in advancing human rights. To visit Birmingham and not pay homage to the city’s iconic role in our national civil rights history would be a mistake. Lead guests through Birmingham’s historical timeline by visiting the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the adjacent 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park, all of which were officially named a Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument just this year. If you visit 16th Street Baptist Church, make sure to take a look at the impressive stained glass window. There’s an interesting, and too often untold, story there. The window, which depicts a black figure with arms outstretched, was conceptualized by an artist from Wales who rallied his community to raise funds for the window after the historic church bombing. Today, the window is known as “The Wales Window for Alabama.” And if you want more of this civil rights history through a baseball lens, hop on over to the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum.
5. Get lost in a good read.
Looking for a quiet outing that’ll rejuvenate your guests? Take them by any one of Birmingham’s unique bookstores overflowing with countless classics and rare finds. The Museum of Fond Memories at Jim Reed Books is a Magic City must-see located in the heart of downtown. Thousands of new and used books line the shop, which is also covered with nostalgic knick-knacks. Owner Jim Reed, who has authored several books himself, is a purveyor of words and is known for his uncanny ability to recommend the perfect read to any bookworm. Some other local bookstores we adore include the newly opened Jaybird (which also doubles as a café and music venue), The Alabama Booksmith and Little Professor Bookcenter.
6. Take to the trails.
Because we live in Alabama and it could be snowing or a balmy 75 degrees when the new year rolls around, you never know if a day spent reveling in the outdoors could be in store. Weather permitting, make sure to check out some of Birmingham’s trails — perfect for burning off those extra holiday calories. Red Mountain Park, aptly named for the red dust that coats the more than 1,200 acres of trails, is rich in history. Trail markers detail the land’s story, which starts with the Creeks and segues into the city’s acclaimed history in iron and steel. Gather guests together (and bring the pups) for a hike up this impressive mountainside. Other trails to check out include the Rotary Trail and Railroad Park, Jemison Park Nature Trail and Ruffner Mountain. And for more, check out our article on Birmingham’s Best Parks and Trails.
7. See a seasonal show at the Alabama Theatre.
Arguably the most nostalgic sight in downtown Birmingham, the Alabama Theatre, with its iconic marquee, is an unequivocal calling card for the city — and something every out-of-towner needs to experience firsthand, especially during the holidays. The theater shows holiday movies through December. After that, the historic haunt resumes its live music lineup, which is stacked with regional stunners like Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, among others. If you don’t have time to see a show, a photo in front of the lit-up sign is still worth the trip to Third Avenue North, which is fondly known as Birmingham’s Theatre District with the addition of the restored Lyric Theatre across the street. For more things to do in the area, read our article on the Theatre District.
8. Check out the ZooLight Safari.
Hosting kids? Take them to see the more than 1 million lights that illuminate the Birmingham Zoo at the ZooLight Safari presented by Wells Fargo. Every year, the Birmingham Zoo lights up with special holiday attractions like the Candy Cane Train, Jingle Bell Carousel and the thrill of a monstrous 100-foot Yuletide Slide. Admission is free for members and $10 for guests. Also, the safari added an extra edge this year and now includes adult beverages that range from local beer to specialty cocktails.
9. Be a Birmingham foodie for the day.
The Magic City is no stranger to good food. If you’re looking to impress the foodies in your group, then take them on a tour of the city’s finest eateries — which, in all honesty, could take days because there are so many outstanding options to choose from. Visit a highly acclaimed culinary destination like Highlands Bar and Grill, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Café Dupont, Bettola, Chez Fonfon, Ovenbird, Bottega, FoodBar, Ollie Irene, Dyron’s, Daniel George, Galley & Garden, Gianmarco’s or Satterfield’s — or discover a hidden gem along the Green Springs corridor or hunt down a Magic City food truck! The options are truly endless in this hot culinary town.
If you’re looking to get a good skim of a wide range of local dishes, we recommend stopping by the newly opened Pizitz Food Hall, which used to be the mecca of downtown shopping back in Birmingham’s previous heyday. Now it’s home to several of the city’s standout restaurants like Fero, Eli’s Jerusalem Grill, The Standard, Ono Poké, mo:mo: and a long list of others. While there, make sure to swing by Yellowhammer Creative. It’s one of the best spots in the city to get an authentic Birmingham memento. For a full roundup of The Pizitz Food Hall’s eateries, check out our Ultimate Guide to the Pizitz Food Hall.
10. Ice skate in the Deep South.
Put “ice” and “South” in the same sentence and you have an oxymoron — and the most festive way to spend a night in Birmingham! Red Diamond’s Brrrmingham Ice Skating in Railroad Park is open through January 1. The 50-by-80-foot rink is becoming a Magic City mainstay during the holiday, attracting locals and visitors who probably never get the chance to ice skate south of the Mason-Dixon. Take guests to The Boxcar Café nearby for some Southern Red Diamond coffee and tea, house-made gourmet hot chocolate and tasty treats. If that doesn’t say Christmas in Dixie, we’re not sure what does!
Enjoy your time with your out-of-town guests and discover a new corner of our fair city while you’re at it!
Want the best of everything local? Download our SB App. It’s FREE!