Things to do in Birmingham, AL

Get Your Bearings in Birmingham

By Megy Karydes
Birmingham Expert

Stay
Eat
See & Do
Party
Shop

Where to Stay

Locals recommend visitors stay Southside at Hotel Highland or Downtown at the Tutwiler Inn. The Five Points South area, just south of downtown, is a vibrant neighborhood that encompasses the University of Alabama at Birmingham and plenty of blocks with upscale restaurants and boutiques. Birmingham is not public transit-friendly, so unless you are staying close to your hotel, you’ll need a car to get around. 

Avoid:

Don't try getting a hotel room on Talladega weekend unless you book way in advance.

Hot Tips:

Locals call the Tutwiler Inn the Tut.

What to Eat

Birmingham has many dining options from funky local soul food (Saw's Soul Kitchen is a favorite among locals) to fare prepared by five James Beard Chefs at places like Cafe DuPont in downtown Birmingham. Highlands Bar and Grill in Southside is a veritable institution in Birmingham and celebrated Chef Frank Stitt's menu combines New South cuisine with rustic French influences and a favorite of major food magazines. It’s located within a 1920s Spanish revival building.

Caution:

Reservations are hard to snare at Highlands Bar and Grill, so book early; reservations accepted up to a month in advance.

Be Sure to Sample:

Head to Irondale Café just outside Birmingham, the diner that served as the inspiration for Alabama novelist Fannie Flagg's Whistle Stop Café in Fried Green Tomatoes.

Things to See

The Civil Rights District is an integral part of the city and many visitors head to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to explore this important period of American history. It’s also located across from the 16th Avenue Baptist Church and the park where the protesters clashed with police in 1963. The Vulcan Park and Museum chronicle the history of the city and the nearby cast-iron sculpture is the largest and pays tribute to the city’s early iron industry. Another great attraction where you can learn about history is Sloss Furnaces.

Hot Tips:

Many concerts and special events occur at Sloss Furnaces in the old steel shed that's since been converted to an amphitheater.

Places to Party

Music plays a starring role in Birmingham’s nightlife scene. Bottletree Cafe hosts great bands (very indie and vegan food is offered). Locals head to Ona's for jazz ,and Gip’s Place, which is a drive out of the city but is worth the trip.   Garage Café in Southside is a casual bar tucked away in what remains of an old antique mall and receives great reviews from both locals and visitors alike. 

Caution:

The Garage Cafe takes cash only and provides very limited parking.

Where to Shop

Birmingham has great artists and funky local businesses, and its shopping reflects its local talent. Check out Charm, Reed Books and What's on Second in downtown Birmingham or go to Forest Park (a B’ham neighborhood) and check out Naked Art for the best in local artists. Visitors willing to trek outside of the city should head to nearby suburb Hoover for Riverchase Galleria, billed as the state’s #1 tourist attraction with shopping and an impressive 9-story glass atrium.

Best Local Souvenir:

Don't leave without your own Alabama Dirt shirt: t-shirts dyed with the local iron ore clay dirt which simply say "Do it in the Dirt".

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