From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
It’s the site of many of the most important moments in Civil Rights history — and a modern metropolis filled with museums, restaurants, green spaces and more. Birmingham is a place worth of exploration, no matter how long you’ve called it home (and especially if you’re just getting familiar with it).
With a population of close to one million, Birmingham is a big city in every sense of the word, but carries lots of the small-town, southern sensibilities that make this a place many people want to stay for years at a time. And fortunately, there’s so much to do that even if you think you’ve seen it all, you likely have plenty more to experience… so even if you stay for a lifetime, you’re never going to be bored!
Let’s dive into the top things to do and best places to explore in and around Birmingham, Alabama.
Exploring the preserved wildernesses and countrysides around Birmingham will make you understand why the song calls it “sweet home, Alabama.” Enjoy the hiking and recreational opportunities at the following Birmingham-area state parks.
Cheaha State Park bears the distinction of being the oldest continually-run park in Alabama, encompassing just under 2,800 acres of stunning countryside. Its miles of hiking trails wind visitors through beautiful forests and past stunning geological formations, and even let you take a peek at two seasonal waterfalls.
Lake Lurleen State Park is a 1,600-acre park located close to Tuscaloosa, a little more than an hour’s drive southwest of Birmingham. Although the star of the show is the namesake lake, which encompasses 250 of the park’s acres, there are plenty of other activities and options to keep visitors busy.
Oak Mountain State Park is the largest in the state, and located only 20 miles south of Birmingham proper. Along with its miles of hiking trails, campsites, fishing and horseback riding opportunities and more, the park is also home to interpretive and educational exhibits such as the Alabama Wildlife Center and the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center. There’s also a popular BMX track!
Rickwood Caverns State Park is an otherworldly underground attraction that will take you to new depths. The formations inside date back to as long as 260 million years ago, which make this park a true journey back in time.
Whether or not you make your way to the many state parks in the greater Birmingham area, there are plenty of amazing places to take in the sights on foot. Here are some of the best hiking trails in Birmingham, for adventurers of all fitness and interest levels.
Tucked into the Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, Overlook Trail via Quarry Trail measures less than three miles out and back and offers a doable journey for those just getting their trail legs under them. Seeing less than 400 feet of elevation gain along the way, you’ll encounter some undulation — enough to make you sweat, but not enough to make you swear.
A moderate-rated out-and-back adventure, Grace’s Gap Overlook is situated inside Red Mountain Park and measures just less than four miles all told. Seeing 380 feet in elevation gain, this trek guides visitors through some beautiful Alabama countryside and is noted especially for its wildflower blooms. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but must be kept on leash the entire time.
Moss Rock Nature Preserve is a popular destination amongst Birminghamians (and others), and the Moss Rock Preserve Trail is the best way to see what the park has to offer on foot. About three miles altogether and with a gentle 340-foot elevation gain, the trail offers some challenge without being too much. (Plus, you’ll be rewarded with waterfalls!)
If you’re looking for a more accessible, paved pathway good for running and those pushing strollers or wheelchairs, Lane Park’s Vulcan Trail might be a great option. Measuring a little less than two miles out and back and offering very little elevation gain, this trail makes for an easy walk — or a challenging run or bike ride.
Following the old rail line that ran along Black Creek, the Black Creek Park Rails to Trails path is about seven miles if you take the whole thing out and back, though you can certainly create shorter journeys along the way. It passes both children’s park and a dog park, so if you’re bringing the whole family, there are plenty of diversions to dive into!
There are so many places to explore in Birmingham… which means you’re going to need to be well-fueled to do yourself any justice. Here are some of the best places to grab a bite in town.
In almost any city, it’s hard to pick when it comes to date night — and those looking for the best Italian restaurants in Birmingham will have an especially tough time. But we recommend you skip directly to Trattoria Zaza, which is known amongst locals as the very best place for an indulgent plate of pasta. (Insider tip: order the fettuccine with garlic-pecorino cream, and save some room for tiramisu at the end!)
You may be quite a few miles north of the border, but El Barrio’s Mexican eats will make you feel like you’ve instantly transported yourself far enough south to enjoy authentic, exotic eats in a baroque-yet-relaxing atmosphere. Classic lunch and dinner menu items include queso fundido, tacos and tostadas, but there’s also an inventive brunch on offer, including favorites from the other south: biscuits and gravy and shrimp and grits.
Trying to figure out how to find the best Asian restaurants in Birmingham… or anywhere this far away from the actual continent? While it’s an understandable challenge, Shu Shop serves up some unforgettable Japanese cuisine, including izakaya and ramen-ya. Don’t forget to order some sake to wash it all down!
If you live a plant-based lifestyle and are looking for the best vegetarian and vegan fare in Birmingham, Eli’s Jerusalem Grill is a must-visit. This Mediterranean joint serves up favorites like shawarma and some of the best pita bread in the entire state, and many of their menu options are veggie-based and animal-friendly.
Not only is Taj India one of the best Indian restaurants in Birmingham — it’s the very oldest, meaning its friendly staff has had plenty of time to perfect the magic that goes into excellent Indian cooking. A favorite among many locals: the lunch buffet, which gives you the opportunity to get acquainted with the many different textures and tastes of this rich cuisine.
You’ve supped and explored. Now what?
So much! Here are some of the top things to do in Birmingham this weekend and beyond, whether you’re heading out solo, bringing along the kids or looking to get cozy with your sweetheart.
Birmingham is a wonderful place to raise a family — and there are so many things to do with kids of all ages. Here are some can’t-miss examples.
Home to 750 animals representing a wide variety of species, from African elephants to bobcats to red pandas to reticulated giraffes, there’s no shortage of wildness to get into at the Birmingham Zoo, and it’s a trip any child would love to partake in.
McWane Science Center is more than just a museum: it’s a research archive with a mission to make discovery and understanding more accessible to all of us. There are many exhibits and interactive experiences built specifically for kids, and plenty for curious adults, too — such as the option to be an aquarist for a day.
Learning about our nation’s history — even the not-so-pretty parts — is not optional, no matter what your age. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute gives visitors of all walks of life the opportunity to see and experience the struggle people of color have gone through throughout the history of the United States, and also hosts a variety of events throughout the year to amplify Black voices and stories.
Sure, there’s plenty to keep you occupied during the day in Birmingham. But this isn’t a city that rolls up its sidewalks at night! Here are just a few of the coolest things to get into in town after hours.
Whether it’s staging comedy, music, or something else entirely, a trip to the Birmingham Glee Club is sure to bring, well, glee to your life. Events range from live podcast episodes to drag and everything in between, so be sure to check the schedule next time you’re wondering what to do on a Birmingham evening.
Looking for things for couples to do in Birmingham that are sure to inspire some cuddles? Nightmare at 3008 is a haunted house experience that’s sure to leave you shivering… and pulling close to your sweetheart. If you’re brave enough to step foot inside this attraction, you can feel good about your decision to do so; each year, a portion of profits are donated to good causes like the Children’s of Alabama Childhood Cancer Research.
That’s right, you don’t have to take out a second mortgage or sell your RV to enjoy what this city has to offer. Here are some of our favorite low-cost things to do in Birmingham — and yes, by “low-cost,” we often mean totally FREE.
A six-block area in the heart of downtown Birmingham where many significant Civil Rights events happened, the Civil Rights District is an important addition to anyone’s itinerary while exploring the city — and it’s totally free to visit. You can see the 16th Street Baptist Church, where the students involved in the 1963 Children's Campaign were trained, and Kelly Ingram Park, the site of many famous protests. There are also spots that could end up costing some money (but would be well worth it), such as the historically black Carver Theatre and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, as mentioned above.
Not only does the Birmingham Museum of Art offer centuries of incredible works to walk through and admire — it does so at the low, low cost of totally free. (Yes, that includes free admission as well as free parking!) The museum also hosts fun opportunities to help get kids engaged, even if your family often rolls their eyes and considers museums “boring.”
An eight-block green space that encompasses a total of 19 acres of Birmingham’s beauty, Railroad Park is a free place to kick back, relax, picnic or get some exercise. Known by some locals as “Birmingham’s Living Room,” the space also hosts many public events such as concerts and benefits.
In need of some R&R? Yeah, we’ve been there — and there are some great places to get your head on straight in town. Here are some of the best day spas and salons in Birmingham, Alabama.
Escape from the day-to-day at Escape Day Spa, which helps you relax, rejuvenate, and restore yourself with its curated selection of spa services. Massages and facials are available, as are body wraps, spray tan, nail care, and other options. Enjoy!
A retreat sounds like just the thing, doesn’t it? At The Retreat Day Spa, you’ll get a literal reprieve from the world by way of a massage, facial, or other spa service — plus waxing and nail care for those in the market. We especially love their special packages, which allow you to bundle services to experience even more as you also save money.
Looking your best is tantamount to feeling your best — and if you’re in need of a new cut or color to get you back in your groove, Studio 21 Salon has you covered. This place is also popular for those preparing for special occasions and big events, from your wedding day to a quinceanera.
Want to feel and look your best? There are few ways more effective than getting your sweat on. Here are the best gyms and yoga studios in Birmingham.
You want your gym experience to be simple, convenient, and effective — and at Ultimate Fitness Birmingham, that’s exactly what you’ll get. This pristine environment offers all the equipment and machinery you need to meet your goals, as well as access to the personal trainers you need to motivate you to get there in the first place. There’s also a relaxing and inviting retail area in the lobby, so kick back and browse before or after your workout.
If classes are more your thing, CORE has what you’re looking for — no matter what that might be. From pilates to cycling to yoga, the group fitness activities at CORE will have you sweating away stress, burning up energy and, of course, growing stronger… from the core out.
Yoga is about more than bodily fitness: it’s about fitness of the mind. At Birmingham Yoga, a wide range of classes taught by motivated and friendly professionals can help you achieve the balance and strength that only yoga can bring. Namaste.
As we’ve seen, there’s enough to keep anyone busy in Birmingham for a lifetime… but there are also plenty of worthy day trips to take off to! Here are some great options for those looking for a little getaway from home base: Birmingham.
The namesake of the superspeedway that is NASCAR’s biggest track, the Talladega National Forest is thrilling in its own right. Covering nearly 400,000 acres of southern countryside, there’s certainly no shortage of hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birding, and other outdoor recreational opportunities here… not to mention some excellent camping, both for tent and RV dwellers.
A trip to “Hotlanta” is a great choice for any southerner, and for those in Birmingham, the town is less than two hours away. Stroll around the Botanical Gardens or gaze in awe at the wildlife inside the Georgia Aquarium, which was for years the largest not just in the country but in the entire world. And, of course, don’t leave without eating some peaches!
While there aren’t a great abundance of national parks directly in the Birmingham, AL area, a five-hour drive lands you deep in the heart of one of the most beautiful landscapes in the eastern United States. In fact, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most commonly visited park in the entire register, thanks in part to the fact that it doesn’t carry any entrance fees like so many of the others do.
Note: some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Birmingham that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Birmingham? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.