Birmingham, with a population of over 1.2 million people, is Alabama’s largest city, and by extension, offers an impressive array of activities for visitors with a variety of interests. It is home to several important Civil Rights landmarks, which saw pivotal moments in the movement, as well as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which provides deeper insight into the numerous barriers that African Americans faced in the past and continue to struggle with today. Birmingham is full of things to see and do, from art museums and botanical gardens to great family attractions. Whether you enjoy fine arts or nature, motorsports or history (or all of the above), Birmingham has something for you.
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church and the Birmingham Civil Rights District
On Sunday, September 15, 1963, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed by the Ku Klux Klan. The bombing resulted in the death of four girls. This act brought a nation together and played a big part in ensuring the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The church was restored and reopened in 1964 with the help of donations from around the world. Today, it is a major tourist attraction as part of Birmingham’s extensive Civil Rights story.
Meet The Animals At Birmingham Zoo
With over half a million visitors every year Birmingham Zoo is one of the cities star attractions, the zoo spans some 122 acres and is home to 230 different species of animal. The zoo has become a leader in animal conservation and home to endangered species from six different continents. A new section called Trails of Africa has recently opened and focuses on protecting the African elephants. There are various activities that happen at the zoo including feeding the giraffes and the Sea Lion Splash Show. The zoo caters to all age groups and ensures that everyone has a memorable day at the zoo.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
This interpretive museum and research center, located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church (known for the horrific 1963 bombing that killed four young girls) memorializes the heroes and she-roes of the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing history of human rights in the United States. The museum, which is part of the Smithsonian museum group and meets the highest curatorial standards, displays a variety of informative and powerful permanent exhibits as well as traveling exhibitions, lectures, film screenings, children’s events, and more. The subject matter may be a bit intense for the youngest children, but it is appropriate for any child in later elementary school and up. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is a Birmingham must-visit.
McWane Science Center
McWane Science Center in Birmingham allows visitors to experience the world through science adventures and interactive exhibits, and it is a top family attraction for both locals and tourists alike. A wide variety of topics are explored, from dinosaurs to space exploration. Hands-on displays feature motion, energy, light and sound, and kids young and old will find many exciting things to see and do. The center’s top level is home to traveling exhibits from other museums, special events, and an exhibit about the relationship between art and technology. The lower level offers an interactive aquarium exhibit, which features habitat tanks of aquatic creatures. Visitors can make waves on an eroding shoreline, check out salt marsh creatures, and explore the story of water and what it means to us. The science center is also home to an IMAX theater, which presents a variety of films daily.
Sloss Furnaces Haunted Attraction
Well known as one of America’s most haunted attractions are the Sloss Furnaces. Previously a blast furnace between 1882 and 1971, when it was closed it became the only blast furnace in the U.S. to be opened to the public. On special nights brave visitors can now enter the site where they will go on a guided tour and learn about the incredible history and long list of deaths in this building. The tour features the story of a Mr. James ‘Slag’ Wormwood, a foreman on the graveyard shift, and the man responsible for the most deaths in the history of the furnace. The furnace is open to the public for several months of each year and tickets can be purchased on the door.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens
With 67 acres of horticultural beauty, the Birmingham Botanical Gardens are one of the city’s loveliest attractions. Featuring over 12,000 different types of plants arranged in over two dozen unique gardens, as well as outdoor sculpture, a children’s garden, and miles of walking paths, the gardens are a beautiful place to spend part of a day. And the best part: touring the gardens is absolutely free to visitors.
Birmingham Museum of Art
The Birmingham Museum of Art is home to more than 20,000 works, from ancient to contemporary and originating from all parts of the globe. The largest of the museum’s collections, in fact nearly half of the items, are European decorative arts. The American decorative art collection contains more than 2,000 pieces, and together these collections include a wide variety of items, such as porcelain; vases and vessels; and metalwork like fine silver, furniture, and textiles. The museum’s Asian art collection is also impressive, consisting of more than 4,000 examples, which range from ancient earthenware and bronzes to works on paper and in multimedia.
If the fine arts interest you, the extensive collections of the Birmingham Museum of Art will delight you (as will the free general museum admission). Of particular note is the world-renowned Asian art collection, as well as the Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque European art. The museum’s African, Native American, and Pre-Columbian collections are also wonderful, as are the European and American art collections, and the rotating exhibits are well-curated and consistently excellent. Admission may be charged for special exhibitions.