THE TELEGRAPH - UK : Discover the best things to do in Birmingham, Alabama
Discover the best things to do in Birmingham, Alabama
By: Jools Stone
Birmingham, Alabama's largest city, has a celebrated history, with leafy green spaces, world-famous cultural hotspots and a fantastic food scene.
Alabama’s largest metropolis has plenty to offer visitors hankering for some Southern charm, civil rights history and a lively dining scene.
Civil Rights history
Birmingham is home to a number of key sights on Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail, and the Birmingham Civil Rights District is now a national monument. The central Kelly Ingram Park became a focal point for demonstrations during the 1960s, with attack dogs and water cannons being used on protestors. Such scenes are vividly recalled by a series of powerful statues and public art pieces dotted around the park. A free mobile phone tour is available to guide visitors through this turbulent time. Across the street sits the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a museum which houses a series of exhibits telling the story of segregation in the Deep South and the long, slow, ongoing march towards freedom and equality.
Nearby is the 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of one of the darkest days in the city’s history. In September 1963 a bomb set by Ku Klux Klansmen tore through the basement of the church, tragically killing four young people – 11-year-old Denise McNair and Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins, all 14 years old.
Also part of the national monument is Bethel Baptist Church, where legendary civil rights activist, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, preached as pastor. The church parsonage was also bombed in 1956 but, miraculously, Rev. Shuttlesworth and his family were unharmed in the attack.
Finally, you should take time on your civil rights-themed tour to explore the Negro Southern League Museum, which tells the story of the southern baseball league from a local perspective. The segregated southern leagues often fed the major league teams with many of their top-flight players, and this museum features the largest collection of original Negro League baseball artifacts anywhere in the country
No visit to Birmingham would be complete without a trip to Vulcan Park and Museum, home to Vulcan, the world’s largest cast iron statue. Standing proud at 56ft and made from 100,00 pounds of pure iron, Vulcan was built for the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair to celebrate the city’s burgeoning iron industry. Ascend the lift to the top to take in the view from the open-air observation platform and then tour the museum, which commemorates the city’s geology and proud industrial heritage.
Food and Culture
Five Points South is a rapidly developing neighbourhood that’s home to many of the city’s top dining and music hotspots. Here you should check out the quirky Storyteller Fountain designed by local artist Frank Fleming. The statues here depict a ram in human clothing reading to a circle of other animals surrounding it, in a nod to the city’s heritage of ‘peaceable storytelling’ and communion.
The world-famous Alabama Theatre should be part of any Birmingham itinerary, where you can book tickets to see your vintage movies or a headline show, and if science is your thing, then the McWane Science Center will immerse you in a world of amazing discoveries. The James Beard Foundation award-winning Highlands Bar and Grill is famed for its Southern spin on classic dishes and for its impeccable service. A short stroll away lies another of the city’s top dining spots, the Hot and Hot Fish Club.
Here Chef Chris Hastings has developed a network of purveyors, foragers, and artisans to provide the freshest ingredients. Visitors also should seek out friendly cafes serving real Southern soul food. Birmingham has plenty of other options for wetting one’s whistle, from craft breweries to trendy cocktail joints.
Sports and the great outdoors
This July the city offers yet another compelling reason to stop by as it plays host to The World Games 2022. Held over 11 days at venues around the city, the event showcases some of the most exciting games and sports not featured in the Olympics. The programme of dozens of sports ranges from sumo wrestling and ballroom dancing to fistball, drone racing, parkour and kickboxing.
One of Birmingham’s greatest attributes is its leafy green spaces, with hundreds of acres of parks and miles and miles of trails. Red Mountain Park or Ruffner Mountain are perfect for a relaxed stroll or a hike, while south of the city is the Oak Mountain State Park – home to pristine lakes and more walking trails. Railroad Park in the city's downtown is the ultimate picnic spot, with 19 acres in which to spread out, plus family activities, concerts and cultural events throughout the year. Golfers are spoilt for choice with a number of fairways to tee off across Birmingham’s rolling terrain and emerald greens. The Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Oxmoor Valley is just one of the many standouts.
Sweet Home Alabama
The Deep South state of Alabama is famous for its civil rights landmarks and musical heritage, but it has plenty more adventures to offer, from the enviable food culture, sports stadiums and green spaces of Birmingham to quaint fishing villages and the beaches and mountains of its amazingly scenic great outdoors. Discover how best to explore them on your next holiday. For more information and to book, go to visittheusa.co.uk