The largest city in Alabama, Birmingham is the state’s cultural and entertainment capital. Tagged “the diverse city,” Birmingham has a vibrant downtown, an array of family-friendly activities and a world-class food scene. The city is nestled at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and offers some majestic scenery among its 99 historic neighborhoods. For outdoor enthusiasts, it also boasts more green space than any other city in the US.
Birmingham is perhaps best known today for its role as a cradle of the American Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and local preacher Fred Shuttlesworth organized a series of sit-ins and marches in 1963 that helped catalyze the movement nationally even as activists clashed with authorities and faced retaliatory violence, including the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, which killed 4 young girls. Dr. King wrote his famous, movement-defining Letter from Birmingham Jail while imprisoned in the city.
Must see: The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute hosts exhibits on this critical piece of American history. Travelers in search of jazz music will also find plenty playing in venues around the city–Birmingham figures prominently in the history of jazz in America, and is the home of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Lodging: Aloft Birmingham Soho Square–This hip, loft-inspired hotel is located in Homewood’s upscale Soho Square development, just a short distance from downtown Birmingham’s attractions, and steps away from Soho Square’s chic locally-owned shops and eateries.
Cuisine: A wide variety of dining choices is available, but to really experience Birmingham try the Ocean and 26 sister restaurants in the upscale Five Points district of Birmingham’s Southside. Ocean boasts fresh seafood in a contemporary atmosphere, while 26 is an art deco–inspired, industrial chic–decorated bistro that blends rustic and exotic influences.
Ground Transportation: The city is centrally located and easily accessible to major hubs in the region, offering plenty of opportunities to hail a taxi or grab a shuttle to your hotel after your private jet has landed. For a little adventure, Birmingham offers vintage trolley routes that tour local historical sites.
Packing Tips: Birmingham has hot summers and mild winters, suggesting light outerwear during the fall and winter months and layers for air conditioned venues during the summer months. Due to its proximity to the Gulf Coast, it is not uncommon to have tropical storms and hurricanes during late summer and fall.
Recommended Books: For a dramatic account of the Civil Rights era and the climactic events in Birmingham, read the Pulitzer Prizewinning Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter. McWhorter details the power struggles within the civil rights movement as well as the roles of Birmingham's small Jewish community and the local government, including the infamous police chief Bull Connor.
Currency: The US dollar is the local currency.
Calling Code United States: 1
Best Travel Dates: September through November and March through May offer more opportunities to enjoy this walkable city without stifling summer humidity, but if you don’t mind the heat, try arriving in time for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival at the end of August and watch the city come alive.