Looking for the perfect family weekend getaway? Try Birmingham, Alabama. This multifaceted Southern city has a hip yet family-friendly restaurant scene, a children’s museum and zoo, lush parks and lots of green spaces, and an incredible civil rights museum your kids will never forget. We spent a few days in Birmingham recently to see all it had to offer. Here are our top picks for an incredible Birmingham family vacation.
There’s no escaping the sight of Vulcan when you’re in Birmingham. The Roman god of fire and forge has watched over the city from his Red Mountain tower since the 1930s and remains the largest cast iron statue in the world. Admission to the observation tower and museum is $6 for adults, $4 for kids and it’s worth it! Climb the stairs (or take the glass elevator) to the top and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of Birmingham. And if you climb all 159 steps, you’ll receive a sticker when you come back down, announcing your achievement — this was a big hit with my 11-year-old!
For a memorable family vacation shot, my favorite skyline view of Birmingham is located directly beneath the Vulcan Observation Tower. Park in the lot for the Vulcan Trail and take the sidewalk that runs alongside the road on the other side of the guardrail. Toward the end of the guardrail, you’ll come across this Instagram-worthy view of the city.
I consider Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute to be the cornerstone experience of any family trip to the city. Walking through this interactive museum with your children (I recommend it for ages 10 and up) will help them understand the Civil Rights Movement in a way no classroom lesson ever could. My kids were deeply affected by our visit and talked about it for weeks afterward. I don’t think any of us will ever forget this museum.
Across the street from the Civil Rights Institute is the church where a bomb killed four young girls in 1963. Today, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is still in operation and visitors are welcome to come inside, see the sanctuary, and talk to members who are on hand to answer questions. Private tours can also be scheduled by calling the church ahead of your visit. They last at least an hour, so you might want to save the official tour for your tweens and teens.
This interactive children’s museum has four floors chock full of interactive exhibits that both educate and entertain. We all loved taking the ginormous slide from the fourth floor down to the third and the indoor zip line was a blast. The museum’s train ride is super popular with younger kids, and your smallest children will enjoy Itty Bitty Magic City, an indoor village created especially for the 5-and-under crowd. While you’re there, make time for an IMAX movie on the theater’s 5-story tilted, domed screen. The IMAX projection room is viewable from the lobby and it’s pretty incredible as well.
Although it’s just a few minutes from downtown Birmingham, the privately-owned Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve will make you feel like you’re miles away from civilization. Choose from 14 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult and get a feel for Birmingham’s natural beauty. We took the Quarry Ridge Trail to an abandoned quarry, which made for a scenic 3-mile loop hike.
While you’re at the preserve, stop by the nature center, home to several live animal exhibits as well as an animal care center where anywhere from 25 to 30 wild animals are being rehabilitated at any given time. Admission is free, but a $3 per person admission fee is suggested.
At the Birmingham Zoo, you’ll find more than 950 animals including sea lions, alligators, monkeys, lions, and more, as well as splash pads, a carousel, and a train ride around the park. If you have little ones and the day’s not too hot, this zoo could be the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon in Birmingham. I do recommend you buy your zoo tickets online before you go. We went during the off-season just two hours before the zoo was scheduled to close and STILL waited in line for more than half an hour to buy tickets.
This spacious museum was a pleasant surprise during our visit. Even better? It’s free! Your older kids will enjoy wandering through the many exhibits representing Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American cultures. Be sure and ask for a scavenger hunt at the front desk to make things even more interesting. The museum’s collection includes more than 27,000 works of art, so trust me when I tell you there’s something here for everyone. Younger kids will want to check out ArtVenture, a state-of-the-art interactive gallery with hands-on activities for kids from 2 to 12 years old. The museum is located in downtown Birmingham and open Tuesday-Sunday.
Locals and visitors alike rave about Red Mountain Park, which includes zip lining adventures and 15 miles of free hiking/mountain biking trails that wind through forest and past historic mining sites. Given the area’s history, the park’s free guided hikes are especially popular here, so check the website before you go and see if one is scheduled during your visit.
Multiple Birmingham residents made us promise not to visit their city without a stop at Saw’s BBQ. Now that I’ve been, I can understand what all the fuss is about. The brainchild of a former test chef for Cooking Light magazine, Saw’s now has four locations in Birmingham and each one is packed with people on any given day. Saw’s fans love the ribs and pulled pork, but I’ll be back for the sweet tea chicken sandwich. With a breast marinated in sweet tea and pickle brine before being fried, it tastes like I imagine a Chik Fil-A sandwich would taste in heaven. Be sure and spring for a side of onion rings, too — they are sliced thin and expertly seasoned.
GianMarcos has long been known as Birmingham’s best upscale Italian restaurant. Now, brothers Giani and Marco Respinto have opened a more casual restaurant that’s perfect for families. Pizzeria GM serves up many of the same high-quality Italian dishes GianMarcos is known for, along with hand-tossed pizzas and savory sandwiches. And while there’s no official kids’ menu, just ask and the chefs will be happy to make a kid-sized burger, chicken fingers, pasta with butter, mac and cheese, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
We tried lots of dishes during dinner here and our entire family was united in loving the meatball appetizer, the polenta fries, the Italian ham pizza, and the house made chips and dip. YUM.
We’re always on the hunt for innovative ethnic cuisine when we travel and were excited to try the highly-regarded Eli’s Jerusalem Grill while in Birmingham. Husband and wife team (and parents!) Eli and Laurel Markshtien serve up time-honored recipes passed down from family in Israel, using organic ingredients and and grass-fed beef. The results are phenomenal. We thought the lamb chop, beef kabob, and Israeli couscous were amazing and the pita bread was remarkably thick and fluffy. Come here for lunch or dinner, and don’t be fooled by its strip mall location. Locals know Eli’s is one of the best meals in town. If you really want to sound like a local, here’s a pro tip: Eli is pronounced “Ell-lee.”
With two heavily trafficked locations in Birmingham (one across the street from the popular Railroad Park, the other in Pepper Place), the Red Cat Coffeehouse is a convenient place to stop for a quick breakfast, sweet treat, or a midday jolt of caffeine. With flavors like Russian Blue (dark chocolate and mint) and Persian (white chocolate and almond), Red Cat’s signature lattes are unforgettable, as are its caramel apple bars. We stopped here more than once during our visit, and my 14-year-old in particular loved its bohemian vibe.
Located right across the street from the McWane Science Center, Pizitz Food Hall makes for a perfect lunch break, and I really think it’s a must-have meal experience when you’re in Birmingham. This airy, light-filled food court is filled with all kinds of culinary delights, from french fries and hot dogs at The Standard to delicious Indian street food at Silver Kati. Our kids went crazy over the Alpine sandwich with Swiss cheese and caramelized onions from Busy Corner Cheese & Provisions, while my husband and I went back for seconds on the Himalayan/Nepalese steamed dumplings at Mo:Mo. You’ll also find food stalls here featuring Ethiopian food, Hawaiian poke, Mexican popsicles, and organic southern biscuits, as well as a mini version of Eli’s Jerusalem Grill. If the day’s nice, be sure and sit outside in the beautiful courtyard next to the historic Pizitz building.
The Pizitz is also home to Yellowhammer Print Shop, a great place to stop for hip, hand-printed souvenir mugs, t-shirts, and hats.
We absolutely loved our peaceful, spacious suite at this downtown Birmingham hotel. With a full kitchen, seating area, and lots of room to roam without bumping into one another, it’s a great option for families. Breakfast was also included in our stay, which is always welcome when we’re traveling.
When the Redmont Hotel opened in downtown Birmingham back in 1925, it was notable for having a private bathroom in every bedroom, chilled water, and ceiling fans. Today, the newly restored hotel offers guests a historic boutique hotel experience at an affordable price — and possibly a few ghosts thrown in at no extra charge. (The third and ninth floors are said to be “most haunted.”) Walk to McWane Science Center, the National Civil Rights Center, and the Pizitz Food Hall or enjoy lovely views from the hotel’s popular rooftop bar. Country music fans will want to know Hank Williams spent his final night here in 1952 while on a road trip from Montgomery to West Virginia.
It’s worth splurging on a room at this artsy luxury hotel in Birmingham’s charming Mountain Brook neighborhood. Guests rave about the whimsical decor, super-comfortable beds, impeccable customer service, and unforgettable rooftop restaurant and bar, which overlooks the Birmingham Botanical Gardens across the street. If you want to go all-out on your Birmingham vacation, this is definitely the place to do it.
Although the author received media accommodation for some of her Birmingham activities, she researched and created her itinerary independently and all opinions/ recommendations are her own. Got questions? Contact Lindsay Ferrier at firstname.lastname@example.org.