Alabama in the southeastern region of the United States is rich in Southern culture with music, food, history, and architecture weaving its diverse fabric. Many places to visit in Alabama are tied to its tragic and dark history. Synonymous with the American Civil Rights Movement, Alabama is where many chapters of American history were written. Gothic plantations, sprawling estates, and poignant memorials draw visitors’ attention to the foundations of this land.
However, history is just one part of what makes Alabama so special. The state is home to a host of natural attractions with a number of state parks, beautiful beaches, and nature reserves beckoning wide-eyed travelers. There are plenty of interesting and spectacular places to visit in Alabama that will leave you with an album of fond memories.
Auburn’s most iconic landmark is the Auburn University, the second-largest university in Alabama. With over 30,000 students enrolled here, this educational institution pervades the economic and social life of the city. Similar to other college towns, Auburn has a lively vibrant atmosphere. Several top-class restaurants and entertainment centers can be found throughout the city. It’s also home to the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art and the Telfair Peet Theatre.
Aptly nicknamed “The Loveliest Village on the Plains,” it’s easy to see why Auburn ranks high on the list of places to visit in Alabama. The city has 16 parks, with the sprawling 700-acre Chewacla State Park topping the list.
Not far from Mobile, you’ll find one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alabama, the Bellingrath Gardens. Covering an extensive 65 acres, these public gardens are part of the Bellingrath estate. The Bellingrath home which is part of the estate has been converted into a museum.
Founded by Walter Bellingrath, one of the first Coca-Cola bottlers in the Southeast, the gardens opened to the public in 1932. The gardens bloom throughout the year with seasonal plants and flowers but the best time to visit is Christmas. To celebrate the Christmas season the gardens have a display of over 3 million lights, known as the ‘Magic of Christmas in Lights.’
It’s hard to imagine that the culturally rich city of Birmingham started off as an iron mine which gradually grew into a large industrial center. This leafy green city still has ties to its industrial past with many manufacturing units setting up shop here. However, industry is only a small part of this vibrant city which also has a multitude of universities and colleges. A large student population means that the city has a pulsating nightlife, with many restaurants and bars.
Birmingham has strong ties to the Civil Rights movement and one of the best ways to understand this part of the city’s history is by being a part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Tour. Although Birmingham is renowned for its historical landmarks tied to the Civil Rights movement, its under-explored outdoors is what makes the city so special. You’ll find beautiful hiking trails through swathes of thick forest that adorn the hilly terrain.
A great place to hike is the Red Mountain Park which was once a mining site. Just a little over 30km from Birmingham is Alabama’s largest state park, Oak Mountain State Park that covers a whopping 9,940 acres. It’s a great place to visit for nature enthusiasts. Other places of interest in Birmingham are the Vulcan State Park, Birmingham Zoo, the Railroad Park and the Birmingham Museum of Art.
Cathedral Caverns state Park
In-between Woodville and Grant in Kennamer Cove, you’ll find the spectacular Cathedral Caverns State Park. Formed over hundreds of years, this karst cave has a stalagmite forest that covers about 3 acres. The tallest of these columns is aptly named Goliath. Said to be one of the largest stalagmites in the world, it rises to a height of 14 meters and has a girth of 74 meters. Another interesting feature of the cave is its huge entrance. The opening is 39m wide and 7.6m tall, making it one of the widest commercial cave entrances in the world.
Cheaha State Park
The oldest continuously operating state park in Alabama is a haven for hikers and wildlife enthusiasts. Ever since it opened to the public in 1933, Cheaha State Park has been a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts. Sitting in the heart of the Talladega National Forest, the park offers access to some of the most popular hiking trails in Alabama. Besides hiking, visitors can also enjoy swimming, fishing or rock climbing. There are also good options for accommodation if you’d like to spend a few days in these breathtaking surroundings.
If you’re an avid bird watcher then Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island should definitely make it to your itinerary of places to visit in Alabama. With over 95% of Alabama’s bird species making a pit stop here, it’s a must-see for bird lovers. This is one of the first landmasses that birds migrating to the north from South America encounter.
Originally called Massacre Island, the barrier island was renamed after the Dauphin of France’s great-grandson and heir, Louis XV. Surrounded by the azure waters of the Gulf of Mexico and boasting white sandy beaches, it’s a great place to relax and catch a spectacular sunset. The island also has several historic sites, restaurants, and many beautiful private homes.
Alabama’s ‘River City,’ located on the banks of Wheeler Lake, is another haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Recreational activities abound in this part of Alabama, with hiking, biking, and explorations of its various parks at the top of things to do. Other than this, the city also has several museums and a beautiful Historic District that has some exquisite architecture.
The city is also known for its festivals which attract people from all over. One of the biggest festivals here is the Alabama Jubilee, a balloon race that began in 1978. The Spirit of America Festival is another Decatur festival that brings in the crowds.
One of the few tourist-oriented resort towns in the state, Gulf Shores ranks high on places to visit in Alabama. Renowned for its white-sand beaches, culinary diversity and tourist attractions, the southernmost settlement along the Gulf of Mexico is a great getaway.
While the beaches are definitely the high point of a visit here, there are other places worth exploring. The Gulf State Park with its hiking trails and recreational activities is a popular destination as is its Fishing Pier. Another destination that is growing in popularity is the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.
Located in North Alabama, the town of Guntersville along the shores of Lake Guntersville serves as a great base for those wanting to explore the environs of Lake Guntersville State Park. Named after the great-grandson of famous American cowboy Will Rogers, the town is notable for its cowboys and bald eagles. Also notable is the sheer number of lakeside recreational facilities such as swimming, boating, and fishing.
Lake Guntersville State Park comprises 6,000 acres of natural forest, a veritable treat for nature enthusiasts. Hiking and biking trails along with recreational fishing make this a popular weekend destination. The park also has an on-site golf course and other commercial activities that include a zipline course.
Home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the city of Huntsville is aptly nicknamed Rocket City. Not surprisingly, its most popular attraction, touted as one of the best places to visit in Alabama, is the US Space & Rocket Center. Catering to all age groups, the exhibits, and interactive spaces attract a huge crowd.
Besides its connection to rockets and space, Hunstville also has an interesting history. Enjoy a walk back in time at the Twickenham Historic District, home to the largest collection of gorgeous antebellum homes in the South. When you’re done with exploring the city a good idea would be to unwind at the beautiful Huntsville Botanical Garden.
Little River Canyon
On the boundary of DeKalb and Cherokee counties is the Little River Canyon National Preserve, in which the spectacular Little River Canyon lies. Carved into the flat top of Lookout Mountain, the canyon which plunges 182 meters is a feast for the eyes, with its gorges, outcroppings, and ridges. Considered to be one of the deepest canyon systems east of the Mississippi River, this canyon is definitely one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alabama.
Little River, the sculptor of this canyon, is also a unique river. What makes this river special is that it flows for most of its length atop Lookout Mountain. A variety of recreational activities are conducted along its length which comprises waterfalls, pools, sandstone cliffs and canyon rims.
Alabama’s only true coastal city lies nestled between Mississippi and Florida. The historic city of Mobile sits at the head of the stunning Mobile Bay along the Gulf of Mexico. Many history buffs mark it off as one of their favorite places to visit in Alabama. With seven designated historic districts to boast of, its popularity as a must-see destination is no surprise.
Mobile served as the first capital of Louisiana when the French founded it in 1702. It later became a British colony and then a colony of Spain before becoming a part of the United States in 1813. To get a deeper insight into Mobile’s rich history we suggest the Food & History Walking Tour.
Besides exploring the historic districts, the other highlight of a visit here is the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. This battleship has the distinction of escaping nine major WWII battles without any loss of life or damage.
Considered by many to be the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement in America, the state capital, Montgomery, proudly wears its history on its sleeve. Most of the attractions in the city are centered around its rich history and are best explored on the Private Civil Rights Tour.
The poignant memorials such as the National Memorial for Peace & Justice and the Civil Rights Memorial Center, stand as stark reminders of some of the darkest periods in America’s history. You can also get a deeper insight into Alabama’s history at the State Capitol Building. Other than history, family attractions like the Montgomery Zoo and the MOOseum are also worth visiting.
Muscle Shoals is the largest city in Colbert County and makes up what is known as ‘The Shoals.’ It ranks high on places to visit in Alabama for music lovers. Renowned for its contribution to the music industry, the town has been instrumental in churning out some of the best music.
Since the 1960s some of the best artists in the country have recorded their albums at the FAME Studio and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. These studios are still in operation and open to visitors. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is also a good place for music fans.
Apart from music, visitors to the city can also enjoy a wide range of other activities such as boating, golf, or fishing. Sites dedicated to the city’s Native American Heritage and other history are also worth visiting.
Mentone is a quaint mountaintop town on the Alabama Georgia border that offers some of the most spectacular views in the state. Although there is not much to do in the town, its scenic location and laid back atmosphere make it a popular getaway.
The village has some interesting antique shops, art galleries, and old homes. Some of the old homes are now popular restaurants or places to stay. The Wildflower Cafe located in an 1887 home, is where you can catch a jazz performance and enjoy some great meals. Not very far from Mentone atop the gorgeous Lookout Mountain is the DeSoto State Park. It’s a great place to indulge in a number of recreational activities like rappelling, picnicking, fishing and wildflower expeditions.
Noccalula Falls Park
Spread out over an extensive area of 250 acres in Gadsden you’ll find the beautiful Noccalula Falls Park. Comprising a petting zoo and botanical gardens, the highlight of a visit to this park is undoubtedly the stunning 27m waterfall. A trail at its base winds through Black Creek Gorge taking you past an aboriginal fort, a pioneer homestead, and caves. The tall bronze statue at the top is associated with the legend of a young Cherokee woman. Forced to marry against her father’s wishes she plunged to her death from the top.
Orange Beach is another popular getaway destination on the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a great choice for families as there are numerous activities and places to explore in and around the area. While the sugar-white sand beach is the ultimate place to visit here, there are other cultural attractions too. The Wharf with its shops, restaurants, and bars is a great place to lose yourself for a while.
For an escape from the crowds, the Branyon Backcountry trail is worth exploring. The trail which winds its way past freshwater lakes and coastal swamps is steeped in lore and local legend. In the past, it was utilized by explorers, settlers and the indigenous people in the area. Orange Beach Waterfront Park is also a good place to visit.