Alabama, in the southeastern region of the US, is rich in Southern culture, with music, food, history, and architecture weaving its diverse fabric. Many nice 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 also home to a host of natural attractions, with several state parks, beautiful beaches, and nature reserves beckoning wide-eyed travelers. Plenty of interesting and great places to visit in Alabama will leave you with an album of fond memories. So, if you’re planning to visit Alabama shortly, you should check out the following places!
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Auburn’s most iconic landmark is 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 and plenty of fantastic attractions to explore. 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 Alabama’s list of great places to visit. The city has 16 parks, with the sprawling 700-acre Chewacla State Park topping the list. On top of that, since there are plenty of students here, this city is considered pretty affordable! It’s a nice place to visit for those on a budget.
Not far from the city of Mobile, you’ll find one of the great 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. Generally, you’ll need around two hours to explore Bellingrath Gardens and another 30 minutes to see what the museum has to offer.
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.” But if you already have a plan for this winter, you can also visit during summer. It’s when the roses will bloom, and you’ll see hydrangeas at their best.
It’s hard to imagine that the culturally rich city of Birmingham started as an iron mine that 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, the industry is only a small part of this vibrant city with many 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 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, which covers 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
Sandwiched by 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 39 meters wide and 7.6 meters tall, making it one of the widest commercial cave entrances in the world.
Speaking of which, did you know that the Cathedral Caverns State Park has been featured in some movies? The caverns appeared in 1983’s “Secrets of the Phantom Caverns” and 1995’s “Tom and Huck.” Additionally, we also think this is a family-friendly attraction. Aside from the fact that children under five can enter for free, the caverns also feature a paved path, so everyone can walk without any worries.
Cheaha State Park
The Cheaha State Park is one of the best oldest continuously operating state parks in Alabama for camping, hiking, 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 Alabama’s most popular hiking trails. Besides hiking, visitors can also enjoy swimming, fishing, or rock climbing. That said, you shouldn’t forget to bring your camera! Trust us; the photo opportunities here are worth your time! With plenty of Insta-worthy views, we’re not surprised if you spend more time taking pictures than hiking.
Of course, you can expect many beautiful animals, too. Whether you’re picnicking or hiking, chances are you’ll spot chipping sparrows, pine warblers, nuthatches, and many more. Better yet, the park also features a dog park, so feel free to invite your four-legged best friend! Furthermore, 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 make it to your itinerary of nice places to visit in Alabama. It’s not surprising, though, considering the sanctuary houses around 137 acres of maritime forests, marshes, as well as dunes. 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.
The island was once called the Massacre Island, as around 60 human skeletons were found there. Hence, it was believed to be a massacre site. It was then renamed after the Dauphin of France’s great-grandson and heir, Louis XV. Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico’s azure waters and 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. Besides this, the city also has several museums and a beautiful Historic District with exquisite architecture. This neighborhood is in the downtown area, so you can expect a mix of historic experiences and modern attractions.
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. This festival is held every year on Memorial Day weekend. The Spirit of America Festival is another Decatur festival that brings in crowds. As you can guess from its name, this festival is celebrated every Fourth of July. Best of all, this festival is free!
One of the few tourist-oriented resort towns in the state, Gulf Shores ranks high on nice 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. We also love how this beach community has a good balance of the old and young, making it a nice place to visit with your beloved family members.
While the beaches are the high point of visiting here, other places are 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. Additionally, the incredible restaurants are worth trying out as well! It’s truly a nice destination for a weekend family getaway. And speaking of which, you should check out these beachfront hotels in Gulf Shores as well!
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. No wonder the majority of people who visit Guntersville are into water sports!
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 18-hole championship golf course and other commercial activities, including 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 great places to visit in Alabama, is the US Space & Rocket Center. Catering to all age groups, exhibits, and interactive spaces attract a huge crowd. Better yet, this super famous attraction is also the biggest spaceflight museum on Earth! Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
Besides its connection to rockets and space, Huntsville 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. It’s also included in the National Register of Historic Places list! When you’re done exploring the city, a good idea would be to unwind at the beautiful Huntsville Botanical Garden. Open all year long; this 118-acre garden is one of Alabama’s top attractions!
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 best places to visit in Alabama.
Little River, the sculptor of this canyon, is also a unique river. This river is special because it flows most of its length atop Lookout Mountain. Various recreational activities are conducted along its length, comprising 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 the best 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. 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. 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. In addition to that, it also has a vibrant art scene. The city also holds the popular Alabama Shakespeare Festival, which is one of the biggest Shakespeare festivals. If you’re a history buff and want to have a family-friendly trip, we highly recommend having a fun weekend getaway in Montgomery!
Muscle Shoals is the largest city in Colbert County and makes up what is known as “The Shoals.” It ranks high on nice 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. After all, it’s also known as “The Hit Recording Capital of the World”!
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 currently in operation and open to visitors. Additionally, we also think the Alabama Music Hall of Fame is a good place for music fans. And according to the official website, you can even record your song and feel what’s it like to be a star for only 20 USD!
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. Lastly, you may want to visit Ivy Green, which is legendary Helen Keller’s birthplace!
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. If you consider yourself an introvert, we’re sure you’ll find Mentone one of those nice places to visit in Alabama.
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. Mentone is also a popular destination in winter, as many come here for hiking, skiing, and paddling.
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 27-meter 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.
This park is one of the great places to visit in Alabama for families. It’s walkable, even for seniors. Though there’s an entrance fee, you can use that to have train rides and visit the petting zoo. On top of that, many families visit this park to celebrate Christmas.
Orange Beach is another popular getaway destination on the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s yet another 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. Only a short drive away, the Wharf, with its shops, restaurants, and bars, is a great place to lose yourself for a while. Better yet, parking at The Wharf is free!
The Branyon Backcountry trail is worth exploring for an escape from the crowds. 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 indigenous people in the area. Additionally, Orange Beach Waterfront Park is also a good place to visit. Open all year long to the public; this family park is also dog-friendly!
Fun Facts About Alabama
- Alabama was the first state in the United States to declare Christmas as a legal holiday back in 1836, followed by Arkansas and Louisiana two years later. After that, the federal government announced it as a public holiday on June 1870.
- Did you know that the very first 911 call in the US was from Haleyville, Alabama, in 1968? It was made by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite. The red phone that was used by Fite is still displayed today in the City Hall.
- Do you love snails? If so, you’ll be thrilled to know that Alabama has more than 200 species of freshwater snails! Since they like staying somewhere humid, Alamaba is the perfect place!
- This may be hard to believe, but Alabama used to allow bear wrestling. Yep, you read that right! Brave and strong men would challenge themselves by wrestling bears at underground fights.