Once an industrial powerhouse at the center of the iron industry in the USA, Birmingham, Alabama, is now a thriving and charming city. There is plenty to see and do in what is truly a fascinating place.
Perhaps not the first city you would think about for a weekend break, it’s the sort of place that once you visit, you will want to spend more time there. Easy to reach – it was founded after the Civil War due to not only abundant nearby mineral deposits, but also as it is the junction for major north-south and east-west railroads. With plenty of fine hotels, restaurants and other attractions, ‘The Magic City’ is a place that has something for everyone.
The following is our brief guide to how to get the best out of a weekend in Birmingham.
Where To Stay
The first thing you’ll want to do is find somewhere to stay, and we’ve taken a look at a couple of the best hotels in Birmingham, with budget in mind.
For somewhere with a touch of class in the center of the city – on 1st Avenue North and close to all the main shopping centres and attractions – check out the Elyton Hotel, one of the Autograph Collection by Marriot. It’s very comfortable, fully equipped with a magnificent rooftop bar that gives you awesome views of the city, and comes highly recommended by clients.
For a hotel on a budget we found the 3-star Hyatt Regency to be highly rated. It is well-placed for access to the city on foot, has excellent rooms and all amenities, and is very popular with both business users and tourists. It’s family-friendly too.
What to See
If you’re spending a weekend in Birmingham, you’ll want to check out the main tourist sights, but also leave time for a look around the shops and a night out! There are a couple of must-see landmarks in Birmingham that reflect its cultural and industrial history.
One is the Statue of Vulcan, which stands high on a plinth on Red Mountain in Vulcan Park. The statue – the largest cast-iron statue in the world – is a magnificent testimony to the industrial heritage of Birmingham. Vulcan, being the Roman God of Fire and the Forge, perfectly reflect the steel industry that caused the city to boom. From an observation platform beside the mighty figure you can look out over the city with unrivalled views. The park and the museum within it are also worth checking out.
When visiting Birmingham, you will see many reminders of the city’s place in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 60’s. Indeed, Birmingham was at the heart of the movement, and this is very well explained and displayed in a very interesting and comprehensive museum – which also includes a research centre – at the Civil Rights Institute. Make a note of the address – 520, 16th Street North – as this is the best place to learn about the difference the movement made and the struggles that many people underwent during those years.
Shopping and Leisure
You can’t visit a city like Birmingham and not check out the shopping malls! There are some great places to enjoy a little retail therapy, and we recommend you have a look at Pepper Place. A collection of seven buildings that have been repurposed – the name comes from the Dr Pepper Syrup and Bottling Plant that occupied the site – into a fantastic array of shops and entertainment venues, it’s easy to spend a whole day here!
Also worth looking at if you like quirky and odd shops with a mix of top brands is The Summit, a very popular and very much ‘in’ shopping destination that features a range of shops laid out in the open air, in the style of large European city-centre shopping malls. The Summit also offers a 16-screen cinema and some of the best places to eat in Birmingham. That leads us nicely to the next section!
Where to Eat
Birmingham offers a wide variety of restaurants and cafes, and bars that serve food too, with a choice covering just about every possible area of local and international cuisine. The Summit – mentioned above – offers everything from a Chinese bistro to a traditional steak house. So, it you’re visiting the shops or cinema, it’s a convenient spot for food too!
Among the most popular restaurants in Birmingham is Highlands Bar and Grill, where you can enjoy great traditional American food – plus a range of local dishes and some truly wonderful seafood options – and a drink in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. With vegan and vegetarian dishes on the menu, this is a place popular with locals and visitors alike. Highlands has a well-earned reputation that gets regular 5-star reviews.
For a more formal dining experience, you might want to try the Bottega Restaurant. They offer up a full menu of local and Italian-inspired dishes, and Bottega comes highly recommended for special occasions or a romantic meal for two.
These are – of course – just a couple of options in a city that is home to a great number of cafes and restaurants covering all the options.
During your weekend in Birmingham you will want to experience the nightlife, and we strongly recommend you check out the live venue Iron City, which has close to legendary status in the local area. With great live bands and a fantastic, lively atmosphere, it is up there with the best in the city.
For a bar that gives you a great idea of Birmingham nightlife, try The Atomic Lounge at 2113, 1st Avenue North. Lively and welcoming, this is the place for the best cocktails in town, and one where locals come to wind down after a busy week at work.
Atomic has crazy costumes you can rent and dress up in. It’s a dive-bar themed venue filled with decor right out of the 1970s. Frequent The Atomic enough and you just might earn a spot on the wall where a local artist paints portraits of the bars regulars.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to have more than just a few drinks, walk a few blocks over to Paramount as well. Their double is more like 4 shots of whiskey if you ask me. Just know your limits and don’t be afraid to call an Uber for a safe ride home.
The simple fact is that ‘Magic City’ – a nickname given to and embraced by Birmingham during the rapid industrial and economic boom years of the iron works – still retains a lot of that magic, so check out the availability of your chosen hotel, and take a weekend in Birmingham – you will want to come back for more!