With unique destinations spread throughout, Alabama is a trip through history, southern culture and cuisine, with a beautiful scattering of scenic natural spaces.
Its historical cities from Birmingham to Montgomery were hotbeds of the Civil Rights Movement. Today they share the important story through museums, galleries and historic districts, where just generations ago the United States reached a flash point.
Away from major cities, there are also plenty of things to do in Alabama with wild lands and pristine coasts. Explore state parks, and the Gulf Of Mexico to see the beautiful spaces no one’s talking about.
12. Ivy Green
A historic house in Tuscumbia, Ivy green was the childhood home of the famous Helen Keller. Helen became deaf and blind at an early age, but would go on to be a celebrated author and an inspiration for many.
It’s believed she contracted scarlet fever and was examined by Alexander Graham Bell. Yes, that Mr Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who sent her to Anne Sullivan. Anne was a 20-year-old teacher, who remained with her student for almost 50 years until Helen passed away.
Now, you can explore Helen Keller’s historic childhood home, which was built in 1820. Learn all about her remarkable life, including her novels The Story of My Life and The Miracle Worker.
11. Little River Canyon
Featuring the longest mountaintop river in the USA, Little River Canyon is a place of hiking, fishing, and camping. A national preserve, the river runs over the mountains of Southern Appalachia, providing waterfalls, bluffs and beautiful forested uplands.
The Little River Canyon became a protected preserve in 1992 in order to maintain what is a unique landscape. Over millions of years, Little River has carved into the sandstone, creating spectacular cliffs that are slowly eroding the flat-topped Lookout Mountain.
Around the river is an extreme diversity of plant and animal species not seen elsewhere in Alabama. You can experience all this along the hiking trails and scenic drives that lead to amazing views and refreshing swimming holes.
10. Sloss Furnaces
On the back of rich mineral resources, entrepreneurs and big dreamers created a new city in central Alabama. In 1871, Birmingham was officially established and one member of the original community was Colonel James Sloss, whose furnaces began operating 11 years later in 1882.
After just shy of a century, Sloss Furnaces became a National Historic Landmark and then a museum. The oldest part of the museum is now the blowing engines from 1902 while you’ll also come across two 400-ton blast furnaces.
The Sloss Furnaces museum does a great job of showing off technological advances through the eras which you can learn all about on a guided tour.
9. Dexter Parsonage Museum
From 1954 to 1960, Martin Luther King and his family lived in what is now the Dexter Parsonage Museum. He was joined by the home’s original residents, 12 pastors from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church.
Throughout the Civil Rights Movement, the home, now on the Register of Historic Places, was bombed multiple times. The fascinating exhibits in the museum explore Martin Luther King’s life as a pastor, and the site where he began his activism.
You can also learn about each of the pastors and the surrounding community before heading to the King-Johns Garden for Reflection. The garden covers six themes that the pastors and MLK would often preach about.
8. Cathedral Caverns State Park
Home to vast caves and one of the largest columns on earth, the Cathedral Caverns State Park first went by the name Bat Cave. Southeast of Woodville, Alabama, the cave spent 37 years as a private attraction before becoming a state park in 1987.
The regal and enormous entrance of the cave led to its current day name as Cathedral Caverns. The cave’s grand entrance is the largest in the state, and measures 126 feet wide and 25 feet tall. Visitors can explore the mesmerizing caves along with Goliath, a stalagmite column 45 feet high.
A cave tour allows you to wander beyond the boundaries, while tent camping and gem mining activities are also available.
7. Unclaimed Baggage Center
As the only national retailer for lost baggage, the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro can also claim being one of the oddest attractions around. All the more reason to visit! You know what they say, one person’s unclaimed trash is someone else’s treasure.
All baggage arrives at the thrift store after not being picked up by passengers for 90 days. The Unclaimed Baggage Center then purchases these items for our browsing. The store has been in operation since 1970 and has seen some crazy items over the decades.
Such items include an aluminized fire suit, a camera from a NASA space program, and an Egyptian burial mask.
6. Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Running along the tip of southern Alabama, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1980 to protect wildlife and migratory birds. In this stunning section of the state, visitors can discover a variety of habitats, from scrub forest, to marshes, swamps and sand dunes.
The wildlife refuge is the home of the endangered Alabama beach mouse while being a vital nesting ground for sea turtles. Each year, over 370 species of birds pay a visit on their migratory routes. Popular species include ospreys and hummingbirds.
You can get a taste of the park on the one mile Jeff Friend Trail, before exploring on any of the half-dozen longer trails. From Little Lagoon, you can launch a kayak and fish from the water.
5. National Memorial for Peace & Justice
A somber and significant site, the National Memorial for Peace & Justice is dedicated to the legacy of African Americans who were enslaved, or lost their lives through lynching.
The memorial opened in 2018 and was the first of its kind. It’s an important space that has given the chance for the Equal Justice Initiative to shine a light on the many stories of the American South which had yet to be told. The National Memorial for Peace & Justice, doesn’t just explore the lives lost, but the terror that stayed with the six million that fled to the north as a result of the tragic events.
The space allows visitors to gather and reflect on the past, with a sculpture dedicated to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and a captivating piece by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo.
4. Gulf State Park
In southeast Alabama, Gulf State Park is a beautiful natural space with a wide range of activities. The park is under an hour from Pensacola, Florida and offers its own stretch of golden sand to enjoy.
Beginning at the Nature Center, young and old will have the chance to join numerous guided experiences. Rangers and naturalists will take you on a journey down the trails to spot local wildlife and even give a few tips on how to land a catch while you’re out fishing.
There’s plenty in Gulf State Park to keep the entire family entertained, including a large swimming pool, tennis courts, and horseshoe. You can even venture further out on a SUP or kayak. To save yourself the drive home, check in at the campground and sleep among nature.
3. Battleship USS Alabama
Now a US National Historic Landmark, the USS Alabama was a battleship used in the Second World War. The ship conducted over a dozen patrols in the Pacific and played a hand in capturing several islands from the Japanese. The USS Alabama was also responsible for sinking 15 Japanese ships.
But just over 15 years post World War II, the historic battleship was headed for the scrap heap, only to find its forever home in Mobile. The park also includes the USS Drum, a WWII submarine. Today, you can tour the ship from the mess hall to the captain’s bridge to get a glimpse of life on USS Alabama.
Additional attractions at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park include several aircraft, tanks, and weaponry.
2. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
One of the central locations of the Civil Rights Movement was right here in Birmingham in the 50s and 60s. In fact, a key turning point in the movement occurred at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church when members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the church in 1963.
The four subsequent deaths added necessary urgency that led to President Lyndon Johnson passing the Civil Rights Act the following year. You can learn more about this event and the historic movement at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Explore many permanent and temporary exhibits that take you behind the scenes and shed light on issues still experienced today.
The institute is a major part of Birmingham’s Civil Rights District, which also includes historic places like the Carver Theater and Kelly Ingram Park.
1. US Space & Rocket Center
In Huntsville, Alabama, the US Space & Rocket Center is packed with hands-on experiences for young and old. Hosting one of the biggest accumulations of spacecraft on earth, the center is a great place to go and learn about the United States’ history in space.
The US Space & Rocket Center is connected to the Smithsonian Institute and provides quality insight into the development of NASA. You’ll also learn about the historic space race and the space stations floating around our earth.
One of the highlights of the experience is visiting Rocket Park, where 27 missiles and spacecraft are on display. From there, kick back in front of the Spacedome IMAX to explore the International Space Station or take turns on the launch simulators to experience four G-force.