Looking for a quick getaway but don’t have much time to spare? You may find just what you’re looking for in the landscape of our beautiful state. From urban spaces steeped in history to the beautiful natural scenery of mountain views, Alabama is rich in cultural points of interest.

Whether you’re searching for a tranquil afternoon of relaxation or a day of historical or educational enrichment, check out one of these four locations, all of which are less than a two-hour drive from Birmingham.


1.   Huntsville

The 1.5-hour drive up to Rocket City is well worth the visit—from the sciences to the arts, charming historic districts to lush outdoor spaces, there is truly something for everyone. Start your day with breakfast at The Moon Bakeshop, a local and family-owned small-batch bakery that combines Southern nostalgia with European charm. Try a pain au chocolat or a honey cinnamon scone and a cup of coffee as you enjoy a slow morning on the patio.

Then, gear up to make all your childhood astronaut dreams come true at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, which has one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia on display and regularly features traveling exhibits from around the world. There are plenty of exhibits included with a general admission ticket, but you can also add on additional experiences, such as an Underwater Astronaut Training, for an additional cost.

Ready to come back down to earth? Huntsville offers many beautiful and lush outdoor spaces to relax in the tranquility of nature. Head over to Huntsville Botanical Gardens, a sprawling 118-acre stretch of land that is home to many diverse ecosystems and native plant collections. You may want to plan a trip on a day they host one of their many community events, such as Dog Days at the Garden, their annual Spring Plant Sale, or hosting the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra in their stunning atrium.


2.   Montgomery

Our state’s capital and the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery offers a myriad of history lessons to its visitors through its nationally-recognized sites. Arrive early and begin your day at the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, a space that The New York Times hails as “an unflinching and moving journey through the story of slavery.” Plan on spending at least 2-3 hours here to reflect on the stories told. Afterward, walk or drive the four blocks to Dexter Avenue to see the historic Court Square fountain, as well as a great view of the state’s Capitol building. The street also contains several Civil Rights landmarks, such as a life-size bronze statue of Rosa Parks, who stands a few feet away from where she boarded the now historic bus ride.

After a day of taking in some powerful history lessons, relax by the Alabama River and enjoy some freshly shucked oysters at Capitol Oyster Bar. Owner Lewis Mashburn is passionate about blues music and regularly brings in big names such as Bobby Rush and Chris Thomas King. Live music can be heard here every Sunday night, for “church in the morning and blues in the evening” as Mashburn says. The restaurant was honored by the Blues Society with the prestigious “Keeping The Blues Alive” award in 2019.


3.   Gadsden

The town of Gadsden is just an hour away from Birmingham and offers a variety of outdoor activities such as fly fishing, hiking, and camping at the scenic Noccalula Campground. For a day trip, first head over to Noccalula Falls, a site steeped in folk legend, where Cherokee Chief Noccalula’s daughter was said to have jumped to her demise after being ordered to marry a man she did not love. Her story is immortalized within a nine-foot bronze statue, poised as if ready to jump at the top of the falls. To get an even better look at the 90-foot waterfall, hike one of the marked trails into the gorge for an unbelievable view. If you’re day-tripping with kids, head over to their petting zoo or miniature golf course for some more outdoor adventures.

Looking for a spot to eat? Across the street from the falls is Kati Thai, a hidden gem of a restaurant that’s said to be some of the best Thai food in the state. Try traditional Thai dishes such as basil rolls, potstickers, or panang curry to refuel from your day of hiking. End your day with a quick drive into historic downtown Gadsden and pick up some pints at Back Forty Beer Company. Their original brewery location is housed in a 1940s warehouse; along with lunch, dinner, and drinks, they offer tours of the microbrewery on Saturday afternoons.


4.   The Shoals

On the left bank of the Tennessee River sits a cluster of four music-infused, small, and somewhat unassuming towns, collectively known as The Shoals; a drive from Birmingham comes in at just under two hours. To begin, stop and marvel at Florence’s Wilson Lock and Dam, the highest single lift lock east of the Rocky Mountains. The engineering wonder was built in 1924 and spans just over 4,500 feet in length. Enjoy great views by walking out onto the bridge to check out the lock and spillways, and maybe catch a barge passing through.

Next, venture over to The Shoals’ studios that have enticed world-class musicians to pay a visit: Fame Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Fame Studios was established in 1959 and has recorded some of the most notable names in rock, soul, and blues history—Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and Otis Redding, to name a few. A big part of the studio’s success was due to studio musicians known as The Swampers, who later left to set up their own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, just a five-minute drive down the road. Soak up the exceptional music history at both studios before heading to dinner at downtown Florence’s Odette, a quaint yet chic bistro offering elevated Southern cuisine and inventive cocktails.


Happy travels, and lean into the adventure that all four of these locations offer!