April 8, 2021

How to spend a perfect weekend in Birmingham

3.7 min read

Alabama’s most populous city has a rich history and an even more promising future. Over the past 10–15 years, the Magic City has more than lived up to its nickname, undergoing a strong and steady revitalization that’s resulted in a cultural revolution. With new restaurants, bars, hotels, and attractions coming to town every month, Birmingham is the perfect weekend destinations for first timers and repeat visitors alike. Here’s how to spend a perfect weekend in Birmingham.

What to Do

 

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It’s impossible to appreciate how far Birmingham has come without acknowledging all the city overcame to get there. Get a nuanced lesson at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a Smithsonian affiliate featuring exhibits that tell Birmingham’s story while championing civil and human rights. Another place that shows how far the city has come is Railroad Park. The 19-acre greenspace, opened in 2010, has been called both Birmingham’s Backyard and Living Room. Grab a latte at nearby Red Cat Coffee House and watch train cars barrel over tracks overlooking the city skyline. 

Around the time Railroad Park opened, the city’s craft beer scene also took off. Rent a scooter or bike for a self-guided brew tour of local favorites like Ghost Train, Good People, and Avondale Brewing. There’s plenty of outdoor space and creative suds to keep you entertained for hours. If you’re lucky enough to be in Birmingham on a Saturday, you absolutely must start your weekend with the locals at The Market at Pepper Place. The longstanding farmers market features all the best of Alabama’s growers, farmers, and makers. 

Finish a perfect day in the city by taking in sunset at Vulcan Park. Originally forged for the World Far, the 50-foot cast iron statue of the Roman god of fire and metalworking stands tall as the city’s unofficial mascot.

Where to Eat


The crowning jewel of the city’s renaissance could very well be its dynamic food scene. Indulge in the best of Southern cuisine at 2018 James Beard Best Restaurant Highlands Bar & Grill*, or keep it casual at Johnny’s, a “Greek-and-three” that serves both keftedes and chicken pot pie (and also has a few James Beard nods). But Southern isn’t the only thing Birmingham has mastered. Try Roman-style pizza, indulgent pastas, and a to-die-for brunch at Zaza Trattoria. For ramen and other Japanese-inspired fare, head to Shu Shop. The sake flows late into the evening at the izakaya and ramen-ya located in the city’s Theatre District.

When you think of the South, you think barbecue. And while there are plenty of worthy places to grab a pulled pork sandwich or rack of ribs, none are as quintessentially Birmingham as SAW’s. SAW’s operates several locations, but we recommend its Soul Kitchen outpost in the hip downtown neighborhood of Avondale. Order the Pork and Greens—creamy cheese grits topped with collard greens, sweet-tangy pulled pork, and crunchy fried onions. You won’t be sorry.

Birmingham has added a lot of exciting additions to its restaurant family over the years, but few have been such instant hits as Automatic Seafood and Oysters. Chef Adam Evans has created a coastal respite in the center of the city with elegant dishes featuring Gulf Coast seafood, such as Duck Fat Poached Fish and Octopus a la Plancha.

For a nightcap worthy of writing home about, the eclectic cocktails and décor at The Collins Bar, The Atomic Lounge, and Queen’s Park should top your list. 

Where to Stay

 

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If you want to be in the thick of downtown’s action, book a room in one of two historic buildings, The Redmont Hotel or Elyton Hotel. Both combine historic charm with modern amenities that include lively rooftop bars and upscale restaurants. At the Redmont, get an old-school vibe in a 14-story National Historic Landmark. Housed in the former Empire Building (one-fourth of the Heaviest Corner on Earth), the Elyton shows off classic Renaissance Revival architecture outside with sleek digs inside.

*Certain restaurants might be temporarily closed or have different operating procedures due to COVID-19. Confirm with individual businesses before making plans.

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