Atlanta has become an increasingly popular tourist destination, at the Atlanta airport is Delta Airlines’ main hub. As a hub airport, Atlanta is linked via an absurd amount of nonstop flights all over the country as well as international flights to every corner of the world.
As Atlanta’s popularity rises, so does the popularity of the cities nearby. Birmingham has been gaining traction as one of the best road trips from Atlanta, and it is a great choice for any lover of American history or Civil Rights.
While Atlanta has had plenty of clout itself in the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham, Alabama is right up there with it. A civil rights-inspired day trip to Birmingham from Atlanta is just too good to pass up if you have the time. Birmingham – yes, the Birmingham where Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an infamous letter to clergymen – has had a troubled past when it comes to race relations, and the city has taken strides to exploit the injustices that happened there and in the rest of North America over the last couple of centuries.
There is a lot to do in Birmingham, both involving civil rights and not, and this post is going to line up the perfect day trip for you including what to do, how to get to Birmingham from Atlanta, the best places to eat, and more.
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Is Birmingham, Alabama Worth Visiting?
Before we decided to take a day trip to Birmingham from Atlanta, neither of us had ever been to Alabama at all. The south is a region that we haven’t explored nearly enough, and our main reason for going was that it was a new state to check out.
We had heard that there were some cool things to do there, but we also knew there were a lot of great things in Atlanta that we’d be missing out on if we decided to take a day and go to Birmingham. Beyond just that, we knew that there were plenty of other great day trips from Atlanta, and we wanted to make sure we went to a great spot.
At the end of the day, we decided that it was a trip that was worth our time because of its historic sites and social significance, and we are really happy that we went. While it isn’t the largest city in the south, Birmingham is still a cool little city with loads of great dining options, plenty of live music, and outstanding museums.
Frankly, I think Birmingham is the perfect place for a day trip from Atlanta, because we were able to knock off most of the top things to do and still get back to Atlanta at a reasonable hour. Even if you aren’t a history person, seeing places that were so important at a given moment in history is really important, and the things that went on in Birmingham still have reverberating effects to this day.
Best Things to Do in Birmingham, Alabama
1. Visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
I like museums, but it is very rare that you will read one of my posts and see a museum take the number one overall spot on the list of the best things to do. In Birmingham Alabama, though, I think it fits.
The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is not the best museum in the world. Frankly, I think it is squarely above average and right on par with what I expected. However, the information that they have on display is just so valuable that it earns the top spot on this list.
Remember when Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a letter from the Birmingham Jail? That jail cell is on display here.
To me, that was probably the coolest part of the museum. But beyond that, there is some really eye-opening information here, including the treatment of all races in Birmingham in the 19th century, exhibits on other civil rights issues around the world like in China and Russia, several videos, and more.
Entrance to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute costs $15 for adults, and less for students, teenagers, senior citizens, and AAA members. More information on the museum, including its hours of operation, entrance policies, and ticketing, can be found on the BCRI website.
2. Pop into the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum
Are you a baseball fan? Birmingham is one of the most important cities in the history of Negro League baseball. This term, which is definitely dated, comes from back before professional sports leagues were integrated by race.
Before the days of Jackie Robinson (and for a portion of his career, too), black players had to play in their own league. The widely used nickname for these leagues was “the Negro Leagues.” One of the biggest and most successful of these was the Negro Southern League, which saw many of baseball’s greatest players rise through its ranks over time.
The Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum is a really nifty museum to stop at. It takes less of a civil rights stance and looks more at the functioning and operations of the league itself. The Birmingham Barons were one of the best teams in that league, and they were one of the landing points of Satchel Paige, who is often considered to be the best pitcher in all of baseball history. Another one of Birmingham’s prodigies was Willie Mays, who also went on to be one of the best baseball players ever.
This museum is totally worth checking out if you have even a small interest in baseball. It’s very small, so it won’t take much time out of your day. I was raised on baseball history and I only spent half an hour there. Entrance is by donation, too. For more information on the Birmingham Negro Southern League Museum, check out its website here.
3. Check Out the 16th Street Baptist Church
The 16th Street Baptist Church is where one of the darkest events in Birmingham’s history happened – the bombing by KKK members. Several terrorists organized a bombing on the church, and blew it up during Sunday school.
4 young black girls were killed, and over 20 other people were injured. This was a heinous act of violence that caused the black community to band together even more tightly against the atrocities of the day.
This church offers tours, and I definitely recommend checking them out. On top of the fact that it is a cool place to visit, it is also very convenient; it is located right across the street from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The church still functions as a regular church these days but the tours offer a window into some of its historical significance. Martin Luther King Jr. preached here many times, and it was one of the main meeting points of his followers. Tours cost $10 for adults, and $5 for students, and take about an hour to complete. For more information on the history of the church, the terrorist attack, and the tours, check out their website here.
4. Tour the Sloss Furnaces National Historical Landmark
At its core, Birmingham is a steel city. Steel is largely what turned Birmingham from a small town into a major city. Much like Pittsburgh, this city saw its explosive growth happen during the 1800s when producing steel was all the rage.
The Sloss Furnaces National Historical Landmark is one of the most important places in Birmingham’s history, as it is a big part of what caused Birmingham to grow into a big city. Birmingham’s population grew by almost 1000% in one decade because of the huge demand for steel, and the industrial nature of the city can still be seen and felt today.
Touring the Sloss Furnaces is a cool way to spend an hour or so, as you can learn about an industry that has been fundamental to the United States’ success while also getting to explore a really old and seasoned facility. The way that steel is made is actually pretty interesting, too, so you’ll come out of this with a good bit of new knowledge! Tours cost $10 per adult and reservations must be made in advance. Check out their website here for more information.
5. Visit the Birmingham Museum of Art
While I wouldn’t call it the best museum in Birmingham, the Birmingham Museum of Art is undoubtedly a great place for art enthusiasts to spend an afternoon.
The museum’s collections contain over 24,000 different artworks, and they come from all over the world.
The museum is open every day of the week, and visiting it is always a great experience for people passing through the city. I wouldn’t include it on the itinerary of a day trip from Atlanta, but it is certainly a great option if you are visiting Birmingham on a weekend getaway or longer.
How To Get to Birmingham from Atlanta
Before you go shopping for a train ticket, I’ll spare you the trouble. There are no Amtrak trains connecting the two cities, despite their close proximity to one another, so your options are both on the road. Birmingham is about 147 miles west of Atlanta, which is just a short drive on the highway. You can get to Birmingham from Atlanta by either bus or car.
The Best Time to Visit Birmingham, Alabama
The best times to visit Birmingham, Alabama are usually considered to be the shoulder seasons, when it isn’t too hot or too cold to go and enjoy the best things the city has to offer. It isn’t an extremely touristy city, but the increased demand for hotels in the summer still drives prices up, and the weather is too hot for comfort anyway.
I would say the sweet spots are from February to May and September to early November.
During these stretches of time, there shouldn’t be large crowds and the weather should be very tolerable. We visited in February, and we were very comfortable in just light jackets.
Birmingham is also surrounded by a slew of great outdoor activities. If you want to go horseback riding in the Appalachian Mountains, you might be better off waiting to visit until the spring or early summer.
Suggested Itinerary for a Birmingham Day Trip From Atlanta
Hopefully, this post has been helpful so far, in terms of figuring out how to get to Birmingham and the best things to do while you’re there. Wouldn’t it be helpful, though, to see a rough hour-by-hour itinerary of what you should do? I would certainly think so! Here is what I would do if I went back to Birmingham for a day.
Head to Brimingham
Leave Atlanta and head to Birmingham. If you are taking a bus, there should be one at 5:40am.
Park near the 2000 block of Morris Street
Arrive in Birmingham and park near the 2000 block of Morris Street. That is anywhere in front of “The Essential,” which is next in the itinerary. This address will get you there: 2018 Morris Ave, Birmingham, AL 35203
The Essential for Breakfast
Grab a table at The Essential for breakfast. This place serves up some really incredible food. I recommend the brioche french toast or the pastrami sandwich.
*Note that this place opens at 9:00am on weekends but 11:00am on weekdays, so if you visit on a weekday you’ll need to eat somewhere else.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
Walk or drive to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This is a bit over. a mile, so walking is not for everyone. We walked and enjoyed the sights and smells of the city.
Arrive at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and explore the museum.
Tour the 16th St. Baptist Church.
Tour the 16th St. Baptist Church.
Pizitz Food Hall
Grab lunch in the Pizitz Food Hall, just a short walk away. This food court has all kinds of different options to munch on.
Negro Southern League Museum
Walk or drive to the Negro Southern League Museum and check it our for 30 minutes or so.
Buy Some Roasted Peanuts for the Road
If you parked your car at The Essential and left it there, I highly recommend grabbing some peanuts from Alabama Peanut Company before you head to the furnace. They make a great road trip snack.
Drive to the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and take a tour.
Dinner & Drive
Find a place to grab dinner and then hit the road back to Atlanta!
That’s all we have for you about planning a day trip from Atlanta to Birmingham, Alabama! Hopefully, this guide helps you plan your visit to one of the American Civil Rights Movement’s most important cities.
If you have any questions about our One Day Itinerary, please comment below. We would love to help you plan out the logistics of your day trip to Birmingham.