Alabama Holiday Planning Guide
Known as a focal point of the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s, Alabama today offers tourists a chance to discover the distinct culture of the Deep South. Its diverse landscapes include tall mountains, rolling hills, and gentle plains, while the towns and cities boast well-preserved antebellum architecture and outstanding local cuisine featuring barbecue recipes passed down from generation to generation. Looking for outdoorsy things to do in Alabama? Nature lovers on holiday here can explore the state's beaches, rugged canyons, and lush river valleys.
Places to Visit in AlabamaBirmingham
: A melting pot of modern architecture, cultural hotspots, and historical significance, Birmingham's vibrant atmosphere and bustling downtown offers plenty for your Alabama itinerary. Huntsville
: In Huntsville you'll find lots of lush green natural areas to explore, along with an abundance of classic Alabama attractions nestled within its two historical districts. Orange Beach
: A popular tourist destination, Orange Beach draws visitors with its soft, white sandy shores and pristine swimming conditions. Go dolphin watching on one of the tours, or check out the lively wharf. Gulf Shores
: Lots of families on vacation in Alabama head to Gulf Shores, which offers pristine, white sandy beaches in a quieter and more affordable location than its nearby counterparts. Mobile
: The big port city of Mobile is as lively as it is historical, brimming with southern culture and heritage. The largest city on the Gulf and the original capital of French Louisiana, Mobile hosts the oldest Mardi Gras celebration in the country. Montgomery
: The capital of Alabama (and first capital of the Confederacy), historical Montgomery also had a key role in the Civil Rights Movement, which you can learn about in a number of absorbing attractions.
Things to Do in Alabama
Popular Alabama Tourist AttractionsBattleship USS ALABAMA
: Set foot aboard a World War II battleship, where a fascinating collection of military artifacts and aircrafts provides compelling and moving insight into the U.S. involvement in the war. U.S. Space & Rocket Center
: History and science buffs on an Alabama holiday won't want to miss the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, where knowledgeable guides lead you through a series of exhibits of real spaceships that contributed to Alabama's significant role in the history of space travel. Unclaimed Baggage Center
: Go on a unique shopping experience at Unclaimed Baggage Center, where the shelves are lined with treasures taken from abandoned luggage. A bargain is always hiding around each corner, and the best part is you'll never know what you're going to find. Birmingham Zoo
: Perfect for a family outings, this major Alabama attraction plays home to over 230 species, including flamingoes, elephants, lions, tigers, reptiles, and kangaroos. Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo
: Kid-size and kid-friendly, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo offers a collection of birds, wildcats, turtles, and more in an intimate setting with plenty of hands-on petting opportunities. Vulcan Park and Museum
: Towering over the city and park stands a burly, bearded, bare-bottomed man: this is Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge. The observation tower presents panoramic views of the park and city below, and the museum details the history of Birmingham. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
: Birmingham Civil Rights Institute presents a moving testament to the brave men and women who stood up for racial equality throughout the 1960s, and the pain and suffering they endured for the sake of generations to come. Bellingrath Gardens and Home
: Take a step back in time at this 1930s residence with its English Renaissance-style exterior, and wander the stunning surrounding landscaped gardens at your leisure. McWane Science Center
: Curiosity and fascination come alive at McWane Science Center, where plenty of hand-on exhibits, games, IMAX shows, and multimedia displays will keep visitors of all ages engaged. Fort Morgan State Historic Site
: Walk the halls of Fort Morgan Historic Site, and pay tribute to the soldiers who manned the fort in the 1800s and 1900s to protect Mobile Bay. The fort features a museum that details personal accounts of the soldiers that lived here.
Planning an Alabama Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Alabama with Kids
Alabama's rich history provides a wealth of historical attractions bound to make your family vacation as fun as it is friendly. The temperate climate offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activity, while the number of museums and indoor attractions give you lots of rainy-day alternatives. The soft, white sandy shores of the southern cities make a great place to base your family's Alabama vacation. Look to Gulf Shores
for plenty of family fun spent in the surf and sand, and lots of nearby amenities.
Things to Do in Alabama with Kids
Plan your family's Alabama itinerary with your kids' interests in mind. It's hard to go wrong with a trip to Birmingham Zoo
: this crowd favorite appeals to all ages, and a children's play area includes fun diversions such as a carousel. Families with older children and science enthusiasts won't want to miss McWane Science Center
or U.S. Space & Rocket Center
. Both offer fascinating multimedia displays guaranteed to keep the whole crowd enthralled. Mix fun with history and learning at Rosa Parks Museum
, where one wing is especially geared towards children. This is also a good option if the weather isn't on your side.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Alabama
While historical sites always celebrate the triumphs of the state's past, they would be remiss not to include the tribulations that came hand-in-hand. Be wary that some Alabama attractions address the darker sides of its history with graphic content unsuitable for younger travellers.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Alabama
Cuisine of Alabama
When embarking on an Alabama vacation, prepare to enjoy some of the best fried seafood in the country. The state is jam-packed with local oyster bars dishing up seafood specialities and famous shrimp. The state is also known for its barbecue connoisseurs, and you won't have to go far to find them.
Originating from Tuscaloosa
but now in most major cities in Alabama, Dreamland is a world-famous barbecue joint serving juicy rib sandwiches on white bread with sides of slaw and potato salad. Pulled pork is another barbecue specialty in this southern state. Wash it all down with a glass of deliciously sweet iced tea.
Last but not least, if your Alabama trip goes through the small suburb of Irondale, you'll have to try the fried green tomatoes that put the city on the map.
Shopping in Alabama
There's something for every shopaholic on an Alabama vacation: high-end brands, outlets, and one-of-a-kind stores. If your Alabama itinerary takes you through Gulf Shores, you'll find plenty of beachwear, souvenirs, seafood, art, books, jewelry, and tableware in shops just a stone's throw from the white sands.
If it's a bargain you're after, look no further than the steals and deals of Tanger Outlet Foley
. There's plenty of big-box department stores, restaurants, and things to do.
Go on a treasure hunt at Unclaimed Baggage Center
, where lost possessions find new light on the shelves. The name says it all: the store sells the contents of unclaimed baggage, cargo, and freight. Even the luggage itself is for sale. While the inventory is ever-changing, the great finds and good deals are consistent.
For a slightly more upscale experience, head to Riverchase Galleria
. This clean, safe, family-friendly mall features fantastic decor and is surrounded by breathtaking natural sights.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Alabama
History of Alabama
The state of Alabama has been inhabited for thousands of years, dating back to prehistoric times. The Native American communities dominated Alabama until the 1500s, when Europeans first arrived in Mobile
. The indigenous peoples and Europeans lived peacefully apart until the 1700s, when new French residents began to clash with the Native Americans. Gain insight into Alabama's earliest inhabitants at Russell Cave National Monument
, where evidence of settlements dates back 10,000 years.
By the time it became the nation's 22nd state in 1819, Alabama had developed an agricultural industry that was the backbone of its economy; this endured well into the mid-1900s. Well known for its cotton plantations, Alabama was nicknamed the "Black Belt" for both the soil and skin color of the slaves working its fields. The Civil War in 1861 was, among other things, a fight for the survival of the Union or independence of the Confederacy. As home to the original capital of the Confederacy in Montgomery
, Alabama was deeply entrenched in the war; learn more about its involvement by including Fort Morgan State Historic Site
on your Alabama tour. The war wreaked havoc on the southern state, leaving it in poor condition for many years to come. The end to slavery meant a decline in the plantation system, which was replaced the less-profitable sharecropping practice, where landowners let tenants work the land in exchange for a share of their crops. Along with the Great Depression, these changes meant that many of Alabama's residents remained in poverty for decades to come.
During the 20th century Alabama's economy grew stronger as a result of the increased industrialization during the two World Wars. Roads, canals, and electricity helped bring Alabama into the modern era. This advancement saw perhaps its greatest expression when the Wright Brothers established a flying school in 1909 near the city of Montgomery
Montgomery made history once more when on December 1, 1955 African-American Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This in turn sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, a seminal event in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. The charismatic King would go on to lead the movement throughout the 1960s, preaching unity and nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1963, the city of Birmingham
held nonviolent protests organized by the famous activist, who remains one of America's most celebrated leaders. Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement with a visit to Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
on your Alabama trip.
Coal mines and steel mines became increasingly prevalent throughout the state, and the economy began to rely less on agriculture and more on manufacturing and other modern industries. This in turn played a major role in the state's huge population growth at the time. While the economic shift had huge advantages for the urban cities, it negatively impacted the small farming communities that had once thrived.
Landscape of Alabama
The landscape of Alabama is predominantly plain, though crisscrossed by a network of rivers that give the state the second-largest inland waterway system in the country. The northern part of the state is outlined by the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains, with the Tennessee River cutting through the peaks to create a valley teeming with creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes. Approaching the Florida border, elevation makes a slow descent towards the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico. Here the landscape changes dramatically from mountains to white sandy shores. In between the northern and southern borders are many national parks, forests, and nature reserve areas, perfect for an active Alabama vacation.
If your Alabama itinerary includes some outdoor exploring, you won't want to miss the notable natural wonder of Natural Bridge Rock, the longest natural bridge east of the Rockies. Another great addition is Wetumpka Crater, the site where a 300 m (1,000 ft) wide meteorite collided with the earch 80 million years ago.
Holidays & Festivals in Alabama
Aside from celebrating all the major U.S. holidays, Alabama has its own set of celebrations that make a great way to soak in some local color. If your trip to Alabama falls in October, head to Gulf Shores for the annual National Shrimp Festival. The festival brings over 300 vendors to the city, offering handicrafts, international kiosks, fine art, three stages for musicians, and, of course, shrimp aplenty. Tuscumbia
is known for its annual Helen Keller Festival, commemorating the remarkable American author, political activist, and lecturer. The outdoor event held in June features an elaborate parade of floats, marching bands, horses, Civil War reenactors and Shriners. The parade is followed by an extensive collection of local vendors selling everything from handmade crafts to produce, and musical performances and a classic car show complete the three-day event.
Alabama Travel Tips
Climate of Alabama
Be prepared for balmy weather on your Alabama vacation: the state enjoys a humid subtropical climate, with some of the hottest summers in the country and very mild winters. Precipitation is not uncommon, often accompanied by thunderstorms and even hurricanes. It is also among the top states to report hurricanes, so do check weather reports before and during your trip. The southern part of the state tends to be much hotter, while the northern part by the Appalachian Mountains is usually slightly cooler.
Transportation in Alabama
When traveling from place to place on your Alabama holiday, you'll be best served by renting a car. The interstates are a quick and efficient way to travel in between the major cities. That said, bus lines service all the larger cities, and Amtrak railways stop in Anniston, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa.