The World Games | A Guide to Birmingham

Your List of Birmingham, Alabama’s Absolute Must-Dos:

No. 1 

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute 

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, part of the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a cultural and educational research center that promotes a comprehensive understanding of the significance of civil rights developments in Birmingham. 

This historic museum traces the journey of the civil rights advocates of the 1950s and 60s, who changed the course of American history. The struggle for equality for Black Americans is chronicled here, from the Jim Crow laws in the 1800s to the freedom rides, sit-ins, and demonstrations of the 1960s.

No. 2 

Vulcan Park & Museum 

The largest cast-iron statue in the world was created for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and placed on top of Red Mountain with a beautiful view of downtown Birmingham. Also, inside Vulcan Center, is an interactive museum that contains the historical timeline of the city of Birmingham.

No. 3 

Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

Sloss Furnaces was once the largest manufacturer of pig iron in the world. It stands today just as it did in the late 19th century — a monument to the Industrial Revolution. With its web of pipes and towering stoves, this unique National Historic Landmark provides visitors a glimpse into Birmingham’s rich industrial heritage. It stands with pride and is a symbol of where the “Magic” began for Birmingham.

Sloss Furnaces operated from 1882 to1970 making it the longest continually running blast furnace in Birmingham’s history. Visit Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark and learn about the materials, the products, and the people who ran the furnaces and built the city. Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark began as a museum in 1983 providing visitors with a unique experience and valuable insight into Birmingham’s industrial past. 

No. 4

McWane Science Center

Fun and learning never end at McWane Science Center, a nonprofit, hands-on museum and IMAX(R) Dome Theater. Four floors of interactive exhibits celebrate science and wonder - from an amazing collection of dinosaurs to innovative environmental showcases, imaginative early childhood playgrounds, and an awe-inspiring aquarium. The energy and excitement of discovery spring to life through an extensive lineup of science demonstrations performed daily by talented educators. The adventure intensifies in the IMAX(R) Dome Theater, where wide-eyed visitors experience the sights and sounds of breathtaking films on a 5-story-tall screen surrounded by 3 tons of high-intensity speakers. 

No. 5

Birmingham Museum of Art

The Birmingham Museum of Art is one of the finest regional museums in the United States. This three-story museum houses an eclectic selection of art, including houses a diverse collection of more than 27,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and decorative arts dating from ancient to modern times. The collection presents a rich panorama of cultures, featuring the Museum’s extensive holdings of Asian, European, American, African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American art.

No. 6

Negro Southern League Museum 

The Negro Southern League Museum (NSLM) tells the story of African-American baseball in America through the eyes of Birmingham, Alabama. The museum features the largest collection of original Negro League baseball artifacts in the country. NSLM also features an on-site research center that is supported by a research team made up of seven of the top researchers in Negro League and Southern League baseball history. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind experience please make plans to visit the Negro Southern League Museum. Whether you are a baseball enthusiast or a novice, the Negro Southern League Museum has something for you.

No. 7

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum

A motorcyclist's dream, this museum has 750 vintage and modern motorcycles displayed on walls, two-tiered platforms and just about everywhere you look. The bikes are displayed randomly, rather than by date and year, adding an element of unpredictability to the viewer's experience.

No. 8

The Birmingham Zoo

One of the state’s most popular attractions, the Birmingham Zoo, is an ever-evolving adventure. Guests come from around the Southeast to see animals such as red pandas, lions, giraffes, orangutans, rhinos, bears, elephants, sea lions, zebras, a jaguar, a hippo, and many more. From Trails of Africa to the Children’s Zoo and everything in-between, the Birmingham Zoo features animals from all over the world, with signage highlighting the Zoo’s amazing animal care, conservation initiatives, and Species Survival Plans. With approximately 550 animals of 180 species and endangered species from 6 continents, the Birmingham Zoo’s 122-acre site is the perfect place to visit any time of the year.

No. 9

Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Birmingham Botanical Gardens is Alabama's largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants in its living collections. The Gardens' 67.5 acres contains 25+ unique gardens, 30+ works of original outdoor sculpture, and miles of serene paths. The Gardens features the largest public horticulture library in the U.S., conservatories, a wildflower garden, two rose gardens, the Southern Living garden, and Japanese Gardens with a traditionally crafted tea house. Education programs run year-round and over 10,000 school children enjoy free science-curriculum-based field trips annually.

No. 10

Arlington Historic Home & Gardens

Located in the Jefferson County community of Elyton, Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens is a historic house and grounds that are open to the public. The house, an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture, is the only antebellum mansion in the city and displays items relating to nineteenth-century life. The house serves as a decorative arts museum, featuring a collection of 19th-century furniture, textiles, silver, and paintings. The garden features a restored garden room that is used for special events. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on December 2, 1970. The surrounding neighborhood Arlington Park District was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 17, 1995.

No. 11

Southern Museum of Flight Museum

The Southern Museum of Flight Is one of the largest aviation museums in the Southeast and is dedicated to presenting civilian, military, and experimental aircraft and memorabilia from the earliest history of powered flight. The 75,000 square foot facility houses over 100 aircraft, as well as engines, models, artifacts, photographs, and paintings. In addition, the Southern Museum of Flight is home to the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame with over 70 biographical plaques presenting Alabama aviation history through collective biography.

No. 12

Alabama Sports Hall of Fame & Museum

The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Museum is located in the Uptown District of Birmingham and is attached to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The three-story 33,000-square-foot museum was opened in 1992 and is home to over 6,000 pieces of sports memorabilia. The ASHOF Museum is one of the largest sports halls of fame in the nation with memorabilia from each inductee, dating back to the first induction class in 1969, displayed throughout the facility.

No. 13 

Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame

Alabama has produced some of the most notable jazz musicians in the country such as Nat King Cole from Montgomery, and Tuscaloosa’s Dinah Washington just to name a few. The first piano blues solo ever recorded was played by Birmingham-born Clarence “Pinetop” Smith. Sun Ra, whose innovative work remains celebrated worldwide, was born and raised in Birmingham, and native Erskine Hawkins set the standard with his signature tune about Ensley, “Tuxedo Junction.” The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame honors these luminaries and more with exhibits that showcase their accomplishments. Visitors take a journey through jazz history, from its humble beginnings in secular, folk traditions through its many contemporary incarnations. Honoring the sacred rituals that gave birth to the genre and the visionaries who kept it alive, the museum attracts not only jazz enthusiasts, but civil rights historians, students, and tour groups. 

Your List of Birmingham, Alabama’s Absolute Must-Sees:

No. 1

Alabama Theatre

The Alabama Theatre is located in the heart of downtown Birmingham Alabama on 3rd Avenue North. Since 1927 the Alabama Theatre has been the home to shows and performances ranging from movies, concerts, beauty pageants, silent films, and even the Mickey Mouse Club! This beautiful theatre is an amazing piece of history that defies the imagination and must be experienced to be truly appreciated.

No. 2

The Lyric Theatre

Built in 1914 for B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville circuit, the Lyric is one of few theatres still existing today that was specifically designed to maximize the acoustics and close seating needed for vaudeville shows. Major stars such as the Marx Brothers, Mae West, Sophie Tucker, Will Rogers, and Milton Berle played the Lyric. Berle said it was “as fine a theatre as any in New York.” During the 1920s, it was the custom to attend shows at the Lyric Theatre on Monday nights—if you could get a reservation. Tickets cost from 25 to 75 cents. In the summertime, air was fanned over two tons of ice a day to keep guests cool. Though seating was segregated, the Lyric was one of the first venues in the South where blacks and whites could watch the same show at the same time for the same price.

No. 3

16th Street Baptist Church

Organized in 1873 as the First Colored Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama. Sixteenth Street was the first black church in Birmingham. Initially, the congregation worshiped in a small building on the corner of 12th Street North and 4th Avenue and later moved to 3rd Avenue North between 19th and 20th Streets. In 1880 the congregation moved to its present location at 16th Street and 6th Avenue North. A modern brick building was erected in 1884 that established precedence for church building in the city.

On Sunday, September 15, 1963, at 10:22 a.m., the church became known around the world when a bomb exploded, killing four young girls attending Sunday School and injuring more than 20 other members of the congregation. Later that same evening, in different parts of town, a black youth was killed by police, and one was murdered by a mob of white men. It was a shocking, terrifying day in the history of Birmingham and a day that forced white leaders to further come to grips with the city’s bitter racist reputation.

No. 4

Kelly Ingram Park

Birmingham’s historic Kelly Ingram Park, the site of civil rights rallies, demonstrations, and confrontations in the 1960s, now offers visitors a guided audio tour through their mobile phones. In the early 1960s, Kelly Ingram Park became the epicenter of the nation’s Civil Rights Movement. America’s second revolution was a struggle for human rights and simple decency for African-American citizens. The park became the international focus of civil disobedience for blacks demanding equality. Historic footage of police attack dogs and high-powered fire hoses remain indelibly imprinted on the memories of those who saw the images on televisions and in newspapers around the world in the 1960s. But it was those very images that created the turning point in the struggle for desegregation.

Thousands of visitors come from around the world each year to learn about Birmingham’s painful and pivotal role in a nationwide call for civil rights. Sculptures throughout the park are vivid depictions of police dogs and fire hose assaults on demonstrators, many of them children. The mobile phone tour guides visitors through the historical significance of each sculpture, using brief but powerful descriptions at each stop. The audio tour was developed by the Greater Birmingham Convention & Visitors Bureau and was funded by a grant from the Alabama Tourism Department. The tour is free and available to anyone with a mobile phone. The dial-in number is 205-307-5455.

No. 5

Birmingham Civil Rights District

The neighborhood that was the center of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement is now a historic district with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute at its center. The national monument encompasses historic sites downtown that were significant to the revolution that took place in the streets of Birmingham in the 1960s. One of those sites is the city’s most famous civil rights landmark, the 16th Street Baptist Church.

Included in the national monument district is Birmingham’s Bethel Baptist Church, credited with shaping the Civil Rights Movement here. Civil rights legend, the Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth, was pastor of Bethel Baptist from 1953 through 1961. The church often served as a gathering place for discussions of civil rights among blacks, gatherings that angered white supremacists. In 1958, Bethel Baptist was bombed, though the church was empty at the time. The bombing cemented Shuttlesworth’s fiery determination to bring Birmingham to the center of the Civil Rights Movement.

The national monument includes Kelly Ingram Park. The park served as a congregating area for demonstrations in the early 1960s, including the ones in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers by Birmingham police. Images of those attacks haunted Birmingham in the decades that followed, but they were the same images that were instrumental in overturning legal segregation.

No. 6

Railroad Park

Railroad Park is a 19-acre green space in downtown Birmingham that celebrates the industrial and artistic heritage of our great city. Situated along 1st Avenue South, between 14th and 18th Streets, the park is a joint effort between the City of Birmingham and the Railroad Park Foundation. Hailed as "Birmingham's Living Room," Railroad Park provides a historically rich venue for local recreation, family activities, concerts, and cultural events while connecting Birmingham's downtown area with Southside and UAB's campus.

No. 7

Red Mountain Park

Red Mountain Park understands the value of this land as the pivotal resource for Birmingham’s beginning, and—until now—an untapped resource for our modern city. This land marks the spot where Birmingham began, where all men—no matter their race—worked side by side toward one common goal. This is the land where a common purpose was shared, where miners worked hard to take care of their families, help the men working at their sides, and contribute to our growing city. On this mountain, men mined for more than iron ore. They mined for equality. And they found a connection in the mountain’s red dirt: their common ground. For more than 50 years, though, Red Mountain has divided the communities of Birmingham—black and white, poor and wealthy.

No. 8

Ruffner Mountain

Ruffner Mountain is a 1,038-acre urban nature preserve in the heart of Birmingham, Alabama providing science and nature education programming, 14 miles of trails, and a protected area for thousands of species of native flora and fauna. It is a site for Citizen Science programs and an array of scientist conducted research projects, including native bat and amphibian surveys, research into the causes of American Chestnut Blight, and groves of new-growth longleaf pine. Each year, through nature education and EcoArts programming, it impacts the lives of countless students and scores of schools and universities across the state.

No. 9

Rotary Trail

Birmingham's much anticipated Rotary Trail opened in April 2016. At its entrance, the trail features a 46-foot-tall sign which reads: "Rotary Trail in the Magic City." It is modeled after the historical "Birmingham the Magic City" sign. Although only a half-mile, the trail, stretching from 20th Street to 24th Street, links two of the city's unique attractions. Near its western end, the 19-acre Railroad Park offers a rail trail, skate park, playground, and overlooks for trainspotting and viewing the city's skyline. Near the east end of the Rotary Trail is a National Historic Landmark, the Sloss Furnaces, which serviced the city's iron-producing industry for nearly a century.

At 25th street, one block from the trail's eastern terminus, travelers can pick up the Jones Valley Trail, which continues along 1st Avenue to 32nd Street. Both trails are part of the growing Red Rock Trail System that connects important destinations throughout the region such as Red Mountain Park, which—at 1,500 acres—is one of the largest urban parks in the country. The trail’s name comes from the city’s Rotary Club, one of the largest such clubs in the world, which spearheaded the project as part of its 100th-anniversary celebration in 2013. The rail trail is also known as the “1st Avenue Cut” due to its placement along a former railroad trench 14 feet below street level. This was once part of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL), which provided freight and passenger service to Birmingham beginning in 1904.

No. 10

Five Points South

Birmingham’s Premier Neighborhood & Culinary Destination! Five Points South is a neighborhood in Birmingham, in zip code 35205 and about 5 minutes from downtown. This National Register of Historic Places neighborhood is one of Birmingham’s first street-car-lined suburbs and was founded as the Town of Highland in 1887. Today with over 40 culinary destinations and 30 retailers, the area has been labeled “a town within a city “and a true “walkup neighborhood”.

No. 11

The Heaviest Corner on Earth

The Heaviest Corner on Earth is a promotional name given to the corner of 20th Street and 1st Avenue North in Birmingham, Alabama, United States, in the early 20th century. The name reflected the nearly simultaneous appearance of four of the tallest buildings in the South, the 10-story Woodward Building (1902), 16-story Brown Marx Building (1906), 16-story Empire Building (1909), and the 21-story American Trust and Savings Bank Building (1912). 

The announcement of the last building was made in the Jemison Magazine in a January 1911 article titled "Birmingham to Have the Heaviest Corner in the South". Over the years, that claim was inflated to the improbable "Heaviest Corner on Earth", which remains a popular name for the grouping. A marker was erected on May 23, 1985, by the Birmingham Historical Society, with cooperation from Operation New Birmingham, stands on the sidewalk outside the Empire Building describing the group. The buildings have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places: three were listed individually in 1982 and 1983, and the group of four was listed as a historic district on July 11, 1985.

No. 12

Alabama Veterans Memorial Park

From Kelly Ingram, the first Alabamian to be killed in World War I to Julius Ellsberry, a graduate of Parker High School, who was the first Alabamian to be killed in World War II to the 437,000 veterans currently living in the State, Alabamians have shown true valor for their country and strong compassion for their compatriots.  The Alabama Veterans Memorial Foundation was created to help remember them and to help educate young people about war, peace, and civic responsibility.

No. 13

Rainbow Tunnel

There’s always a rainbow in downtown Birmingham – four of them, in fact, inside the city’s historic viaducts at 14th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Streets in downtown Birmingham. And who doesn’t like a rainbow? Birmingham Lights, more commonly referred to as the rainbow tunnels, or color tunnels, is the name of the colorful, permanent LED lighting installations that can’t help but bring a smile to your face as you drive, walk or ride your bike through them. Artist Bill FitzGibbons created the funky, bright rainbows, which he called “LightRails,” in 2013.

No. 14

4th Avenue Business District

In 1980, Urban Impact Inc., a grassroots organization was founded in Birmingham’s Historic 4th Avenue Business District with a mission based on the preservation, redevelopment, and economic development of the district. The goal was to save and restore the remaining buildings, the memories of treasured places, and preserve one of the only surviving Black Business Districts in the Southeast before it was gone. That same year, the group worked successfully to have the Fourth Avenue Business District nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. 

In May, the Urban Impact team made a presentation on behalf of the district. After the application and interviews were scored, the Main Street Alabama Board consented to the selection of the Historic 4th Avenue Business District, and the formal announcement was made on June 3, 2019

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