17 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Alabama
A land of rolling hills, deep forests, blue rivers, and enormous cities that reached their early splendor before the birth of America, Alabama holds a unique and distinguished place in the history of the United States. It was the site of some of the nation's most memorable events, and its towns, villages, and rivers attracted successive waves of immigrants, first from France, and later from Ireland, Italy, and Germany, among others.
Today, Alabama is a cornucopia of great things to see and do. From the Appalachian mountains and cypress-lined rivers of the North, to the flowering azaleas and deep pine forests of the South, Alabama offers nature lovers an extensive network of parks, botanical gardens, and recreational resources for outdoor exploration. And whether your interests lie in art, religion, architecture, or the chance to explore America's past, a vacation in Alabama can provide you with some of the most memorable experiences in America.
Discover the best places to visit in Alabama with our list of the top attractions in the USA.
Museum of the Confederacy
Home of the famous pre-war family Milledgeville Plantation, a former summer home of the revered nineteenth century political leader and educator Stephen Pleasonton, the Museum of the Confederacy is a fascinating step back in time, a site that has stirred the American imagination with its beautiful wooden house and gardens. Its collections include the Museum Store, where visitors can buy replicas of original nineteenth century clothing and other artifacts.
Vicksburg National Military Park
Vicksburg is a magnificent American Civil War–era National Military Park situated in northern Mississippi. Created in 1922, the park is rich in more than 60 restored historic buildings and furnished as it would have been in the mid-19th century. The visitor center has exhibits detailing the history of Vicksburg and the Civil War, including the first US Senate war debate in 1862 when Abraham Lincoln spoke from a window of a nearby hotel.
Alabama State Capitol
The beautiful state capitol is the official seat of Alabama state government. Designed in the French Classical style, its imposing neoclassical building was constructed between 1853 and 1857 by Greek immigrant, William Watts. One of the largest Greek Revival buildings in the United States, it has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981. More than 3,500 pieces of art adorn the interior, including some of the finest Greek and Roman artworks in the country, which are housed in the Museum of the Confederacy. Most of the art was once the property of prominent Alabama families, many of whom made important contributions to the development of the state. The Capitol is open to the public, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on weekends during special events. There is a free guided tour of the interior each Tuesday and Thursday at 10 a.m. and noon. Tours of the building's exterior and grounds can also be arranged by appointment.
Fort Morgan is the oldest continuously occupied military outpost in the United States. Originally built in 1808 as a home for immigrants who fought in the War of 1812, the fort has seen many a battle and many a massacre. Today it is a museum where visitors can stroll among the historic architecture and read about the daily life of the fort's citizens and their relationship with the fort's soldiers and with the native Choctaws. There is also a display detailing the time Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant occupied the fort with his troops.
Magnolia Springs Park
Magnolia Springs is a sprawling park in North Birmingham, Alabama, just off Interstate 65, where unusual gardeners have created a vibrant microclimate of rare and exotic species, each chosen for its distinct character and suitability to the park's microclimates. Visitors can wander along Magnolia Spring Trail, as well as the ornamental and specimen-lined walkways and gardens. You can also buy a $5 Discovery Pass (a program of the Alabama Horticultural Society) and let the guide take you around the park, offering you insights into the collections of beautiful flora, which includes magnolias, oaks, jacarandas, palmetto, and Brazilian Pepper trees.
Just a few miles east of the Mississippi River in Central Alabama is Oxford, the seat of the University of Alabama. It was established in 1811 as a small town, but as soon as it was named Oxford it became an important junction, benefiting from its location on the Alabama-Mississippi border. The railroad made Oxford one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in the South in the late 1800s. The town of Oxford has several attractions, including the Oxford American Museum, which opened in 1993. The museum is one of the biggest museum and tourist attraction in the town, featuring over 50,000 objects on four floors. The museum features many interactive exhibits and exhibitions that show the history of the Oxford American. It also includes the First Class Post Office, a landmark hotel on the square, and several restaurants. Other interesting sites to visit include the Richard R. Venable Museum of Natural History, the South Alabama Cemetery, the Oxford Cemetery, and the cemetery of the Israel Church. Traveling to Oxford is made easy by air or bus services from the Gulf Coast and surrounding states. The nearest airport is in Birmingham, Alabama, while the bus station is in nearby Athens.
The old Reynolds Plantation was one of the country's most productive cotton plantations in the early 19th century. Consisting of more than 4,500 acres and thousands of stilt houses, the plantation extended from Black Point to the mouth of Mobile Bay. The house, built in 1838, was where John C. Calhoun, a member of the famed "Cabinet of Sympathy" and the vice president of the United States during the Civil War, resided. Today the plantation remains an active sugarcane plantation. But visitors can stroll the spacious grounds and view more than 1,400 structures and homes, all with their original paint and period furnishings, including the "ruined" interior of the largest antebellum plantation house in the United States. A very good place to spend the day is at the plantation's museum, which features antique agricultural tools and implements and a collection of portraits of the rich and famous owners of the plantation. The visitors center also has a scale model of the plantation as it was. There are no stores on the grounds of the plantation, and if you have a vehicle, you'll need to make a stop at nearby Mossy Head Road to take in the stunning views of Mobile Bay. The drive from Mobile to Reynolds is about 40 miles long. If you're traveling from the eastern seaboard, you may find it easier to approach the plantation from the west, traveling on Interstate 10, toward Daphne.
Only four people, from the very wealthy, can choose to be buried at the Southern Family Cemetery in Holmes Chapel, Alabama, but it's a privilege bestowed upon them. The cemetery's founders used their wealth to have their own caskets crafted by local carvers and have their own names placed on the headstones. There are 30 families buried here, all from one city: Spartanburg, South Carolina. It's not just the custom of having all of the caskets of the family's members placed together that makes it noteworthy, but the cemetery's breathtaking size and breathtaking opulence. While the cemetery has graves dating back to 1884, the structure that houses the caskets was built just four years ago. The cemetery is located on the state's most elegant estate, a 210,000-square-foot mansion of almost matchless quality. It also houses a bookstore, a restaurant, and a small chapel that's open for tours during the day. If you have a valid driver's license, there's a small admission fee. More information about the cemetery, including some photographs, is available at the cemetery's website.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Drenched in a kind of syrupy magic that only the deep South can muster, the majestic landscape of Great Smoky Mountains National Park spreads out in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. From one vantage point, you might see 200 million tons of stone piled into a fantastic brooding rock formation that hides moss-draped ravines and pebbly creek beds. Throughout the park you can see how the unique topography was formed as the region is a child of the Tertiary Age. Beginning as a coral reef in the prehistoric era, the ancient mountain chain grew until it formed the northeast portion of the North American continent, making the Appalachian Mountains today. Within the boundaries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are about 230 different rivers, 12 lakes, and three major waterfalls. The park offers hikers a range of experiences and scenery, from mild trails to serious steep descents. There are five main loops offering over a dozen trails for the hiker with some amazing views and dramatic scenery.
Marshall Space Flight Center
The Marshall Space Flight Center, also known as the NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC), is the principal center for aeronautics research. Over a period of 43 years, the AFRC has been the home of the X-15 rocket plane, the Space Shuttle, as well as the development of space vehicles that placed astronauts on the moon. Activities and exhibits at the facility include interactive film screenings on flight research, space station, and space shuttle history; astronaut artifacts; and a giant mock-up of the US space shuttle. Several live launch simulations of a space shuttle take place annually at the center.
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
This peaceful riverside city is steeped in history. Located within the dynamic city center, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, an award-winning museum, is an excellent example of the role of the city in history. Built at the conclusion of the civil rights movement, the museum chronicles the history of the movement and offers an interactive journey through Birmingham's past and present. People who work at the museum include Albert King, an icon of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King's son, Martin Luther King III; and Julian Bond, a civil rights leader from Birmingham.
USS Alabama is one of the world's best-preserved battleships and can be seen today, disarmed and still moored at its mooring on Mobile Bay. Although having now been refitted for modernity, the USS Alabama nonetheless remains one of the most historically significant warships in existence. Alabama played a major role in some of the greatest naval battles of all time, including the battles of Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Iwo Jima. It was in action during the latter when it, along with the USS Hornet, took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June 1944 and, with considerable bravery, successfully engaged the Japanese air force. Although this is a static site, there are lots of display items available, including uniforms, photographs, diaries, and other memorabilia. Exhibitions in the on-site museum offer a comprehensive view of the ship's history, and guided tours of the battleship offer an intimate and unusual opportunity to see one of the few aircraft carriers still afloat. The USS Alabama is one of several "historic ships" at Battleship Park on Mobile Bay, which includes the USS Texas, the world's last original Civil War-era battleship, and its sister ship USS North Carolina, the first U.S. Navy battleship. The USS Alabama Museum is also at Battleship Park and is accessible to non-visitors.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
UAB is one of the largest, most comprehensive urban research centers in the U.S. today. Located in the nation's second largest city and surrounded by it, the university ranks among the top 10 in the country. Among its accomplishments are groundbreaking research on Alzheimer's disease, obesity, Alzheimer's research, and cancer, as well as world-class facilities, including the Center for the Study of Higher Education. Among UAB's extensive campus facilities are the 27-acre Jordan Museum, considered one of the most complete art museums in the Southeast; the 1.2-million-square-foot UAB Arena, the largest basketball arena in the U.S.; and the UAB Science Park, a national biomedical and biotechnology leader.
Alabama Shakespeare Festival
Created in 1978, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival is the oldest and largest professional Shakespeare Festival in the United States. It's the second-largest play festival in the United States, next only to the famous New York City Shakespeare Festival, which claims the title of the oldest and largest. This unique festival runs six main-stage Shakespearean plays a year from May to October, including two productions of a single play such as Romeo and Juliet or Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare's complex and stylized language creates a more modern-day effect than other plays by the legendary playwright. The performances are mostly in modern settings and scenery, taking advantage of the scenic area of the countryside near Monte Sano, Alabama. The festival runs a shuttle service from the Gulf Shores (near Mobile, Alabama), Beauregard (just south of Mobile), and Montgomery (Alabama's capital city).
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is one of only eleven sites in the United States that houses a large colony of Pacific storm petrels. As well as being a popular nesting place for the birds, the Refuge also hosts nesting eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, red knots and marbled murrelets. It is here that a vast majority of the endangered coastal prairie birds are found, including Savannah sparrow, Brewer's sparrow, Painted bunting and Cassin's sparrow. Boats are available for a one-hour ride along the Klondike and Tomahawk rivers, and admission to the Refuge is free of charge. There are also opportunities for guided walks and photography safaris.
Civil Rights Memorial
In June the National Park Service honors civil rights pioneers such as Rosa Parks, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King, Jr. with public programs in the cities where they lived and worked. This program highlights civil rights sites in Alabama, and includes discussions on the Birmingham experience and a movie. What to do in Birmingham includes visits to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where King was fatally shot, the Kelly Ingram Park, where the civil rights movement came together, and other sites and landmarks. A tour of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is also part of the program.
The Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina is a very popular vacation destination due to its picturesque scenery, wildlife, outdoor activities, and amazing weather. Highlights include scenic drives, plenty of family-friendly destinations, plenty of state parks to visit, and some of the best southern cooking in the country. In the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains lies this extremely beautiful and wild place, preserving a number of sites that make it a national park. Located right in the heart of the Smoky Mountains, this park is made up of two distinct biosphere reserves that total a thousand square miles. One of these areas, Clingmans Dome, is the highest point in the park, standing more than 6,643 feet above sea level. Some of the main attractions in this area include the Clingmans Dome, with its picture-perfect views; the Newfound Gap entrance, which is a popular spot for backcountry hiking; and Gatlinburg, the main town, which is known for its incredible nightlife. Visit the trails in and around Gatlinburg, such as the Clear Creek trail, for scenic overlooks, or the Oak Hollow trail for wildlife viewing, all of which will give you a firsthand glimpse of what the Smoky Mountains are all about. Be sure to also enjoy a stay at one of the many inns and bed-and-breakfasts in Gatlinburg.