Birmingham is composed of many neighborhoods and outlying areas, several of which are separate cities with their own governments and school systems. The main geographical feature of Birmingham is Red Mountain, whose iron, coal, and limestone deposits were the city's original sources of wealth and its reasons for being. Many spectacular views of the city can be enjoyed from
Much of the early 20th-century architecture remains from Birmingham's heyday. One of the most impressive is the
Downtown Birmingham witnessed many of the most important and tragic events of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Places of significance such as
As you head south from downtown, the first significant change begins at about Sixth Avenue South, which is where the campus of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) begins. UAB has one of the most impressive and famous medical centers in the country and regularly attracts some of the world's most renowned surgeons, educators and researchers (as well as many famous patients). Locally, though, the Southside is known as the destination for entertainment, nightlife and fine dining.
At the intersection of 20th Street, 11th Avenue South and Magnolia Avenue is Five Points South, the epicenter of the Southside and home to the most exciting nightclubs, finest restaurants and hippest retail boutiques in Birmingham. Restaurants such as
Just east of Highland Park Golf Course, the neighborhood of Forest Park stretches along Clairmont Avenue and hosts a small enclave of shops and restaurants like the
To the west of Downtown and the Southside is the community of Ensley. This is an old, working-class neighborhood that is noted for music, sports and education. Ensley is the area of town that boasts
Starting at the top of Red Mountain and going down its southern slope is the community of Homewood. This was Birmingham's first "over the mountain" community and is largely residential. Homewood, however, has some of the Birmingham area's finest restaurants and shops. People drive from all directions to eat at
Another of Birmingham's outlying "bedroom" communities is Hoover. Though largely residential, Hoover is also notable for the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium (aka "The Hoover Met", the new home of the
The home of the great Bessemer blast furnaces, Bessemer fell on hard times when the influence of the steel industry waned. Bessemer has since made a comeback, largely due to the presence of the family theme park
Birmingham's history isn't typical of other great cities of the southern United States because at the time of the region's defining event—the Civil War—Birmingham didn't even exist. The area that is now Birmingham was first settled in the 1830s and was known as Elyton until 1871. Elyton, however, was nothing more than an insignificant trading post. All that changed with the discovery of large deposits of iron ore, limestone, and coal in Red Mountain, at the foot of which the city now lies.
In 1871, at the point where two railroads intersected (now the corner of First Avenue South and 31st Street), certain railroad and industrial interests formally organized the city of Birmingham, naming it after the greatest industrial city in the world at the time: Birmingham, England. The city's rise to prominence happened so quickly that it became known as "the magic city", a nickname still used today.
Fueled by large infusions of capital from Northern industrial interests, the city grew at an amazing rate and became a major center for the production of steel, beginning with the construction of the massive Bessemer, Fairfield and Sloss furnaces. The city's industries, hungry for labor, drew immigrants from the Mediterranean and from Eastern Europe; members of ethnic groups from these regions continue to make up an important segment of Birmingham's demographic.
Being a predominantly industrial city, Birmingham suffered more severe economic hardships than most American cities during the Great Depression and post-World War II periods. The economy didn't fully recover until long after the steel industry's economic influence began to wane in the 1970s.
The 1950s and 1960s in Birmingham have become known as the Civil Rights years. This was a terrible period for the city's reputation, and in many ways, Birmingham is still trying to recover from such chilling images as those of policemen turning fire hoses and attack dogs on Civil Rights protesters, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the burning of a Freedom Rider bus downtown. Despite these momentous events (which are commemorated in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute), the city actually integrated quietly and rather successfully in most areas.
Following these tumultuous times, the 1970s saw the emergence of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and its world-renowned medical facilities. Today, the medical community, with its emphasis on education and research along with all its various service industries, attracts professionals from all over the world and makes up the most important and influential sector of Birmingham's economy.
Birmingham, located in the heart of the South, has a variety of entertainment options for both the business and leisure travelers. Indeed there is something for just about everyone's tastes.
Museums and Galleries
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute memorializes the struggles and triumphs of the 1950s and 1960s through displays of photographs and artifacts. While in Birmingham, be sure to check out the McWane Science Center where you'll find an array of hands-on science exhibitions. Unlike your average museum, The McWane Center gives visitors an interactive experience in the complex world of science. Paul W. Bryant Museum, a must-see attraction for all football fans and players visiting Birmingham, displays a wide variety of football artifacts, documents, photos and all you'll need to know about this famous Alabama couch.
Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens is a sight to see with architecture back to the 1940s, as well as tours, a tearoom, beautiful gardens, and decorative arts. Another beautiful spot to check out is the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park where you'll find the Shakespeare Garden, picnic areas, trails and sculptures. Moundville Archaeological Park is a unique glimpse into the lives of Birmingham's indigenous inhabitants through a large collection of curios and other historical memorabilia. In addition to the museum, there is a campground for those who love the outdoors.
Music and Cinema
For the music aficionados, Birmingham offers many concerts and other musical attractions. The Boutwell Auditorium, located in downtown Birmingham, presents a variety of concerts, theatrical performances, and rock shows. If you're a fan of music and art festivals, City Stages is the place to be in June. One of the largest music festivals in the South, City Stages showcases 150 acts over ten different stages consisting of jazz, rock, country, and gospel music.
During the month of May, the Do Dah Day Festival kicks off in the Southside of Birmingham. Note to animal lovers: the Do Dah Day festival benefits local animal shelters. The festival provides a huge parade, live music, and an interactive street fair.
Take a break from the music scene to check out the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival in downtown Birmingham in September. This independent film festival showcases over 80 films in six different theaters consisting of documentaries, student films, and shorts. If you feel like catching a movie or viewing a live show, be sure to check out the Alabama Theatre. Here you'll find beautiful architecture dating back to the 1920s in addition to classic films and live performances.
For a good laugh and deliciously refreshing drinks, the Stardome Theater is a great place to check out. Offering live comedy, variety shows, and even magicians, you are sure to enjoy every minute. If you work up an appetite from laughing so hard, you're covered. The Stardome Theater provides snacks, small entrees, and drinks ranging from wine to soda.
Venture down to the Southside and check out The Nick Rocks, a late-night club featuring live music and a full bar. Adding to the Southern comfort, The Nick is situated in an old farmhouse-like building with a fence made of logs.
For a glimpse into the local music scene, the Zydeco is a nightclub and restaurant that promotes local bands. Serving Cajun cuisine, draft beer, and cocktails, Zydeco allows you to get the true Southern feel of Birmingham.
In many ways Birmingham feels like a small, friendly city, but the metro area extends over 4,034 square miles and continues to spread in all directions. The Magic City comprises many smaller cities, all separated by driving distances. Public transportation is limited to a bus system that is only convenient within the downtown and University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) campus. As a result, it is useful either to choose a hotel in the neighborhood where you plan to spend most of your time, or to rent a car and start navigating.
Although Birmingham's downtown is just beginning its renaissance, the area puts visitors within walking distance of some of the city's most historic architecture. Attractions such as the Alabama Theatre, McWane Science Center, the central business district and government office buildings are all picturesque. Downtown is intimately tied to the rhythms of the business world. As a result, many establishments close on weekday evenings and weekends, leaving this area surprisingly quiet and sparse for a city center. The Tutwiler Hotel and the Sheraton Birmingham offer deluxe accommodations, and are two of the city's best lodging options.
Among the many advantages of staying in Southside is that it puts you near the most vibrant nightlife and eclectic shopping in the city, particularly around Five Points South and Pepper Place. Its proximity to the UAB makes the area convenient for visitors with business at the college or medical center, especially since parking at the hotel can help avoid UAB's abysmal parking situation. (Several metro-area hotels offer shuttle service to UAB.)
The Pickwick Hotel offers Art Deco-inspired décor in the heart of Five Points, along with small but busy meeting facilities. Adjacent to the UAB campus are the Doubletree Hotel Birmingham, Parliament Medical Center Hotel & Suites, and Best Western Medical Center Inn.
Homewood and Mountain Brook
Near I-280 you'll find the nicely landscaped Mountain Brook Inn, the inexpensive yet comfortable Hampton Inn Mountain Brook, and Courtyard Birmingham Homewood. The latter is designed for business travelers and sits just across the street from the Brookwood Mall.
Homewood's Wildwood retail and dining area, located at the Lakeshore Drive exit off I-65, includes several chain hotels and motor inns including La Quinta Inns & Suites Birmingham Homewood, Suburban Lodge, Howard Johnson Inn, Microtel Inn and, for extended stays, Studio Plus.
Travelers heading to Tuscaloosa often stay on the west side of Birmingham, where you can also find Alabama Adventure Theme Park, Watermark Place outlets, the Bessemer Civic Center, and other points of interest. Most western accommodations are inexpensive or moderately priced. The Fairfield Inn Birmingham West and such Bessemer hotels as the Masters Economy Inn, Days Inn and Best Western Bessemer are all viable accommodation options.