WHY VISIT ALABAMA
Known affectionately as the ‘Heart of Dixie’, Alabama thrills visitors with its fine antebellum architecture, white powdery beaches, hearty cuisine and rich sporting heritage.
History nuts also have plenty to get their teeth into, from caves used by prehistoric Native Americans to the spot where Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederate States of America. In the 1950s and 1960s, Alabama was at the heart of the American Civil Rights Movement. Dr Martin Luther King Jr first preached at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery, and you can find sites commemorating the struggle across the state.
Alabama’s landscapes are many and varied, ranging from mountains and forests to lakes and beaches. Take a road trip through sprawling farmland and plantation homes, hike the Appalachians or paddle some of the 2,600km (1,600 miles) of waterways, which meander through the state. Alternatively, head to the coast where watersports, wildlife and white sands await.
Foodies can dig into good ole Southern fare, chomping slow-cooked hunks of barbecued meat, scooping up fresh-from-the-Gulf crab, or splurging on unpretentious gourmet dining in the bright lights of Birmingham.
Alabama’s largest city is also home to the country’s oldest baseball stadium, built in 1910. Sport is huge in Alabama. Track and field star Jesse Owens was born here and the NASCA races at Talladega Superspeedway are world famous. The state also hosts the legendary Senior Bowl, an annual North vs South battle featuring the country’s top college football players.
And if you like a good knees-up, Mobile has been celebrating Mardi Gras since 1703, longer than any other US city (yes, we’re talking about you, New Orleans).
WHAT TO SEE IN ALABAMA
- Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: the Civil Rights Movement was born in Alabama. From the pulpit of Martin Luther King, Jr, to the courage of Rosa Parks in refusing to give up her seat on the bus, all the pivotal moments are captured in this amazing and inspiring museum. The Institute is also an educational center with special workshops, lectures, and other interesting events all year round.
- Fort Morgan: built in 1834, Fort Morgan was the site of the Civil War’s most decisive naval battle, the Battle of Mobile Bay, but it was also important during the Spanish-American War, WWI, and WWII. Besides touring the grounds of the fort, there is an excellent museum on site showcasing relics from the period such as uniforms, weapons, personal items of soldiers, and photographs.
- Orange Beach: miles of white sand awaits visitors at Alabama’s top beach along the Gulf Coast. This is also the best place to arrange deep-sea fishing excursions, boat cruises, and other water recreation. From the history of Fort Morgan and Dauphin Island to the youthful fun on Adventure Island, several of the state’s top attractions are all in one place. Explore the beauty of Perdido Pass, indulge yourself at the Wharf Resort, or just stroll along the perfect shoreline.
- Montgomery: Alabama’s capital is definitely a hub of culture and history. Visitors will find days of interesting attractions to ponder and enjoy, such as the Civil Rights Memorial and Center, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, and the Hank Williams Museum. You can check out Old Alabama Town to see what things were like in the 19th century or pique your literary fantasies at the F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum. Blount Cultural Park is both a green oasis and home to institutions like the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts with its collection of southern masterpieces.
- Birmingham: Alabama’s largest city is home to loads of attractions, from the historic to the entertaining. At its heart is the Civil Rights District, an area packed with famous landmarks like the 16th Street Baptist Church, Kelly Ingram Park, and the Civil Rights Institute, but there’s also the Alabama Jazz Music Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Zoo, and the Southern Museum of Flight. This city is the full package with fun for kids at Alabama Adventure and excitement for adults at the Talladega Superspeedway.
- US Space & Rocket Center: kids and adults alike have plenty to get excited about at this impressive space center. Within its spacious grounds are more than 1,500 pieces of NASA history. Some of them are quite special, like the Apollo 16’s command module and the Saturn V rocket. The Spacedrome IMAX Theater is an absolute stunner, as is the cool simulated voyage to Mars and amusement rides for the children.
- Alabama Music Hall of Fame: there’s a rich legacy of musical talent in Alabama, and the Music Hall of Fame puts it all on display. The place to learn about legends like Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, and Wilson Pickett, between the cool old photographs and memorabilia, there’s a lot to ogle at. If you can’t get enough of the songstress’s heritage, head to Georgiana and tour Hank Williams Boyhood Home and Museum. It’s a Graceland of sorts, bluegrass style.
WHEN TO GO TO ALABAMA
The best period to visit Alabama is from April to June.
Alabama is a land of mercurial weather, where tornadoes appear out of nowhere and the occasional Gulf Coast hurricane sweeps deep into the state. The simple fact is that Alabama’s weather is nothing to write home about. Its summers are among America’s most unpleasant: hot and humid with temperatures averaging 90°F (32°C) from June through September and rain falls frequently no matter what time of year you visit. Sometimes the weather is severe, with intense storms resulting in tornadoes and flooding.
But there is a certain amount of range in Alabama’s climate. Along its southern coast around Mobile Bay, thunderstorms are common almost all year round. There is a long growing season since even winter temperatures tend to be pleasantly mild. In the northern section of the state, the weather is more prone to deadly tornadoes. It lies in the notorious Tornado Alley and each spring there are frequent storms that spawn twister. Only Kansas has more F5-rated tornadoes each year.
The northern end of the state has the coolest weather, with the rare occurrence of snow under the right conditions. But in general, winters in Alabama are mild and rainy. Winter time lows in January see temperatures around 40°F (4°C) in Mobile and around 32°F (0°C) in Birmingham.
WHAT TO DO IN ALABAMA
Walk through Civil Rights history in Montgomery
Outside of New England, no city in America packs more history into a small space than the capital of Alabama. The building where Confederate leaders sent a telegram to start the Civil War sits across the street from the bus stop where Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus. That’s at the same intersection as a domestic slave market and just blocks away from Martin Luther King’s first church. That church is across the street from the Capitol building where George Wallace once infamously swore “Segregation Forever,” and just a short walk from the bus station where Freedom Riders were attacked in 1961. Montgomery’s history may not always be pretty, but nowhere will you better understand the United States and how Alabama shaped it.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of Alabama.
- Mobile Mardi Gras: most people think of New Orleans when Mardi Gras time rolls around, but in fact, Mobile has been celebrating this special event since the 18th century, well before the Big Easy adopted the party crown. This city on the Gulf Coast puts on a 10-day February celebration of floats, parades, special events, and plenty of parties without as much hype as New Orleans.
- Spring Azalea Festival: the 65-acre farm of Bellingrath Gardens, outside of Mobile is home to one of Alabama’s most impressive displays of natural color. Each spring over 250,000 azalea bushes burst into bright hues of magenta, red, and purple in the symphony at the farm. The site is such a marvel they’ve created an entire festival around it.
- Chilton County Peach Festival: for five days at the end of each June, the towns of Chilton County come together to celebrate the luscious peach, which grows particularly well in this part of Alabama. A week of events includes a beauty pageant, the Peach Run, cooking competitions, fishing tournaments, and live music. Fill the peak days of summer with an insane amount of down-home fun centered around peaches.
- Alabama Sports Festival: each June, Birmingham plays host to Alabama’s biggest sporting event, modeled after the Olympics. A mix of amateur and professional athletes compete in 25 sports spanning three days. The event opens with an official Opening Ceremony and includes parades, live music, and other productions to add to the festivities.
- Kentuck Festival of Arts: the southern folk roots of Alabama art and craftsmanship are celebrated at this popular festival every October in the town of Northport. This little corner of Alabama has been a haven for traditional art for decades, and people come from all over the region to admire the skills and creativity of the people who call Kentuck and Northport home.
- Alabama Shakespeare Festival: Montgomery’s premier event actually takes place all year round. America’s sixth-largest Shakespeare Theater hosts more than 200,000 spectators each year to watch the classic plays of the legendary writer performed on the two state-of-the-art stages at this amazing venue on the edge of Montgomery.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH ALABAMA
Travelers have their pick of transportation options to get to Alabama. The state is well-connected to the rest of the country by interstate highways which make arriving by car or long-distance coach convenient and affordable. The Amtrak train network cuts through Alabama via its Crescent Line, which runs from New York City to New Orleans making stops in Anniston, Tuscaloosa, and Birmingham, and is reasonably priced. Four airports spread throughout the state offer travel by air, with decent connections to major hubs in the region.
Taxis are only useful within Alabama’s larger cities like Birmingham and Montgomery, and they aren’t particularly cheap. Some small towns don’t have any taxi service at all, making a rental car the best option if you plan to move around the state.
Alabama’s large cities have public bus service that is cheap and useful for moving around the inner city areas. Route maps are easy to find in each tourist information center, though many attractions tend to lie outside the scope of the bus routes. Greyhound is the long-distance company that connects Alabama with virtually every town in America. Fares on Greyhound are very affordable, and the seating is comfortable, making this the cheapest means of travel between cities.
The Amtrak’s Crescent Line runs through the state on its way from New York City to New Orleans. While Amtrak is notorious for delays and a general lack of service, the train is a comfortable way to reach the cities of Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and Anniston and other stops along this popular route. Train fares are relatively cheap compared to flights, which can be hit or miss in terms of value.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON ALABAMA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6,-5 (-5,-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN ALABAMA
Typical food in Alabama
- Sweet potatoes
- Fried Catfish
- BBQ pulled pork
- Banana pudding
- Pimento cheese
- Fried okra
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Boiled Peanuts
- Pecan Pie
- Lane Cake
- Shrimp & Grits
- Fried Okra
- Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy
- Buttermilk Biscuits & Sausage Gravy
- Fried Chicken
- Peach Cobbler
- Fried Pickles
- Chicken Salad
- Skillet Cornbread
- Fried ‘Taters
- Brunswick Stew
- Southern Caramel Cake
- White Barbecue Sauce
- Seafood Gumbo
- Sweet Tea
- Conecuh Sausage
- Lane Cake
- Lynchburg Lemonade
- Alabama Slammer
Souvenirs from Alabama
- FAME honey
- Broom from George’s Broom Closet