Birmingham (Alabama)

Birmingham is the largest city in the state of Alabama. With more than 1.2 million people in the metropolitan area, Birmingham is the cultural and economic heart of Alabama.

In much of the world, Birmingham is best remembered as the site of racist violence, bombings, and nonviolent protest in the 1960s, when the city was still racially segregated by law. Visitors today are often surprised to find a pleasant green city of ridges and valleys, with many attractive views and friendly, hospitable people.



The City of Birmingham is relatively young. Founded in 1871 at the crossing of two railroad lines, it soon became known for its iron and steel industries. Named for England's giant industrial city, Birmingham became a commercial hub as well, and today it is one of the top five banking cities in the United States.

"The Magic City" became known as a thriving and quickly growing community in what had once been a "poor, insignificant Southern village." White and black men migrated from rural communities to work in the iron mills, and so did many Greek and Italian immigrants. The Great Depression was disastrous for Birmingham, singled out as the "worst hit" city in America. World War II brought a strong recovery, but air pollution remained a problem. Old-timers recall that it used to take only took a few minutes outdoors for a clean white shirt to turn gray in the sooty Birmingham air. Sloss Furnaces, a preserved iron mill with 1920s blast furnaces, commemorates this side of the city's heritage.

The Civil Rights era of the 1960s left lasting impressions of racial conflict, police dogs and fire hoses turned on nonviolent protesters, and the bombing of homes and churches. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" became one of the great statements of the nonviolent movement for racial justice in America. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and places of reflections such as Kelly Ingram Park symbolize the healing process from within and present a much different picture of a transformed city.

Today, Birmingham is a banking and medical center. The University of Alabama at Birmingham and associated hospitals are internationally renowned for their medical programs, research, and services.


The weather in Birmingham varies greatly. Winter weather is highly unpredictable, with temperatures ranging from below 20 to 60 or even 70 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the season, with frequent rain and occasional snow. Summers are very hot and humid, with frequent thunderstorms. Spring and fall are the best seasons for long visits, when the weather is warm and pleasant often with a breeze in the air. Even within the city limits, the springtime displays of dogwood, cherry, azalea and other blossoms must be seen to be believed.


Get in

By plane

Beware, however, of relatively long security lines. Typically, only one scanning area is open for the "C" Concourse, through which many flights depart. This sometimes causes 30 to 45-minute waits to pass through security.

By train

See also: rail travel in the United States

By car

Birmingham is linked to the rest of the US by the interstate highway network. The principal interstates and highways serving the city are:

Please note traffic, as in most metro areas, is fairly terrible at rush hour—which can last from 7AM-9AM and 4PM-6PM. In particular, the interchange of I-59 and I-65 downtown (malfunction junction) and Highway 280 east of downtown are especially problematic.

By bus

Get around

By foot

Within the downtown areas of Birmingham (notably separated by railroad tracks into a "north" and "south" side), walking is a reasonable way to get around within each section; but not for getting to one from the other. Also, keep in mind summer temperatures and heat indices can reach 100°F and 110°F respectively.

By bus

By car

Your best bet is to rent a car, or drive your own. However, please note traffic, as in most metro areas, is terrible at rush hour - which can last from 6AM-9AM and 4PM-6PM. In particular, the interchange of I-59 and I-65 downtown ("Malfunction Junction") and Highway 280 East are problematic.


There is metered parking throughout Birmingham. These spots generally run from 8AM-6PM, but are free on weekends.


Birmingham seen from Vulcan Park.


Downtown Birmingham.

In addition to standard activities, Birmingham also has tons of outdoor adventures such as paintballing, four-wheeling and hunting, during season.

Annual events



Shopping malls


Most visitors are pleasantly surprised at the large dining scene in Birmingham.









Stay safe

Common sense rules should apply for most of the city center, i.e. travel in groups - especially late at night—don't look like a tourist, avoid dark alleyways, etc. While the city has a reputation of crime problems, these areas are generally far away from any normal destinations. Avoid the areas north of the civic center and west of I-65, they get dangerous quickly. All of the over the mountain villages are virtually crime free with little to fear. Downtown Birmingham is also extremely well patrolled and other than common sense against normal big city stuff (i.e. beggars asking for money), there is not much to worry about.

Birmingham's historic Five Points South area is one of the most popular night/weekend spots, and it is always well patrolled at the insistence of area merchants. The area's wonderful restaurants, pubs, and dance clubs are among the attractions you'll find there.

The downtown area has a supplemental bike patrol called CAP (City Action Partnership) to deter crime and assist visitors. Call 205-251-0111 for a free security escort, directions, assistance with a dead car battery, etc.


Wireless internet

There are more than 70 locations in Birmingham that offer free WiFi access. Visit the link to locate free wireless hot spots in this area.


Be advised the summertime heat from June through September can be oppressive. It is not unusual for highs to be in the 90s or even the low 100s. Combined with very high humidity levels, it is nearly impossible to stay outdoors for very long. Make sure you have plenty of water. A by-product of the heat and humidity is near-daily thunderstorms that can turn severe in an instant.


Go next

Routes through Birmingham

New Orleans Tuscaloosa  W  NE  Atlanta Charlotte
Meridian Tuscaloosa  W  E  Heflin Atlanta
Memphis Fulton  W  E  END
Chattanooga Gadsden  N  S  Tuscaloosa Meridian
Nashville Decatur  N  S  Hoover Montgomery
Rome Gadsden  N  S  END

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, February 06, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.