A deep well of history pervades the city
“I'm a huge fan of just walking around downtown and feeling the history,” Roscoe says.
Birmingham is not even 150 years old, but there are a lot of layers of history to explore here. You can learn more about the iron and steel factories whose rapid growth earned Birmingham its “Magic City” nickname at Sloss Furnaces, a blast furnace-turned National Historic Landmark that was once the largest maker of pig iron (crudely refined iron) in the world.
Atop nearby Red Mountain, there’s another relic of the city’s Industrial Revolution roots: A 50-ton, hammer-wielding Vulcan, Roman god of fire, the largest cast-iron statue in the world. You can visit the statue and get a local history lesson at Vulcan Park & Museum. (Don’t miss the gift shop’s bobble-butt statuettes, commemorating the fact that the statue’s uncovered rear end moons Birmingham’s southern suburbs.)
Sixty years ago, Birmingham was at the center of Southern segregation laws, as well as the fight against them, and many of the important sites in that struggle are concentrated on the north end of downtown. In the space of a few blocks, you can visit the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, bombed by white supremacists in 1963; Kelly Ingram Park, site of rallies met with police dogs and firehoses; and the A.G. Gaston Motel, where Dr. King and other leaders planned the Birmingham Campaign. The area is anchored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a large museum that traces the history of the movement throughout the country.
If the weather’s nice, take a stroll through Railroad Park, a 19-acre green space including a small lake that’s right in the center of town. It’s right next to Regions Field, home of the double-A Chicago White Sox-affiliate Birmingham Barons minor league baseball team.
Or you could take a drive a bit outside of town, for a hike in the 350-acre Moss Rock Preserve, a visit to Indycar racing venue Barber Motorsports Park & Museum, or a night at Gip’s Place, a true backyard juke joint with live music on some weekends.
Birmingham’s the kind of place where you might walk out of a baseball game into the brewery next door for a late lunch, then go check out the latest special exhibit at the art museum, and still have time left over before your dinner reservation. New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta might get all the tourist attention in the South, but blink and you’ll miss this buzzy little city right in the middle of all of them -- it’s high time that changes.