I have to admit, Birmingham, Alabama, has never exactly been a ‘must visit’ on my ever-expanding destination wishlist. Not that I was against it as a destination – but if I’m honest, I wasn’t really expecting it to be that special or spectacular. It doesn’t seem to have the jazzy vibrance of New Orleans; the music mojo of Nashville or the world’s biggest aquarium (that honour goes to Atlanta, Georgia).
But honestly? A quick visit during my most recent Deep South tour, and it actually really impressed me.
It may not be a destination I’d necessarily choose to spend a whole week’s holiday in, but if you’re in the area, squeezing a visit into your itinerary is definitely a worthwhile idea. Although we only spent a short day and night in Birmingham, I feel like we covered a lot of ground – learning about the city’s fascinating civil rights history, indulging in some fine dining and discovering a hidden ‘speakeasy’ style bar behind…a hot dog restaurant.
Our arrival in Birmingham around lunchtime led us to the 16th Street Baptist Church – a perfect location to start exploring the local area from and an important site in Birmingham history. In 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan set off sticks of dynamite at the church, and the resulting explosion killing four teenage girls.
Nowadays, the church is still active, and downstairs, there’s a memorial to the girls along with other historical effects from the church’s history and the Civil Rights movement. It was actually a pretty moving visit – the downstairs area where the girls were killed still had a real sombre atmosphere – and a must for anyone with an interest in civil rights and history.
Once we’d tucked into a big (I mean, huge) salad and some AMAZING key lime cake for lunch, it was time to explore the streets of Birmingham.
I’ve previously sung the praises of sightseeing on a bike tour, and we definitely made the most of our short time in Birmingham by cycling around its Civil Rights district. The bikes were provided by Zyp, a local bike-share initiative. Kind of like Boris bikes, if you want a London comparison. Just swipe your credit card to get them going.
Some of the spots we visited included the City Hall and Eddie Kendrick Memorial Park. The bikes are really sturdy, and the city is really cycle-friendly with designated lanes, so it’s a great way to get around much more quickly than on foot.
We stayed at the Homewood Suites by Hilton in the Downtown area, and they were most certainly pretty plush. Recently refurbished, the welcoming lobby area consisted of comfortable seating and lots of vibrant patterns.
The rooms themselves were definitely a bit more luxe than I’d usually get on a holiday – hugely spacious, decorated in shades of silver and blue, with huge comfy beds to starfish in happily. I basically didn’t want to leave the next morning…oh, and trust me, the breakfast is AWESOME. There’s a waffle machine…!
I rarely do ‘fine dining’ when I travel. Honestly, I’m a street food kinda gal, and in the States I’m most likely to be found eating at a Diner or BBQ restaurant. But thanks to the local tourist board being super lovely people, we were treated to a meal at local restaurant Bottega. Rated #5 on Trip Advisor out of all the restaurants in Birmingham, I’ll have you know.
The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside and sipped on fruity cocktails in the sun as we ordered our food. For my starter, I chose a cheese-tastic parmesan souffle, which was delicious. I decided to get experimental and have my first ever taste of veal for my main. Unfortunately, I discovered at this point that I wasn’t hugely keen on the taste of veal. Oops.
I think in general, I’ll stick to my more mid-range and budget restaurants, however I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and our waiter Chris was the loveliest and most knowledgeable restaurant staff member ever.
As we tucked into our food under the setting sun, the table next to us burst into a chorus of Happy Birthday. Us being excitable types, we joined in. One the singing had finished, the lady celebrating offered us cake, then told us all about a bar she owned in Birmingham. A speakeasy-style venue, hidden behind a hot dog restaurant, called The Marble Ring.
Curiosity got the best of us, so we hopped into some taxis across town to the location. Picking up the receiver in a mysterious phone box in the restaurant, we were let through into the bar. And it was pretty amazing. The old, 1920s style decor really did give a ‘speakeasy’ vibe, and we ended the night sipping cocktails while trying to count sex positions on the wallpaper. Yep, that’s a thing…
Birmingham is an often-overlooked part of Southern USA, and it may not have the allure of other cities in the area. But if you’re interested in history, particularly relating to the Civil Rights movement, it’s a place I’d say its worth making a pit stop in.
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