- By Rose Kennedy For the AJC
Birmingham may be best known for its central role in the civil rights movement - and many of its most inspiring attractions and landmarks reflect that history - but along with deeply satisfying museums and historical sites, the city has easy-going fun spots and bountiful natural attractions.
Families, groups and couples seeking a romantic getaway can all enjoy time spent in Birmingham, whether they're traversing the Birmingham Civil Rights Tour, strolling gardens and art museums or frolicking at a splash park.
Here are six incredible, can't-miss sights for visitors to Birmingham:
1530 6th Ave. N, 205-251-9402
Birmingham's most famous civil rights landmark (and part of the Birmingham Civil Rights Tour) was the site of a bombing that killed four young African-American girls in 1963: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Addie Mae Collins. The church is open for tours Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. and on Saturday by appointment. Across the street is Kelly Ingram Park, which served as a congregating area for demonstrators in the early 1960s. Today it features a life-size sculpture that captures the spirit of the slain girls as well as a free cell phone tour that guides visitors through the tumultuous events of 1963, when Birmingham police and firemen attacked civil rights demonstrators, many of them children, in the streets bordering the park.
75 Church St. N, 205-769-6034
Nestled in the Mountain Brook neighborhood, this bustling neighborhood bistro draws chefs from around the city on their nights off. Standout dishes include housemade sausage, the hand-stretched mozz, boudin balls and chicken liver pâté. Their signature cocktails would be worthy for their names alone - like the rum-lime concoction called "She Has a Hollow Leg" - but of course they're delicious too. And if you're feeling generous, you can indulge in a little "kitchen appreciation," aka buying a beer for those behind the scenes for a reasonable $15.
2630 Cahaba Road, 205-879-0409
Open since 1955 and known for its strong conservation efforts, the zoological park is pure charm for visitors. Measuring 122 acres, it features more than 230 species from six continents. Must-see exhibits include the very exotic double-wattled cassowary, Komodo dragon and red panda.
1701 Valley View Drive, 205-933-1409
A breathtaking symbol of Birmingham, the 56-foot statue of Vulcan, the Roman fire god, sits atop Red Mountain. The enormous sculpture is the largest cast iron sculpture in the world. Designed by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti and made of local iron, the 50-ton statue has been guarding Birmingham since the 1930s. The onsite Vulcan Museum hosts a range of exhibits, lectures and other events. Other attractions include a giant carved stone map of the city on the plaza outside the museum and the City Overlook, an observation tower offering expansive views from high atop the stone base of the statue.
4599 Splash Adventure Pkwy, Bessemer, 205- 481-4750
Pure "let your hair down" fun, the thrills and spills at this adventure park a few minutes outside Birmingham include tilt-a-whirls, a Splash Island and the Vault Laser Maze Challenge. Great for family fun and to let off some steam in the Alabama summertime.
1800 Third Ave. N, 205-252-2262
Built in 1914 for B.F. Keith's vaudeville circuit, the Lyric Theatre's stellar acoustics and close-to-the-stage seating once welcomed major stars like the Marx Brothers, Mae West and Milton Berle. Seating was segregated then, with whites entering through the doors beneath a glitzy marquee and black customers coming in through a plain side door and climbing to the "colored balcony." It was nevertheless one of the first venues in the South where blacks and whites could watch the same show at the same time for the same price. After sitting empty for decades, the Lyric was restored to its former grandeur and reopened in early 2016. Today's events calendar is hopping: visitors can find performances from blues blasts like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, big-name stand-up comedians and the much-anticipated Swan Lake.