Alabama is best known as the home base of the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, home to major landmarks such as the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and the Rosa Parks Museum. Visitors can explore a number of Civil Rights-related sites in the city for free, including the Alabama State Capitol Building, the terminus of the famed 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. Beautiful free-admission wilderness areas abound, including the William B. Bankhead National Forest and Talladega National Forest, home to Cheaha Mountain, the state's highest peak.
1.Birmingham Botanical Gardens
Birmingham Botanical Gardens span 67.5 acres at the southern edge of gorgeous Red Mountain, located adjacent to Birmingham's Lane Park. The gardens are one of Birmingham's top free-admission attractions, drawing over 350,000 annual visitors each year. They were opened to the public in 1963, overseen by the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens nonprofit organization. More than 12,000 types of plants are showcased throughout its 25 unique garden spaces, which are also home to over 30 lovely works of original outdoor sculpture. Lovely garden spaces include four glasshouse conservatories and gorgeous landscaped spaces like a formal rose garden, old-fashioned Irish rose garden, Japanese garden and tea house, and hosta walk.
2612 Lane Park Rd, Birmingham, AL 35223, Phone: 205-414-3950
2.The Alabama State Capitol
The Alabama State Capitol is the National Register of Historic Places-listed state capitol building of the state of Alabama, located atop Capitol Hill in Montgomery. The current capitol building sits on the site of a former capitol building lost to fire, reconstructed in its present state in 1851. It briefly served as the Confederate Capitol during the American Civil War, following the state's secession from the United States in 1861. More than a hundred years later, it became infamously known as the site of the third Selma to Montgomery March during the American Civil Rights Movement, which directly led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Visitors can tour the gorgeous Greek Revival-style building throughout the year as part of self-guided tours and explore its spectacular domed interior and landscaped grounds designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
600 Dexter Ave, Montgomery, AL 36131
3.The United States Army Aviation Museum
© The United States Army Aviation Museum
The United States Army Aviation Museum holds the world's largest museum helicopters within its impressive military aviation history collections, which contain over 160 aircraft connected to a variety of American army conflicts and operations. The free-admission museum, which is located on the grounds of Fort Rucker near Daleville, showcases a collection of more than 3,000 aviation artifacts, including 50 aircraft on display to the public throughout the year. Major aircraft showcased includes a replica of the Model B military biplane constructed by the Wright Brothers to modern aircraft like a Crutiss SE-5A and an AH-64 Apache used in Operation Desert Storm. Visitors can explore the museum's lovely exhibits throughout the week, including its Vietnam Memorial and Army Aviation Hall of Fame exhibits. Guided tours are available with advance reservation through the museum's volunteer docent program.
6000 Novosel St, Fort Rucker, AL 36362, Phone: 334-598-2508
4.The Bartram Canoe Trail
The Bartram Canoe Trail traverses the gorgeous Five River Delta, created by the confluence of the stunning Spanish, Apalachee, Blakely, Tensaw, and Mobile Rivers as they flow into Mobile Bay along Alabama's southern coastline. The delta is the second-largest of its kind in the United States, only to the majestic Mississippi River Delta as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Visitors can explore the lovely 200-mile canoeing trail, which is named in honor of explorer and naturalist William Bartram and is one of the nation's longest and most scenic aquatic trails. Most explorers split their adventures into multi-day journeys, traveling southward from Boatyard Landing and exploring areas like the 6.8-mile Globe Creek Trail and the 16-mile Spoonbill Sandbar. Estuarine marsh, bottomland hardwood, and cypress-tupelo swamp habitats are showcased along the way, along with native wildlife such as American alligators and black bears.
5.The Alabama Booksmith
© The Alabama Booksmith
The Alabama Booksmith is one of Alabama's most unique bookstores, opened to the public in September of 1990 by lifelong bookseller Jake Reiss. The bookstore has sold only signed copies of books since its 2012 renovation, creating a unique business model where every book sold is a collector's item. With the exception of a few rare and out-of-print titles, all books are sold at standard publisher's price, in the same manner as if it were a non-signed standard edition. Visitors can peruse the bookstore's unique collections at its brick-and-mortar showroom during regular business hours Mondays through Saturdays during the morning and afternoon hours. More than a thousand writers have graced the bookstore's in-store event areas since its opening, showcased as part of free book signing, reading, and author meet-and-greet events throughout the year.
2626 19th Pl S, Homewood, AL 35209, Phone: 205-870-4242
6.The Birmingham Museum of Art
© The Birmingham Museum of Art
The Birmingham Museum of Art showcases one of the finest art collections in the American Southeast, highlighting over 24,000 works of art across a variety of media created by artists around the world. The museum, which was founded in 1951, is home to a lovely collection of paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, and decorative art pieces representing the cultures of Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas, including pre-Columbian and indigenous North American cultures. Its Asian art and Vietnamese ceramics collections are considered to be among the finest in the United States. Special collections include an Art of Alabama exhibit, a folk art exhibit, and an outdoor sculpture garden. The museum is free and open to the public throughout the week, though some special rotating exhibits may require a ticketed upcharge.
2000 Reverend Abraham Woods Jr Boulevard, Birmingham, AL 35203, Phone: 205-254-2565
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7.Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a gorgeous 7,157-acre national wildlife refuge stretching across five units throughout Alabama's Mobile and Baldwin Counties on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The refuge serves as an important habitat for migrating birds in the region, protecting one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land along the Alabama coastline. It was established in 1980 and named for the French term for "safe harbor," a nod to its protection of natural sand dune, fresh and saltwater marsh, scrub forest, freshwater swamp, and upland habitats. More than 50,000 annual visitors explore the refuge for its outdoor recreational opportunities, including chances for hiking, camping, and viewing up to 400 native bird and animal species throughout the year.
12295 AL-180, Gulf Shores, AL 36542, Phone: 251-540-7720
8.Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve
Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve is a lovely 413-acre nature preserve that was opened to the public in 1986 by married duo Faye and Jim Lacefield. Today, the refuge is privately operated and open to the public for free throughout the year, showcasing over 15 miles of peaceful nature hiking trails for visitors to explore. More than a dozen stunning waterfalls are showcased throughout the property, including an immense 60-foot falls that drops over a natural rock shelter into a narrow canyon. Trails showcase natural landmarks such as Red Rocks Ridge and Devils Hollow, which are home to rare native flora such as yellowwood trees. Other natural features include gorgeous wetland, stream, cliff, and glade areas that are lined with beautiful wildflowers throughout the spring and summer months.
251 Loop Rd, Tuscumbia, AL 35674, Phone: 256-381-6301
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Cheaha Mountain is the highest mountain peak in the state of Alabama, rising 2,407 feet above sea level over the gorgeous terrain of Talladega National Forest. The mountain, which is named for a Creek indigenous word for "high place," was stripped of much of its natural beauty throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a result of extensive logging and farming activity in the area. Following the creation of the surrounding national forest in 1936, it returned to its natural beauty and is now known as one of the state's most picturesque natural wonders. Visitors can travel to the mountain's summit and enjoy stunning panoramic views from Bunker Tower, which was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and serves as a visitor center today. The highest point of the mountain's summit is marked by a United States Geological Survey benchmark that sits directly in front of the tower.
Delta, Alabama, 36258
10.Alabama Farmer's Market
Alabama Farmer's Market is home to more than 500 farmers and vendors, open to the public Mondays through Fridays throughout the morning and afternoon hours, with the exception of major national holidays. The farmer's market has been in operation every week since 1921 and has been hosted at its present location in Birmingham since 1956. It sits on 49 acres of land and showcases permanent booth installations selling delicious local produce, meats, cheeses, and pantry and bakery goods crafted and harvested by Alabama farmers and producers. Visitors can shop at the market throughout the week for individual and wholesale purchases and peruse specialty items grown and made all throughout Alabama. A full flea market is also open to the public, selling a variety of vintage and antique goods.
344 Finley Ave W, Birmingham, AL 35204, Phone: 205-251-8737
11.The Civil Rights Memorial
The Civil Rights Memorial commemorates Montgomery's rich civil rights history, located directly across the street from the city's Southern Poverty Law Center office building. The memorial was created by American artist Maya Lin, the designer of Washington D.C.'s acclaimed Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is located within easy walking distance of several of Montgomery's most notable civil rights landmarks, including the church where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. served as pastor and the Alabama State Capitol Building, the end point of the famed 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the monument and touch engraved names to consider the struggles of those who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Next door, the Civil Rights Memorial Center showcases exhibits on the movement's most important figures and offers daily showings of documentary films.
400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104
12.Dothan Forever Wild Trails
Dothan Forever Wild Trails span 319 acres within the city limits of Dothan, overseen by the City of Dothan as an outdoor recreational environment and nature preserve. The park is home to a 10-mile trail system that contains six trail loops connected together by bridges and connectors, allowing visitors to travel along the entire system in one continuous route. Walkers, joggers, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers are welcome to use the trails throughout the week during daylight hours. Trails include the beginner-level Beaver Trail Flats, the intermediate two-mile Dragon's Tail Trail, and the Zion Cemetery Ridge. Bicycle repair stations are offered at the trailhead of each trail and at the park's central boardwalk intersection. Changing rooms and public restrooms are also offered, along with several bike washing stations.
13.Foley Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit
Foley Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit is housed within Foley's historic railroad depot facility, which was constructed in 1909 and served as the city's transportation hub for more than six decades. Today, the depot has been converted into a public railroad museum that is open throughout the week for free, showcasing a collection of artifacts, tools, and memorabilia connected to the city's railroading history. Visitors can explore exhibits connected to the region's railroads and peruse the lovely preserved depot building, which is operated as a living history museum. A delightful O-scale model train display is also showcased at the site, covering over 1,200 square feet of tabletop and highlighting multiple miniature freight and passenger trains, model town buildings, and wooden trestle bridges and tunnels. On select days, visitors can also ride a free miniature train ride around nearby Heritage Park. The Museum is open Mon-Sat from 10-3; the Model Train Exhibit is open Tue, Thur and Sat from 10-2.
125 E Laurel Ave, Foley, AL 36535, Phone: 251-943-1818
14.Hank Williams Memorial and Grave
© Dragana Gordic/stock.adobe.com
Hank Williams Memorial and Grave commemorates the final resting place of the beloved American country music singer, who was born in 1923 and became known as the King of Country Music throughout his career in the mid-2oth century, in part due to his appearances as a member of the famed Grand Ole Opry. Williams' life was tragically cut short in 1953, when he died of heart failure related to alcohol use on the way to a concert on New Year's Day. Today, he is buried at a gravesite at Montgomery's Oakwood Cemetery Annex approximately a mile from the city's downtown district, near the lovely Hank Williams Museum. A marble replica of Williams' signature cowboy hat is showcased, along with two white marble monuments surrounded by Astroturf. Visitors can pay their respects to the singer at the gravesite throughout the week and also see the gravesite of his wife, Audrey, buried next to him.
Oakwood Cemetery Annex, 1304 Upper Wetumpka Road, Montgomery, AL 36107, Phone: 334-262-3600
15.Little River Canyon National Preserve
© Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
Little River Canyon National Preserve is a lovely national preserve located atop Fort Payne's Lookout Mountain, near beautiful DeSoto State Park. The preserve, which was created in 1992, protects the gorgeous Little River, the nation's longest mountaintop river. It flows directly down the middle of Lookout Mountain for nearly its entire length, carving out one of the American Southeast's deepest canyons as it winds from its headwaters in Georgia to the nearby Coosa River near Leesburg, Alabama. Visitors can view the gorgeous canyon from the preserve's 23-mile scenic drive, known as the Little River Canyon Rim Parkway. Hiking is also offered near Eberhart Point, at the river's confluence with Bear Creek.
4322 Little River Trail #100, Fort Payne, AL 35967
16.The Museum of Fond Memories at Reed Books
The Museum of Fond Memories at Reed Books is a unique nostalgia museum located within Birmingham's Jim Reed Books bookstore, opened to the public in 1980 and known for its rare and unusual book collections. The shop's collections include books that date back as far as 500 years, along with rare and out-of-print volumes and other hard-to-find novelties. Over 50,000 volumes are contained within the store's catalogs, with another 250,000 carried onsite at any given time. Inside the museum, visitors can peruse unique exhibits of ephemera and pop culture memorabilia, ranging from stickers and toys to posters and family heirlooms from around the Birmingham area.
2021 3rd Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203, Phone: 205-326-4460
17.The Museum of Wonder
The Museum of Wonder is the vision of artist and former taxidermist Butch Anthony, who has maintained an interesting collection of discarded, recycled, and junk items since he was 10 years old. Throughout his adult life, Anthony began to decorate his 500-square-foot cabin and former taxidermy shop with items from his collection. Over time, the unique Seale cabin became a roadside attraction and eclectic art gallery and museum, showcasing a wide variety of unusual objects, ranging from animal bones and skeletons to rusted metal pieces and vintage photographs. The space is intended to recreate small town folk museums of the 20th century, with a whimsical and macabre slant. Visitors can peruse the museum throughout the week and view objects on display at any time. On Friday nights, the cabin hosts Possum Trot barbecue events and junker's auctions.
970 AL-169, Seale, AL 36875
18.The Natchez Trace Parkway
© J. Michael Jones/stock.adobe.com
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a lovely 444-mile scenic parkway traversing through the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, stretching roughly across the former Old Natchez Trace footpath route used by indigenous people and European settlers throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, the parkway is overseen by the National Park Service, designated as an All-American Road for its cultural and historical significance. Visitors can access the parkway from a number of access points throughout all three states, beginning at Pasquo, Tennessee and ending at Natchez, Mississippi. Major cities along the route include Nashville, Jackson, Tupelo, and Florence. In addition to motorists, the parkway is also open to hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and backcountry campers.
2680 Natchez Trace Parkway, Tupelo, MS 38804, Phone: 800-305-7417
Neversink Preserve is a gorgeous 162-foot open-air pit in Jackson County, considered to be the most-photographed natural pit in the American Southwest due to its beautiful fern-covered ledges, waterfalls, and other lovely surrounding natural features. The pit can be accessed by using vertical caving equipment to secure roping and rappelling to the bottom of its cave floor. Hands-on training for rappelling is offered by members of the National Speleological Society throughout the year. For visitors without rappelling skills, the preserve is also a gorgeous natural wonder to visit throughout the year, showcasing stunning rare and endangered ferns and beautiful cascades of water. Visitors should note that the hike up the mountain to reach the pit is long and strenuous and should prepare adequately with water and snacks.
Unnamed Road, Fackler, AL 35746, Phone: 423-771-9671
20.Shakespeare Gardens and Amphitheater
Shakespeare Gardens and Amphitheater is one of seven gardens of its type in the United States to showcase a collection of plants and flowers mentioned in the works of playwright William Shakespeare. The gardens, which are located within Montgomery's beautiful Blount Cultural Park, are the home of the annual Alabama Shakespeare Festival, one of the world's largest annual Shakespeare festivals. They are home to the 792-seat Carolyn Blount Theatre and the 225-seat Octagon Theatre, which showcase six to nine annual theatrical productions each year, including three pieces by Shakespeare. Other productions presented by the theaters throughout the year include works by classical and modern playwrights, with an emphasis on pieces by Southern playwrights and pieces with Southern themes. Visitors can explore the gardens as part of park trips throughout the year and enjoy select free performances or performances at nominal ticket fees.
1 Festival Dr, Montgomery, AL 36117, Phone: 334-271-5300
Sloss Furnaces preserve a former pig-iron blast furnace once operated by the Sloss Furnace Company, founded in 1880 by Colonel James Withers Sloss. The furnaces, which are located in Birmingham, fell into disrepair in 1971 after nearly a century of operation, but were fully restored in the late 1990s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, they are operated as an interpretive history center, metal arts studio, and concert venue, the only 20th-century blast furnaces of their kind preserved as an historic site in the United States. Visitors can explore the furnace site as part of guided or self-guided tours throughout the week and view showings of the documentary film Like It Ain't Never Passed, which outlines the furnaces' history. Annual special events hosted at the furnaces include a barbecue cookoff, a Halloween haunted house, and the annual Breakin' Bread Festival, the largest food and beverage festival in Alabama.
20 32nd St N, Birmingham, AL 35222, Phone: 205-254-2025
The MOOseum is a unique family-friendly museum detailing the operations and history of Alabama's beef cattle industry, opened to the public in Montgomery in 1995. Self-guided tours of the museum are hosted by the museum's resident virtual tour guide, Adam Bainbridge, a cowboy character outlining the journey of livestock cattle from pasture to plate. Unique exhibits include the Hoofprints Through Alabama Gallery, which showcases a floor-to-ceiling timeline dating back to 1494. The View From Pasture To Plate outlines the life cycle of beef cattle, detailing unique byproducts of cattle farming. Other exhibits include a mock grilling deck, a feeding trough, a children's dress-up rodeo arena, and a photo station with museum mascot Texas Longhorn "Dusty."
201 South Bainbridge Street, Montgomery, AL 36104, Phone: 334-265-1867
23.William B. Bankhead National Forest
William B. Bankhead National Forest is one of Alabama's four lovely national forests, spanning a distance of over 181,000 acres near the city of Double Springs. The northwestern Alabama forest is home to the state's only designated National Wild and Scenic River, the Sipsey Fork, and is named in honor of longtime United States Representative William B. Bankhead. It is a popular outdoor recreational destination throughout the year, offering splendid opportunities for hiking, hunting, horseback riding, fishing, swimming, and canoeing. Six recreational units are scattered throughout the forest, offering overnight camping facilities and a plethora of opportunities for seasonal recreation. The spacious Sipsey Wilderness, the largest national forest wilderness east of the Mississippi River, offers additional opportunities for fishing, hunting, hiking, and camping.
1070 AL-33, Double Springs, AL 35553, Phone: 205-489-5111
24.The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic
The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic has been named as one of the American Southeast's top annual tourist events by the Southeast Tourism Society, attracting more than 60 hot air balloon pilots from 20 states around the nation for two days of ballooning competition. The festival, which is held over Memorial Day weekend at lovely Point Mallard Park in Decatur, is open to the public free of charge and showcases a plethora of family-friendly activities and events. It has earned the City of Decatur the officially-designated nickname as the "Ballooning Capital of Alabama" since its inception in 1978. In addition to balloon competitions, annual events held as part of the classic include a classic car and antique tractor show, arts and crafts vendors, and live stage entertainment.
24 Best Free Things to Do in Alabama
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Photo: bonniemarie/stock.adobe.com
- The Alabama State Capitol, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- The United States Army Aviation Museum, Photo: The United States Army Aviation Museum
- The Bartram Canoe Trail, Photo: yossarian6/stock.adobe.com
- The Alabama Booksmith, Photo: The Alabama Booksmith
- The Birmingham Museum of Art, Photo: The Birmingham Museum of Art
- Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Photo: eikotsuttiy/stock.adobe.com
- Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve, Photo: Tim/stock.adobe.com
- Cheaha Mountain, Photo: fredlyfish4/stock.adobe.com
- Alabama Farmer's Market, Photo: grki/stock.adobe.com
- The Civil Rights Memorial, Photo: Roman/stock.adobe.com
- Dothan Forever Wild Trails, Photo: dragonstock/stock.adobe.com
- Foley Railroad Museum and Model Train Exhibit, Photo: ketkata/stock.adobe.com
- Hank Williams Memorial and Grave, Photo: Dragana Gordic/stock.adobe.com
- Little River Canyon National Preserve, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- The Museum of Fond Memories at Reed Books, Photo: milkovasa/stock.adobe.com
- The Museum of Wonder, Photo: atosan/stock.adobe.com
- The Natchez Trace Parkway, Photo: J. Michael Jones/stock.adobe.com
- Neversink Preserve, Photo: dsheremeta/stock.adobe.com
- Shakespeare Gardens and Amphitheater, Photo: THANANIT/stock.adobe.com
- Sloss Furnaces, Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com
- The MOOseum, Photo: Talitha/stock.adobe.com
- William B. Bankhead National Forest, Photo: RIck/stock.adobe.com
- The Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic, Photo: IgorZh/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: SeanPavonePhoto/stock.adobe.com