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Once a primarily industrial and manufacturing city compared to Pittsburgh, Birmingham has blossomed into a hub for banking, telecommunications and education with a thriving downtown food scene. Birmingham is well known for its southern culture, diversity and the important role it played in the civil rights movement.
The Community of Birmingham
Birmingham boasts 99 individual neighborhoods, each with its own distinct flavor. The city is primarily divided into downtown, which is home to much of the arts and entertainment as well as restaurants and shopping, and the Eastside, Southside, Westside and Red Mountain areas. Many of the city's historic higher-end homes are located in Red Mountain, which is primarily residential with excellent views of downtown. Some areas do have a relatively high crime rate, primarily in North Birmingham and the Westside, but there are also good neighborhoods that are seeing growth in those parts of the city.
What to Do in Birmingham
Through interactive, multimedia exhibits, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in downtown offers an excellent overview of the civil rights movement in the Deep South and the people who influenced it, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Learn about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and then walk across the park to view the church today. Closed on Mondays; adult admission is $15 with discounts for students and seniors.
The Birmingham Botanical Gardens are a lovely respite from city life. Located near the Birmingham Zoo south of downtown, the gardens are free to visit and showcase many unique plants in addition to walking paths, ponds and greenhouses.
At the Birmingham Museum of Art, walk through galleries dedicated to varied types of art, including Wedgwood pottery, Japanese armour and American landscapes. A dedicated children's areas gives the kids hands-on ways to explore art. Closed Mondays; admission is free.
One Place You Shouldn't Miss in Birmingham
Vintage motorcycles may not sound like everyone's cup of tea, but the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum has more than 900 displayed with interesting information about each. In addition to the five stories of cycles (plus a few cars), the museum has a racetrack out back that provides visitors with the chance for their own racing experience. Open most days; adult admission is $15 and children get in for $10.
Dining in Birmingham
The French-themed Chez Fon Fon in downtown has ambiance, good service and even reasonable prices, making it a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Be sure to start off with escargot, one of the restaurant's most famed appetizers. The hamburger served with fries cooked in duck fat gets rave reviews and their regular specials take advantage of what's fresh and locally available.
If you want to make sure you have excellent BBQ while in Birmingham, stop by Saw's, a local chain which has locations throughout the city. Sample the smoked wings or dig into a pulled pork sandwich, and don't forget some southern specialities like fried green tomatoes or grits to balance out your meal.