54 Perfect Day Trips from Atlanta

24 hours in Birmingham

Highlands Bar & Grill
Baked grits from Highlands Bar & Grill.

Photograph courtesy of Highlands Bar & Grill

If you haven’t been to Birmingham in the past five years, you’ll likely be surprised by what you’ll find: hip and walkable neighborhoods, nationally renowned restaurants, and a fun nightlife scene.


If you can snag a seat at Highlands Bar & Grill—an institution founded by famed chef Frank Stitt in 1982 that was named most outstanding restaurant in America this year by the James Beard Foundation—that alone is worth the trip. You might have a slightly easier time getting a table at James Beard–nominated Hot and Hot Fish Club in the same Five Points South neighborhood. At Hot and Hot, chef Chris Hastings serves gorgeous produce in smart, elegant preparations. Pro tip: The desserts are likely to upstage the entrees, so save room. Nearby, reclaimed industrial buildings now house the likes of Hastings’s more casual restaurant, OvenBird, which serves creative, Spanish-inspired small plates, as well as Bettola, which serves wood-fired pizzas, charcuterie, and craft cocktails.


Just east of Southside in Avondale, Space Age–themed music venue Saturn draws national indie-rock acts including Guided by Voices (August 8) and Liz Phair (September 7). If you’re not feeling the show, the venue also has a lounge with tons of free board games. About six blocks south, you’ll find the Prohibition-themed speakeasy the Marble Ring—if you know where to look (hint: enter through the hot dog shop). And on the southern fringe of downtown, the Atomic Lounge’s playful and impeccable cocktails, not to mention its tiki-mod decor and closet full of costumes, will keep you up well past bedtime.

Elyton Hotel
Built in 1909, the 16-story Empire Building now houses the Elyton Hotel

Photograph courtesy of Elyton Hotel


The Redmont was downtown Birmingham’s first new boutique hotel in a historic building. But now there’s also the year-old Elyton, conveniently just a block away from the Atomic. The lobby and rooms are the ideal mix of classic and sleek (if a little on the small side). Take a vintage elevator to the swanky rooftop lounge. —Mara Shalhoup