A visit to Alabama may not be on everyone’s immediate bucket list radar but after hearing that the TBEX North America conference was going to be hosted in Huntsville in 2017, we were immediately excited about the prospect of taking the short four-hour drive over from Arkansas. After spending a few days here interacting with fellow like-minded travel bloggers and exploring some of the best attractions, we can well and truly attest that Huntsville is a place worth experiencing. If you are looking for the top things to do in Huntsville, keep reading!
Where is Huntsville, Alabama?
You may be pleasantly surprised to hear that Huntsville is the third largest city in Alabama after Birmingham, Montgomery, and recently surpassing Mobile. Located in the northern half of the state, Huntsville is surrounded by a myriad of rural beauty that we strongly encourage you to explore if you plan on spending several days in this region. However, if you are only planning on visiting the city, we have a few things to do in Huntsville that should immediately capture your imagination.
Let’s first take a look at how easy it is to access Huntsville. We were extremely fortunate to be able to take a short road trip across from Arkansas but for many of our friends in the blogging industry, it wasn’t the easiest city to reach.
Huntsville International Airport is located ten miles outside of the downtown neighborhood but given its relatively small size, it means that this is a particularly expensive airport to fly into. Alternative airports that may offer more affordable routes include nearby Birmingham and a little further afield, Memphis, Nashville and even Atlanta, all of which are within 3 hours of Huntsville.
If you are planning a visit to Huntsville and want to take some time to explore some of the surrounding cities, why not consider a weekend in Nashville where you can take a Country Music Hall of Fame tour or explore the historic Belle Meade Plantation.
Things to Do in Huntsville, Alabama
Ok, so you finally figure out that Huntsville is way more accessible than you initially imagined. But what about when you actually arrive in the wonderfully named “Rocket City?” I think it’s fair to say the name pretty much gives it away!
There are plenty of hotel options throughout Huntsville but we stayed at the gorgeous Embassy Suites which was perfectly situated in the heart of downtown. Check out their latest prices and availability here.
If you are approaching Huntsville from the West, you cannot help but notice the huge rocket that towers above the city…more on this later though!
Let’s take a look at five awesome things to do in Huntsville based on our very own experiences. And yes, it’s feasible that you can experience all of these in a weekend getaway.
- US Rocket and Space Center
- Twickenham Historic District
- Huntsville Botanical Garden
- Self-Guided Walking Tour Downtown Huntsville
- Huntsville’s Food and Culture Scene
Given that we were primarily visiting Huntsville on this trip for a travel conference, we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to explore everything the Rocket City has to offer. For those of you that prefer a more “adventure” experience, be sure to visit the likes of Monte Sano State Park which offers a myriad of hiking trails for all skill levels.
We opted to stay within the confines of the city limits and explore some of Huntsville’s iconic attractions. You will also notice a recurring theme throughout our choice of attractions. They are either FREE or low-cost options meaning that a visit to Huntsville will be a very cost-effective trip.
Twickenham Historic District
Why not start your visit to Huntsville than by visiting the Twickenham Historic District where you can admire a myriad of spectacular antebellum homes and other architectural masterpieces. If you love architecture, you can’t help but fall in love with this part of Huntsville.
Just a short drive from the heart of downtown, the Twickenham District comprises of several blocks of breathtaking homes that epitomize the Federal and Greek Revival architectural styles of the early 19th-Century.
Twickenham was actually the former name of Huntsville and the story dates back to LeRoy Pope, who named this area after the London suburb where his relative, Alexander Pope resided. Just another interesting fact about this part of Huntsville that you may be unaware of.
Today, the Twickenham Historic District comprises of about one-half of the original town but obviously, there has been substantial growth since the days of Pope purchasing the land where these gorgeous antebellum homes stand.
Depending on the time you visit Huntsville, you may be fortunate to have the opportunity to take a guided walking tour of the Twickenham District. This is a great opportunity to learn more about specific homes and also tour the oldest home in Alabama, the Weeden House Museum, dating back to 1819. More information on guided history tours throughout Huntsville can be found here.
US Rocket and Space Center
Anyone visiting Huntsville will do well to avoid the hype surrounding the US Rocket and Space Center. In all honesty, why would you want to avoid this amazing experience?
In fact, we recommend doing the exact opposite and embracing every moment you have by taking a tour of the historic Shuttle Park and Davidson Center for Space Exploration.
The city of Huntsville is proud of the US Rocket and Space Center and rightfully so! Opened in 1970, this center not only showcases hardware from the Apollo program but also a myriad of artifacts and rockets from a variety of missions into space.
A great way to learn about space in a town that has embraced the space program from the very beginning (owen Garriott)
Our visit to the Space Center was a little different to most regular visits. We were incredibly fortunate to be given VIP treatment as we attended an evening party behind closed doors at the Space Center and enjoy dinner and drinks literally underneath a rocket inside the Davidson Center.
A guided tour of the Shuttle Park gave us an opportunity to admire the various rockets and also learn about the history of the museum that was first proposed by Dr. Wernher von Braun, an iconic figure in the United States efforts to land the first man on the moon.
Although you may not be quite as fortunate to experience the US Rocket and Space Center as we did, a general admission ticket offers access to pretty much everything we were able to see.
Huntsville Botanical Garden
If the thought of rockets and space shuttles sends you into a scientific overload, why not spend a couple of hours relaxing in the solitude of the gorgeous Huntsville Botanical Garden. Featuring the nation’s largest seasonal butterfly house and nature center, this oasis of natural beauty offers 112-acres of perfectly manicured floral bliss with a plethora of woodland, wildflower, and traditional botanical garden exhibits.
The journey through the botanical garden starts the moment you leave the nature center. The view overlooking the lake and butterfly house is breathtaking and certainly sets the mood for the self-guided tour of the gardens.
Throughout our visit to the Huntsville Botanical Garden, we couldn’t resist sitting down in various spots while admiring the vibrant colors and listening to the solitary sound of birds singing in the distance.
If you choose to visit during the Spring, you may also be fortunate to see some baby ducklings or other wildlife. We didn’t want to get too close with a security team of Canadian geese carefully monitoring our every move but it’s definitely a great experience to watch this offspring in the beautiful setting of the botanical gardens.
Self-Guided Walking Tour Downtown
During our visit to Huntsville, we had the opportunity to listen to the great travel expert Samantha Brown talk about how to “immerse” yourself when traveling. Rather than focusing on the much-debated topic of “tourist vs traveler,” she prefers to simply disregard these categories and instead focus on exploring a destination for yourself. The best way to do this is to get out and take a walk…a philosophy we have followed for quite some time and definitely something we will continue to do in the future!
Huntsville offers a vibrant downtown neighborhood mixed with urban green space that is perfect to walk around and explore. There is ample parking on the side of many of the roads throughout downtown Huntsville along with a number of parking lots close to the Von Braun Convention Center.
The convention center is a great place to start your experience in downtown Huntsville as you have the opportunity to visit both Big Spring Park and the Huntsville Museum of Art, both of which are unique experiences in this city.
Clinton Avenue is the heart and soul of downtown Huntsville with a number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops waiting to attract your attention. I have to admit, when I heard that Honest Coffee Roasters had a location here, I was eager to visit.
After enjoying a Sunday morning latte, I can 100% attest they didn’t disappoint!
If you admire street art, be sure to check out the Clinton Row Colorwalk which is an alley off Clinton Avenue with a variety of awesome artistic works depicting the creative nature of Huntsville locals.
Regardless of your taste in culture or cuisine, the Huntsville downtown community offers a distinctive blend of old and new. Just a short walk from experiencing all of the modern restaurants and bars, you can walk directly into the Historic Old Town and the Five Points Historic District.
Sample Fine Culture and Cuisine
It’s all about sampling local cuisine whenever you visit a new destination and this was certainly the case in Huntsville. When you think about traditional Alabama food, well it’s pretty much anything associated with southern fare.
Think fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and of course, banana pudding! Huntsville is home to a wide variety of cuisine options from local establishments you should consider experiencing.
One of our favorite spots that we experienced was AM Booth’s Lumberyard where we had the opportunity to sample a wide variety of distinctive southern fare delicacies. Perhaps chicken and waffles may not be considered a delicacy in most parts but if you have never tried this combination, you need to!
Another intriguing location in Huntsville is Campus 805. Formerly a high school, this campus has been renovated and transformed into an entertainment complex housing two local craft breweries where you can sample fine craft brews along with delicious cuisine and several other amenities.
Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza is located within the Yellowhammer Brewing company, providing a perfect collaboration for visitors to enjoy.
The unique collaboration between Earth and Stone and Yellowhammer Brewing at Campus 805 has become one of Huntsville’s most popular spots for craft beer and craft pizza.
It’s fair to say that craft beer and wood-fired pizza is a perfect combination! However, the Campus 805 location didn’t stop here.
They wanted to make the experience even more enjoyable and offered visitors the opportunity to sample local ice-cream from Campus Creamery. Unique and delicious flavors are available and it’s fair to say that anyone visiting this location will definitely leave with their appetite satisfied.
Food trucks can also be found at Campus 805 and if you are a fan of organic food, be sure to check out the Manic Organic food truck. I sampled the pulled pork sandwich and I can highly recommend this.
Welcome to Huntsville, Alabama! Although we only covered a small number of the things to do in Huntsville, we hope that we have at least inspired you to consider paying the Rocket City a visit. We are already looking forward to returning to Huntsville in the near future to experience more of the fine cuisine available at Campus 805 or to admire the amazing architectural brilliance on display throughout the Twickenham and Old Town Historic Districts.
A visit to Huntsville will at least give you the opportunity to learn more about an iconic location in the history of space exploration while at the same time allow you to sample delicious banana pudding. What more could you want on a trip to Sweet Home Alabama!
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