Alabama tour guide: The Americana music lover's ultimate list of travel destinations in the culture-rich US state
The amount of music history Alabama holds is truly unparalleled. The birthplace of such legends as Lionel Richie, Hank Williams, W.C. Handy and Nat King Cole, it's also proven a popular recording location for the likes of Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to name but three.
A state boasting such rich history in the roots of Americana culture, Alabama continues to attract music lovers the world over; all craving a deeper knowledge of their favourite artists' work (and a whole load of fun along the way!).
If you're planning a visit to Alabama, here's a round-up of the perfect road trip destinations you simply have to stop off at on your travels; from Huntsville to the idyllic Orange Beach.
Collectively known as Muscle Shoals, this area is actually four separate towns. Comprising Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, it's a destination with a storied music history.
Here, you'll find FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Cypress Moon Studios.
FAME is where the legendary Aretha Franklin cut her first hit record (I Never Loved A Man) The Way That I Love You, and thus is often heralded as the place the Queen of Soul found her sound.
2021 movie Respect, starring Jennifer Hudson as Franklin, depicts the star's recording sessions at FAME, further proving its importance in her career. Artists including The Rolling Stones, Wilson Picket and Percy Sledge have also recorded at this iconic studio.
While you're in the Muscle Shoals area, you'll also want to check out the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, W.C. Handy's home, and , Frank Lloyd Wright - Rosenbaum House Museum, The Rattlesnake Saloon and Tom’s Wall.
Huntsville is Alabama's fastest-growing city, and now claims the title of the state's largest. We'd recommend stopping here to check out the home of the US Space and Rocket Centre, the world's largest space museum and camp, and the city's impressive FBI facility.
Then, there's the music...
Orion Amphitheater, Huntsville
Marking a bold new chapter in Huntsville's musical history, this new for 2022, 8000-capacity destination venue is the Americana lover's mecca.
Playing host to some incredible artists throughout 2022 and beyond - from Earth, Wind & Fire to Stevie Nicks - The Orion Amphitheater fuses music, arts, culture, food and drink in one spectacular space.
Boasting its status as part of the 'Americana Music Triangle,' Huntsville is heralded as the birthplace of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll.
Birmingham and Montgomery
Birmingham, Alabama, is known for its foodie scene, lively entertainment districts, arts and attractions.
Barber Motorsports Museum showcasing the world’s largest collection of motorcycles, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute which details the city’s role in the movement which changed America and Red Mountain Park are just some of the must do attractions.
At Alabama’s State Capitol building in Montgomery, delegates from southern states voted to establish a new nation in February 1861 and inaugurated Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy, setting the stage for the American Civil War.
It was on the steps of the Capitol that more than a century later, Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous ‘How Long, Not Long’ speech after a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, a signposted route which tourists can now follow.
Mobile has been the home of America's original Mardi Gras celebration since 1703, and its a party not to be missed. A parade filled with floats, fun and frivolity, Mobile truly comes alive when carnival day comes around.
Next year's carnival is set to begin in January and is expected to run through February, and is a must if you're visiting Alabama around that time.
Of the thousands of ships that participated in the transatlantic slave trade, few have been found, which explains the excitement when the wreck of the Clotilda was identified in 2019.
This schooner transported 110 people from Benin in Africa to Mobile in 1860, more than 50 years after the United States banned the importation of slaves. It's the last known American slave ship, and was scuttled to hide the evidence of the illegal activity. After the Civil War, some of the survivors and their descendants created a new home for themselves in the area, known as Africatown.
Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Bordering Florida to the east, the Gulf Coast boasts a 32-mile stretch of idyllic, white sandy beaches. It's also host to the annual Hangout Music Festival, which sees some of the world's biggest artists hit the stage in the most exquisite of locations.
Earlier this year, the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Leon Bridges and Maren Morris all played the festival. Find out more about Hangout Music Festival, which runs May 19-21 2023, here.
Explore the Gulf State Park’s 28 miles of trails by biking, hiking or even Segway. The park is home to 325 species of birds as well as alligators, bobcats and nesting sea turtles. Dubbed the Red Snapper Capital of the World, Orange Beach is the place to go to land a fish, including grouper and amberjack. If you catch a big one, many of the local restaurants will even cook it for your dinner!
Now, let's talk food and drink...
Alabama is as big on flavour as it is on personality.
Follow the BBQ Trail, which lists 75 restaurants on a smartphone app, including pit stops at gas stations and Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, where in 1925, Bob developed the Original Alabama White sauce.
For a change from BBQ, check out Chris’ Famous Hotdogs in Montgomery, whose customers have included everyone from Elvis and Hank Williams to Clark Gable and Franklin D. Roosevelt. And don’t forget the award-winning restaurants in Birmingham, known as the Dinner Table of the South.
There’s plenty of beer and wine on Alabama’s drinks menu too. Take the Craft Beer Trail, being sure to stop at Straight to Ale in Huntsville, which produces Monkeynaut, an IPA with a label featuring a monkey in a space suit.
For more information on the many music festivals Alabama boasts - from Pepsi Rock The South to W.C. Handy Music Festival - visit Alabama.Travel.
With thanks to our Official Americana Chart partners Sweet Home Alabama. For more information, head to Sweet Home Alabama.