Huntsville in Alabama is a hidden gem for any traveller looking for a unique and special destination, but much more than that it is an absolute travel paradise for any traveller who leans heavily on the geeky side, with a ton of geek and nerd themed destinations one of the biggest bucket list experiences that every space geek has always dreamed of but very few knew they could actually do!
In a town that is defined by space and home to some of the USA’s biggest tech and science companies and careers, it is hardly surprising that Huntsville in Alabama has become one of the biggest homes for all things geek, nerd and popular culture, and I absolutely loved it!
Anyone that knows me knows that I love travel. Hell, just reading this site should give you a clue or two about that fact, right? But what you may not know about me is that I love all things geek, nerd and pop culture too. I was a huge geek growing up as well, and still am in fact.
My dreams of world travel and being Indiana Jones were second only to my dreams of being on board the Enterprise D! I constantly wore my delta insignia comm badge on my T shirt with pride (and yes it did make the chirping sound effect!) and could name every ship and designation in Starfleet (I still can, in fact!)
I spent my weekly pocket money on comics and followed the adventures of Iron Man and Daredevil back when they were at best C list characters no one had ever heard of, and I spent more time than I care to admit painting Warhammer and D&D models.
I spent entire weekends building model kits of Deep Space 9 and the Saturn V rocket when everyone else my age was out doing stupid things like playing in the sun and living healthy, productive childhoods.
I was a geek. A real Geek. Back when being a geek wasn’t cool! That was one of the main reasons I had to learn to fight at school and why I paid so much attention in those formative Karate classes. And also why I was so glad my very late growth spurt kicked in and made me into the 6″2 man I am today.
But now what was once shunned by society has by and large become celebrated pop culture as all of those kids who loved Dungeons and Dragons and comic books all those years ago have grown up and brought their passions out in the open.
But in Huntsville they have done far more than that.
In a city where rockets are as part of the city landscape as the trees, where even the average bartender has a doctorate in nuclear physics and rocket scientists moonlight from NASA as artists and musicians, that openness with the geeky side of their personalities is celebrated and Huntsville has become an absolute mecca for nerds and geeks alike.
This is the reason why when I found my way to Huntsville in Alabama, it felt like far more than just another town or destination I was visiting. It felt like after the better part of 40 years, I had found my tribe. It felt like I had come home.
Because Huntsville in Alabama is unashamedly and brazenly the geekiest place on the planet, and here are just 10 reasons out of 1138 why every geek, nerd, sci fi and fantasy lover should make Huntsville their number one destination on their bucket list.
Huntsville is the home of NASA! Regardless of the fame grabbers in Houston and Florida, Huntsville is defined by space and the space race. Even though the launches may happen elsewhere and other NASA centres are responsible for a mission or two, it was Huntsville where Dr. Von Braun promised Buzz Aldrin the moon in the observatory now name after him. It is Huntsville where the rockets that you see shot up into space were developed and built. It is Huntsville that is responsible for managing all those missions and activities you see in the International Space Station, and it is Huntsville that is going to be at the very centre of the next evolution in space tourism. With a whole slew of NASA operated tourism sites and activities, what more can any space geek want?
Pints and Pixels.
Even geeks get hungry, and when they do they love to eat good food served with a massive side order of nostalgia, huddled over the same arcade games that took all of our pocket money as kids!
Pints and Pixels is a bar that serves hamburgers, hot dogs and all that American goodness! But they have far more than that. This isn’t just a place to come and grab some dinner, this is a place filled with all the arcade treasures from our childhoods! They even have a vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game! Just take all of my money!
What kid growing up doesn’t dream of going into space and being an astronaut? The geekiest of those kids go beyond dreaming and imagine it as a reality, dreaming of and working toward becoming an actual astronaut! And there is no better way than to do that than actually go to Space Camp!
This American institution was a childhood dream for me ever since I watched the 1986 film of the same name and wished Jinx would send me into space as well! I just never imagined that it would ever be a possibility for me, being British of course and then also having the annoying inevitability happen and growing up. But the evil overlords in Huntsville have been hiding a terrible secret. They have been hiding the fact that it isn’t just for American children, and even more heinously, that it isn’t just for children either!
Okay, so they haven’t been hiding it exactly, but it isn’t well known either, and the ultimate geek experience is the ultimate bucket list experience for so many grown up travellers who should be making a beeline for Huntsville so they can go through astronaut training like they have always dreamed of doing!
Space and Rocket Center.
Alongside Space Camp is the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the vast complex of museums, parks and exhibitions where tourists from all over the world can come and marvel at the actual rockets, technology and artifacts that have been integral to mankind’s journey into space.
And trust me, the first time you round the corner of the atrium to see the Saturn V rocket on display in all its significant glory you will absolutely have your mind blown just as much as I did. I was genuinely for a long moment absolutely speechless! And I am never speechless!
But the impressive Saturn V showpiece is only the first thing your inner geek will scream about. The countless displays of genuine rockets, rocket pieces and space memorabilia is astounding, especially when you think of the marvels these pieces of engineering have achieved, with less computer processing power than the phone you have in your pocket! The Space and Rocket Center gives you just a small sense of the awe inspiring achievements we have made in getting into space, and the raw passion and excitement the NASA docents have as they talk about their work is genuinely palpable, and it is infectious!
It is by no means necessary to let the docents take you on a tour, you are always more than free to wander around and explore the exhibits on your own, which I totally recommend doing as well, but if you get the chance please go and speak to any one of these wandering genius’. The docents are actual scientists who have worked on the space programme in different ways over the last few decades and the stories they can tell you are worth far more than a little of your time and make exploring the exhibits even more special.
The nerdiest business cards in the world!
And speaking of the NASA docents, these members of geek royalty have upped their game to legendary status by doing away with just any old regular business cards and instead having collectable baseball style stat cards that they hand out! This really is next level geekery on a grand scale, and I tip my hat to them all!
Space and Sci Fi exhibitions.
This is a hard one because exhibitions are by nature not permanent, but I do have to give the Space and Rocket Center extra credit here for not only holding an exhibition that takes tourists on a discovery tour about potential alien life and the future of androids, which in and of itself scores pretty high on the geek scale, but they managed to ensure that the facts and information that was being displayed was bolstered by a solid dose of science fiction too with displays of some of the most famous androids and aliens from movie history!
After all, science fact is often inspired by science fiction, just look at the flip phones we all used to carry around and the iPads and tablets we all have now. You have Kirk and Picard to thank for that! And believe me when I say the guy who is working on NASAs 3D printed habitat competition is just dreaming of the day he can refine his work to the point he can ask for his earl grey tea. Hot.
Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment.
Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment is a vast factory that has been repurposed as countless art studios and open spaces for creative types, and whilst this isn’t technically geeky in and of itself there are a number of artists and studios here that will attract geeks and nerds of a wide range of fandoms, from the gamer sanctuary that is Mastermind Models and Miniatures (and the regular gaming nights they offer) to Superpowered Studios, Huntsville’s home of superhero and pop culture art.
There are a ton of specifically geeky and nerdy studios here that are more than worth a trip here alone, but any real geek will also appreciate the level of creativity that this space creates for artists, and will enjoy wandering around every one of the studios anyway.
Imagine going for dinner, eating some of the best, honest American food around and a solid dose of good old fashioned Southern hospitality, but you were also surrounded by all the toys and games you loved as a child and the collectible action figures you coveted as an adult! This is Toybox Bistro!
Unfortunately the weapon wall didn’t include a coveted Sword of Omens, but they did have a table made from the blueprints of the Enterprise NCC 1701 A, and I spent a long time reminiscing over the complete set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles collectible cards that I used to collect as a child that they had made into another glass top table!
Wernher Von Braun Planetarium.
A relatively unnassuming site to the casual visitor, the small observatory on the top of the Monte Sano Mountain is a slice of Huntsville’s, and NASA’s history. This is the site where Dr Von Braun himself told Buzz Aldrin he would get him to the moon, and where the initial dreams of what became the space race began! The Von Braun Astronomical Society hold regular planetarium shows for lovers of astronomy here and even allow viewings through their telescopes.
And can we please just take a brief, final moment to relish the glorious fact that there is a real life Scotty who works at NASA? His real last name is actually Scott and whilst his entire job role is hidden behind all manner of security clearances he is essentially an actual engineer!
This is so glorious on so many levels!
Go on, practice your best Scottish accent and get all the Star Trek quotes out of you, she can take it Cap’n, she won’t blow!
Huntsville is the ultimate geek and nerd mecca. It is a destination that welcomes lovers of all things space, sci fi, fantasy, pop culture, science and technology alike in equal measure and without hesitation or judgement, but it is far more than that too!
Huntsville doesn’t just celebrate geek and nerd culture, it lives it, breathes it. and for any traveller who has even the slightest geek leaning proclivities, Huntsville in Alabama is a hidden travel gem that is holding so many unmissable travel experiences.
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This article was written in partnership with the Huntsville and Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.