Huntsville, Alabama is one of the USA’s best kept travel secrets. A destination with a deep cultural heritage, a rich historical tapestry and a dynamic link to the future of space tourism, there is so much to see and do in the Rocket City travellers really are spoiled for choice! So to help you plan your trip, here are the top 50 things to see and do in Huntsville, Alabama.
Huntsville is one of those cities in America that keeps on surprising you the more time you spend in it. Located in northern Alabama, Huntsville is probably best known for its links to NASA and the early space race that gave it the nickname ‘Rocket City’, but behind that is a cultural heritage that includes the American Civil War, the cotton and railroad industries and much more. Huntsville’s artistic soul has attracted some of the worlds best creative minds for decades, and that has led to some truly unique things to see and do, whether you just have a few days, a few weeks or a few months, you will never get bored in this amazing city.
Plan Your Trip To Huntsville, Alabama.
First things first, most travellers will need to know some of the best places to stay, eat and drink in Huntsville, so here are just a few of the top recommendations as well as some logistical information to help you plan your trip.
Where Is Huntsville?
Huntsville is located in northern Alabama in the USA, just above the Tennessee River, and is surrounded by the equally iconic destinations of Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville and Atlanta.
How To Get To Huntsville.
The best and easiest way to get to Huntsville is to fly. Huntsville International Airport covers most major US hubs and is a 15 minute drive to downtown Huntsville. There is no train station in Huntsville but Birmingham and Anniston do have one, but then you would have to drive from there. The best overland option – and the best option to get around Huntsville – is to drive.
Where To Stay In Huntsville.
Sonesta Simply Suites.
A great option close to the airport and Huntsville Research Park is Sonesta Simply Suites, especially if you are staying long term and want a home away from home with a fully equipped kitchen, BBQ grill and all your usual home amenities.
The only hotel located on the actual grounds of the US Space and Rocket Centre, the location of the Huntsville Marriott just can’t be beaten, and is only minutes away from the NASA Educator Training Facility, Redstone Arsenal, Marshall Space Flight Center and Cummings Research Park. They also offer great discounts for Space and Rocket Center Customers.
Drury Inn And Suites.
Centrally located and close to many of the main attractions is the genuinely awesome Drury Inn and Suites, my personal favourite of all these offerings! With amazing views of the Rocket Park, amazing (and very spacious) rooms, above and beyond service and free soda and popcorn, what more can you ask for? Actually there is one more thing, they are also pet friendly which makes them even more awesome in my book!
The Clarion Inn Huntsville.
The Clarion Inn Huntsville is a great and solidly dependable mid range option with an outdoor pool, a fitness centre and good size rooms with everything you would expect at this range. It is a good 10 minute drive to downtown Huntsville though.
Hilton Garden Inn Space Center.
This huge hotel is located just a short drive away from Space Camp and is conveniently located to other Huntsville attractions too. With over 100 guest rooms and suites, the Hilton also has a great restaurant on site and Space and Rocket Center visitors get a discount too.
La Quinta Inn Huntsville Research Park.
The La Quinta Inn is one of the furthest away from Space Camp out of these options but not far enough away that is still isn’t a good choice. This unique hotel, located at the Huntsville research park, is very handy for Redstone Arsenal, NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center and many other attractions.
Things To See And Do In Huntsville.
Now you have planned your trip. have your accommodation sorted and are full on that famous Southern cooking, here are the best 50 things to see and do in Huntsville, Alabama!
The US Space and Rocket Center.
NASA’s first visitor center, the U.S Space and Rocket Center is a vast complex of facilities that showcase and celebrate the space agency’s accomplishments as well as providing an environment of hope, optimism and education that will inspire and teach future generations to continue its work.
The Davidson Center for Space Exploration is NASA’s vast interactive museum, showcasing the history of space exploration, including actual suits worn at different stages of the space race and the vast SATURN V rocket held in one of the cavernous halls, as well as interactive exhibits dedicated to the future of space travel and more, this is Huntsville’s crown jewel of space tourism and is an absolute must see.
The Rocket Park.
Just outside of the USSRC and in the same grounds are the historic shuttle park and rocket park, as well as the realistic reconstruction of the lunar surface and the moon landing. The complex is also home to a few unique rides, and among the screams of the people enjoying momentary weightlessness on the Moon Shot and G Force fairground rides and the families enjoying the atmosphere in the glorious sunshine, the rockets themseleves – iconic landmarks within Huntsville – are well worth checking out.
For those travellers who have always dreamed of training to be an astronaut, now is your chance! Space Camp, run by NASA’s US Space and Rocket Center has adult programmes where you can enroll to put yourself through a truncated version of real astronaut training!
Obviously the training given to genuine astronauts is far more intense and robust, but the Space Camp experience is designed to give people the basic astronaut experience, a modified but realistic glimpse into what it would be like to train to actually go into space!
The simulations are modified versions of genuine training programmes, including the 1/6 micro gravity chair and the multi axis trainer, as well as exercises that concentrate on teamwork, critical thinking and STEM studies. The equipment is real. The experiences are genuine. You may not actually be going to space after this, but this is as close as it gets before you actually go through that process!
To go to Space Camp you will definitely have to book in advance and plan your travels accordingly but this bucket list experience is more than worth it! To get more information on how you can attend Space Camp yourself, check out my ultimate guide to Space Camp!
Wernher Von Braun Planetarium.
Located in Monte Sano State Park, which is a pleasant area in and of itself with great views over the rocket city, this vastly underrated planetarium is a fascinating piece of Huntsville history, owned and built by the Von Braun Astronomical Society who hold regular educational talks and lectures here, this was the place that the space race began, where the dreams of sending mankind into space started to form, and where Wernher Von Braun promised Buzz Aldrin the moon.
The sheer thought of all that history, just thinking about the conversations that must have taken place here, the meetings between some of the most influential and pivotal people in NASA’s history, really make this otherwise relatively simple attraction something truly special.
Marshall Space Flight Center Bus Tour.
Leaving from the Space and Rocket Center, and colloquially known as the NASA tour, the bus for the Marshall Space Flight Center gives tourists a glimpse of the MSFC facilities and a peek behind the scenes at how NASA works. The Huntsville Operations Support Center, or HOSC is one of the best parts of the tour of Marshall, and is in my opinion worth coming on the tour just for this alone. Also known as the ISS Payload Operations Center, this is essentially the nerve centre of the International Space Station and you can get a glimpse into the day to day workings of those who keep the International Space Station running! If that isn’t enough there is also an awe inspiring look at the test stands actually used to test rockets and the laboratories and facilities used to research and develop them.
The Grave Of Miss Baker.
Outside of the US Space and Rocket Centre lies a small but important monument to Miss Baker, the first Squirrel Monkey sent to space who returned alive. This sad reminder of the part animals played in aviation and space exploration history is not one of NASA’s finest moments, but it is important to remember and pay homage to the animals, and Miss Baker, nonetheless.
Alan B. Shepard Jr. boot prints.
In Downtown Huntsville next to the Alabama Constitution Hall, you’ll find the boot prints of the first American in space, Alan Shepard Junior, immortalised in concrete. The marker was placed here in 1994 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landing.
The INTUITIVE Planetarium.
The INTUITIVE Planetarium is located on the complex of the Space and Rocket Museum but is more than worth getting its own mention. It’s space themed lobby and 248 seat theatre features a state of the art Christie laser projection system and nano seam dome to make it one of the most advanced planetariums in the US.
Lowe Mill Arts And Entertainment.
Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment, located inside a historically refurbished building in the Lowe Mill District, is the largest privately owned arts facility in the southern US. It has over 150 working studios for artists and independent businesses of all kinds, not to mention numerous art galleries, performance venues and more. So whether you are in the mood for picking up a piece of unique art or simply getting your creative juices flowing, a visit here is an absolute must in Huntsville.
Catch A Show At The Orion Ampitheatre.
This new 8000 capacity venue shows plays and live music from well known bands, with a huge food village and social hangout. The Orion Ampitheatre is a one stop shop for an epic night out in a building that looks like a modern take on ancient Rome’s favourite social spaces.
Huntsville Museum Of Art.
The Huntsville Museum of Art has a huge permanent collection that primarily focuses on 19th and 20th Century American art, with a wider variety of rotating galleries and exhibitions that include contemporary glass sculptures, pieces of various mediums and art from around the world.
You can easily spend a full day here exploring the extensive collections, there are excellent audio tours available to download on your phone for free, and if you want a break from all the art appreciation you can go shopping in the museum store or indulge in some fine dining at the stunning Pane e Vino restaurant overlooking the lake.
Big Spring International Park.
While you are at the Huntsville Museum of Art, you may as well spend some time exploring the beautifully serene Big Spring International Park, a vast open space surrounding the museum filled with lakes, water features, huge open spaces and a host of picturesque cherry trees. The park itself is over 200 years old and is widely regarded as the spot settlers first founded the city.
Street Art Tours.
In a city that prides itself on its creative streak, it is hardly surprising that street art would be plentiful here. Located in the Quigley Arts and Entertainment District, these works of art all make up the ‘secret art trail’, so you can download a map and explore yourself or join one of the walking tours to take in some of the popular highlights.
Spaces Sculpture Trail.
This iconic project that brings together Huntsville’s artistic and engineering sides has left a series of huge public sculptures all over town. You can download the Spaces and Places mobile app and locate each one via GPS, of course. It wouldn’t be a Huntsville art project without something in space.
Check Out A Broadway Show.
If you are in the mood for taking in a big broadway hit like Riverdance, Tootsie or The Book of Mormon, the Broadway Theatre league put on regular performances at the Von Braun Centre.
Go To The Ballet.
If you want to go even more upmarket, the Rocket City’s very own Huntsville Ballet Company put on regular performances of Romeo and Juliet, the Nutcracker Prince and more on the same stage at the Von Braun Centre.
Huntsville Botanical Gardens.
The Huntsville Botanical Gardens are a vast, open space of 112 acres filled with manicured gardens, trails through different themed zones including a fern glade and herb gardens, art and sculptures littered throughout and even an open air butterfly house. It is hardly any wonder this is one of Alabama’s most popular tourist spots. There are numerous themed events throughout the year including harvest festivals and the popular Galaxy of Lights. To make things easier for tourists there is a great on site cafe, a guest centre, shop and shuttles for those with limited mobility.
Burritt On The Mountain.
Burritt on the Mountain is an open air museum set in beautiful parkland near Monte Santo State Park. With historic 19th Century structures that typify Alabama’s architecture over the last century or more, the museum aims to preserve Alabama’s history and heritage, with a log cabin dating from 1810, a barn and blacksmith shop dating from the 1890s and even a church dating back to 1884. The stunning views over the mountain and picturesque scenery make it a popular spot for weddings, but it is the open air museum, actors in period costumes, small petting zoo and activities and seminars on traditional crafts such as leatherworking that really makes this a popular attraction.
Monte Sano State Park.
Monte Sano State Park is Huntsville’s very own nature escape, with 2140 acres of protected woodland, 20 miles of hiking trails of varying difficulties, 14 miles of biking trails and a number of designated campsites, it is perfect for nature lovers or those who just want to get out of the city for a while. The park opens at 8am and the park and trails close at sunset, and there are ranger stations to ensure everyone has a safe time. In the late 1800 there was a health resort built here named Hotel Monte Sano, or mountain of health in Italian, and although a historical plaque is all that remains of it people still come here for the mental and physical health benefits of the cool mountain air.
Ditto Landing is Huntsville’s gateway to the mighty Tennessee River, and is a popular spot in the summer to escape the heat, enjoy the views of the boat filled docks and try your hand at a variety of watersports like water skiing and SUPing. There are also a number of campsites here spread out over 560 acres.
Huntsville’s Three Caves.
The famous three caves are located on the Land Trust of North Alabama’s Monte Sano Nature Preserve, and is surprisingly just a couple of miles away from Downtown Huntsville. Despite the name, which comes from the fact they look like – well – three caves, this is actually a former limestone mine originally known as Hermitage quarry. Over time natural geological formations such as flowstone, stalactites, and stalagmites took over the man made structures and although safety issues have stopped tours deep into the mines themselves, the three caves are often used for huge open air concerts and events, including the local ‘Moon over the Three Caves Dance’ every September. Proceeds from these events go straight back to the Land Trust to help preserve the site.
Located just outside of Huntsville in Cathedral Caverns State Park, are the famous caverns themselves and are definitely worth taking a day out to explore! Cathedral Caverns, once affectionately called the Bat Cave, is one of the largest commercial cave entrances on record and hold a staggering number of record breaking and unique formations, including the Stalagmite Mountain, a frozen waterfall, which is really a unique geological formation, the ‘Mystery River’ and a huge 45 foot tall rock column with fossils of sea life dating back 220 million years. The scale of this cavern genuinely has to be seen to be believed. Regular tours of the cavern last around 90 minutes and is mostly suitable for any ages and abilities.
Hays Nature Reserve.
Hays Nature Reserve is one of Huntsville’s most pristine areas of natural beauty, and has over 10 miles of hiking trails, horse trails and birding spots, as well as a number of oxbow lakes along the flint river.
Green Mountain Nature Reserve.
As if Huntsville wasn’t already surrounded by enough greenery, nature and national parks, Green Mountain Nature Preserve adds to that long list with a 366 acre preserve filled with walking trails. There are a number of streams and waterfalls that flow into the Tennessee River, making this park lush and green year round, a number of natural and historical features and even a prehistoric Native American Camp.
United States Veteran Memorial Museum.
If you have an interest in military history you cannot miss this amazing museum. The US Veteran Memorial Museum is considered to be one of the best collections of military history and memorabilia in the entire United State, with exhibits ranging from the Civil War through WWII and Desert Storm and onto modern day Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Explore Huntsville’s Historic Districts.
Huntsville has a rich cultural and historical heritage that is well worth taking the time to explore. The city’s main historical districts of Twickenham, Old Town and Five Points each have their own unique stories to tell, and there are numerous tours that explore the homes and buildings of each district. With a unique mixture of Federal, Queen Anne, Victorian, Ranch Style and Gothic Revival architecture, the homes themselves are enough to hold your interest and give a unique flavour to understanding how modern Huntsville came to be. There are plenty of guided tours you can buy tickets for, or you can easily download your own map and take a self guided tour yourself. If you are in Huntsville during Halloween, don’t miss one of the haunted tours hosted by actors in period costume!
The Historic Huntsville Depot Museum.
As its name suggests, the Historic Huntsville depot museum is a site dedicated to the history of this great city in a building that once served as a prison, hospital and living quarters for union soldiers during the American Civil War, as well as a passenger station from 1869 to 1968, just missing that century mark!
Harrison Brothers Hardware.
Take a trip back in time to this iconic Huntsville institution. Harrison Brothers hardware store is more than just a shop that is caught in a time loop, it is the oldest continuously running hardware store in the state having been founded in 1879, and is a great place to pick up some local crafts and old fashioned necessities. They even have local tours run by volunteers if you book ahead.
Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park And Museum.
In December 1819, Alabama became the 22nd State admitted to the Union, and this living history museum serves to give visitors a glimpse of what life was like during that time period as well as celebrate an iconic moment in Alabama’s history. Various period accurate buildings are recreated here including a postmasters office, library, confectionary shop and more, and a 90 minute tour with costumed guides tell the story of Alabama’s rich history.
Liberty Bell Replica.
Just across from the Constitution Hall is a grand replica of the famous Liberty Bell. The Liberty Bell, or the State House Bell as it is sometimes known, is an iconic symbol of American independence, and this replica has been placed here as part of the Constitution Park as a reminder of the importance of that freedom.
The Leroy Pope House.
Known as the Poplar Grove Estate, this huge hilltop mansion is a stunning building, built in 1814 by one of the founding fathers of Huntsville, Leroy Pope, and hosted many eminent guests over the years, including General Andrew Jackson during the American Civil War.
The Weeden House Museum.
The Weeden House Museum is an old 19th Century home, lived in by a long list of notable Huntsville figures, has served as a Federally occupied officers quarters during the American Civil War and is now owned by the city and run as a museum by the Twickenham Historic Preservation District Association.
AM Booth’s Lumberyard.
AM Booth’s Lumberyard is a unique, rambling entertainment complex in Downtown Huntsville. The 120 year old former Lumberyard – hence the name – has been repurposed and remodelled into a labyrinth of personality filled bars, restaurants, live stages and hidden patios, not to mention the renovated 1924 Pullman train carriage that is now an amazing restaurant! Live bands play regularly in either the Kiln or the Taproom, and there are plenty of places where you can party with crowds or find a quiet corner to relax in!
The Blue Bayou Dining Experience.
The Blue Bayou Dining Experience is far more than just a great restaurant and amazing night out, it is a destination attraction in its own right! Built inside a lovingly restored and converted 1924 Pullman train carriage called the Blue Bayou, the atmosphere and décor here is worth the visit alone. The ‘tables’ are actually set inside large 6 seater booths where you are sat with complete strangers and invited to experience true Southern hospitality and make new friends as 3 courses of traditional Southern delicacies are served to you family style.
The World’s Largest Working Jukebox.
Just outside of AM Booths Lumberyard sits one of Huntsville’s quirkiest attractions, a 22 foot tall, working Wurlitzer jukebox! Built as part of the structure of Doug Smiths famous recording studio, you can’t pass by without checking out some of the music. All you have to do is stand in front of the sensor and it will play any one of a number of Alabama’s hits!
Go Shopping At Bridge Street Town Centre.
Bridge Street Town Centre is a creative shopping and entertainment hub right in the middle of the city, and is a great way to spend a day or two window shopping, hitting the credit cards on a few impulse purchases, catch a movie at the luxury, state of the art cinema or fill yourself up at one of the many restaurants!
If you love spending hours rifling through old junk looking for treasure or sifting through antiques looking for a bargain, you will love Firehouse Antiques! This is the largest antique store in the Tennessee Valley and is well worth a visit, one of the vendors is bound to have something that will catch your eye!
Yes, you read that right. The First Baptist Church on Governors Drive, the oldest missionary Baptist church in Alabama dating back to 1809 with the current building being renovated in the 1960s, is home to the famous ‘Cosmic Christ’ mural, known affectionately by the locals as eggbeater Jesus because it does actually look like he is holding an eggbeater. This 47 foot high and 157 foot long mural depicting the theme ‘creation and redemption’ and is made up of over a million glass tiles. If you take the time to look around the church you will also find a number of unique stained glass windows depicting images from the space race and Huntsville’s connection to space.
Top Golf Huntsville.
If anywhere was going to give crazy golf a technological upgrade, it would be Huntsville! Top Golf uses microchipped golf balls to keep track of your games across a variety of courses and relay your stats and accuracy back to you in real time! Although if you aren’t very good that isn’t a great thing! If you fancy an afternoon of fun this is a great option, and there is always the in house restaurant and bar if you need refreshments.
Play Classic Arcades At Pints And Pixels.
You can’t come to the Rocket City, a place that is essentially a mecca for geeks and nerds alike, and not indulge in a spot of retro arcade game playing!
Pints and Pixels is a bar that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, beer and all that American goodness! But they have far more than that. This isn’t just a place to come and grab some dinner or a drink, 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!
Rocket City Arcade.
Another retro arcade home to hundreds of machines straight from the 80s and 90s. Rocket City Arcade also has an all day pass so you can pay once and play all day!
In a city where art and creativity are second only to rocket science, it isn’t surprising to find an art class or two to let your own creativity flow, but Pinot’s Palette takes it that one step further by combining art classes with a bar and a great night out! So grab a glass of wine or a craft beer and get sloshed as you create a masterpiece on canvas! Hell, it can’t be any worse than half the modern art out there, right?
The Camp At Midcity.
It is hard to define The Camp at Midcity other than a grand mixture of farmers market, hipster hangout, gourmet restaurant and live band filled bar space all rolled into one! This unique outdoor hangout has a rolling programme of events and there is always something interesting happening.
Campus No. 805.
This former high school has now been renovated and repurposed as a vast, sprawling entertainment venue full of restaurants, independent breweries and bars, a retro arcade, axe throwing and more, and all of this while retaining the façade of the high school it once was! A secret speakeasy is hidden behind some old high school lockers, old classrooms have been converted into spaces for art and dance lessons and old athletic fields are now an urban park. Campus No. 805 is an ideal space for an easy day of fun or a great night out, and is a definite must visit in Huntsville!
Throw Sharp Objects At Civil Axe Throwing.
Who said a wide choice of craft beer and throwing sharp objects was a bad idea? Civil Axe throwing is located in Campus 805 and is an absolute necessity to start off a legendary night out on the campus, or if you happen to harbour a secret desire to be a lumberjack! Axe throwing is becoming an increasingly popular sport too, and the professional tutelage they have here will have you hitting those targets in no time!
Technically in neighbouring Madison and not Huntsville itself, Toyota Field still makes the list as the home of the Rocket City Trash Pandas baseball team! Even if you aren’t a huge sports fan, or even if you don’t understand a single rule of this very complicated version of rounders, you should still try and catch a game of America’s favourite pastime just for the experience alone!
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! Yet another amazing foodie spot in Huntsville that is a must see destination at the same time!
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 after trying some of their amazing hot dogs and chilli fries, 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!
Indulge Yourself On The Craft Beer Trail.
Huntsville was a little late to the game when it came to indulging in local craft beer, thanks largely to local laws and regulations that have now been repealed, but is catching up really quickly with a number of independent and creative craft breweries taking Alabama by storm! Straight To Ale, Yellowhammer brewing and Old Black Bear are among the most popular, and there is even a local craft beer trail if you think you can make it to the end!
The Unclaimed Baggage Center.
Located just outside of Huntsville this unique destination is still worth a day out if you have the time. This giant shopping attraction is basically a vast warehouse that sells off all the random things that are found in unclaimed baggage! You can even open up a piece of random unclaimed luggage yourself!
Maple Hill Cemetery.
Normally cemetery’s would not get listed in articles like this because by definition they are places of respect and remembrance. Maple Hill cemetery is no different and as a grave yard should still be treated as such if visiting, but it does deserve a place on this list because of the local history and importance to Huntsville. The site itself is home to the Huntsville Meridian, it is on the register of historical landmarks in the city and the large playground that is located on the grounds, known locally as the ‘dead children’s playground’ is considered to be the most haunted site in Alabama and is a favourite spot for ghost hunters and ghost tours.
That is one epic list of things to see and do in Huntsville, Alabama, but it barely scratches the surface of the amazing activities and attractions here! Have you been to Huntsville? Was your favourite attraction on the list? Let me know in the comments down below.
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