Lynyrd Skynyrd sent it to worldwide fame, melodically rhapsodising about Alabama and its sweet blue skies. But while you've been belting out those infamous lyrics at karaoke bars for time immemorial, the state of Alabama has been quietly waiting for the world to catch on that this is a place that is about so much more than a song.
Sandwiched between Mississippi to the west, Georgia to the east,Tennessee to the North and the Gulf of Mexico to the South, Alabama has a striking topography and cultural DNA that is anchored in a fraught history
Often the preferred driving route between the thriving food scene in New Orleans and the music of Nashville, this is a state that has developed its own identity at its own pace, away from the inevitable neon-lit promenades that crop up in response to mass tourism.
In 2021, Conde Nast Traveller announced the city of Birmingham as one of it's top 22 destinations for 2022. That same year seven of the city's chefs and restaurants were shortlisted for a James Beard award – notoriously nicknamed the 'Oscars of the food world'. The message was clear: Alabama had arrived, and it was hell bent on drawing you in. The excitement isn't just centred in its biggest city, either: the crystalline coastline of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach easily rivals its neighbourly counterparts, while the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains offer swathes of world-grade hikes.
Once you've ticked off a few James Beard award winners in Birmingham – say, for example, Highlands Bar and Grill which was named Most Outstanding Restaurant in America in 2018, or Automatic Seafood & Oysters, which earned Adam Evans a nomination for Best Chef for the South – there are still a fair few hunger-inducing pit stops to make around Alabama. 100 of them, to be exact: the state has compiled the '100 Dishes to eat in Alabama' list which will take you from Huntsville to Mobile and everywhere in-between and have you eating everything from chicken smothered in Alabama's white BBQ sauce to banana pudding.
All that consumption will no doubt leave you with an excess of energy. Burn it off exploring 48,000 acres of its 22 state parks, hiking in Dismals Canyon or rafting down the world's longest stretch of urban white water. Got time left to spare? Why not discover the World’s Largest Space Museum in Huntsville, the World’s Largest Motor Cycle Museum Park in Birmingham or brush up on your Civil Rights History in the State Capital, Montgomery. Alternatively, just chill out on the 32 miles of sugar white sand at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and soak up those blue skies that catapulted the state to such renown back in 1974. You might just leave feeling a little lyrical, too.
Find out more at alabama.travel