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Things You Should Know About Living in Birmingham, AL

A Birmingham resident explains what you need to know about the "Magic City"

By Cary Estes on June 17, 2015

Birmingham, AL
Birmingham / Courtesy of Mark Almond/AL.com

Birmingham was dubbed “The Magic City” because it seemingly appeared out of thin air in the 1870s and quickly grew into the largest metropolitan area in Alabama. Now the magic is back, as Birmingham has undergone a renaissance in recent years, attracting national attention for its flourishing restaurant scene, downtown revival and overall quality of life. If you are thinking about moving to Birmingham, here are a few things to know about this magical attraction.

We Love to Eat

Dining out has become a recreational sport in Birmingham. Earlier this year, Zagat.com ranked Birmingham No. 1 on its list of America’s Next Hot Food Cities. Award-winning, fine-dining establishments rub shoulders with a variety of barbeque joints, pizza places and that staple of Southern dining, the meat-and-veggie buffet. And partly because of the presence of the University of Alabama at Birmingham – with its medical school and hospital attracting students and workers from throughout the world – the city has a large selection of ethnic food offerings. In fact, there are three Mediterranean-style restaurants near the UAB campus that are open 24 hours a day (hummus at 4 a.m., anyone?).”

 Downtown Delights

Not long ago, Birmingham’s city center was more like a city slumber, where the sidewalks became deserted at 5:01 p.m. That is no longer the case. Historic buildings are being renovated, condos and loft apartments now proliferate downtown, and there are a growing number of entertainment and shopping options. A new hotel and seven-restaurant dining area called Uptown opened next to the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in 2013, and quickly became popular with locals and visitors alike.

A Walk in the Park

The opening of $22-million Railroad Park in 2010 has helped transform an area of town that was filled primarily with abandoned warehouses. This 19-acre green space has been lauded nationally, including beating out New York City’s acclaimed High Line for the Urban Land Institute’s 2012 Urban Open Space Award. Three years after Railroad Park opened, the Birmingham Barons minor-league baseball team began playing home games across the street at the new 8,500-seat Regions Field. The entire area, now known as the Parkside District, is undergoing a rapid resurgence.

Football Fanaticism

This state is crazy about college football and not just during football season. Listen to local sports-talk radio in the middle of May, and the topic will probably be football. There is a constant feud between fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers. Don’t be frightened if you suddenly hear somebody yell “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle” in a restaurant. It’s perfectly normal around here.

 The Iron Man

Yes, that is a giant statue of a pants-less mythological god perched atop the ridge that separates downtown from the suburban “Over the Mountain” communities. The 56-foot-tall, cast-iron statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, was created in 1904 as a way to honor the city’s steel-making industry and has been in its current location since the late 1930s. While Vulcan is partially covered in a blacksmith’s apron, his bare backside is there for all to see. This has elicited numerous chuckles from visitors but is an odd source of pride among locals.

A History Lesson

The Birmingham of today is not the one from the history books. The city had many shameful moments during the 1960s Civil Rights era, and they are acknowledged at the emotionally moving Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. But 21st-century Birmingham is far removed from those days.

Do Talk to Strangers

Most of all, Birmingham is an amazingly friendly city, to the point that is not uncommon for strangers to strike up a conversation while standing in line at a store or walking their dogs at the park. When we ask, “How are you doing,” we truly want to know. It’s one of the nicest things about living in Birmingham.

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