It’s OK if you don’t know that Alabama’s state bird is the Northern flicker or that it’s home to 32 percent of the U.S. snail population and the only riverboat mail route in the country. But one thing you should know is that the Yellowhammer State has many charming small towns worth visiting outside the big cities of Montgomery, Birmingham and Mobile. Take Fairhope and Marion, for example. Ever heard of Orange Beach? If you’re not familiar with Tuscumbia, we highly recommend doing a little research. Or, better yet, just scroll below to learn about 15 of the best small towns in Alabama.
13 Charming Small Towns in Alabama to Stop In On Your Next Road Trip
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- Getting There: 15 minutes from Gulf Shores International Airport
- Where to Stay: Penthouse Condo, SpringHill Suites
Alabama doesn’t have that much Gulf of Mexico oceanfront real estate. That’s what makes vacationing in Orange Beach, the easternmost community on the state’s Gulf Coast, so desirable. It’s chock-full of beautiful sandy beaches. (Have you seen pics of Gulf State Park?) The Wharf has shops, restaurants, entertainment and rides—including the tallest Ferris wheel in the Southeast. While the Orange Beach Indian & Sea Museum invites visitors to learn about local Native American and fishing heritage.
- Getting There: 1 hour from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: The Heron House
Established in 1820 and situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the northwest corner of Alabama, Tuscumbia is a darling destination that’s packed with history. Be sure to visit Alabama Music Hall of Fame and Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller. Architecture fans (and really anyone who likes photogenic facades) will enjoy a stroll through downtown to see the restored buildings. To get your fix of greenery and natural springs, head over to popular Spring Park.
- Getting There: 45 minutes from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: Cabin in the Cove
Oodles of Americana packed into a small package—that’s Guntersville. This town in northern Alabama has strong ties to cowboy Will Rogers. And what’s more American than bald eagles? These patriotic birds are often spotted in Lake Guntersville State Park during the winter months (especially January and February). Over at the Guntersville Museum and Cultural Center, you can learn about native avian species and historic steamboats.
- Getting There: 1 hour from Mobile Regional Airport
- Where to Stay: The Grand Hotel Gold Resort & Spa, Rosebud’s Cottage, Downtown Apartment
The name Fairhope just fills us with, well, hope. But you don’t have to hope for a lovely getaway to this quaint waterfront town in Baldwin County. It’s basically bound to happen. That’s thanks to its prime location on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, ample green spaces, laid-back vibe and excellent quality of life that attracts vacationers, artists and retirees alike. Be sure to spend some time walking around the downtown area, which has galleries, shops and bistros. Don’t miss the Fairhope Museum of History and the Eastern Shore Arts Center.
- Getting There: 54 minutes from Chattanooga Airport
- Where to Stay: The Grand House
Fort Payne is much more than just the county seat of DeKalb County, it’s a vibrant community in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains with an interesting claim to fame. It’s the “Sock Capital of the World.” As such, there are many hosiery manufacturers—sort of a unique thing. Lookout Mountain is a popular scenic attraction as are nearby Little River Canyon National Preserve and DeSoto State Park. You’ll also want to visit the Alabama Fan Club and Museum as well as the Fort Payne Opera House and do some antiquing, too.
- Getting There: 1 hour 45 minutes from Pensacola International Airport
- Where to Stay: The Best Western Inn
You don’t have to be a bookworm to appreciate "the Literary Capital of Alabama.” So, how did Monroeville earn such a noteworthy nickname? Famous writers Harper Lee (the fictional town of Maycomb in To Kill a Mockingbird was based on Monroeville) and Truman Capote called this Monroe County community home. No doubt, you’ve seen the Old Monroe County Courthouse in the film adaptation of her beloved novel. It’s cool to experience it IRL. Really, the entire photogenic downtown area is worth checking out.
- Getting There: 15 minutes from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: Cozy Bungalow
A trip to Alabama’s Tennessee River Valley is one vacay you might not have considered but def should. The perfect homebase? Decatur, a lovely town on the river with tons of water-centric recreation. Point Mallard Park has a squirt factory, lagoon, speed slide, three flume rube rides and a sandy beach. There’s plenty to do on land as well, whether it’s exploring the 35,000-acre Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge or spending an afternoon at Cook's Natural Science Museum.
- Getting There: 42 minutes from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: Cullman House
German heritage and agrarian roots make Cullman quite an interesting place to visit. The Cullman County Museum, designed to look like founder John Cullmann’s actual home, exhibits artifacts from the early German settlers. Other historic sites located downtown include the Cullman Railroad Depot and Cullman City Hall. While the Busy Bee Café proves you can find great schnitzel in Alabama. Fans of pious and just all-around pretty stuff should stop by Ave Maria Grotto (pictured), a landscaped park with replicas of famous religious statues from around the globe.
- Getting There: 37 minutes from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: Briley Place
Florence is a destination to consider on your next northwest Alabama trip. It sits on the river and has both waterfront and old-timey attractions, including one of the oldest soda fountains in the country. Renovated historic buildings now house restaurants and cute boutiques. Did you know the Father of Blues was a Florence native? You can see many of his instruments and musical momentos at the W.C. Handy Museum and Library. And if you haven’t
10. Mentone, Alabama
- Getting There: 44 minutes from Chattanooga Airport
- Where to Stay: “Rest Easy” Cabin
When you really want that true small-town experience, Mentone is the perfect place! A Southern-style alpine village in northeastern Alabama’s DeKalb County with a population of fewer than 500 residents, it’s the ideal spot to soak in the stunning views from Lookout Mountain, sample delicious comfort food and stay at a cozy cabin. Oh, and you know how much we love a dude ranch. Shady Grove Dude Ranch offers budding cowboys the chance to go horseback riding along trails to Desoto Falls.
11. Marion, Alabama
- Getting There: 1 hour 30 minutes from Montgomery Regional Airport
- Where to Stay: Entire Historic B&B
If you haven’t heard of Alabama's Black Belt region, it’s time to take note of the whole area and Marion (which used to be called Muckle Ridge but was renamed after American Revolution hero Francis Mario) in particular. If you’re into birdwatching, Perry Lakes Park, which has birding trails and an observation deck, is a must. Does military history spark your interest? Then we’d point you in the direction of the Marion Military Museum and the Marion Military Institute. A short drive outside of town sits Talladega National Forest.
12. Athens, Alabama
- Getting There: 37 minutes from Huntsville International Airport
- Where to Stay: The Hillway House of Athens
Among the oldest cities in Alabama (yes, it’s technically a city but a small one and you wouldn’t be far off calling it a town), Athens is brimming with history and character and its rich Southern roots remain strong. Athens Courthouse Square, which we’d consider the heart of things, has lots of great stores, restaurants, ice cream shops and benches to grab a seat under the dogwood trees and also hosts many parades and cultural events. We’d also suggest doing a walking tour of the four historic districts to see the many homes that date back to the 1800s.
13. Valley, Alabama
- Getting There: 1 hour 7 minutes from Atlanta International Airport
- Where to Stay: Gorgeous 7-Bedroom Lake Home
One of the most unique things about Valley is that when it was incorporated in 1980, it pulled together the textile mill villages of Fairfax, Langdale, River View and Shawmut. Want to see what life was like back in the days of the textile boom and some other cool historic stuff? Walk along the Chattahoochee Valley Railroad Trail, a 7.5-mile-long paved path that runs through all four historic districts.