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With a two-hour drive or less, you can hop across the ocean, explore a hidden underworld or get out of this world entirely. How? Check out these day trips north of Birmingham, and you’ll see.
Hop across the ocean: Ave Maria Grotto, “Jerusalem in Miniature,” in Cullman
- Distance: 51 miles from Birmingham, via I-65 N
- Drive time: 55 minutes
- Open daily: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (until 6 p.m. April through September)
- Admission: $8 for adults; $5 for children 6-12; $6 for seniors; $5 for active military and veterans
When you walk into Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, you enter the world of “Jerusalem in Miniature.” The four-acre landscaped park contains 125 miniature reproductions of some of the world’s most historic shrines, churches and buildings. It is the fascinating life’s work of one Benedictine monk, Brother Joseph Zoettl.
A grotto is a picturesque, often manmade cave that may be outfitted as a religious shrine or garden feature. Grottos date back to Greek and Roman times and became popular in Italian and French gardens in the 16th Century.
Brother Joseph immigrated to the U.S. from Bavaria at age 14. In 1911, at age 33, he took charge of the new powerhouse at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. The days operating the powerhouse were long and tedious. To fill the time, he built a miniature church from cement. That was the beginning of Ave Maria Grotto, which was officially dedicated in 1934. Brother Joseph continued creating miniatures until the age of 80.
His materials came from fans all over the world. They sent him colored glass, marbles, cold cream jars, punctured commode floats, wrecked marble, broken bathroom tile and costume jewelry.
Explore a hidden underworld: Cathedral Caverns State Park in Woodville
- Distance: 94 miles from Birmingham, via I-65 N to AL-160 E to AL-79 N
- Drive: 1 hour, 45 minutes
- Open daily. Check cave tour times in advance.
- Admission: $18.50 for adults; $8 for children ages 5 to 12; free for children under 4
Explore a fantastical underground world at Cathedral Caverns State Park. Sights include a “frozen waterfall” rock formation, a stalagmite forest and “Goliath,” one of the world’s largest stalagmites. The mouth of the cave measures a whopping 126 feet wide and 25 feet high! While the park’s day-use areas are open to the public sun up to sun down, you must purchase a guided tour to go inside the cave for your own safety. Tours last about 90 minutes and require you to walk 1.5 miles roundtrip.
“Goliath” at Cathedral Caverns State Park is one of the world’s largest stalagmites, measuring 45 feet tall and 243 feet in circumference.
Get out of this world! U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville
- Distance: 98 miles from Birmingham, via I-65 N
- Drive: 1 hour, 25 minutes
- Open daily: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Admission: $25 for adults; $17 for children ages 5 to 12; free for children under 4
Before it was known for rocket science, Huntsville was known for, wait for it, watercress. (Salad, anyone?) In the 1950s, Dr. Wernher von Braun and his team of rocket scientists transformed Huntsville into the science and space hub we know today. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville boasts 1,500 pieces of rocket and space hardware and inspires us through its interpretation of the past, present and future of human spaceflight. Exhibits include the National Historic Landmark Saturn V Moon Rocket, the Apollo 16 Command Module, the Apollo 12 Moon Rock and Skylab Orbital Workshop.
The one and only full-stack space shuttle display in the whole wide world is here! You must see the Pathfinder shuttle at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.
Looking for day trips even closer to home?
You don’t even have to leave the city. Check out these Birmingham destinations.