15 Best Things to Do in Decatur, AL

Decatur, AL
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Dubbed "The River City," the lovely city of Decatur sits in Limestone and Morgan counties in Alabama.

Thriving along the Tennessee River, close to Wheeler Lake, Decatur is an idyllic location where the water sparkles and the sun shines brightly over a beautiful landscape.

Now, with a population of over 72,000, Decatur is the ninth-largest city in the state.

Some are drawn to the low cost of living, while others are drawn to the beautiful scenery that encompasses the area.

The friendly small-town atmosphere makes it a great place to establish roots that grow into something huge.

Decatur also has a humid subtropical climate with four seasons, thanks to its proximity to Flint Creek, Wheeler Lake, Chula Vista Lake, Lake Morgan, and the surrounding area.

Because of the popularity and reputation that it has received over time, Decatur has been named "The Ballooning Capital of Alabama" by the Alabama State Legislature.

If you're craving some city life, Decatur has everything from quaint shops and entertainment venues to its thriving art scene.

If you love nature, on the other hand, you can acquaint yourself with local flora and fauna, because this charming city is also gifted with so many fresh bodies of water.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Check out these other awesome things to do in Decatur:

Try the Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic Race

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic
Shirley Chambers / Shutterstock.com

Alabama Jubilee is the oldest hot air balloon marathon in the Southeast.

It’s known for its friendly community, casual atmosphere, and beautiful landscape.

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic
Ke4roh at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It's one of the nation’s oldest hot air balloon races, bringing over two dozen hot air balloons from neighboring states to compete with 25 local teams for great prizes.

Throughout its four decades, Alabama Jubilee grew into a beloved tradition among families and friends who all gather together to commemorate the anniversary of the American flight.

Alabama Jubilee Hot Air Balloon Classic
Kevin Stephenson from Florence, AL, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It continues to be a fun event that draws thousands of spectators annually, who come just for the spectacle and excitement of watching these colorful balloons drifting above them.

And so, the Alabama Legislature gave the honor of "The Ballooning Capital of Alabama" to the city of Decatur.

Experience the Real Taste of Alabama at Big Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q

Nothing will stop Bob Gibson from cooking up the best barbecue you’ve ever tasted!

It isn’t surprising that readers of the Birmingham News voted this restaurateur the "Best Barbecue Restaurant in Alabama."

Known best for his mouth-watering, slow-cooked meats coupled with his famous white sauce, there’s also nothing quite like his Fiery Habanero Red or original Alabama Red varieties either - all guaranteed to tantalize the taste buds of even the most discerning customers!

Bob Gibson's Bar-B-Q is a quintessential part of the Decatur experience.

The restaurant offers two locations for you to visit, including one at US Highway 31 and the other at Danville Road.

They offer a dine-in service seven days a week from 9:30 am to 8:15 pm, as well as a drive-thru until 8:30 pm.

Shop and Dine at the Shops on 2nd Avenue

Shops on 2nd Avenue is home to the most unique shops in Decatur, Alabama.

This 4,200-square foot retail establishment consists of 39 unique shops selling locally produced items, ranging from handmade goods to outstanding works of art created by regional artists.

The business owners share a passion for what they do and care about how the public see their products - you'll receive an impeccable level of customer service that indeed sets them apart from others!

Second Avenue exudes a warm and inviting ambiance that will put a smile on your face while you browse through an endless variety of one-of-a-kind gifts that will leave you wondering if you've just entered a wonderland.

Treat Yourself With Comfort Food at The RailYard

The RailYard is the best spot in Decatur when you want to unwind with several great drink options.

It's a veritable treasure trove of Southern dishes and famous for locally and regionally inspired comfort food and seasonal cuisine.

The RailYard is a terrific place for fresh, innovative food that keeps diners coming back time and again.

Every single item served here uses only the freshest ingredients.

The RailYard has a laid-back style that combines rustic, elegant, and sophisticated in everything from décor to their eclectic menu mix.

Its casual atmosphere invites conversation and makes any day feel like a holiday.

Make sure you book ahead because they have limited reservations.

Revisit History at the Morgan County Archives

To know where to go sightseeing in the Morgan County region when you're looking for an excellent way to fill up a weekend, you have to consider visiting Morgan County Archives, located at the 624 Bank Street Northeast of Decatur.

This place contains a treasure trove of knowledge for perusing.

Dating as far back as 1818, it's an ample resource for looking into the history and historic photographs.

Some of the most interesting photographs pertain to the Civil War that broke out during that time.

Buy Some Authentic and Delicious Candy at Morgan Price Candy Company

You just can't beat the taste of handmade candy.

There's something about the way it melts in your mouth that is just so incredible.

It feels like you're seeing all of your best childhood memories come together in one tiny bite, which makes it even more enjoyable!

Of course, nowadays, there are many candy options available for purchase on the market.

But at Morgan Price Candy Company, you have a charming candy store with an unparalleled commitment in providing their customers with a product they will genuinely enjoy.

Now, we all love our memories of watching dad or mom make pralines, or how about bite into one of Grandma's most cherished chocolate treats over the holidays.

Morgan Price Candy Company has taken these special moments to heart with their beloved handcrafted candy recipes.

Since 1987, the company continued the tradition of offering fresh-baked candies made with premium ingredients which they deliver to stores.

Times have indeed changed with social media taking over most aspects of people's lives; however, for this family-run business, its traditional business practices will remain in place forever.

Splash the Day Away at Wheeler Lake

View of Wheeler Lake
Stan Reese / shutterstock.com

The second-largest on the Tennessee River, Wheeler Lake lays nestled between its neighbor Wilson Lake and Guntersville Lake, spilling out into South East Alabama.

Its location on the Tennessee River made it an ideal place for flood control and hydroelectric energy sources.

Wheeler Lake in Decatur Alabama
Stan Reese / Shutterstock.com

Wheeler Lake is one of the most famous lakes in Alabama and, as such, draws a lot of attention every year!

Boating, camping, fishing in Wheeler Lake and the surrounding National Wildlife Refuge, and other activities are something many people visiting from all over enjoy.

This beautiful lake even made its way into the history books because it's where Civil War general Joseph 'Fightin' Joe Wheeler used to live.

Since then, this incredible location has been known as Wheeler Lake.

Attend the Riverfest BBQ & Music Festival

Riverfest BBQ & Music Festival at Ingalls Harbor attracts barbeque cooks from all across the country.

Locals and out-of-town visitors often refer to Riverfest as a "can’t-miss event."

Here, you can expect to find dozens of barbeque teams making their way over for the chance to compete in one of Alabama’s largest local barbeque competitions.

The festivities always conclude with an awards ceremony where barbeque judges deliberate, rating all cook-off competitors on their originality, taste, tenderness, and appearance.

This celebration of culinary delights has become a top ten Southern Region tourist event over the years!

Entertainment is no less entertaining, with live music performances scheduled throughout the weekend.

Other activities include arts & crafts booth and children’s activities.

The festival supports a local organization called Mosaic Mentoring that works to mentor children.

Explore the Wonders of Nature at Cook Museum of Natural Science

The Cook Museum of Natural Science in Decatur is state-of-the-art in every way you can imagine.

Kids can learn about nature by doing things like exploring displays, participating in experiments, and learning about the world's species.

The interactive exhibits are perfect for both children and family trips.

The Cook Museum of Natural Science features an extensive gallery devoted to living animals.

The museum displays include freshwater fish species, extensive saltwater fish, species of coral reef, several moon jellyfish specimens, and several species of turtles.

Throughout the entire gallery, there are many different types of display cases that give you an up-close experience with several local (and occasionally exotic) live animals.

The museum features a Nature’s Table where guests can enjoy a hearty meal in a casual atmosphere with friends and family.

Cook Museum also features event spaces, classrooms, and a museum store if you want to buy some souvenirs.

So no matter what your age is, you will enjoy the fun and exciting experience that awaits you at the Cook Museum of Natural Science.

See the Civil War's Best Collection with The Blue and Gray Museum

Is an American Civil War museum on your list of what to do for vacation?

If you want to see magnificent civil war relics, check out the Blue and Gray Museum in Decatur.

This place is known as the North Alabama Civil War Museum due to its immense collection of privately owned artifacts of America's bloodiest war, which has been preserved meticulously by the owner, Robert Sackheim.

If you've got school-age children who've got a keen interest in American history, then a trip to Decatur will prove to be one of the best things to do while visiting here.

The charming setting makes for a great stop if you’re looking for things to do in Decatur, with any history buffs you might be traveling with on your trip!

Enjoy Great Art at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center

There’s so much to do in Decatur; you might not realize that some of Alabama’s most interesting art is right under your nose.

For over a decade, the Carnegie Visual Arts Center has provided its community with countless opportunities to explore art.

Their collection features engaging events throughout the year for new people who are just getting into art and encouraging established artists to learn new techniques.

The Carnegie Visual Arts Center (CVAC) has over 25 galleries of rotating exhibits showcasing artists from Alabama and throughout America.

Located at 207 Church St NE, Decatur, CVAC also offers helpful programming to all skill levels and interests, giving you the tools you need to discover some amazing things about your art.

Enjoy a Show at The Princess Theatre

Outside View of the Princess Theatre
Chris Pruitt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Princess Theatre is an entertainment venue originally built as a stable in 1887, but like most historic buildings, it also took many transformations and renovations throughout the years.

In 1919, it served as a silent cinema theatre and vaudeville.

In 1941, it received renovations that included an art deco-style facade along with a neon marquee that would flash the name of certain films playing here to attract patrons.

Today, you can still see several interior design features, including terrazzo floor maps of different states and glow-in-the-dark murals.

Today, the theatre serves as an arts venue where everyone goes for local entertainment of all sorts - music, theater, movies, and more!

See Horses at their Best at the Alabama Charity Championship Horseshow

The Alabama Charity Championship Horseshow has many good things going for it every year.

It draws in hundreds of spectators who appreciate all that fine horseflesh.

The show takes place each year in October, and its well-groomed attractions make it one of the biggest in the country.

This charity-focused show showcases some of America's most cherished horses - including top breeders and competitors of both American Saddlebreds and Hackneys, not to mention Roadsters!

Thousands of spectators would see the breathtaking show every year.

Tickets to this awe-inspiring event sell out just as quickly as they get out for sale so plan your trip in advance.

Take the Civil War Walking Tour

Make your way to Decatur’s Old and New Albany Historic Districts and take The Civil War Walking Tour!

The Civil War Walking Tour is the only one of its kind in Alabama, and it's a must-see for everyone who appreciates military history or enjoys some old-fashioned tourism.

The Civil War Walking Tour takes place near the banks of the Tennessee River in Alabama.

It provides an excellent opportunity to learn about one of the most significant Civil War battles during the fall of 1864.

The tour, encompassing thirteen blocks, takes you through the events surrounding the occurrences of the four-day battle, where Confederate General John Bell Hood led an advance across the battle lines.

You can learn all about the War Between The States and see hundreds of Victorian-era homes that take you back in time.

An excellent place to start your journey is at an Old State Bank Building (925 Bank Street NE).

Indulge Your Senses at Delano Park

You might find this a little unusual, but you can feel a positive energy pulsating when you enter Delano Park.

The purpose of the park's construction in 1887 was to make it a part of a master plan to "re-invent" the city of Decatur as New Decatur.

The civic park got its name from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Delano Park is over 130 years old and is now a National Register of Historic Places site sporting a designed historic landscape.

Here, you'll see the Splash Pad built in 2006 as part of a large plan to revitalize Delano Park that has had a great deal of success!

Delano Park’s trademark feature, the Historic Rose Garden, was co-created by work teams from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) alongside Alabama’s very first licensed female architect, Carolyn Cortner Smith, in 1934.

The 28-acre sanctuary refuge is truly a milestone for horticulture, where visitors can unite but also take some time to themselves for crucial relaxation.

Wonderfully diverse architecture, dreamy sculptures, and work created by local artists make this oasis an amazing spot.

Delano Park is only one of many iconic treasures that give Decatur its unique charm.

Final Thoughts

Decatur, Alabama, is known for its rich history, southern hospitality, and distinct culture.

Whether you are an out-of-towner or a local, there are plenty of things to do in Decatur.

There is no lack of activities to keep you busy while visiting fabulous restaurants, shopping destinations, and top attractions to see.

Make sure you take your time to visit all of these fantastic destinations while staying in town!