Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Tuscaloosa, AL

  • Published 2022/12/14

Tuscaloosa is the county seat of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama.

It is also home to well-known universities and colleges, like the University of Alabama, Stillman College, and Shelton State Community College.

The city is also known as “the Druid City” because of the abundance of water oak trees planted downtown since the 1840s.

With its rich art and cultural scene, there are plenty of things to do in this city, and many of them are free of charge!

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly itinerary, here’s a list of free things to do in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Relax at Government Plaza

Aerial view of Government Plaza

Chris W Lee /

Government Plaza is a five-acre park strategically located at the heart of Tuscaloosa.

It is surrounded by restaurants, cafes, and places of interest like the Bama Theater, the Children’s Hands-On Museum, and the Federal Building & Courthouse.

The park is also the location of events like the Druid City Arts Festival, outdoor movie screenings, and other seasonal events.

As the city’s heartbeat, Government Plaza is one of the best places for relaxing after or in the middle of your tour around the city.

On certain weekends in summer, the plaza hosts Movies in the Park, a free outdoor film screening.

Take a Stroll along the Tuscaloosa River Walk

Located along the Black Warrior River banks, the Tuscaloosa River Walk is a paved trail perfect for walking and biking.

There are two lanes for biking and walking, so you can go at your own pace.

The paved surface is ideal for those on wheelchairs and visitors with limited mobility.

The Tuscaloosa River Walk passes through various parks and has plenty of benches, gazebos, and shaded areas where you can take quick breaks and snacks in between.

Stop for photos and admire the riverside views between walks along the trail.

Since the trail is well-lit with street lamps, you can safely enjoy an evening stroll along the Tuscaloosa River Walk.

Get Your Dose of History at the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail

To get a deeper insight into Tuscaloosa’s history and its role during the Civil rights movement, take the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail.

The trail takes you through different sites, including parks, buildings, houses, and other establishments, which led to the local movement.

Some of the important sites along the trail include Capitol Park, the former home of the Alabama Central Female College.

Ceck out the Mob at the Flagpole, the location of protest during the civil rights movement.

Then, go to the Paul R. Jones Museum, a museum housing African American artworks collected by Paul R. Jones.

Visit the locations along the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History Trail and learn more about the city’s history.

All sites are within downtown Tuscaloosa, so it’s easy to visit them in one trip.

Celebrate the Druid City Arts Festival

The Druid City Arts Festival is an annual event celebrating Tuscaloosa’s art, culture, and vibrant community.

The festival is held at the Government Plaza and features artists from different fields, such as contemporary art and sculpture, traditional craft, folk art, and self-taught art.

This is also one of the best opportunities for small artists to introduce themselves and launch their brand to gain a steady following.

At the Druid City Arts Festival, explore the plaza and check out the booths selling handmade soaps, candles, glass art, jewelry, sculptures, and more.

There’s also live entertainment and food trucks around the park.

Browse the stalls, enjoy the live music, and feel the city unite through its love and appreciation for art, music, and food.

Tour the Jemison-Van De Graaff Mansion

Exterior of the Jemison-Van De Graaff Mansion

Altairisfar, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuscaloosa is home to several historic houses and mansions in the state, including the gorgeous Jemison-Van De Graaff Mansion.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the mansion served as the private residence of former senator Robert Jemison Jr.

The Italianate-style residence features state-of-the-art design and innovation at that time, including running water, flush toilets, and a copper bathtub.

Today, the Jemison-Van De Graaff Mansion operates as a historic house museum, restored and maintained to its early-day grandeur.

The mansion is open to the public, and you can join free tours on select days and hours.

On your tour of the mansion, check out the Van de Graaff generators, original carpet patterns and hardwoods, and a collection of 19th-century tools.

Marvel at the Greenery at the University of Alabama Arboretum

The University of Alabama Arboretum boasts 60 acres of Alabama’s native flora and fauna and is part of the University of Alabama Museums.

The arboretum’s primary goal is to showcase Alabama’s ecology and biodiversity while promoting the conservation of these natural resources.

It features miles of walking trails through woodlands, a wildflower garden with over 250 species, an ornamental plant garden, a bog garden, and an open-air pavilion.

In addition, you can find a children’s garden and two greenhouses containing orchids, cacti, and other tropical plants.

Visit the University of Alabama Arboretum and check out the vast collection of plants and trees.

See the maple trees, Japanese camellia, flowering dogwood trees, water oak trees, and more.

Learn Local History at the Warner Transportation Museum

Warner Transportation Museum is one of the museums in Tuscaloosa offering free admission, part of the museums under the University of Alabama.

Located in Queen City Park, the museum aims to educate and broaden visitors’ knowledge on transportation-related topics that helped Tuscaloosa’s development.

The building housing the museum is a work of art designed by Don Buel Schuyler, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, and features an art deco fountain and wading pool.

Visit the Warner Transportation Museum and learn more about Tuscaloosa’s local and regional history and natural resources.

At the museum, we find interactive media displays, photos, replicas, and different artifacts like a Native American canoe and an old carriage.

Take note that while admission is free at the museum, there is a small charge should you choose to take a guided tour.

Check Out University Boulevard

The road of University Boulevard

Therodrigoc /

Hailed as the “Mother Road” of Tuscaloosa, University Boulevard stretches from Capitol Park to the University of Alabama Arboretum.

The main street is lined with several establishments, including restaurants, cafes, bars, local shops, and historical sites.

Walking along University Boulevard is also a great way to get an overview of the city and check out which shops to visit, where to eat, and more.

Some places of interest along the highway include the Federal Courthouse, Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Denny Chimes, among others.

You can also go on a scenic drive along the thoroughfare to cover more areas and see more of what the city offers.

Explore the Battle-Friedman House

Located near Government Plaza, the Battle-Friedman House is gorgeous with a Federal and Grecian Revival architectural style.

It also houses the only remaining antebellum garden in the state.

This place is a must-visit for architecture and landscaping enthusiasts or those looking for the next picture-perfect historical site.

The house was the former residence of Alfred Battle and his family until they lost property ownership due to foreclosure in 1835.

The Friedman family lived in the house until 1965, and the city of Tuscaloosa has since owned the place.

Today, the Battle–Friedman House serves as a historic house museum and offers free historical tours of the property.

In addition, you can rent the house for weddings, meetings, parties, and other private events.

Bring Your Furry Friends to Will May Dog Park

Bring your dogs to Will May Dog Park for a fun-filled day if you’re traveling with your four-legged friends.

Located in the massive Sokol Park, the dog park has fenced-in areas for small and large dogs to go off-leash and run freely.

Is your dog learning new tricks or getting ready for a dog show?

There’s a separate training yard where your pet can focus and train in peace.

At Will May Dog Park, let your dogs run free and play with their fellow furry friends.

Since you’re in a public park, comply with the rules for humans and dogs to avoid penalties or expulsion from the garden.

Take note that your dogs must wear a collar with their current rabies tag and proper identification.

Walk around the University of Alabama

Denny chimes at the University of Alabama Campus

Beth Kane /

The University of Alabama is the largest and oldest public university in Alabama.

It was also crucial during the American Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.

Even if you’re not a prospective student, you can walk around the university campus and check out its historic buildings, museums, and other notable landmarks.

Coliseum at the University of Alabama Campus

Chad Robertson Media /

Besides the Alabama Museum of Natural History, Paul W. Bryant Museum, and other galleries, one of the must-see areas at the University of Alabama campus is the Gorgas–Manly Historic District.

Comprising several buildings, this historic district within the campus gives visitors a glimpse of student life back then.

With timeless buildings and state-of-the-art facilities, walking around the University of Alabama is a must when visiting Tuscaloosa.

Gorgas house at the University of Alabama Campus

Ken Wolter /

Enjoy the Waterside Views from the Park at Manderson Landing

The Park at Manderson Landing is a small waterfront park along the Black Warrior River.

It is a popular hangout spot for students and locals near the University of Alabama.

You can also find the Tuscaloosa Bicentennial Statue at the park, a 30-foot-tall statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess, releasing an owl.

Sit back, relax at one of the benches and tables at Park at Manderson Landing, and watch as boats come and go along the river.

When dusk sets in, bring your cameras out and capture the gorgeous sunset to cap off the day.

Have a Fun Day at Snow Hinton Park

Situated along McFarland Boulevard, Snow Hinton Park is one of Tuscaloosa’s most accessible and visible public parks.

It has all the facilities for an exciting day out, including sheltered picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large climbing net, grill areas, and restrooms.

Moreover, you can also find athletic fields and a walking track for those who’d like to break a sweat and work out.

Snow Hinton Park is the perfect family-friendly destination, and there’s something for every member.

Kids will love playing in the slides and the towering KOMPAN Spacenet, while the adults can chill and enjoy a picnic at any of the picnic shelters.

Meanwhile, take the Snow Hinton Park Trail, a one-mile paved trail that takes you around the park.

Immerse Yourself in Nature at Hurricane Creek Park

Escape the city’s fast-paced life and enjoy a change of scenery at Hurricane Creek Park, offering miles of trails, scenic areas, and opportunities for outdoor activities.

Tucked in the eastern side of Tuscaloosa, the property lines Hurricane Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River.

Spend the day at Hurricane Creek Park and discover the rich flora and fauna living in the area.

Enjoy water activities like swimming and canoeing, or go for a hike along the trails and check out the fascinating rock formations.

While exploring the park, spot birds like the red-bellied woodpecker, blue heron, osprey, and red-shouldered hawk.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Join the Kentuck Art Center Art Nights

From Tuscaloosa, travel ten minutes to Northport, Alabama, and join the Kentuck Art Center Art Nights.

Happening every first Thursday of the month, the Art Nights event celebrates the community’s art and local artists.

The Kentuck Art Center Art Nights also serves as the opening event for exhibitions at the Ellis Teer Gallery and SoNo Gallery, free of charge.

Sit in artist talks, open artist studios, exhibition openings, and other fun events to immerse yourself into Alabama’s art scene.

Check out the artwork and other items for sale at the gallery shop, which has extended shop hours for the event.

You can also listen to live music in the courtyard, browse the pop-up shops from local crafters, and enjoy food from vendors.

Final Thoughts

Tuscaloosa is one of the must-visit cities in Alabama, offering a variety of parks, historic buildings, and attractions for everyone.

Although the city is famous for the University of Alabama, you can visit other sites and enjoy numerous activities.

Enjoy a memorable vacation with this list of the free things to do in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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