Phenix City, Alabama lies directly across Chattahoochee River from the bustling city of Columbus, Georgia. It’s a city with rich history, and a notorious one too, as it was once known as ‘Sin City’ on account of its gambling and prostitution.
The Phenix City you see today is very different. With exquisite architecture, riverside walks, museums and parks, there’s much to see and do. Whether you wish to delve deep into Civil War history, get your adrenaline pumping on the East Alabama Speedway, or hike along trails at Lake Oliver, there’s activities to entertain everyone.
I’m from Alabama, and love to travel all around the state, Phenix City is definitely worth visiting, and also very easy to combine with a trip to Columbus, Georgia.
Here is my list of the best things to do in and around Phenix City:
1. Phenix City RiverWalk
Phenix City Riverwalk is an urban trail stretching for 1.2 miles along the banks of Chattahoochee River. It’s a loop trail where you can walk, run, skate, fish and cycle, and there’s myriad wildlife and attractions to see along the route.
The walk begins at the elevated 3000-seat Phenix City Amphitheater, offering the perfect location to view birds and wildlife. If you wish to extend your walk, there are several bridges connecting you to Columbus, Georgia across the river.
Once you arrive in Columbus, the trail continues past Eagle and Phenix Dam into the historic cotton mill district of Bibb City.
2. Whitewater Rafting on Chattahoochee River
If you want to view both Phenix City and Columbus from a different perspective, head for the water.
There are several places along the riverfront where you can hire kayaks, canoes and tubes by the hour, but if you feel a little bolder like I did, try your hand at Whitewater rafting! Chattahoochee River is home to the longest, urban rafting course in the country. The 2.5 mile stretch flows faster due to the daily dam release, providing an exhilarating, fun, adventure for all.
3. Coca Cola Space Science Center
At Coca Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, you can use your imagination, and the Challenger Learning Center Mission Simulator to discover the secrets of the universe. Visitors can become scientists or engineers as they journey to the Moon or Mars.
Work in teams at mission control, and experience what’s it’s like to live aboard the International Space Station. Visit the Omnisphere Planetarium, explore a range of interactive exhibits, and spend time viewing Georgia’s largest collection of Space Shuttle artifacts.
4. Fort Mitchell Historic Site
Around 1800, ‘The Federal Road’ in Alabama was used as a transport route by travelers, soldiers and stagecoaches. However, during the Creek War between 1813 and 1814, the same road became a main site of hostilities between Americans and Indians. The first fortress was built in 1813, following a particularly vicious battle.
Today, visitors to Fort Mitchell can reconstruct life during the Creek War as they stand in the replica of the fort, imagining how both sides felt during this difficult period. You can discover the carriage museum, view a restored 19th century log home, visit the Trail of Tears monument, and delve deep into history at the informative on-site visitor center.
Also on Alabama: 30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alabama
5. East Alabama Motor Speedway
East Alabama Motor Speedway is one of Alabama’s most popular attractions, it’s definitely one of my favorites! Founded by NASCAR cup team National 500 winner, Jimmy Thomas in 1973, it’s one of the best circuits in the country to watch motor racing.
It hosts events such as National 100, stock car racing, monster truck events, and if you fancy a spin around the track yourself, you can pay to ride in the race cars. It’s a place to meet like-minded individuals and enjoy quality food and drink while cheering on your favorite team.
6. Lake Oliver
This 2,150-acre reservoir is located approximately 7 miles north of Phenix City, Alabama. The lake was named after James McCoy Oliver, who worked for Georgia Power around 1959. The dam and power plant created the lake, and today it’s a popular place with locals for recreational pursuits.
Take a picnic, cycle along pathways, go fishing on the lake, or join the Chattahoochee Riverwalk and hike back to Phenix City or Columbus.
Related reading: 15 Best Lakes in Alabama
7. National Civil War Naval Museum
The National Civil War Naval Museum in close by Columbus (Georgia) aims to connect people to the past, showcasing displays and stories of how the Navy were involved in the American Civil War. Overlooking Chattahoochee River, the museum is home to the CSS Jackson – the largest surviving Confederate warship, and other full-scale ships ripe for exploration.
You can walk through the dockside exhibit of Plymouth, North Carolina, see the largest collection of Naval Civil War flags in the country, and discover a range of artefacts which were used throughout the period.
8. Phenix City Amphitheater
Located along the banks of Chattahoochee River, within a short walk of Dillingham Street Bridge lies Phenix City Amphitheater. Throughout the year, the pretty, stepped theater, which looks across to Columbus, Georgia, showcases live music concerts, functions and events.
It can house 3,000 people, but I think it still feels like an intimate outdoor venue. As the sunsets, and lights from historical industrial buildings reflect and illuminate on the river, this idyllic setting really comes to life.
9. Idle Hour Park
I believe one of the most relaxing spots in Phenix City is Idle Hour Park. This picturesque park was once home to an amusement park and zoo. Today, it’s a tranquil retreat close to the city center and Phenix City Riverwalk.
The park is surrounded by verdant woodland, which changes color throughout the seasons. Moon Lake takes center stage, offering a great place to spot a variety of birdlife including Buffleheads, Belted Kingfishers, Canada Geese and Coots. Children are catered for too, with a playground and Splash Pad in the park.
There are also nature trails, picnic areas and a pavilion where you can enjoy alfresco snacks and beverages.
10. National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center is located 8 miles southeast of Phenix City. The museum is home to a multitude of interactive military exhibits and tells the story of the infantry division of the US Army.
Visitors can experience a soldiers’ journey around the world, watch video presentations of their deployments, and explore myriad monuments and memorials. Walk through each decade viewing over 100,000 historical artefacts, military vehicles and sculptures.
Don’t leave without venturing outside to Patriot Park. The outdoor campus hosts several large-scale displays, including the popular World War II Company Street.
11. Ma Rainey House and Blues Museum
Follow the life of Gertrude “Ma” Rainey – known as “Mother of the Blues” at her former home in Columbus, Georgia. During her career, Ma Rainey performed and recorded with the most famous names of Blues and Jazz, including legendary Louis Armstrong and Blind Blake.
With a range of factual information, photographic displays and artefacts, fans of the Blues should put Ma Rainey House on their itinerary. Before my visit I really got into the mood by listening to her greatest hits, Booze and Blues, Deep Moaning Blues and Moonshine Blues.
12. Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Centre
If you’re planning to visit Fort Mitchell during your Alabama stay, then consider continuing up the road to Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Centre. This fascinating site honors the Creek Indians and Native Americans which lived in the valley prior to their removal during the Creek War.
Visit the Trail of Tears Monument – the sacred fire sculpture and follow in their footsteps along the interpretive trail.
13. Columbus Museum
When local industrialist W.C. Bradley passed away in the late 1940s, his family donated his vast estate to the city. A few years later, the Columbus Museum opened, its primary focus, to display archaeological artefacts, American art and regional historical exhibits.
Today, the museums temporary and permanent displays tell the story of the Chattahoochee River Valley, and the people and creatives who have been inspired by its history and natural beauty.
14. Columbus Historic Riverfront Industrial District
Phenix City and Columbus’ industrial heritage can still be seen today on the banks of Chattahoochee River. During the American Industrial Revolution, the cities were earmarked as a prime location for factories with machinery as they could be powered by local dams.
Eagle and Phenix Mills was one such factory, and it became the largest textile center in the southern states, manufacturing clothing for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The mill’s raceway and the now breached dam can still be seen in part today. Other buildings included City Mills – a grist mill, Muscogee Mills and Columbus Ironworks.
I recommend taking a walk around the area, explore the exteriors of the buildings and imagine what life was like for the workers in these factories during the Industrial Revolution.
15. Museum of Wonder
Around 15 minutes’ drive from Phenix City is the eclectic Museum of Wonder. This bizarre drive-thru museum started in the 1970s as an artefact room and taxidermy store. These days the museum is abundant with an array of strange curiosities and original artworks.
If you have exhausted many of the city’s landmark sights, this museum is an odd, yet welcome change. The museum has featured in the New York Times as a place to visit in Alabama, so if you have some free time I think it’s really worth checking out.