Alabama is one of the most underrated states in the United States. It has pristine nature that is mostly undiscovered, so you can lie on sandy beaches or explore mysterious forests without crowds surrounding you.
Alabama is also very important for American history. It is one of the birthplaces of the Civil Rights Movement and hosts important sites related to that movement, such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.
After a long day of exploring, you can relax with good old Southern cooking and hospitality. However, when most people hear about Alabama in the national news, it’s usually a negative story.
Many Americans have a bad perception of Alabama, but you might be wondering if that matches up with reality?
Don’t worry — our travel experts have done the hard work for you. We’ll show you whether Alabama is safe to visit, common safety issues you might encounter and how to avoid them, and more. Let us be your guide!
Is Alabama Safe to Visit?
Many travelers hesitate to visit Alabama because of perceptions of the state as impoverished and violent, both in the United States and abroad. But that’s not necessarily out of line with reality.
It’s true that Alabama has one of the highest violent crime rates in the United States. However, violent crime in Alabama is usually concentrated in a few locations and rarely directed at tourists.
The main concerns for tourists that may want to go to Alabama are:
- Violent crime
- Natural disasters
Alabama does have the second-highest violent crime rate in the nation. According to data collected by the FBI in 2021, Alabama has a whopping 556 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people.
Property crimes such as break-ins and armed robberies are common, as are homicides and other forms of violent crime. These crimes are highly concentrated in a few impoverished neighborhoods in the state where tourists rarely go.
For some perspective, let’s take a look at the Australian government’s travel advisory for all of the United States. Although it tells Australians that they only need to “exercise normal safety precautions” in the United States, it also warns about higher rates of violent crime, gun crime, and mass shootings.
That’s not for Alabama — that’s for the whole United States. To many visitors from other countries, the entire United States seems dangerous to visit, not just Alabama.
Some visitors are worried about discrimination when visiting Alabama. The Deep South has a reputation for being much more conservative than the rest of the country, which would affect people of color, LGBT travelers, and women.
The Australian government in its advisory even tells citizens that some places in the United States have laws that affect LGBT travelers. Alabama is the epicenter of a growth in local anti-LGBT laws, especially anti-trans laws.
While these laws primarily affect residents, not visitors, and many LGBT travelers report positive experiences in Alabama, it is something to keep in mind if you identify as LGBT.
Finally, many people worry about visiting Alabama due to the natural disasters. The state is frequently hit with natural disasters that cause millions in damages and injure or kill people, from hurricanes to tornadoes.
Luckily, most of these disasters occur seasonally so you can protect yourself from them by not visiting Alabama during hurricane season, which peaks from August to October.
Tornadoes are less predictable and can occur at any time of year. Although Alabama has a bit of a negative reputation in the rest of the country, that reputation is mostly unfounded.
Any dangers associated with Alabama, from high crime to discrimination, primarily affect residents, not tourists. Some basic research is enough to keep yourself safe while traveling to Alabama.
Crime in Alabama
One of the main reasons why people are worried about visiting Alabama is the high crime rate. It is true that Alabama has one of the highest crime rates in the nation, ranking second for violent crime just after Louisiana.
However, the situation is getting better. As seen in the 2022 data, violent crime rates dipped by 10% and property crime rates dipped by 18% compared to 2021 data.
The crime rate is still higher than the national average, but the overall trend is improving. There are a few reasons why Alabama has such a crime rate. One is the high poverty rate.
The same FBI survey in 2021 that named Alabama the state with the second highest rate of violent crime rate also has the fourth highest poverty rate at 16.3%. The glaring income inequality and poverty lead to people getting pushed into crime when they don’t think they have any way out.
The idea of Alabama as a dangerous state sometimes has more of a basis in perception than reality. Overall, people in the United States perceive the crime rate as much worse than it actually is.
People know that crime is a problem in Alabama, but they assume the problem is much bigger than it is. When crime does occur in Alabama, it usually affects locals, not tourists.
The primary crime most tourists worry about when visiting any destination, not just Alabama, is theft. Nobody wants to have their wallet lifted or be mugged in an alleyway. Alabama does have a high incident rate of theft, at 18.36 incidents per 1,000 people.
Types of theft that occur in the state range from burglaries and carjacking to porch piracy and larceny. You’ll notice these types of theft all have one thing in common — they’re directed at people who live and own property in Alabama, not tourists.
Tourists are fairly protected from theft in Alabama. Incidents of pickpocketing and bag snatching, even at popular tourist destinations, are very low. Violent incidents and robberies directed at tourists do occur.
In 2022, Alabama was shocked when a young man was murdered during a robbery gone wrong in Talladega National Forest, one of the state’s most popular tourist destinations.
The fact that the incident made news shows how rare such crimes against tourists are. While theft in Alabama is rare, take basic precautions that you would take anywhere else to protect yourself.
Keep valuables in a safe place and do basic research on good and bad areas before you travel. If someone robs you while holding a weapon, don’t try to fight back and just give them what they want. Your life is more valuable than your wallet.
Foreign travelers to the United States are usually warned about the country’s much higher rates of gun violence than most of their home countries. One of the states that has a perception of higher rates of gun violence than others is Alabama.
The perception is definitely based on truth. Alabama’s rate of gun ownership is higher than most other places in the United States, at 55.5%.
While most of the people that own guns in Alabama just have them for sport or self-defense, higher concentration of guns means that more weapons are available to people who want to use them for nefarious purposes.
Alabama had a higher rate of increase of mass shootings in 2022 than the United States average. Mass shooting incidents jumped by 138% in just one year, while in the United States as a whole the increase was only 13%.
Most people wounded by guns in Alabama are Alabamians themselves. In fact, 51% of gun deaths in Alabama are suicides, not homicides.
Guns are also a leading cause of death among children and women who are killed by their partners. These are incidents that don’t affect tourists at all. Mass shootings are a different story.
While most mass shootings are targeted gun fights gone wrong, these incidents can and do occur at random. You can be a victim of a mass shooting just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This is the unfortunate reality of life not just in Alabama, but in the United States. If you’re not from a place prone to gun violence, brush up on mass shooting survival tips such as the ones published by FEMA before going to Alabama.
Try to keep exits in sight when you’re in a crowded public place. If a shooting does occur, your priority is fleeing or hiding, not fighting back.
Avoiding Bad Areas
While Alabama does have a higher crime rate than the national average, most crimes are concentrated in certain neighborhoods. You can ensure you have a safe trip to Alabama by avoiding bad areas.
The city of Birmingham is one of Alabama’s premium tourism draws thanks to its many important Civil Rights era sites. However, you want to avoid Fairfield, one of Birmingham’s suburbs, as it has the highest violent crime rate in the entire state.
In Mobile, locals recommend avoiding the area of Prichard. Some rural areas, such as the town of Anniston, also have high crime rates.
These are places that don’t have a lot of economic opportunity, leading to higher rates of crime. Other towns you might want to avoid include Bessemer, Lanett, and Guntersville.
Besides keeping specific neighborhoods in mind, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings no matter where you go in Alabama. If you notice that a neighborhood seems sketchy, trust your instincts and get out of there.
Don’t wander in unknown areas at night. Don’t flash any cash or valuables that make you a target and beware of common tourist scams such as overly friendly people at popular tourist sites. Even in isolated areas, such as hiking trails, keep your safety in mind.
Things to Consider
Here are some things to keep in mind before traveling to Alabama:
- Rape and sexual assault against visitors do happen when visiting Alabama, so female travelers should exercise more caution than men.
- Choose your accommodation carefully. Read the reviews, make sure the hotel has a front desk with security, and avoid first floor rooms especially if you are traveling alone.
- Don’t visit Alabama in the summer, as the weather is very hot and humid. Not only are you at risk of heatstroke, but that is also when hurricane season begins.
- If you visit one of Alabama’s beaches, make sure you are a strong swimmer as riptides sometimes occur.
- If you hear a tornado warning, seek shelter in a basement or room away from windows immediately.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some things other travelers to Alabama wanted to know:
Is Birmingham Alabama safe for tourists?
Birmingham has a reputation as a crime-ridden city, and the statistics certainly back it up. However, the most crime incidents occur in certain neighborhoods that are far from where tourists go. Take basic precautions and you should be fine.
What is the safest part of Alabama?
Alabama’s quiet suburban and rural areas are some of the safest. The towns with the lowest crime rates include Helena, Mountain Brook, and Pleasant Grove.
Is it safe to walk in Birmingham at night?
If you are sticking to downtown Birmingham and other centrally located neighborhoods where there are a lot of other people, Birmingham is fairly safe to walk in at night. However, you don’t want to go exploring any unfamiliar alleyways.
What city in Alabama has the lowest crime rate?
Alabama’s city with the lowest crime rate is Cullman, the seat of Cullman County. About 45 miles north of Birmingham, the city is a great place to visit if you want to explore some down-home Alabama charm.
What are the negatives of living in Alabama?
If you’re planning a move to Alabama, not just a visit, you should be aware of some of the negatives. The climate gets very hot and humid, with plenty of storms and annoying wildlife such as cockroaches. The political climate is also unfriendly according to some people.
So, Is Alabama Safe to Visit in 2023?
Alabama is off the beaten path for most tourists in the United States, but a very rewarding destination if you go. The state has a reputation as a backwater, supported in part by its high crime and poverty rates that are unfortunate realities of life here.
However, most crime affects locals, not visitors. The vast majority of travelers to Alabama experience a safe, welcoming atmosphere that breaks stereotypes about the state. Happy travels!