Both Atlanta, Georgia and Charlotte, North Carolina have been called the “capital of the New South,” with impressive skylines and major industries. Both had industrial beginnings, namely railroad and cotton. Both have major international airports.
But the cities aren’t rivals as much as they are sisters. It’s like how you might compare London and Paris . Both are beautiful but different. If you only have time for one, we’ll help you determine which one is right for you. But to be honest, we think you should see both!
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Decide for yourself which city is better by traveling the four hours between them. You can fly into either airport and rent a car to make the drive or fly between.
Charlotte and Atlanta both have incredible art museums spanning hundreds of years of history. Their collections stand up to major cities across the nation.
The Mint museums are named for the former US Mint building where the museum started. The collection features European and American art from the 1700s to the modern age.
The Bechtler Museum has a permanent collection and rotating exhibits including paintings and sculptures.
In Atlanta, the High Museum of Art features international exhibits like the works of Van Gogh and the Terracotta Soldiers, as well as American art from the last 200 years.
We’re calling this one a tie as both cities have incredible art scenes in both museums and street art.
Travelers to Charlotte not only visit the art museums, but also its well-known attractions. The NASCAR Hall of Fame has exhibits from their favorite drivers, information on the history of the sport, and interactive experiences, like driving simulators.
The Levine Museum of the New South is another must-see, interpreting the history of the region from Charlotte’s early days as a banking capital to the present and with a focus on the Civil Rights Movement.
Other attractions include the U.S. National Whitewater Center, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture, and Discovery Place.
Further out, there’s the aforementioned High Museum, along with the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, the Atlanta History Center, the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
From the tourist perspective, Atlanta has more attractions than Charlotte, so the city wins this category.
Drinking and Nightlife
Atlanta and Charlotte both have a wide variety of types of establishments from dive bars to swanky cocktail bars to craft breweries. Both cities have a great coffee scene as well.
Charlotte has a number of great breweries, including Heist, NoDa, and Resident Culture. The Crunkleton is one of the nation’s best bars and is one of the state’s membership bars. But anyone can purchase a membership. Central Coffee is the city’s best coffee shop.
Atlanta has even more breweries, especially in the Westside and West End neighborhoods, like Monday Night, Wild Heaven, and Second Self. Bars like Kimball House have won awards for their creative cocktails. There are also dozens of coffee companies like Dancing Goats and Brash.
For the abundance of options alone, it might be Atlanta. But for the perks of private membership bars, I’d side with Charlotte.
Charlotte is home to Johnson & Wales University, one of the top culinary schools in the region. It’s grooming the next generation of chefs and food professionals. Atlanta has long been a stopover for chefs to train under big names like Anne Quatrano.
While the restaurants aren’t as buzzy or written up in magazines, they’re no less deserving. Halcyon Flavors From the Earth is known for regional fare, including shrimp and grits, game and fresh salads. Haymaker uses heirloom ingredients in Southern dishes while Optimist Hall is a stylish food hall with plentiful options.
Atlanta has gotten more praise for restaurants like Holeman & Finch, Miller Union, and Staplehouse. But it’s also home to old-school eateries like Paschal’s and The Varsity along with trendy food halls like at Ponce City Market.
Atlanta may win out for award-winners and celebrity chefs, but the food scenes are comparable. Both also have incredible international food!
Hotels and Accommodations
In Charlotte, you’ll find many big name hotels like the Westin Charlotte but boutique properties are opening in uptown. Kimpton Tryon Park Hotel is one with amenities like yoga mats, rental bikes, and evening social hour.
The Ivey’s Hotel is located in a 1920s department store with a cocktail bar and stylish rooms. You can also stay in one of Charlotte’s neighborhoods for comforts of home like the Chantilly neighborhood hideaway.
Atlanta started to open boutique and independent properties a few years ago, including in historic buildings. The American Hotel was Atlanta’s first desegregated hotel and now contains midcentury-inspired decor.
Hotel Clermont is a long-abandoned motor lodge turned trendy hotel is in the popular Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. The Candler Hotel is set in the former offices owned by the Candlers, owners of Coca-Cola, inspired by the 1920s.
While Charlotte is starting to open more non-chain or boutique hotel options, Atlanta has more to choose from. But Charlotte wins for affordable rentals.
Both Atlanta and Charlotte have public transportation but cars are the primary way people get around. Both cities are also fairly walkable, but it depends greatly on what neighborhood you’re in. Charlotte’s uptown is better for walking than Atlanta’s downtown.
Charlotte’s CATS public transportation system operates both buses and tram lines. The LYNX light trail is a 9.6 mile north-south line, which goes from 7th Street to South Boulevard. It also runs well into the night.
Atlanta’s MARTA runs to important places like the Atlanta Airport straight into downtown via bus and rail lines. Reusable Breeze cards can be filled before trips, used on the train, bus, and streetcar.
While I found the Charlotte system to be more efficient, the Atlanta system covers more ground. I’m calling it a tie.
Who could visit a city without going shopping? Both cities have deep roots in retail. Belk department stores were established in Charlotte while brands like Spanx and Carter’s are based in Atlanta.
Atlanta is known for its shopping, especially with the luxury stores in Buckhead. Ponce City Market has well-known brands alongside local ones. Fabrik and The Junkman’s Daughter are two well-known local stores.
Both cities have great shopping, no matter what you’re looking for.
Atlanta may come out on top in some categories while Charlotte took others. But no matter what, you should give both a visit!
Do you prefer Atlanta or Charlotte? Let us know in the comments!