Atlanta was formed as Terminus, where the Atlantic railroad terminated. It was burned to the ground during the Civil War, but famously rose from the ashes. The phoenix is still the city’s mascot for this reason. Atlanta was home to the 1996 Olympics, which were marred by the bombing. It’s been home to celebrities and musicians and is now one of the top filming locations outside of Hollywood for shows like The Vampire Diaries and Walking Dead and movies like The Hunger Games. It’s also home to major corporations like Turner Broadcasting, Coca Cola and Delta.
It’s broken up into neighborhoods and suburbs as well as ITP (inside the perimeter) and OTP (outside the perimeter), which indicate the areas within the city limits of the interstate 285 and those outside of it. Neighborhoods that were once known for their high crime rates and former industrial zones are now popular places for the young and hip to live, like Cabbagetown, East Atlanta, and Old Fourth Ward. Some of the city’s top restaurants are also in these areas, like Miller Union of the Westside and Rathbun’s of Cabbagetown.
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What to Do
Jimmy Carter Library and Museum– Built following Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the presidential library and museum offer information about his life from a peanut farmer in Plains to becoming a Nobel prize winner and author. The library hosts events and book signings regularly, as well as the weekly Freedom Farmer’s Market. 441 Freedom Parkway, Atlanta
Zoo Atlanta– The city’s oldest attraction is Zoo Atlanta, which started as a circus in the 1800s and soon became home for the private animals of the Candler family. Today it is known for its collection of gorillas and pandas, who birthed the first set of twins in captivity. Get your Zoo Atlanta Admission before you go. 800 Cherokee Avenue SE, Atlanta
World of Coca-Cola– Atlanta was the place where this globally recognized “headache remedy” was created and the World of Coca Cola celebrates the brand’s history through exhibits on the old time soda shops that originally served it, the company’s famous commercials and even has Olympic torches through its sponsorship of the games. Get your World of Coca-Cola Admission in Atlanta before you go. 121 Baker Street NW, Atlanta
Georgia Aquarium– By far the most visited attraction in the city, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest in volume in the world, with tanks big enough to hold their famous whale sharks. You can see exhibits on animals you’ll find in Georgia, as well as those from around the world. 225 Baker Street NW, Atlanta
Atlanta History Center– For the best introduction to the city as well as the region, check out the history center, which includes historic homes and exhibits on the 1996 Olympics and the progression from industrial railroad town to a thriving metropolis. They were a filming location for Catching Fire and run Capitol tours for movie buffs. 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta
SkyView Atlanta– The newest addition to Atlanta’s tourist district is the SkyView Ferris wheel, which offers great views of the city and even lights up at night. Each gondola holds 6 people, but you can also splurge on a VIP gondola, which has fewer people and a longer ride. 168 Luckie Street NW, Atlanta
CNN Studio Tour– The headquarters of Ted Turner’s Cable News Network is in downtown Atlanta, where you can see shows like Morning Express with Robin Meade being filmed, as well as see the newsrooms where much of the reporting is done. The Atlanta CityPASS can be used here. 190 Marietta Street, Atlanta
High Museum of Art– The south’s top art museum features international exhibits like the works of Van Gogh and the Terracotta Soldiers, as well as American art from the last 200 years. They also have an impressive modern art wing and section devoted to regional folk artists. 1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta
Atlanta Botanical Garden– Inside of Piedmont Park lies the city’s beautiful botanical gardens, which has Chihuly sculptures and exhibits that change throughout the year, like scarecrows in the fall and lights in the holiday season. They host concerts and special events. Book your Small Group Tour to Atlanta Botanical Gardens here. 1345 Piedmont Avenue, Atlanta
Stone Mountain Park– The granite monolith is one of the highest points within the metro area and has been carved with the images of Civil War generals. The park has camping, a water park, and activities for families, especially their summertime laser shows. You can hike or take the gondola to the top. 1000 Robert E. Lee Drive, Stone Mountain
Fernbank Museum of Natural History– Atlanta’s natural history museum is set on acres of protected forest and features exhibits on dinosaurs and the native cultures of Georgia. It also hosts cocktail nights that pair with a film in the IMAX Theater. 767 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site– Atlanta is where Martin Luther King Jr. lived and preached and is now buried. The Sweet Auburn neighborhood allows visitors to see his boyhood home, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and Ebenezer Baptist Church. The historic site also has great information on the Civil Rights movement as a whole. 450 Auburn Avenue, Atlanta
Center for Civil and Human Rights– This museum is an important landmark for Atlanta, which was a hub of activity during the Civil Rights Movement and the birthplace of the late Martin Luther King Jr. It details the movement overall and the state’s role. Get your Atlanta Center for Civil and Human Rights General Admission before you go. 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard
College Football Hall of Fame– This interactive space includes the hall of fame itself, where college football players are honored, as well as the Fan Experience, where football fans can learn about their school’s rivalries, coach histories and have experiences with picture walls, tailgating exhibits and more. 250 Marietta Street NW
For unique tour experiences, check out Atlanta Movie Tours, which runs specialty tours of the city’s best filming locations from Walking Dead, Vampire Diaries, Gone with the Wind, The Hunger Games and more. And to taste Atlanta’s beer scene, Atlanta Brews Cruise offers tours of breweries and tastings and specialty pubs. Atlanta Food Walks showcases the South’s culinary history.
You can also enjoy the great outdoors in places like Piedmont Park, the largest in the city, and The Beltline, a refurbished train line turned walking path. And of course, the city has plenty of sporting events, with games from the Atlanta Braves baseball, Atlanta Hawks basketball, Atlanta Falcons football and the Atlanta United soccer.
Where to Eat
Paschal’s– Founded in 1947 as a humble sandwich shop, this soul food eatery is an Atlanta institution. It was a favorite spot of Civil Rights Movement leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, especially for its fried chicken. 180 Northside Drive SW #B,
Swan Coach House– No restaurant is more popular with the ladies who lunch than the Swan Coach House, which is attached to the Swan House and the Atlanta History Center. It started as a way to raise money for the local arts scene but has become known around the city for the best chicken salad sandwiches. It’s popular for bridal luncheons and special events. 3130 Slaton Drive Northwest, Atlanta, (404) 261-0636
The Varsity– You’ll see the giant V lit up as you drive into town, which denotes the Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in restaurant. They serve up favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers to hungry crowds of sports fans, students, locals and tourists every day. Don’t be scared by screams of “what’ll ya have.” 61 North Avenue, Atlanta, (404) 881-1706
Fox Bros. Bar-B-Q– Barbecue is certainly not unique to Atlanta, but perhaps no restaurant receives more accolades for its pork than Fox Brothers. You can have the meat in the form of pulled pork sandwiches, on their massive serving of ribs or on its own with sides like macaroni and cheese and Brunswick stew. Just be prepared to wait for it. 1238 DeKalb Avenue NE, Atlanta, (404) 577-4030
Antico Pizza Napoletana– When Atlantans crave authentic Italian pizzas, they go to Antico, where you may have to fight for a seat, but you can bring your own wine. Go early with a group and split one of their pies, which have thick crusts and ingredients flown in from the motherland. 1093 Hemphill Avenue Northwest, Atlanta, (404) 724-2333
Six Feet Under Pub & Fish House– Located next to Oakland Cemetery, Six Feet Under is a neighborhood pub serving up delicious seafood in a landlocked city. Ask for what’s in season. In the summertime, you’ll want to snag a seat on their rooftop patio for prime sunset gazing. 437 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta, (404) 523-6664
Miller Union– Consistently named one of the best restaurants in Atlanta, Miller Union, on the Westside, pairs Southern fare with clever cocktails. It’s great for special occasions and changes menu items depending on what’s in season from local farmers. 999 Brady Avenue NW, Atlanta, (678) 733-8550
Highland Bakery– Opened in 1994, this Atlanta favorite serves all-day breakfast in the Old Fourth Ward and its additional locations. Menu highlights include the country fried steak benedict, sweet potato pancakes, and pimento cheese sandwich. 655 Highland Avenue NE, Suite 10, (404) 586-0772
Where to Stay
Omni CNN Center Atlanta Hotel– Made up of two buildings, one connected to CNN’s headquarters, both overlook downtown, with one side overlooking Centennial Olympic Park. Guest rooms are non-smoking and have free high-speed Internet for Select Guest program members, which is free to join. Rooms have televisions and cozy bathrobes. (Book here) 100 CNN Center NW
Loews Atlanta Midtown Hotel– There are over 400 guest rooms set among 26 floors, including suites, with views of the Federal Reserve Bank and downtown beyond. Rooms come with free WiFi, coffee makers, flat screen televisions, blackout curtains, and cozy bathrobes. In addition, the Loews has Exhale, a spa and fitness center, and Saltwood, a charcuterie-focused restaurant. (Book here)
Hotel Clermont– One of the newest properties in town, this long-abandoned motor lodge building was revitalized by a local hotel group. Located in the popular Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, the Hotel Clermont is within walking distance of trendy restaurants and shopping at Ponce City Market, along with the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail. (Book here) 789 Ponce De Leon Avenue NE
The American Hotel– A short walk to Peachtree Center and Centennial Olympic Park, this hotel is unique in that it is a DoubleTree turned boutique property. In fact, it was Atlanta’s first desegregated hotel and now contains midcentury-inspired decor. 160 Ted Turner Drive NW
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Atlanta has notoriously bad traffic, with “rush hour” going from 6 to 10 am and 3 to 8 pm, so visitors should avoid driving as much as possible. Parking can also be expensive, depending on what part of town you’re staying in. If you still decide to drive, carpool as much as possible, which will allow you to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lane, cutting down traffic times. You can also use car share programs like Zipcar if you want to drive to explore areas like Senoia or road trip to the North Georgia wine country without being tied down to your own car. They have rental areas all over the city and cost $8-10 per hour.
For the most part, Atlanta is not a pedestrian or biker friendly city. There are certainly pockets where you can exclusively go by foot or bike, but this is not the case overall. Neighborhoods like Little Five Points, East Atlanta, Cabbagetown and Old Fourth Ward are best, especially the area around The Beltline, a walking and running path made on an old rail line that runs around the perimeter of the city. You can rent bicycles for around $15 per day from Atlanta Beltline Bicycle and Skate Escape.
Taxis and cab companies can be hit or miss in Atlanta, as many still don’t accept credit cards and they can be almost impossible to flag down. For this reason, apps like Uber have thrived, bringing up the level of expectations for taxis. You can use them to get to and from the airport or to get back to your hotel after a night out through their town cars, SUVS, vans and local cars. Lyft is a similar app that uses locals with their own cars, which you’ll know by the pink mustaches on the front of the cars.
Atlanta leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to public transportation, but MARTA runs to important places like the Atlanta Airport straight into downtown via bus and rail lines. Simply purchase a Breeze card at any station, which will allow you to load money onto it and tap at stations and on buses. They cost $1 plus your fare but are reusable. Each fare costs $2.50, no matter the distance, without transfers. One day unlimited passes are available for $9 per day. MARTA connects to suburban bus lines, including Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, and GRTA Xpress, at various locations, including North Springs and Arts Center. The public transpiration system will also join the streetcar, which runs between Centennial Olympic Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.