Atlanta City Guide: What, When, Where, Why to Visit
ATL. The A. Hotlanta. The Big Peach. A-town. Otherwise known as Atlanta, Georgia – a flourishing business center with diverse cultures and a flare for the arts. Home to three professional sports teams, the world’s largest aquarium and most famous soda, a thriving restaurant scene, verdant parks, and some of the best attractions in the world, Atlanta is a vacation destination to over 35 million people per year, and for good reason.
When to visit
Atlanta summers are hot and humid (thus the “Hotlanta” moniker!), so if you want to beat the heat, you might plan a trip for spring or fall, when temps are still warm, but a bit more comfortable. On the other hand, summer (late May to August) brings lots of concerts, festivals and other outdoor activities to take advantage of – although those months bring the crowds, as well. And if you’re concerned about saving a few bucks, you might consider a winter visit, when hotel and airfare prices are typically the lowest – and the crowds are smaller.
What to do
While Atlanta most definitely has Southern roots, today it has a cosmopolitan feel, with abundant cultural attractions focused on art, history, pop culture, nature and more. Here are few of the things to do that we suggest.
High Museum of Art: The High is among the most-visited art museums in the world, and perhaps the leading art museum in the South. It has a permanent collection of over 13,000 works of art, including an extensive anthology of 19th- and 20th-century American Art. Significant European holdings, African American art, modern and contemporary art, photography and African art are also contained within its three buildings.
Oakland Cemetery: A visit to a cemetery might not sound like a tourist activity, but this cemetery is also a lesson in history. Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell are both buried here; it’s also the final resting place of many Civil War solders. There’s a slave’s corner, a “pauper’s corner” where the poor were buried with little recognition, and some ornate and impressive monuments and statues. You can wander on your own, or take a guided tour for around $10.
Georgia Aquarium: The world’s largest aquarium is home to 500 species, including beluga whales, sea otters, penguins, giant octopi and albino alligators. The AT&T Dolphin Show explores the connection between humans and dolphins, and the Ocean Voyager exhibit surrounds you with huge whale sharks, manta rays, stingrays, hammerhead sharks and more.
CNN Center: Get an up-close look at global news in the making. Sit behind an anchor desk, practice reading a teleprompter, sit in on a live broadcast of one of the network's on-air shows. The Inside CNN Studio Tour gives you an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at news and broadcasting in action.
Atlanta History Center: Explore Atlanta’s past at this engaging history center. Turning Point: The American Civil War is one of the nation's largest and most complete Civil War exhibitions; other exhibits focus on Native American culture, southern Arts, and life in the antebellum South. There’s also the restored Swan House, an estate originally built in 1928, and the Tullie Smith Farm, a plantation house from the mid 1800s.
Centennial Olympic Park: Originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games, Centennial Olympic Park now draws visitors and residents of Atlanta alike to enjoy its lush grassy areas, artwork, pools and fountains. Be sure to see the Fountain of Rings, 251 water jets choreographed to various songs. There are four water shows a day.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History: Fernbank is home to an Argentinosaurus, the largest classified dinosaur ever discovered. Other exhibits include a Native American exhibit with a million artifacts from the Georgia barrier island St. Catherines, and A Walk Through Time, 18 galleries focusing on the evolution of Georgia. And don’t miss an IMAX film on the biggest screen in Atlanta.
Zoo Atlanta: More than 1,500 animals live at the zoo, including giant pandas, big cats and the nations largest collection of gorillas and orangutans. And speaking of gorillas and orangutans, Zoo Atlanta recently shared the happy news of baby orangutan Pongo, who arrived in January, and baby gorilla Andi, who arrived in March, plus several other recent births that’ll make for an extra special zoo visit this summer.
World of Coca-Cola: Even if you are a Pepsi fan, chances are you’ll still enjoy this up-close look at an American institution. Plus, you’ll get to sample more than 60 Coca-Cola beverages from around the world, and you’ll take home your own keepsake bottle.
Atlanta Botanical Garden: Thirty acres of Piedmont Park are devoted to a huge variety of plants and flowers, including the Fuqua Orchid Center and the Fuqua Conservatory, home to rare tropical and desert flora including begonias, palms, hibiscus and jasmine, plus a colorful collection of poison dart frogs. The rose garden is a favorite, especially at peak bloom in May and June, and the edible garden demonstrates that even fruits and vegetables can make beautiful landscape plants.
There are plenty of other entertainment options in Atlanta. Depending on the time of year you are there, you might catch a Falcons, Braves, or Hawks game. Or, one of the numerous festivals might strike your fancy – the Ice Cream Festival, Virginia Highland Summerfest, Fantastic Fourth at Stone Mountain… How about the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival at Atlantic Station? There are numerous concert venues, many outdoor, so check the schedules before your trip and plan ahead. One classic Atlanta venue is the Fox Theatre, a former movie palace restored to its original look that now hosts concerts, Broadway musicals, comedy shows and dance companies.
Where to eat
While you can find good eats just about anywhere in Atlanta, these days, it’s the dining scene in Buckhead that’s really cooking. The Southern Art & Bourbon Bar, owned by Oprah Winfrey’s former personal chef Art Smith, will give you a taste of southern-inspired cuisine and cocktails, including an artisan ham bar and selected bourbon and craft American whiskies. The STG Trattoria, a Neapolitan pizza joint, features a family-style experience, with a large focus on cocktails and wine. For the carnivore in you, visit Fogo de Chao for perfectly seasoned, tender, and succulent meats. The list could go on and on and on… you can find more Atlanta dining suggestions here; the possibilities are just about endless!
Where to shop
Take your pick. Shopping malls, boutique shopping, upscale fashion shops and outlet shopping – you can find it all in Atlanta. Visit the Little Five Points neighborhood for hip bohemian boutiques. Atlantic Station has options in every price range, including favorites like Gap, Nine West and Old Navy. Buckhead is host to such specialty retailers as Calvin Klein and Kate Spade, and also home to Lenox Square, a fashionista shopping destination with nearly 250 stores, as well as Phipps Plaza, with 100+ upscale stores like Tiffany & Co. and Gucci. For a less wallet-busting experience, hit up North Georgia Premium Outlets or the Tanger Outlet Center. We have more ideas for you here.
Where to stay
As any big city, Atlanta has options of all kinds when it comes to accommodations. Atlanta.net has a great tool to help you find just what you are looking for, based on neighborhood, price range, amenities and more.
How to get around
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) is the best way to get around the city. The citywide bus and rail system costs $2.50 per person (one way) and passes through the major tourist areas of downtown. MARTA also offers multi-day passes from 1-4 days, as well as a 7-day pass; these passes are often more cost effective for tourists than paying for each individual trip. You can find pricing info here, and here are directions on how to get to popular attractions on MARTA.