While most visitors to the city are only familiar with its airport—the world's largest-—Atlanta is also a major transportation, commercial, and cultural hub for the Southeast and worthy of more than a layover. In addition to its world-class attractions like the Georgia Aquarium and High Museum of Art, the city has ample parks, award-winning restaurants, and popular shopping districts.
It's also the birthplace of the country's greatest Civil Rights leader: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner was born in the heart of Atlanta on Auburn Avenue, once the wealthiest African American street in the country.
Dr. King's childhood home (as well as several other buildings along the historic street) is now part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, run by the National Parks Service. Its location approximately one mile east of downtown Atlanta makes it easily accessible to visitors via car as well as the Atlanta Streetcar.
The site is a must-visit for those wishing to learn more about the neighborhood and Dr. King's work and legacy. Here's a complete guide to visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.
The King Center was established by Coretta Scott King shortly after her husband's assassination in 1968. Located in a building directly across the street from historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the center began as a collection and display of records, correspondence, oral histories, and other documents from Dr. King's work. It also paid tribute to others involved in the Civil Rights movement.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a national historic site in 1980, the now 35-acre, multi-block district became a national park in 2018.
What to Do
Start your trip inside the visitor's center, where you can sign up for tours of Dr. King's boyhood home at the fully-staffed information desk. The center has several exhibits: "Courage to Lead," which details Dr. King's role in the Civil Rights movement; "Children of Courage," which is aimed at younger audiences; and exhibits dedicated to non-violence practitioners Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
Then stroll through the King Center's outdoor campus, where you can see the crypt of Dr. King and Coretta Scott King as well as a reflecting pool. Be sure to pay a visit to the International World Peace Garden, one of only five in the world. Dr. King's inspirational voice, including excerpts from his 1963 "I Have a Dream Speech" delivered at the March on Washington, can be heard over loudspeakers throughout the complex.
Walk across the street to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, on the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street. Built in 1922, the church is where Dr. King—like his grandfather and father before him—was a minister. Take a self-guided tour of the sanctuary, which is open to the public. It is still an active congregation and hosts regular special events like concerts and guest lectures.
Located one block east at 501 Auburn Avenue is the two-story, Victorian style boyhood home of Dr. King. Built in 1895, the home was originally owned by King's maternal grandparents: the Reverend A.D. Williams and his wife, Jennie Williams. When their daughter married Martin Luther King, Sr., the couple moved into the house, where King, Jr. was born in 1929.
Other historic district highlights include an International Civil Rights Walk of Fame, which features bronze and granite footsteps of movement leaders; the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) had its initial headquarters in 1957; and several historic Victorian and shotgun-style homes.
Hours and Admission
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park is approximately a mile east of downtown. With the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day, it is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, the park is open until 5:30 p.m.
Admission is free and all tours, except the Dr. King boyhood home, are self-guided. For groups of 15 or less, reservations for boyhood home tours are available the day of and offered on a first come, first serve basis. You must sign up for tours at the Visitor's Center; note they can fill up quickly during weekends and holidays.
By car, the historic site is accessible via Interstate 75/86 North or South via exit #248C, Freedom Parkway. Free parking is available on John Wesley Dobbs Avenue, between Jackson Street and Boulevard Avenue. The area is completely walkable, so you won't need to move your car between attractions.
For visitors staying downtown or using the MARTA subway system, the Atlanta Streetcar has a stop at Peachtree Center that goes directly to the King historic site. By MARTA bus, take the #3 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive/Auburn Ave from the Five Points station, or the #99 Boulevard/Monroe Drive from Midtown station.
Tips for Visitors
- Note that while Auburn Avenue and Old Fourth Ward are walkable neighborhoods, there is a lot of car traffic in the area. Be mindful crossing busy roads like Boulevard.
- To learn more about another Georgia native and Nobel Prize winner, visit the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, located about 1.5 miles east of this historic site.
Thing to Do Nearby
The surrounding Old Fourth Ward neighborhood is one of Atlanta's trendiest. It's filled with parks and trails, food halls and markets, notable bars and restaurants, street art, and other attractions.
Visit Jackson Street bridge
Fans of the Walking Dead will want to visit the nearby Jackson Street bridge, which features prominently in the show's opening sequence. The bridge stretches over Freedom Parkway and offers sweeping views of the downtown skyline.
Go Shopping—or Grab a Bite to Eat—at a Market
Further down Edgewood Avenue towards downtown, you'll find the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Founded as an open air market in 1918, the enclosed building is home to more than 30 local vendors ranging from bakers to butchers to eateries like Arepa Mia, which specializes in Venezuelan pastries.
A mile to the east, Ponce City Market is a massive, mixed-use adaptive project located in a former Sears, Roebuck & Company building. The building now houses an expansive food hall that serves everything from Indian street food to all-day pancakes. Here, you will also find local and national retailers like Glossier and Madewell, a rooftop amusement park, and a restaurant.
Explore the Beltline Eastside Trail
Take a stroll or rent a bike or e-scooter to explore the Beltline Eastside Trail. The city's largest mixed-use trail is dotted with several breweries, bars, restaurants, and art installations.
Hang Out in Nature
Travel to Piedmont Park, which, at nearly 200 acres, is the city's largest green space. The park features a weekend farmers’ market, tennis courts, public swimming pool, off-leash dog park, sports fields, playgrounds, and miles of paved and unpaved paths for running and cycling. The park is also known to host festivals, concerts, and other public events.
Adjacent to Piedmont Park is the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which has the largest collection of orchid species in the United States. Plus, it offers stunning year-round gardens, outdoor installations, and seasonal events.