For most visitors, their introduction to Atlanta is its bustling airport, the world's busiest. But with historic sites, green spaces, museums, beaches, lakes, championship sports teams, and weather, this capital city is worth a visit for more than just an airport layover.
From the landmarks like the birthplace of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Fox Theatre to world class museums like the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Atlanta History Center to green spaces like Piedmont Park, here are the can't miss sites in the commercial and cultural center of the South.
Located on 33-acre wooded acres in the heart of Buckhead just off Peachtree Street, the Atlanta History Center complex features permanent and rotating exhibitions on everything from the city's railroad origins and its role in the Civil War to folks arts and legendary golfer Bobby Jones as well as year-round programming for children and adults alike. Stroll the grounds and visit the Smith Family Farm, Atlanta’s oldest surviving farmhouse, which includes hands-on demonstrations of foodways, crafts and carpentry.
"Gone with the Wind" fans take note: while the Margaret Mitchell House is operated by the Atlanta History Museum and you can purchase admission to both there. The author's home is located 4 miles south at 10th and Peachtree Streets in Midtown.
Explore the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site
Located on historic Auburn Avenue, once the wealthiest African-American street in the country, the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site encompasses several buildings, including his birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Dr. King was baptized and ordained), a visitor's center and the King Center, whose campus includes the crypts of Dr. King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, and hundreds of Civil Rights-era documents and oral histories. Admission is free, and guided tours of the birth home (501 Auburn Avenue) are limited to 15 people and available on a first come, first serve basis.
Stroll through Piedmont Park
At nearly 200 acres in the heart of midtown, Piedmont Park is Atlanta's version of Central Park and one of the city's best green spaces. With 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 truly has something for everyone. Bring a picnic and soak up views of the Midtown skyline, cool off on a hot summer day at the splash pad or explore the Atlanta Botanical Garden, which is adjacent to the property and hosts the largest collection of species of orchids in the United States in addition to stunning year-round gardens. Be sure to check the park’s website for an up-to-date listing of festivals, concerts and other public events.
Eat at a Food Stall in Krog Street Market
This popular food hall, retail and office complex right is the perfect stop for refueling after a walk, run or bike on the city's popular Beltline Eastside Trail. Indulge in coffee and pastries at Little Tart Bake Shop, grab a chicken plate with all the fixings at Richards' Southern Fried, feast on shawarma and kebabs at the Middle Eastern-inspired Yalla! or keep it light with a salad or grain bowl from Recess.
Attend an Atlanta United Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
While Atlanta United is the city's newest professional sports team, it's easily the most popular, continually setting and beating its own records for MLS attendance. See what the hype is about and join nearly 50,000 other fans by attending one of the championship team's home games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, which is located at the GWCC/Philips Arena/CNN Center MARTA Station.
Tour the Historic Fox Theatre
Originally conceived as a home for the Atlanta Shriners, this moorish-inspired historic movie theatre in Midtown was saved from demolition in the mid 1970s and transformed into a modern multi-performance venue. The theater hosts over 250 performances each year, including Broadway shows, popular musicians and the Atlanta Ballet's beloved Nutcracker.
Book a tour to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Fabulous Fox's history, unique Middle Eastern-inspired decor and notable performances. Tours take place Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays and tickets go on sale two weeks prior to the tour date.
Taste Over 100 Beverages at the World of Coca-Cola Museum
Sip over 100 different Coca-Cola brand sodas from around the world at the "Taste It!" station at the World of Coca-Cola Museum, dedicated to the homegrown beverage. Tours also include a 4-D theater experience, a miniature look at the bottling process, a visit to the vault where the secret recipe is kept and an interactive pop culture area where visitors can design their own Coke bottles.
Visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights
This downtown museum has two permanent exhibitions: one dedicated to the American Civil Rights movement and the other to the modern human rights movement. Both feature interactive displays, including a replica Freedom Fighters Greyhound bus complete with a short film and oral histories from participants as well as a non-violent lunch counter sit-in simulation. Temporary exhibits have included everything from the role of athletes in breaking barriers and the documents of icon Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tour Historic Oakland Cemetery
Atlanta's oldest public park, the 48 acre Historic Oakland Cemetery is located less than a mile from downtown and houses the graves of former mayor Maynard Jackson, author Margaret Mitchell and golfer Bobby Jones. Sign up for one of the tours, including a guided overview tour and rotating tours dedicated to topics ranging from African-American history to the cemetery's arboretum. Or just bring a picnic and stroll the grounds while enjoying views of downtown.
See Atlanta on Film with Atlanta Movie Tours
Watching the latest blockbuster movie or popular show on Netflix? There's a good chance it was filmed in Atlanta.
With over 1,500 movies and over 20 television shows shot in the state of Georgia since the 1970s, the state has earned its moniker "Hollywood of the South." Get a behind-the-scenes look at popular local sets and shooting locations with Atlanta Movie Tours, whose options include the Big Zombie Bus Tour for "The Walking Dead" fans; the Hero of All Atlanta Movie Tours with highlights from "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War" for comic book fans; and The Best of Atlanta Movie Tour, which showcases spots from "Stranger Things," "The Hunger Games," "The Fast and the Furious" and more. All tours are led by working actors, so you'll get the inside scoop on all of your favorite movies and shows.
High Museum of Art
The Southeast's leading art museum, the High Museum of Art is located on the Woodruff Arts Center Campus in Midtown at the intersection of 16th and Peachtree Streets. The 15,000 works in its permanent collection range from European paintings to African-American art and 19th and 20th century decorative art to interactive outdoor exhibits.
Pro tip: Visit on the second Sunday of each month between 12 and 5 p.m., when admission is free and the entire family can enjoy art-making activities, live performances and tour the space without fees. While there are two parking decks and street parking available, the Arts Center MARTA station on the red and gold lines drops you off right across the street from the museum.
Explore Downtown Decatur
No trip to Atlanta is complete without a visit to Decatur, "where it's greater." Not only is this small suburb the site of popular events like the AJC Decatur Book Festival each summer and the Decatur Arts Festival each spring, the town's quaint main square is lined with local shops, restaurants and more. Find books for young readers at Little Shop of Stories, grab a pint at beer-centric tavern Brick Store Pub, slurp oysters at the train depot turned award-winning restaurant Kimball House, dine on Indian Street food at Chai Pani, catch a show at popular music venue Eddie's Attic or just stroll around the square and people watch with a coffee or treat from Dancing Goats Coffee Bar or Jeni's Ice Cream.
While there are a few parking decks and limited street parking in Decatur, it's best to take the MARTA blue line to the Decatur Square station and get dropped off in the middle of the action.
Watch the Sunset on the Rooftop of the Clermont Hotel
This recently renovated hotel above the famed strip club of the same name in the city's bustling old-meets-new Poncey-Highlands neighborhood boasts one of the Atlanta's best rooftops. Take the elevator from the lobby to access the rooftop bar for panoramic views of the city, drinks, snacks and Instagram-worthy shots against the hotel's signature neon sign. Want to experience more of the Clermont? Book an overnight stay at the hotel or dine downstairs at the French brasserie-inspired Tiny Lou's. Pro tip: don't skip dessert.
Play at Skyline Park at Ponce City Market
Kids of all ages will enjoying playing at Ponce City Market's Skyline Park. Located on the rooftop of the mixed used development that used to house a Sears, Roebuck & Co., the park has carnival like games and activities such as a slide, mini golf and Skee ball and breathtaking views of the city. Food offerings range from pretzels, hot dogs and tacos on the go to the sit-down beer garden 9 Mile Station.
Don't miss the shops or the central food hall below, whose offerings range from ramen and yakitori at Ton Ton to pastries and savory vegetable forward plates at Root Baking Co. to Latin inspired fare at El Super Pan.
Shoot the Hootch
"Shooting the Hootch," or floating down the Chattahoochee River — the nearly 50 mile wide river that snakes along the city's western and northern perimeter — is a rite of passage for residents. Rent a kayak, canoe, raft or stand-up paddle board from Shoot the Hootch (with locations at Azalea Park, Don White Memorial Park, Island Ford and Garrard Landing), grab some provisions and relax as you leisurely flow down the river.
Note that operating hours and river access on dependent on weather, river flow and temperature, so it's best to call ahead before heading out.
Learn about African-American Folklore at the Wren's Nest
Located in the West End neighborhood just west of downtown, the Wren’s Nest is the preserved home of Joel Chandler Harris, best known as the author of the Brer Rabbit tales. Tour the historic Queen Anne home, learn about the rich history of African-American folk tales and hear live storytellers in action every Saturday at 1 p.m.
The museum is open on weekends between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and by appointment during the weekdays. Admission is $8 for children, seniors and students and $10 for adults.
Nestled between two lakes and just off the popular Freedom Parkway Trail in Inman Park, this library and museum is dedicated to humanitarian, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president Jimmy Carter. Highlights include a life-size replica of the Oval Office, an Interactive Map Table that demonstrates Carter and his wife Roslynn's work monitoring elections and fight diseases worldwide and thousands for documents, videos and photographs documenting his life as a statesman.
The center also hosts lectures, film screenings and book signings and there is ample on site parking.
Stroll the BeltLine Eastside Trail
Before you leave Atlanta, take some time to walk, run or bike the popular BeltLine Eastside Trail. Book a bike or walking tour to explore the mixed-use trail, which connects Dekalb Avenue to Piedmont Park and includes murals, public art installations and more, then find a nearby patio — New Realm Brewing, Lady Bird Grove and Mess Hall and Nina and Rafi are all popular spots — to rehydrate, rest and refuel.
Center for Puppetry Arts
Located in Midtown at the corner of 18th and Spring Streets, the Center for Puppetry Arts is the largest American non-profit organization solely dedicated to the art of puppet theater. The collection includes an exhibit dedicated to Jim Henson and iconic puppets like Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog and The Global Collection, which celebrates puppetry traditions from around the world. The museum also hosts regular performances, workshops and events for all ages.