A Travel Guide for How to Visit Atlanta on a Budget

Atlanta offers many budget travel opportunities.
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Atlanta is a crossroads in the heart of the American South, hosting one of the world's busiest airports and a maze of major interstate highways. But it pays to stop and visit the unique attractions of this dynamic city. 

When to Visit:

Many of Atlanta's visitors come here to make flight connections or attend business meetings. But if you have a choice, almost any season beyond the very hot, humid summer is a pleasant time to visit.

Winters tend to be mild, but they also bring the occasional paralyzing ice storm. Autumn features festival time to the north in the Georgia mountains.

Getting Here:

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the world's busiest passenger airport. It is located 10 miles SW of downtown. It can be an expensive ride into the city, so look for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) trains that stop at the west entrance to the terminal complex. MARTA trains arrive and depart from the airport every eight minutes. The trip downtown takes 15 minutes, but times can be longer at rush-hour. By car, I-75 is the north-south route that runs from Upper Michigan to Miami. I-85 takes a diagonal route NE to SW. I-20 runs E-W. The freeway that circles Atlanta is I-285, commonly called "The Perimeter" by locals.

Getting Around:

Airport trains make ground transportation cheaper here. MARTA offers a number of discount programs, including those for visitors, college students and seniors or disabled riders.

Visitors can buy a one-day, unlimited pass for $9; if you'll be here for four days, the price falls to less than $6/day.

Where to Stay:

Finding an affordable Atlanta hotel room isn't difficult unless there is a major event in town. Major chains such as Sheraton and Marriott offer business travelers the needed amenities at multiple locations (Marriott alone has 70 properties in greater Atlanta).

There are less expensive alternatives for those who don't have business needs. Priceline can turn up some good deals. I once paid $58/night on a Priceline bid to stay in a Midtown business-class hotel where rack rates were running nearly $200/night. Four-star hotel for under $175/night: University Inn near the Emory University School of Nursing.

Where to Eat:

Atlanta has become a foodie favorite, and it's no wonder. The city and its suburbs offer variety that few American cities can match. But one of the most iconic restaurants here is really a drive-in. The Varsity bills itself as the world's largest Drive-In restaurant (in business since 1928). It's not a health food place, but it is an Atlanta experience. The chili-cheese dogs and orange sodas are the meal of choice for most visitors. More upscale meals can be found in the Buckhead section of Atlanta, just a few miles north of Midtown on Peachtree. Here, trendy restaurants open and close, while the stalwarts continue adapting. For a look at the prices and cuisines offered, consult Creative Loafing, and don't miss their cheap eats recommendations.

Academic Atlanta:

Atlanta is very much a "college town," with a host of renowned campuses in the area.

These can be the source of inexpensive and top-quality events, museums and entertainment. Atlanta University Center Consortium in the West End Historic District is home to a number of historically Black colleges that offer many opportunities throughout the year. In the midtown area (north of downtown) lies the sprawling campus of Georgia TechEmory University is just east of the downtown area. In all of these areas, it's possible to find cheap meals. Look for the places that cater to students and enjoy.

Sports of all Sorts:

Atlantans love their Braves baseball, Falcons football and Hawks basketball. The University of Georgia (in Athens, about 70 miles to the east) offers Southeastern Conference sports, and is a strong rival for the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets, who bring in Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

The Atlanta Motor Speedway south of Atlanta near Hampton, Ga. hosts two Winston Cup races each year and many other smaller events. Discount outlets such as StubHub are possible sources for tickets.

More Atlanta Tips:

  • Price those Trans-Continental flights from Atlanta carefully.
    Many travelers prefer departing the U.S. from Atlanta rather than New York. But be warned: Trans-Atlantic fares from New York are usually less expensive.
  • Spend some time on Auburn Avenue.
    Along this avenue, you will find the Ebenezer Baptist Church, the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King, and The King Center, where visitors experience the life and teachings of the civil rights leader. For this powerful experience, you pay no admission fee, but donations are accepted.
  • Day Trip #1: Chattanooga.
    Less than two hours north of Atlanta lies Chattanooga, the home of Tennessee Aquarium and its IMAX theatre and a host of low-cost nearby attractions such as the famous Appalachian Trail and a number of Civil War sites.
  • Day Trip #2: North Georgia Mountains.
    Just a few hours from Atlanta are some of the most picturesque vistas in the eastern United States. Great hiking, camping and eating establishments can be found in the mountains. Check out the area's fine system of State Parks.
  • Discounts for Six Flags over Georgia.                                                                          Print tickets or passes for the park before you leave home and save money.
  • Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia.
    This museum is relatively new on the Atlanta scene, but displays a wide variety of art and charges just $8 admission for adults, and $5 for children.​
  • Find out what's happening at Piedmont Park.
    This is among the nation's largest urban parks, and it hosts a variety of events throughout the year.
  • Consult About's excellent Atlanta site
    For the latest information on happenings, clubs, dining and hotel options and much more, take a look at the Atlanta for Tourists and Residents site. Not all the information is budget-oriented, but you'll be able to plan your trip quickly with the latest information. That planning in itself is a money-saving task.