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You can't really get the feel of a city until you understand the characteristics of its neighborhoods. Here's a brief rundown of Atlanta's diverse districts.

Downtown

Unlike some big cities, Atlanta has been slower to draw a large residential population to its downtown area, though that has changed drastically in the past few years. In-town living is gradually becoming quite popular. Currently, downtown consists primarily of businesses, hotels, restaurants, and sports venues, and is slowly gaining that round-the-clock big-city excitement found in places such as New York.

Atlanta's financial and business hub, this area of sleek skyscrapers includes the Peachtree Center hotel/convention center/trade mart/office-tower complex. Here, too: Underground Atlanta, a mix of shops, restaurants, and nightclubs fronted by a 138-foot light tower; the mammoth Georgia World Congress Center, one of the largest meeting and exhibition halls in the nation; the 71,500-seat Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons and site of Super Bowl XXXIV; Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers; CNN Center; Georgia State University; the golden-domed, century-old State Capitol, a major landmark; the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park, the city's best gathering place; and Woodruff Park.

Just south of downtown is Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. Also in the general area are Oakland Cemetery (it's mentioned in Gone With the Wind, and Margaret Mitchell is one of the many notables buried here), Grant Park, Zoo Atlanta, and Cyclorama.

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People are beginning to move into newly renovated lofts and other buildings downtown, but there's still not a lot of activity after business hours. For that reason, visitors should stick to the hotel district and the sports venues in the evening.

Applause for the Revitalized Downtown -- Downtown revitalization was at the top of the list for Atlanta leaders and developers when the city won the bid for the 1996 Olympics. Since then, the downtown area has continued to improve and today is the biggest draw in the city for visitors, especially visiting families. The World of Coca-Cola opened in its new home a few years ago right next to the well-attended Georgia Aquarium, touted as the world's largest. Both offer experiences that are both interactive and engaging.

These two jewels in Atlanta's crown, along with the expansive Centennial Park, Imagine It! Children's Museum, the CNN Center, and Philips Arena -- have proved to be a much-needed shot in the arm for the downtown residential and commercial markets. New hotels in the area, including Hilton Garden Inn and Twelve Centennial Park, make staying right in the middle of the action an easy task. And the area offers enough variety of restaurants that visitors don't have to venture far for a great meal. These developments no doubt make the downtown area the place to be in this city for visitors, residents, and conventiongoers alike.

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Sweet Auburn

This traditionally African-American neighborhood, also called the Martin Luther King, Jr., Historic District, is just below downtown's central area. In 1980, under the auspices of the National Park Service, the neighborhood was designated a park to honor King, whose boyhood home, crypt, and church are located here. In spite of the yoke of segregation, affluent black businesspeople and professionals flourished here from the early part of the 20th century through the 1950s. Recently revitalized, Sweet Auburn is one of Atlanta's major sightseeing draws.

Midtown

Though its boundaries have never been definitively decided, Midtown basically encompasses the area north of downtown from about Ponce de Leon Avenue to I-85. It includes Piedmont Park, the central city's major recreation area; the Woodruff Arts Center, home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre, and the High Museum of Art; the famed Fox Theatre, a 1920s Moorish-motif movie palace; the Atlanta Botanical Garden; Ansley Park, a 230-acre residential greenbelt area, designed at the turn of the 20th century by Frederick Law Olmsted (of New York's Central Park fame); and Colony Square, an office/hotel/retail complex. AT&T, IBM, Bank of America, and BellSouth maintain corporate offices in Midtown.

Buckhead

Named for an 1838 tavern called the Buck's Head, this is Atlanta's silk-stocking district -- one of America's most beautiful and affluent communities. It begins about 6 miles north of downtown, just above I-85. You'll find tree-shaded residential areas filled with magnificent mansions that are surrounded by verdant acreage, as well as many smaller middle-class homes. Shops and boutiques (Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza, two exclusive shopping malls, are here), superb restaurants, and first-class hotels abound. On weekends, the bars and clubs in the center of Buckhead attract crowds of revelers.

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Buckhead is also a burgeoning business area, with high-rise office buildings concentrated near Peachtree and Lenox roads. The area's major sightseeing attraction is the Atlanta History Center, surrounded by 32 woodland acres, with a Palladian villa designed by noted architect Phillip Schutze. The Greek Revival Governor's Mansion is also in Buckhead.

Virginia-Highland

Every major American city has a district that claims kinship (however slight) with New York's Greenwich Village. In Atlanta, it's the Virginia-Highland section (so named for its central avenues), located northeast of downtown. Here you'll find ethnic restaurants, antiques shops, bookstores, sidewalk cafes, art galleries, lively bars and bistros, and shops selling everything from gourmet gadgets and woodworking tools to ecofriendly clothing. The surrounding area is full of tree-lined streets with charming little cottages, many of them recently renovated.

Little Five Points

Just below Virginia-Highland -- and a funkier offshoot of it -- Little Five Points offers an offbeat ambience, attracting young and old members of the tie-dyed and pierced set. The neighborhood is home to the Jimmy Carter Library/Carter Presidential Center, which opened in 1986 to house the correspondence and memorabilia of this Georgia-born president. The area's many Victorian homes make for an architecturally interesting stroll. The neighborhood is centered at the junction of Euclid and Moreland avenues. Don't confuse this area with Five Points, which is a major downtown intersection.

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West End & Cascade

Southwest of town lies a booming area populated by well-to-do African-American singles and families. The historic West End, Atlanta's oldest neighborhood, is full of lovely Victorian homes and is the gateway to the Cascade Road area. This is where you'll find the Wren's Nest, the former home of writer Joel Chandler Harris.

Decatur

Founded in 1823 by Commodore Stephen Decatur, a dashing naval hero of the War of 1812 who died in a duel, this charming suburb centers on an old courthouse square and has become a new favorite destination for residents and visitors alike. About a 15-minute drive east of downtown, Decatur is the scene of numerous annual events, festivals, and concerts, and houses the sprawling DeKalb Farmers' Market, an international food market that must be seen to be believed. Like Virginia-Highland and Little Five Points, Decatur weaves a splash of funky color and texture into Atlanta's tapestry of neighborhoods.

Duluth

Duluth, located in Gwinnett County just north of the city, is a bustling town with shopping, dining, and entertainment. Major roadways here include Buford Highway and its impressive list of ethnic restaurants; Pleasant Hill Road, home of many retail opportunities; and Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, which offers a little of everything for visitors -- dining, lodging, theater, shopping, and more. Every summer, the town hosts the "Flicks on the Bricks" outdoor family film festival and the SummerStage concert series, enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.

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Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.