Whether it's your first visit or your 10th, a trip to Atlanta is always a new experience, as the city keeps evolving and providing visitors with more to see each year. We will provide you with essential information, helpful tips, and advice for creating the perfect itinerary for your upcoming trip to "the ATL."
All About Atlanta
There's so much to learn about this gateway city and so many ways to do it. For an overview, start with the Atlanta History Center, which includes the Atlanta History Museum and a wing dedicated to the 1996 Olympic Games.
Or schedule a tour of the Georgia State Capitol, which was modeled after the nation's Capitol, another neoclassical edifice atop a "crowning hill." Its 75-foot dome, covered in gold leaf and topped by a Statue of Freedom, is a major Atlanta landmark. The building is fronted by a massive four-story portico with a pediment supported by six Corinthian columns set on large stone piers. In the rotunda, with its soaring 237-foot ceiling, are busts of famous Georgians, including signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The governor's office is off the main hall. The capitol building's public spaces have been restored to their 1889 grandeur. The fourth floor houses legislative galleries and the Georgia Capitol Museum, with exhibits on cotton, peach, and peanut growing; cases of mounted birds, fish, deer, insects, and other species native to Georgia; rocks and minerals; American Indian artifacts; and more. Note, too, the museum displays on the first floor.
You'd be surprised by how many folks come to Atlanta expecting to tour the Gone With the Wind mansion or see where Scarlett and Rhett are buried -- no joke. But the story is so much a part of the fiber of Atlanta that you really should plan to visit the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, "the dump" she lived in while crafting the famous tale of the South. The museum contains movie memorabilia and chronicles the making of the movie, its première in Atlanta, and the impact of the book and movie on society. The tour concludes in the museum shop, which features a variety of GWTW collectibles. If you finish your tour around mealtime and you're ready for a real change of pace, walk a few blocks south on Peachtree to the Vortex, a rowdy burger joint and bar that serves some of the best burgers in town.
The Atlanta Preservation Society offers a number of guided historic walking tours throughout the city, including the fabulous Fox Theatre, Piedmont Park, downtown Atlanta, Grant Hill, Inman Park, and the Sweet Auburn/Martin Luther King, Jr., historic district. All of these tours provide insight to the history of Atlanta and the people and places that make this city what it is today.
Civil War Trail
Atlanta was obviously in the midst of the action throughout the Civil War, and many opportunities exist to learn about what many here still refer to -- with tongue in cheek -- as "the war of Northern aggression." Begin with a visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum, in Grant Park. The building that houses the Cyclorama also contains a museum of related artifacts, the most important being the steam locomotive Texas from the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase. Other exhibits include displays of Civil War arms and artillery, Civil War-themed paintings, portraits of Confederate and Union leaders, "life in camp" artifacts and photographs, and uniforms.
Next, venture northwest to the Kennesaw Mountain/National Battlefield Park, a 2,884-acre park established in 1917 on the site of a crucial Civil War battle in the Atlanta campaign of 1864. Some two million visitors come annually to explore the Confederate entrenchments and earthworks, some of them featuring Civil War artillery. Located in the same vicinity is the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History, operated in association with the Smithsonian Institute, which means that Civil War and transportation objects from the Smithsonian are incorporated into the exhibits here. It was here that the wild adventure known as the Great Locomotive Chase began. The museum, occupying a building that was once the Frey cotton gin, houses the General locomotive; a walk-through caboose; exhibits of Civil War artifacts, memorabilia, and photographs (including those relating to the chase and its participants); and exhibits on railroads. You can view a 20-minute narrated video about the chase, but if you really want the full story, pick up the Disney movie The Great Locomotive Chase, starring Fess Parker, available in the museum gift shop.
Even Oakland Cemetery is ripe with Civil War history, as Confederate and Union soldiers, including five Southern generals, are among the more than 48,000 people buried here. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this outstanding 88-acre Victorian cemetery was founded in 1850. Two monuments honor the Confederate war dead. Standing at the marker that commemorates the Great Locomotive Chase, you can see the trees from which the Yankee raiders were hanged; the Confederate train conductor Capt. William Fuller is buried nearby.
Atlanta is ripe with ties to the rich history of African Americans and the civil rights movement. After all, this is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. And all of the sites are full of learning opportunities, so bring the whole family along this sightseeing trail, beginning with the APEX (African-American Panoramic Experience) Museum in the Sweet Auburn district. Featuring exhibits on the history of Sweet Auburn and the African-American experience, the museum includes a children's gallery with interactive displays.
Leaving the APEX, follow the walking tour for Sweet Auburn, which includes the King Center, Dr. King's final resting place; his late wife Coretta Scott King is buried next to him. Next, the Birth Home of Martin Luther King, Jr., is open for half-hour guided tours. Though the tour is free, you must get tickets at the National Park Service Visitor Center on Auburn Avenue. Don't miss Ebenezer Baptist Church or the Herndon Building, named for an ex-slave who went on to found the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the second-largest black insurance company in the country. Built in the early 1900s, the Butler Street YMCA was a popular meeting place for civil rights leaders. And the Sweet Auburn Curb Market offers fare not often enjoyed outside of the South.
For answers about African-American history, visit the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History. Several churches along the avenue, such as Big Bethel AME and First Congregational, helped build and maintain the heritage of the street. The Royal Peacock Club provided an elegant setting where many African Americans could perform and bring the changing styles of black popular music to Atlanta.
Beat the Heat
The Georgia heat can be relentless, but not to worry: If you can't take the heat, the city has options for fun days in air-conditioned facilities, with everything from museums and shopping to sea life and live entertainment. For a couple of days out of the elements, start with a trip to the world's largest aquarium, the Georgia Aquarium, with 100,000 animals from more than 500 species in 80 million gallons of fresh and marine water. You'll be amazed at the massive whale sharks that swim overhead in the glass tunnel as you walk through or glide along on the moving sidewalk. These gentle beasts can grow to be as large as a school bus. Beluga whales, jellyfish, penguins -- they're all here in amazing habitats.
Next, make a visit to the World of Coca-Cola to browse the world's largest collection of memorabilia celebrating this popular beverage, created right here in Atlanta in 1886. While Coca-Cola was first served at a small pharmacy soda fountain near Underground Atlanta, it is now served more than one billion times a day and is enjoyed in more than 200 countries across the globe. Come discover the history of this global brand and sample Coca-Cola products from around the world. Some will leave you longing for another sip, while others are worse than castor oil. For big fans of Coke, the Everything Coca-Cola gift shop is an outstanding outlet for memorabilia and literally can't be missed, as you have to pass through it to exit the facility. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm most days, though it may open later or close earlier on certain Sundays.
Plan ahead and schedule a CNN Studio Tour, just across the street from the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. The 55-minute guided walking tour allows a look at one of the world's most trusted names in news, as well as the inventor of 24-hour news. You'll get to journey into the heart of CNN Worldwide and enjoy an up-close, in-depth look at global news in the making. There are a number of behind-the-scenes demonstrations: In the special-effects room, you'll learn just how they make images -- such as weather maps -- appear behind the anchors and correspondents. At the interactive-exhibit area, you can view video clips of the top 100 news stories that CNN has covered during the past 20 years, test your knowledge with the journalism ethics display, and trace the growth of CNN as it parallels world events. The gift shop features a faux newsroom setup where visitors can deliver the news from behind the anchor's desk, then purchase the DVD for themselves.
If you like to spend money while staying cool, Atlanta has no shortage of retail opportunities. Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza are two of the poshest, most exclusive malls in the city, and Atlanta's popular shopping destination, Atlantic Station, is a mixed-use community being recognized as a national model for smart growth and sustainable development. Tenants here include the Southeast's first IKEA, a full-day adventure in itself; its restaurant is the company's first to serve grits and sweet tea. Or, dine outside at one of the dozens of eateries in the complex. You'll also find a movie theater here if the weather warrants an afternoon in the dark watching one of the latest flicks. Shopping options include American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor and Ann Taylor LOFT, City Sports, Express, the Gap, Nine West, Old Navy, West Elm, and Z Gallerie.
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.