14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Atlanta
Atlanta, capital of the state of Georgia, is in almost all respects the principal centre of the American South. It lies in the foreland of the southern foothills of the Piedmont Plateau, on the watershed between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.The city was originally planned as a railway junction, and rapidly developed into an important commercial town. In recent years it has become a major economic and cultural centre in the American southeast and an important hub of air traffic. Internationally famed businesses, including Coca-Cola and CNN, have their headquarters here. Those visiting Atlanta should not expect to find a romantic southern city, but rather a large and vibrant American city with southern charm.
A military outpost was established in 1814 in the Indian village of Standing Peachtrees on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River, and in 1837 this became the terminus of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The settlement that grew up was at first known simply as Terminus. Then, in 1843, it was renamed Marthasville in honour of the daughter of the then governor. Only two years later, in 1845, it was given its present name of Atlanta. During the Civil War it was an important Confederate stronghold, supply base and hospital centre. In 1864 the Union General William Sherman, noted for his ruthless conduct of the war, captured the town and reduced it to rubble. These events were described by Margaret Mitchell in her best-selling novel "Gone with the Wind", which won her the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1868 Atlanta became capital of the young state of Georgia. In 1886 the soft drink with the largest world sales was created in Atlanta. Large areas of the city were destroyed by a great fire in 1917. In 1929 Martin Luther King was born in Atlanta. After the Second World War Atlanta enjoyed a huge economic upswing.
The climate in Atlanta is humid subtropical with hot, humid summers and mild winters. The city receives abundant rainfall which is common in the southeastern states. There are lots of things to see and do in Atlanta, from the arts to sports, history, and other entertainment. Highlights are the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium, and numerous museums.
See also: Where to Stay in Atlanta
1 Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site
Two blocks on Auburn Avenue are now protected as a National Historic Site. They include the birthplace of the civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King Jr at 501 Auburn Avenue, which dates from 1895, and the Ebenezer Baptist Church at 407-413 Auburn Avenue, in which he and his father were ministers. Immediately adjoining, in the Freedom Hall Complex, is his grave. The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Nonviolent Social Change is also in this area.
2 Atlanta History Center
The Atlanta History Center is a large complex that comprises the Atlanta History Museum, Centennial Olympic Games Museum, Swan House, Smith Family Farm, and the Kenan Research Center, along with a number of historic gardens. The History Museum features changing exhibitions and a permanent collection with topics such as the American Civil War, Folk Art of the South, and various other exhibits related to the history of Atlanta.
The historic houses range in age from the 1860s to the 1920s and offer a glimpse of life during these time periods. The Margaret Mitchell House contains the apartment where Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind. The guided tour includes a look at this room as well as a brief film and exhibition on Margaret Mitchell.
The six historic gardens include both natural areas and formal gardens. The Frank A. Smith Rhododendron Garden is a delight in spring when the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom. Visitors can also see an 1860s style garden at the Tullie Smith Farm.
Address: 990 Peachtree Street NE
3 The Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre was built in the 1920s as the Yaarab Temple Shrine Mosque, with an extremely posh Arabian-themed design. It has had a varied history, with problems during the Great Depression, but has always been a much loved landmark building since its construction. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior of the theatre has seen considerable restoration work over the years in an attempt to maintain its original elegance, including the repair and restoration of the furniture collection to preserve its 1929 appearance.
Performances at the Fox include diverse entertainment options such as operas, ballet, rock concerts, and movies, with hundreds of performances each year. In addition to the theatre, there are two ballrooms, the Egyptian Ballroom and the Grand Salon. Both of these have been beautifully restored and are available for special events.
Address: 660 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30308, United States
4 World of Coca-Cola
In 1886 a chemist named Dr John Pemberton devised a syrup designed to relieve headaches. A friend of his mixed the glutinous liquid with water and carbonic acid, and the result of the mixture soon became the world's most popular soft drink. The World of Coca-Cola entertainingly illustrates the history and triumphal progress of the world-famous drink.
Address: 121 Baker Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30313, United States
5 Piedmont Park
Located just a short distance northeast of downtown Atlanta, Piedmont Park is the oldest and largest park in the Atlanta metro region. The grounds were originally part of the Battle at Peachtree Creek during the Civil War.
In 2006 plans were drawn up to update and revitalize the park, a plan which resulted in a lovely new look. The former bathhouse, which served as a locker room, was transformed into the Greystone, a lovely lakefront venue which can now be used for weddings, receptions, and other events. The overhaul of the pool area, which is now the Piedmont Park Aquatic Center, led to the expansion of Piedmont Park. Other additions include the Legacy Fountain, the Magnolia Greenway, new bridges, fishing piers, and restored natural areas with trails and walkways.
The park also hosts various events from musical entertainment to fitness programs.
Address: 1071 Piedmont Avenue
6 Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Atlanta Botanical Garden offers a lovely space with a variety of well laid out gardens. The idea for the garden was presented in the early 1970s and by the early 1980s the garden saw its first visitors. Over the decades since it opened the complex has gradually expanded with new gardens, new features, and new programs.
The Botanical Garden is a great place year round, with something always in bloom. Spring is, of course, an amazing time with a riot of colors. Some of the highlights include the Orchid Display House in the Fuqua Orchid Center, the Rose Garden, the Winter Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Conservation Garden, and the Desert House. What there is to see will depend somewhat on the time of year you are visiting. However, the indoor gardens are always pleasant to wander through.
Address: 1345 Piedmont Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30309, United States
7 Oakland Cemetery
The Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta began as six acres in 1850. It was originally designed as a garden cemetery. Over the years, particularly during the time of the Civil War, the site grew, accommodating those killed on the battlefield. Eventually the cemetery came to encompass 88 acres. In 1884 the cemetery stopped selling plots. Eventually this once lovely cemetery fell into disrepair as those tending the plots moved away or died.
In 1976 Oakland Cemetery was declared a National Historic Landmark and the Historic Oakland Foundation was established. In combination with the city the organization has done much work to maintain the cemetery. Today it is promoted as a historic cemetery and parkland with gardens, sculptures, and wildlife. There is even a Visitor Center and Museum Shop.
Address: 248 Oakland Avenue
8 Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Opened in 1992, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History portrays the natural history of Georgia as well as technical and scientific phenomena with the aid of modern techniques. Some of the most eye catching exhibits at the museum are the huge dinosaur statues at the entrance and the dinosaur skeletons in the Great Hall. Perhaps more entertaining are the interactive displays of the "Sensing Nature". There are many other interesting exhibits on the natural history of the local landscape and cultures from other parts of the world. Note that the floors are made of limestone tiles with embedded fossils.
A huge gallery is dedicated to special exhibitions of temporary and traveling exhibits. There is also an IMAX theater showing nature related movies, as well as an on-site Star Gallery.
Address: 767 Clifton Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30307-1221, United States
9 Michael C Carlos Museum
The Michael C Carlos Museum of Emory University has one of the largest collections of ancient art in the Southeast, with objects from ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Near East, and the ancient Americas. The permanent collection also contains works from the Renaissance right through the modern times.
Address: 571 South Kilgo Circle
10 Stone Mountain Park
16 miles east of the city centre is Stone Mountain Park, commemorating the soldiers of the southern states who fell in the Civil War. In the centre of the park is Stone Mountain, an 863 foot high mass of exposed granite with a circumference of 5 miles. On the east flank of the hill is an equestrian relief, hewn from the rock between 1923 and 1970, depicting the three Confederate leaders, President Jefferson Davis and his two generals, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The top of the hill can be reached by cable car, and around it runs an old steam railway. Nearby is an artificial lake on which there are paddle-steamer cruises. Other features are a museum devoted to the early days of industrialisation in the southern states, a Civil War Museum and a restored antebellum plantation.
11 Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta features a wide variety of marine life and some very interesting and interactive activities for visitors. The aquarium is home to some of the largest creatures in the ocean including whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea. One unique option offered by the Georgia Aquarium is the opportunity to dive or snorkel in the tank with the sharks. To participate in the dive program visitors must have SCUBA diving certification. For those not looking to get wet, the aquarium also has an acrylic tunnel to walk through and view fish swimming on all sides.
Address: 225 Baker Street NW
12 Turner Field Tours & Ivan Allen Jr Braves Museum and Hall of Fame
The origin and history of the Atlanta Braves is displayed at the Ivan Allen Jr. Braves Museum & Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Beginning with the team's history in Boston and later Milwaukee the museum presents various artifacts such as games bats, uniforms and the 1955 World Series trophy. There are all kinds of photos in the museum as well as a video presentation.
Visitors can take a guided tour of Turner Field which begins at the Braves Museum and Hall of Fame. Tours generally last about one hour and take in all the major highlights, such as the Coca-Cola Sky Field, Scouts Alley, the Broadcast Booth, the Press Box, Clubhouse, and various other locations.
The museum can be found on the northwest side of Turner Field.
13 High Museum of Art
The architecturally noteworthy High Museum of Art, designed by architect Richard Meier, possesses an extraordinary collection of art from the Renaissance to the present day, with 19th century French masters predominating. The museum forms part of the Robert W. Woodruff Arts Center.
Founded in 1905, the High Museum of Art has an extensive collection of 19th and 20th C American art as well as significant European paintings and decorative art. The collection has also received the addition of modern and contemporary art, photography, and African art.
The museum hosts an annual film series features foreign, independent and classic cinema.
While the original building was designed by noted architect Richard Meier and opened in 1983, three new buildings, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano, were added to house the growing collection.
Address: 1280 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309, United States
14 Center for Puppetry Arts
The Center for Puppetry Arts is a hands-on museum with a large collection of puppets from around the world. Some of the displays include Chinese hand puppets and African rod puppets. Other exhibits feature posters, videos and photographs about puppetry. The Center offers a range of productions, from the Family Series performances to New Directions Series performances, which are designed for teen and adult audiences and focus on more sophisticated themes.
Address: 1404 Spring Street NW, Atlanta, GA 30309, United States
Where to Stay in Atlanta for Sightseeing
For people visiting Atlanta for the first time, the downtown area is the best place to stay. Many of the main sights are located here, including Coca Cola World, the CNN Center, and the Georgia Aquarium. Below is a list of highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: One of the top hotels in the city is the Ritz-Carlton. This is a five star property, with live jazz in the evenings, just a short stroll from the Georgia Aquarium. The Sheraton Atlanta has recently been renovated and features a beautiful outdoor pool and patio area. Just a bit north of downtown, in artsy Midtown, the Loews Atlanta, in a sleek glass tower, offers commanding views of the downtown core.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Across the street from the Ritz Carlton is the historic Ellis Hotel, with concept floors that include some exclusively for women and Fresh Air floors where the air is purified to be allergen free. The Residence Inn includes breakfast and features large suites with full kitchens, refrigerators, and a sitting area. Right near Olympic Centennial Park and across the street from the CNN Center is the Holiday Inn. All of these hotels are in convenient downtown locations.
- Budget Hotels: Budget hotels in the city center are difficult to find, and the best option is to stay a short distance outside the downtown area. La Quinta Inn, in Paces Ferry/Vinings, is a new property with decent prices, about 10 to 15 minutes by car from downtown. A little further away, in the Northlake area, the Hampton Inn features recently renovated rooms and an outdoor pool. The Red Roof Plus in trendy Buckhead, about 10 minutes by car from the city center, is another good option. There is also a MARTA rail station nearby with service to downtown.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Atlanta
- Save Time and Money: If you're planning a busy schedule of sightseeing, you can save time and money by purchasing an Atlanta CityPass in advance. This pass includes free entry into prime sites such as the Georgia Aquarium, the Inside CNN Studio Tour, and the World of Coca Cola. You can visit the attractions in any order, and the pass is valid for nine days from first use, giving you maximum flexibility to plan your itinerary. Best of all, you can skip the ticket lines, so you have more time to explore.
- Sightseeing Tours: A fun and eco-friendly way to see Atlanta's top attractions without the hassle of finding your way around is the Atlanta City Tour by Electric Car. Let your driver and expert guide do the work on this 90-minute tour as you relax and take in the sights, including Atlanta's hippest neighborhoods, civil rights monuments, and Centennial Olympic Park. For a different look at the city, try the Atlanta Zombie Film Locations Tour. Fans of "Zombieland" and "The Walking Dead, will enjoy this three-hour tour, which visits related movie locations, complete with handpicked clips and insider secrets from actor guides on the air-conditioned coach. The tours include trivia prizes and a souvenir group photo, and you can choose from three different itineraries depending on your favorite characters and scenes.