Best Things To Do in Atlanta
Sure, Atlanta is a commercial hub, but it's also a sightseer's dream. There are scenic green spaces like Piedmont Park, unique entertainment venues like the Fox Theatre, plus one of the country's best panda exhibits at the zoo. History buffs, shopaholics and night owls will likely all find something to pique their interests: from Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace to Buckhead's top-notch bars and boutiques to sports-focused sights like the College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Meanwhile, families can flock to the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and other interactive spots.
Updated February 22, 2018
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Spread across 33 acres in Atlanta's trendy Buckhead neighborhood, the Atlanta History Center seeks to explore Georgia's past through comprehensive exhibitions, historic homes and miles of gardens and trails. The center's primary facility is the Atlanta History Museum, which showcases exhibits that span the region's history, from Native American culture to life in the antebellum South.
Near the museum is the Swan House, a restored estate originally built in 1928. Living up to its name, every room allegedly features at least one swan (motif). Outside the house, the Swan Woods Trail is lined with beautiful plants native to Georgia. Nearby, you can also see how the other half lived at the Smith Family Farm, a plantation house from the mid-1800s. Meanwhile, bookworms won't want to miss a tour of the Margaret Mitchell House, where the author penned her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Gone With the Wind."
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Walk in the footsteps of one of history's most important figures with a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Here you'll find the modest home where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was born and raised. You can also head over to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was once a pastor. And at The King Center, you'll find engaging exhibits on the civil rights movement and King's gravesite. These, along with several other landmarks and museums, are jointly considered a national historic site.
Most agree a trip to Atlanta must include time spent at this historic site. Many travelers recommend arriving early to take a free 30-minute guided tour of King's birth home. Tours start at 10 a.m. and are provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Weekdays and Sunday mornings are the least crowded, according to the National Park Service. Also, remember to wear comfy shoes since the entire complex is spread across several city blocks.
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Adjacent to the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Midtown, Piedmont Park is the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon. Sprawling 200-plus acres, the park has no shortage of things to do, including walking and jogging paths, dog parks, picnic facilities, playgrounds, tennis courts, a public swimming pool and a Saturday farmers market. Thanks to its size, Piedmont Park also hosts a variety of Atlanta's top events, including the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, the Atlanta Jazz Festival and Atlanta Pride.
Previous travelers highly recommended visiting this park, calling it "a little piece of peace in the city" and one of Atlanta's best parks. Some even said that it reminded them of New York City's Central Park. Many loved picnicking, swimming and playing tennis here, but some recent visitors warned that parking spots can be sparse, especially on weekends, so consider taking public transportation to and from the park.
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The Fox Theatre is more than a performance venue – it's one of the city's most iconic landmarks. And luckily, you don't need to have tickets to a show to take in its ornate interior. Originally conceived by Atlanta's Shriners organization, the theater's design was inspired by Egyptian and Spanish architecture, specifically the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor and the Alhambra in Granada. You'll get a tutorial on the building's iconic architectural details and more during a tour. Tours, which take place on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, guide visitors through more than 10 locations within the building, from the orchestra pit to the ornately decorated men's bathroom. Plus, you'll see Mighty Mo', the largest working Moller theater organ in the world.
Although some past visitors felt this venue is a bit dated, citing poor acoustics and uncomfortable seats as negatives, others enjoyed seeing the property's performances and praised its design. In fact, a few described the theater as an "unexpected gem" and "one of the most interesting buildings in Atlanta."
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For an in-depth look at the American civil rights movement and ongoing human rights struggles across the world, check out the Center for Civil and Human Rights. This 42,000-square-foot museum by the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola offers two temporary and three permanent exhibits, including a collection of Martin Luther King Jr. artifacts, such as his briefcase and handwritten drafts and outlines of notable speeches.
Though the museum recommends allotting at least one-and-a-half hours for its exhibits, most past travelers said you can easily spend several hours exploring the property's "amazing" and informative displays. Many were especially impressed with the lunch counter experience at the attraction's "Rolls Down Like Water" exhibit; however, a few visitors cited some collections as sparse or outdated.
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Situated less than 2 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta and spanning 48 acres, Oakland Cemetery stands as a testament to the city's role in the Civil War and the civil rights movement. Among its winding paths, trees and flower shrubs, you'll find elaborate mausoleums, intricate sculptures and an impressive collection of art and architecture. Amidst the 70,000 graves, you'll spot some well-known Atlantans, including legends like golfer Bobby Jones and author Margaret Mitchell. The Confederate Memorial section has some of the most impressive memorials and carvings of the whole cemetery, while Potter's Field has only one monument for the thousands of people who couldn't afford private burial plots.
You are welcome to explore the grounds on your own, although many recent visitors recommended joining a guided tour. If you do decide to venture out on your own, previous travelers suggested buying a map from the Visitors Center and Museum Shop for $5 or downloading a free self-guided tour from Google or Apple's app store. To add to the ambiance, consider arriving in October when the cemetery offers Halloween-themed ghost tours.
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Located across the street from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta is Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre patch of land that features lush paths of grass, artwork, pools and fountains. The park was originally built for the 1996 Olympic Games and was a centerpiece of the festivities; now, it's one of the most visited areas of the city. One of the park's most well-known elements is the Fountain of Rings, made up of 251 water jets. Every day, four water shows choreographed to various songs take place.
Recent visitors noted the fountains were a hit with families, especially young children, and advise bringing a change of clothes if you know your kids will want to splash around in the water. Past travelers also appreciated the park's proximity to must-see sights like the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and the Center for Civil and Human Rights.
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The Atlanta Botanical Garden should be every plant lover's first stop in the city. It covers a magnificent and beautiful 30 acres in the northwest corner of Midtown's Piedmont Park. There's lots to see here, including the Lou Glenn Children's Garden, the Edible Garden, the Tropical Rotunda and one of the few remaining mature hardwood forests in Atlanta. Plus, you can't miss a pass through the Fuqua Orchid Center, which features a variety of unique high-elevation orchids never grown before in the Southeast. You'll also find a wonderful and colorful collection of poison dart frogs within the glass walls of the Fuqua Conservatory.
Visitors highly recommend a visit to this "magical" locale. However, some lament the cost of admission and the high fees for snacks and meals at the on-site eateries. A few travelers also suggest avoiding winter visits, since some of the property's outdoor gardens are not in bloom during the colder months.
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Considered one of the world's largest aquariums, the Georgia Aquarium boasts more than 100,000 animals from 700 species represented in seven different galleries. Housing everything from freshwater animals in its Southern Company River Scout gallery to a 6.3-million-gallon whale shark tank in its Ocean Voyager gallery, it's safe to say the aquarium runs the gamut in terms of its marine life.
This facility (especially its Ocean Voyager exhibit) is a popular tourist attraction, so expect crowds when you visit. Previous visitors raved about the property's free dolphin show and recommend paying to swim or dive with the aquarium's whale sharks, but some warned that these experiences quickly fill up, so consider purchasing your tickets in advance on the attraction's ticket portal page.
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Located just south of the Georgia Aquarium and across the street from Centennial Olympic Park, the College Football Hall of Fame offers more than 50 interactive exhibits dedicated to its namesake sport. Inside the 95,000-square-foot facility, visitors can look for their team's helmet on the three-story Helmet Wall, admire Heisman and National Championship trophies, sit at the interactive ESPN College GameDay Desk, kick a field goal at the 45-yard football field and more.
If you're a fan of college football, then travelers say you'll love exploring this attraction. According to many visitors, the hall of fame does a great job of engaging kids of all ages, though some felt the property's interactive activities did not justify its high entrance fees. Others caution that this hall of fame is hard to enjoy when it's crowded and may feel like a letdown compared to others across the country.
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Spread across 3,200 acres, Stone Mountain Park boasts a variety of family-friendly attractions. But for many, the real star here is the Confederate Memorial Carving. The largest high relief sculpture in the world, this carving depicts three Confederate heroes of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. For a little perspective, the entire carved surface measures 3 acres, which is larger than a football field and Mount Rushmore. If the carving alone isn't enough of an incentive to drive 20 miles northeast of the city, then consider the park's other attractions.
Additional facilities include a wildlife preserve, a cable car ride, two golf courses, several restaurants and an antebellum plantation that is open to tour. You could easily spend all day exploring the grounds' hiking trails, picnic areas and recreational attractions. You should especially stay until the evening in the summer, when the Lasershow Spectacular blazes the mountain's carving and the night sky with images representing the South.
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As its name suggests, World of Coca-Cola is a museum dedicated entirely to Coke. Visits to the two-level facility begin with exhibits on the drink's historical milestones, its role in pop culture and the bottling process. The older generations in your group will likely enjoy the museum's attention to the company's past, but the kids will probably be most excited for the Taste It! area, where more than 100 varieties of Coke from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America are available for unlimited sampling. You can also purchase various Coke memorabilia at the on-site gift shop.
Many recent visitors cited the free, limitless samples as the main reason to pay the museum's pricey admission. However, several past travelers lamented this attraction's lack of information about the soft drink's history and said it's only worth visiting on a rainy day if you have some time to spare.
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The High Museum of Art's aesthetics begin with the physical structure itself. The Richard Meier-designed building is covered in white porcelain that is mirrored on its interior, which also features winding walking paths and an interesting light system at the top. The most noteworthy part of the collection is the 19th- and 20th-century American art, including pieces by Thomas Sully, Norman Rockwell and Frederic Church. The museum also houses an impressive collection of Italian works from the 1300s to the 1900s and masks, figurative sculptures, ceramics and more from sub-Saharan Africa.
This art museum occupies three buildings filled with galleries, a highly recommended restaurant and a gift shop. When previous visitors weren't praising the museum's art collections, they were applauding its special events: From family tours to Friday night jazz performances, the High hosts a wealth of programs catered to a wide variety of age groups. Before you stop by, check the museum's calendar to see what's going on during your visit.
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What sets Atlanta's zoo apart from other wildlife exhibits is its panda population: Zoo Atlanta is one of only four zoos in the U.S. housing giant pandas. The rare bears are a favorite among recent visitors, but the zoo also boasts more than 200 other species. While here, you'll spot lions, giraffes, zebras and plenty of reptiles. Apart from the animals, the zoo offers a train ride, a carousel, a ropes course and a rock climbing wall, among other attractions. Keep in mind: The cost of these activities is not included with admission.
Travelers (especially those with kids) offer mostly favorable reviews for the zoo, saying it's easy to navigate. But many agree that the property can get crowded on warmer days, so consider arriving early. Also, remember that parts of the zoo are closed for renovations, meaning select animal exhibits (including ones with giraffes and zebras) are currently unavailable.
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Whether you're a budding journalist or a fan of the network, odds are you'll enjoy touring CNN's headquarters. Tours of CNN Center give you an inside look at the day-to-day operations of one of the world's largest news organization. Standard Behind-the-Scenes Tours, which last 50 minutes, include peeks at spaces used to produce broadcasts, while upgraded experiences offer everything from access to live newsrooms to souvenir press passes and meet-and-greets with TV anchors.
Although some recent visitors bemoaned CNN Center's high tour rates and short tour times, adding that the 50-minute timeframe is mostly filled with security checks and walking up and down stairs, others described them as informative and interesting. Many previous travelers were especially impressed with the friendly guides.
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Families and photography enthusiasts alike will love visiting SkyView Atlanta. This large Ferris wheel just east of Centennial Olympic Park stands nearly 20 stories tall and features 42 air-conditioned gondolas. While passengers ride the attraction, they'll enjoy stunning views of the downtown skyline.
Previous visitors raved about SkyView Atlanta's central location and superb panoramas, especially at night. However, multiple travelers reported encountering long admission lines and lamented the expensive rates. Some also found the ride to be too boring and slow.
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