Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Atlanta
The 1996 Summer Olympic Games live on at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, a 21-acre site that remains one of the city’s premiere public park spaces. The park's main icon—and one of Georgia’s most photographed landmarks—would be the Fountain of Rings, an interactive play area that uses computer-controlled lights and jets of water to display the Olympic Rings. The fountain water show is synchronized to music, and in the warmest months, kids—and even adults—run through the jets to cool off.
Also noteworthy are the park's stone paths, comprised of inscribed, dedicated bricks that line the walkways. The bricks, bought by Atlanta and Georgia natives, as well as by people all over the world, even helped fund the games in 1996. The city hosts an online brick-locator tool to help people find their own bricks or those of friends and family. The dedicated ones make up a significant portion of the nearly 800,000 bricks used to build the park.
It is hard not to love historic Inman Park. Often called Atlanta’s oldest neighborhood, it was established in 1890 and named after Samuel Inman, a prominent Atlanta businessman in the late 1800s. The picturesque area features several parks with abundant green spaces, wide lawns, stately Victorian-era homes and a plethora of independent boutiques and restaurants. Winding, narrow streets make strolling through the neighborhood an appealing option, and on any given day, residents enjoy tea and lemonade on sweeping front porches flanked by azalea bushes, giving the area a charming, homey feel.
Inman Park is a celebration of historic Atlanta residential architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in addition to Victorian-style mansions, influences range from Romanesque to Queen Anne. The neighborhood is comprised of two parts–the Inman Park historic district and the Inman Park-Moreland Historic District.
Celebrating the world’s most popular soft drink, the World of Coca-Cola showcases all things Coke. The museum is an absolute must-see for every visitor to Atlanta. The highlight of the visit is sampling Coke products from around the world. But there are also Andy Warhol pieces to view, a 4-D film to catch, company history to learn, and what seems like 20 billion promotional materials to behold.
The World of Coca-Cola is divided up into two levels, called “The Hub.” On the lower level, a short film introduces visitors to the magic behind a bottle of Coke. After watching the film, visitors can browse a number of attractions, including the Milestones of Refreshment exhibit, which traces the history of Coke.
The second level is where visitors will be completely immersed in the world of Coca-Cola. At the Secret Formula 4-D Theater, you can watch a film about an eccentric scientist on a quest to uncover the mysterious secret formula for Coke.
When Margaret Mitchell wrote her epic, Pulitzer Prize-winning, romantic novel, Gone With the Wind, she didn't do it from a desk at a picturesque country cottage or a sprawling Victorian-era mansion. Instead, she wrote the novel that would be turned into one of the greatest movies ever made from a tiny apartment on the first floor of what was then known as the Crescent Apartments. The Tudor Revival-style home with red brick and white trim served as Mitchell's home from 1925 until 1932 and is today listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The site is known as the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.
Here visitors learn about Mitchell's life in Atlanta as well as fun facts surrounding her writing of the novel. An adjacent building houses a "Making of the Movie" museum, to which entrance is included with the price of admission.
The historic Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site commemorates the life, work, and legacy of the Civil Rights leader. The center takes up several blocks, which include King’s boyhood home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both King’s father and grandfather served as ministers.
Before you begin your stroll around the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, stop by the visitors center for a map and brochure of area sites and exhibits. Inside the visitor center is a museum that chronicles the American Civil Rights movement, and Dr King’s role in it. You can also visit the two-story house where Dr. King was born.
Across from the visitors center, the King Center for Non-Violent Social Change has more information on Dr. King's life and work, and a few of his personal effects, including his Nobel Peace Prize. His gravesite, between the church and center, is surrounded by a long reflecting pool and can be viewed anytime.
Glance up during a movie, concert or live performance at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, and you will be dazzled by a gleaming starry sky. The man-made "sky’"projects 96 crystal stars and even clouds that drift, and this is only one of the many architectural features that make the Fox Theatre so fabulous. It opened on Christmas Day in 1929 to incredible fanfare and was designed and built to be grand and opulent, a decadent escape for patrons of the arts. That kind of opulence could not be maintained during the Great Depression, however, and the venue sunk into bankruptcy.
The salvation and revitalization of the Fabulous Fox, as it is known in Atlanta, was a community effort. Over $3 million was raised to protect the theatre, most of which came from Atlanta residents. The site reopened in 1975 and today ranks among some of the country’s most notable not-for-profit performing art theatres.
There are 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the United States, and one of them is located in Atlanta. The Federal Reserve plays an important role in the US economy and banking system. They make sure banks are operating safely and fairly as well as establish monetary policies. Of the 12 locations throughout the country, only two have give tours. At the Atlanta location, visitors can tour the Atlanta Monetary Museum and learn about the history of money from barter to modern times. Different exhibits show the turbulent history of banking in America. There are also displays with rare coins and currency.
Interactive, multimedia exhibits explain the Federal Reserve's role in the economy. Visitors will also learn how monetary policy affects daily life, how the Fed supervises and regulates banks, and how the Fed provides payments system services to help the economy run smoothly.
An ambitious “rails-to-trails” project, the Atlanta Beltline transforms the city’s trash-collecting tracks into more than 22 miles of footpaths for bikers, runners and pedestrians. The Beltline, a work in progress, merges the city's parks and green spaces, connects neighborhoods to each other and makes public transit more accessible. The Beltline shows off the very best parts of Atlanta.
The popular Eastside Trail and the Historic Fourth Ward Park are two projects, among many others, that have been completed. A planned streetcar is in the works, an addition that will connect the furthest reaches of the Beltline to more popular, central attractions in Atlanta. Some of the other highlights include 33 miles of multi-use trails, 1,300 acres of parks, more public art and historic preservation efforts.
If graves could talk, those that fill the Oakland Cemetery would never stop. Founded in 1850, this is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta and the final resting spot for many of the individuals who built the city, as well as those who helped it grow along the way. An estimated 70,000 people are buried at Oakland, including famous Georgians Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson. The last plots were sold in 1884, but incredibly, burials continue today through the use of family-owned plots and city exceptions for notable figures.
The 48-acre site was built during a movement toward garden cemeteries, which has resulted in the cemetery also functioning as a beautiful park today, featuring winding stone paths, large trees and blossoming flowers. The cemetery encourages the public to visit and pay respects to those interred and to learn more about Atlanta's history.
More Things to Do in Atlanta
Light streams through the stained glass windows of Ebenezer Baptist Church, illuminating the altar where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized as a child and served as pastor in adulthood. America’s most famous Civil Rights leader grew up in this church, and his legacy lives on inside its walls today, where the church serves as one of the foremost landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and in the United States.
The church was founded in 1886 during the Reconstruction Era in the South after the Civil War, and by the mid-20th century, Martin Luther King, Sr. was leading the congregation from the pulpit on Sundays, setting the stage for his son to take over. MLK, Jr. joined his father as a co-pastor from 1960 until the fateful day of his death in 1968. His funeral, too, was held here. The church has since been restored to look as it did in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream is realized every day at Atlanta's Historic Fourth Ward Park in the neighborhood in which he was born. Today the area houses the first completed urban park of the Atlanta Beltline Project, which brings modern, renovated park spaces to the city.
This 17-acre space celebrates Atlanta’s natural beauty with wide open green areas and its central two-acre lake, also used as a stormwater retention basin. Multiple lawns dot the park, all suitable for reading, a game of Frisbee and picnics. A modern playground with a splash pad is the crowning jewel of the park for young kids, and a skate park, athletic field and amphitheater round out the park’s entertainment options.
The Atlanta CNN Center is the headquarters of the cable-TV news service. A visit here will give you a behind-the-scenes glance at the 24-hour news organization in high-tech action, including a visit to production areas not accessible to the general public.
Your first stop at the Atlanta CNN Center is in the lobby, where you can have a videotape made of yourself while reading news stories from a CNN anchor desk. Next, you’ll learn about the history of CNN through interactive kiosks and CNN memorabilia. In the special-effects studio, see how global news is produced via modern technology. The highlight of the a visit to the Atlanta CNN Center is watching the action of the main CNN newsroom from a glass-walled observation tower. You’ll see writers composing new scripts, camera operators positioning cameras, and maybe even a live broadcast.
The College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta honors the greatest players throughout the history of college football. Their stories and achievements are commemorated here in a one-of-a-kind experience. Visitors can learn about exceptional players and the records they broke by exploring the exhibitions in the Hall of Fame. Permanent, etched-glass representations of each Hall of Fame player are on display. There are also 10 augmented reality displays where visitors can view images and video of players and coaches from their favorite school.
More than 750 helmets representing each college football team are on display, as well as larger than life images from 11 conference champions that are updated each season. Visitors can also see historical game-worn uniforms. Other exhibitions explore the dedication, passion, and sacrifice that goes into being a college football player.
Atlantic Station is a district in Atlanta, GA west of midtown. It is one of the newest areas of the city with plenty of apartments, lofts, and condos for those who want to live there. The neighborhood also has a focus on shopping, and you can find a wide variety of stores set up as an open-air mall. You'll find smaller boutiques, chain stores, and department stores. When you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, including sit-down establishments and cafes where you can get a quick bite.
If you're looking for entertainment, Atlantic Station has you covered. A movie theater shows the latest hit movies, and several bars provide a fun place for a drink. Atlantic Station is the permanent home for BODIES The Exhibition and often hosts Cirque de Soleil. Concerts and festivals are held here throughout the year, and in the winter there is an ice skating rink. A grocery store, fitness center, and several medical facilities round out the neighborhood.
The focal point of the Atlanta skyline is the stately gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol. Lady Freedom, a statue holding a sword and a lantern, stands atop the Capitol building; she has captured the attention of everyone who passes by since 1889. The design of the building draws from the neoclassical style, similar to that of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. Inside the building, Victorian and Florentine Renaissance influence is evident in the artistic motifs, while the site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Capitol is the main operating building for Georgia’s state government. It houses the offices of the state governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, and is also the site where the General Assembly gathers. The fourth floor holds an educational museum and a visitors' center.
In the middle of Midtown, Piedmont Park is where locals come to play, picnic, and commune with nature. Indeed, the park is a glorious, rambling urban park, filled with verdant lawns, rolling hillsides, and Lake Clara Meer – all set against the backdrop of the Midtown Atlanta skyline. The park also is the setting of many cultural and music festivals, as well as some superb people watching.
For the active, Piedmont Park has softball and soccer fields, tennis courts, a public swimming pool, and fantastic paths for jogging, skating, and biking. For leisure activities, there’s fishing on Lake Clara Meer, picnic tables and benches, and expansive lawns for lazing in the sun. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is also here. Children will have endless fun, as open, car-free spaces abound. Make sure they don’t miss PlayScape, at the 12th Street gate.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights is a cultural center in downtown Atlanta that seeks to connect the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. Their purpose is to create a safe space for visitors to explore the fundamental rights of all human beings. The Center's goal is to inspire and empower visitors to join the ongoing dialogue about human rights in their own communities.
The Center has both permanent and temporary exhibitions on different topics relating to civil and human rights. Exhibitions explore the history of the civil rights movement in the US during the 1950s and 1960s. Others focus on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and work in the fight for equal rights. Some exhibitions focus more on present-day issues of human rights and how certain groups are depicted in the media. These exhibits aim to help visitors gain a deeper understanding of human rights and how they affect the lives of every person.
Founded based on a need for space for former circus animals, Zoo Atlanta has been a mainstay attraction in Atlanta since 1889. Today, it houses more than 1,500 animals and has the largest number of gorillas and orangutans of any zoo in the United States. Additionally, Zoo Atlanta is one of only four in the U.S. that houses giant pandas.
The 40-acre zoo features seven exhibits, including the popular Ford African Rain Forest and the giant pandas exhibit with its two inhabitants, a male and a female, both on loan from China. Children love the petting zoo, where they can interact with sheep, goats and pigs.
A quintessential field trip experience for Atlanta students, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History allows children the opportunity to explore the planet and its people with both hands-on and hands-off exhibits. These explore everything from modern, foreign world cultures to prehistoric earth, and the Fernbank NatureQuest exhibit is by far the most popular. This interactive experience allows children to explore various ecosystems around the world, while the A Walk Through Time in Georgia exhibit walks through the state's natural history in the context of the development of the planet.
In addition to exhibits, Fernbank also has an impressive IMAX theater with a five-story-high, 72-foot-wide screen, making it the largest movie screen in Atlanta. While most of the films shown are educational, Fernbank does sometimes host special events and programming in the theater.
History buffs should make the Atlanta History Center their first stop. The center’s collections of photographs, maps, books, newspaper clippings, and decorative arts tell the history of Georgia, Atlanta, and the Southeast. In fact, the center has one of the largest collections of Civil War artifacts in the world. The Center itself is surrounded by 32 acres (13 hectares) of woodlands, including walking trails and five gardens.
Inside the Atlanta History Museum, hands-on discovery areas, displays, and photographs trace Atlanta’s history. Part of this permanent exhibit includes a fire engine used in Atlanta’s great fire of 1917 and a rare 1920 Hanson Six touring car. Another exhibit, the “Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South” shows the development and attributes of Southern folk art. It includes both traditional and modern forms ranging from clothing and food to singing and storytelling.
The High Museum of Art, Atlanta’s stunning temple of visual treats, is hard to miss. First, the building is built of white porcelain tile, and inside are four floors of galleries strung together by semicircular pedestrian ramps surrounding a sun-filled four-story atrium.
And that’s just the building. The High Museum of Art collection itself holds more than 11,000 works of art, including a stellar collection of American art, which includes fascinating works from the turn of the 20th century, plus contemporary pieces from the likes of Gerhard Richter and folk art from Georgia treasure Howard Finster. You can also see a marvelous collection of Italian paintings and sculptures from the 14th through the 18th centuries, as well as paintings by French Impressionists and German Expressionists. The collections of sub-Saharan African art and works by noted 19th and 20th century American and European photographers are also world-class.
Set in the northwest corner of Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is a stunning 30 acre (12 hectare) garden composed of winding paths and a number of smaller themed gardens. Each themed garden contains different landscapes to display a variety of plants. Two woodland areas, Upper Woodland and Storza Woods, feature large trees, paved paths, a fern glade, bubbling brooks, and shade-loving flowers and undergrowth.
One of the major highlights of the Atlanta Botanical Garden is the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory, a massive collection of plants from tropical rainforests and deserts. Another is the Tropical Rotunda, a rainforest populated by tropical birds, turtles, and several exhibits of poison dart frogs. For those wanting to see the woodland areas from above, try the Canopy Walk, which gives you a bird’s-eye view from 40 feet (12 meters) up.
Other highlights include a rock garden, a dwarf conifer garden, and an English knot herb garden.
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