Atlanta, Georgia is one of the “it” cities of 21st-century America. With a booming, increasingly diverse population, reasonable rents, gorgeous local scenery, and myriad things to do, it’s no wonder so many people are coming here to visit and to live. This 9 to 5 Voyager himself recently made that very move!
Below you’ll find 12 awesome things to see and do in “The City in a Forest,” from the touristic to the unusual. I’ve even included some things that, in my opinion, may not be worth your time. Read on!
1. Centennial Olympic Park
Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, which were also the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. To commemorate the occasion, Atlanta created the 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park in the middle of Downtown.
Centennial Olympic Park is a wonderful place to throw a football or Frisbee with your friends, or just sit and chill. The skyline in the background provides for some awesome photo ops. Better yet, go up in the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel for even better views!
2. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park features several prominent places from the civil rights leader’s life. These include the home he grew up in and the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where both he and his father served as pastors. You can also find museums on desegration and the American Civil Rights Movement, the “I Have a Dream” International World Peace Rose Garden, and the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. The 35-acre district is among Atlanta’s most popular tourist attractions.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was of course the foremost leader of the Civil Rights Movement, orchestrating the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955, nonviolent protests in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, and the famous March on Washington that same year. He was notable for strictly adhering to practices of nonviolence and civil disobedience in order to help gain equality for African-Americans during a time of extreme racism and systemic segregation.
The historic park sees many events in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., particularly on MLK Day (the third Monday in January, typically between the 15th and the 21st), during Black History Month (February), and on the anniversary of his assassination (April 4th).
Pro Tip: The Atlanta Streetcar connects Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.
3. Fox Theater
If the exterior of the Fox Theater isn’t cool enough for you, the interior is the definition of opulent. Built in 1928 as a Shriner’s Temple, the original architects drew heavily from the style of Islamic mosques to create probably the most beautiful structure in the entire city.
Today, the 4,665-seat theater is one of the premier live entertainment venues in Atlanta, and hosts everything from Broadway plays to concerts to comedy shows and even weddings.
660 Peachtree St NE, Atlanta, GA 30308
4. Center for Civil and Human Rights
In many ways a companion institution to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park, the Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in 2014 to much praise. The center focuses not just on the American Civil Rights Movement, but on global human rights issues as well.
100 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30313
5. Ponce City Market
Ponce City Market, originally built as a Sears Roebuck store in 1926, is now a wonderful city market with wine bars, coffee bars, eateries, and roof seating. The exposed brick and iron girders offer interesting atmosphere to the shops and restaurants you can enjoy here. I personally recommend grabbing a drink at Dancing Goats Coffee Bar, and relaxing on their unique covered patio.
675 Ponce de Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308
6. EastSide Trail
The Ponce City Market also offers quick access to the EastSide Trail. This 3-mile urban walking and biking trail features art installations, Relay bike share stalls, electric scooters, and connections to many other points of interest, including Historic Fourth Ward Park and Krog Street Market.
As you stroll down the trail, keep an eye out for tiny, vibrantly colored doors. The Tiny Doors ATL project was started by local artist Karen Anderson, who wanted to inspire curiosity in all who found them. Each door is six inches high, and features some kind of unique vignette. There are currently 15 of them spread out across the city of Atlanta and neighboring Decatur.
After enjoying Ponce City Market, take the stairs up to the EastSide Trail and then turn left, heading north. Walk for about 30 minutes and you’ll arrive at…
7. Piedmont Park
Atlanta’s largest green space, Piedmont Park sprawls across 189 acres, and is set for a number of expansions in the coming years. The park boasts several tennis courts, playgrounds, walking paths, and boat docks. It’s one of my personal favorite places in Atlanta, and is a wonderful place to relax, play, run, walk, and take in the skyline views. Did I mention the park is also the home of the Atlanta Botanical Garden?
8. Fat Matt’s Rib Shack
Fat Matt’s Rib Shack makes some of the best ribs you’re likely to find in Atlanta, or anywhere else. With an interesting blend of tomato- and vinegar-based sauce and absolutely bursting with meat and flavor, be sure to make a bee-line for Fat Matt’s. Side offerings include greens, peanuts, and mac ‘n cheese. They also offer live jazz and blues shows.
1811 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30324
9. Joystick Gamebar
Located in Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood, Joystick Gamebar is a prime example of the new breed of arcade bars. There are plenty of classic games to play while you drink. If you don’t have quarters or simply want a more chill night with friends, there are plenty of comfy couches with card games and board games.
427 Edgewood Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312
10. Georgia Aquarium
From its opening in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium was the largest aquarium in the world until 2012, when it was surpassed by Marine Life Park in Singapore. Of course, being moved back a spot doesn’t mean this place isn’t *big*, and you could easily spend several hours marveling at the 100,000 animals on display in 10 million gallons of fresh and salt water. The Georgia Aquarium houses such incredible specimens as the whale shark, beluga whale, bottlenose dolphin, and manta ray.
225 Baker St NW, Atlanta, GA 30313
11. World of Coca-Cola
Atlanta is the home of the world’s most popular carbonated beverage and one of the biggest companies in the world, Coca-Cola. So it’s only fitting that they have an entire World of Coca-Cola for you to visit!
While I was always a Pepsi man myself, I liked the World of Coca-Cola! It’s pretty massive, large enough to accommodate an IMAX theater, and plenty of exhibits on the history and development of Coke.
My favorite part comes at the end: there’s a large room replete with soda fountains dispensing Coke products from all over the world. It’s a pretty cool experience to sample a whole bunch of different sodas, and taste what people in Germany or Japan drink on a regular basis.
Pro Tip: The Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola are situated right across from each other, and could be a nicely contained day of fun for families.
121 Baker St NW, Atlanta, GA 30313
12. Zoo Atlanta
Zoo Atlanta opened in 1889, and on top of typical exhibits like rain forest and desert biomes, operates Trader’s Alley, which focuses on species that are hit particularly hard by the international wildlife trade. The zoo lays claim to being one of only four institutions in the entire country that house giant pandas.
800 Cherokee Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30315
13. Krog Street Tunnel
The Krog Street Tunnel is a truly awesome, pedestrian- and bike-friendly tunnel on the east side of Atlanta known for extensive displays of street art. There is new art going up all the time, and the tunnel itself leads to a very nice neighborhood you can explore, Inman Park.
14. The BeltLine
Currently under construction, the BeltLine will be a 22-mile hike-and-bike trail surrounding the entire city. The EastSide Trail was the first completed portion of the BeltLine, and the full loop should be completed in a few years. The trails follow along former streetcar tracks, and will be a fun and environmentally-friendly way to access different neighborhoods.
Avoid #1: The Varsity
Let me be clear in saying that my reviews are never meant to be personal nor malicious. If anything, I would look at this as a recommendation to do better!
The Varsity is a large, retro drive-in diner located downtown. There are actually several locations in the Atlanta metro area, but the downtown location is the original, operating since 1928. With capacity for 800 sit-down diners and 600 cars, it lays claim to being the largest drive-in diner in the *world.*
Unfortunately, Kristen and I found this to be a perfect case of style over substance. While the atmosphere was neat and the service perfectly fine, neither of us were at all impressed by the food.
I ordered a “Glorified Bacon Burger” and was surprised to find that the patty was *tiny* and lacked flavor. I feel that if you were to go to the store and get a slice of Kraft cheese, some microwave bacon, and a frozen hamburger patty, you yourself could make a burger equal to or better than what I got at The Varsity. Kristen could hardly finish her chicken sandwich, stating that it was dry and unseasoned. How they have remained so popular for so many years is a true mystery to me.
Having said that, there are many people who say that the food is not the reason to go to The Varsity, and that the reason to go is to be a part of an Atlanta institution. If you decide to make the trip, I’ve been told the Frosted Orange is delicious.
61 North Ave, Atlanta, GA 30308 (Original Downtown Location)
Avoid #2: Underground Atlanta
It’s not so much that Underground Atlanta is bad, it’s just not that great. Kinda neat that it’s under the street, but that’s where the novelty ends. None of the shops nor restaurants are anything you couldn’t find anywhere else…and probably with better views.
50 Upper Alabama St, Atlanta, GA 30303
Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Feel free to say so in the comments below! Whatever you have your heart set on seeing, Atlanta offers a lot for everyone.