You probably know that the best attractions in Atlanta involve its status as a mecca for hip hop music, home to a burgeoning movie scene, ground zero for chaotic traffic (we're looking at you, snow storm of 2014) and as the U.S. capitol of unparalleled heat. But what you may not know is that the Georgia capital is a highlight reel of the best parts of the American South, and that’s where we’d like to enlighten you. From Southern-style restaurants to eclectic BBQ finds and some of the most entertaining festivals across the country, you're in for a wild ride when visiting town.
Here’s a compilation of places that show off the city’s hospitality, southern fried tendencies and rich history. Explore the various eateries, shops and attractions to visit that aren’t all dive spots, but are far enough off the beaten path to make you feel more like a local than a tourist.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Atlanta
Best attractions in Atlanta
While the National Center for Civil and Human Rights may not enjoy the same notoriety as its downtown Atlanta neighbors, it’s already become an integral area attraction. The museum immerses visitors in oppressive, solemn struggles like a lunch counter sit-in simulation as well as the oral histories of the Freedom Riders. The educational experience encourages visitors to reflect on the human rights struggles of our past while inspiring global human rights of our future.
As the proud birthplace and headquarters of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta's connection to the American civil rights movement is well known. Established in 1968 as a living memorial to Dr. King, The King Center offers a comprehensive glimpse into Dr. King’s life, work, contributions and principles. Admission to the museum is free, which allows an estimated one-million people to journey throughout the campus each year.
Whale sharks, beluga whales and dolphins—oh my! The Georgia Aquarium houses these sea creatures along with tens of thousands of their closest friends. While a self-guided tour is perhaps the easiest (read: cheapest) way to see Nemo and his neighbors, the real attractions lie with “encounters and experiences.” Aquatic enthusiasts can participate in everything from stingray diving to penguin petting.
The College Football Hall of Fame is made of 95,000 square feet exclusively reserved for celebrating all things pigskin. Step up to the line of scrimmage at the indoor playing field where kids and kids at heart practice their field goal and QB skills. Explore augmented reality stations that tell the history of every player or coach ever admitted into the hall of fame. Football has never been this cool.
It goes without saying that Coke is king in Atlanta. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any restaurant or vending machine serving the brand’s dreaded competitor. As such, it’s only appropriate that the birthplace of Dr. Pemberton’s fizzy concoction has an entire museum devoted to its products and pop culture. Don’t miss the World of Coca-Cola’s "Taste It!" exhibit, where you'll get to slurp and sip more than 100 Coca-Cola Company beverages.
You might be familiar with Zoo Atlanta because of its famed gorilla exhibit and residents. In fact, the oldest living male gorilla in the world, Ozzie, calls Zoo Atlanta home. Beyond primates, Zoo Atlanta allows visitors up-close-and-personal experiences with elephants, giraffes and lizards. However, the menagerie is probably best known for its giant panda habitat—complete with a webcam—where you can peek into the black and white bamboo eating bears’ habitat adventures around the clock.
Don’t be alarmed with the chorus of “What’ll ya have? What’ll ya have? What’ll ya haves?” coming your way as you enter the renowned North Avenue diner. Instead, be prepared. Walk right up to the expansive counter and place your slaw dog order with confidence. Want to really blend in like a local? Finish your order with an F.O., an orange and vanilla flavored milkshake.
Atlanta’s epicenter of the arts, the Woodruff Arts Center is the site of the Alliance Theatre, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art, and a performance at either the Alliance or the ASO should be on your ATL bucket list. During the holidays, don’t miss A Christmas Carol at the Alliance. Then, throughout the rest of the year, keep your eyes peeled for ASO movie nights. You’ll be treated to a classic film while the symphony plays the movie's score live.
A series of former railroad corridors might not seem like anything exciting, but when they're lined with exciting art, bustling eateries and humming micro breweries, you've pretty much entered cultural heaven. Generally speaking, the area is also usually filled with dogs. See? Heaven! Eventually, the 22-mile BeltLine will connect many of Atlanta’s neighborhoods but, for now, it’s a premiere spot for exercising, people watching and just plain living.
Imagine your children’s faces as two bronze dinosaurs greet them at the doors of a museum. We picture two thumbs way up for mom and dad. Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a place designed to interestingly inform kids and parents alike. Indoors, visit permanent science-enriched exhibitions like "Giants of the Mesozoic" and "World of Shells." Outdoors, 75 acres, including Fernbank Forest, are waiting for curious explorers.
Atlanta sports fans’ pride and joy, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is home to not one but two of the city’s professional sports teams: the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United. While the best way to explore the digs is watching the Falcons rise up or ATLUTD unite and conquer, tours are available almost daily. Choose your own adventure by booking one of the curated behind-the-scenes experiences ranging from engineering and technology to art tours.
Locals call it Sweet Auburn Curb Market or simply Sweet Auburn, even though the marquis reads Municipal Market. In many ways Atlanta’s OG food hall and farmers' market, this slice of Atlanta history is known for its more than 25 unique businesses. Some of the city's best-known restaurants began as stalls at Sweet Auburn. You never know who you’ll discover next.
Engage in vista views of Midtown while trying your hand at a variety of kitschy carnival games at Skyline Park on the roof of Ponce City Market. Old time favorites like ring toss and skee ball are shaded by a three-story slide and a Heege Tower. Of course, no cheesy carnival is complete without street fare. Refuel with a soft pretzel or a walking taco and imbibe in an aperol spritz or frozen rosé.
Under the Atlanta History Center umbrella, the Margaret Mitchell House is the site where the Pulitzer Prize-winning author dreamed up Scarlett O’Hara and Ashley Wilkes and penned Gone With the Wind. Here, literary lovers peruse Mitchell’s garden apartment and learn more about her life before and after the novel that made her famous.
Experience new heights in aviation at Delta’s headquarters and the recently renovated Delta Flight Museum. Adventurous aspiring pilots of all ages line-up for the flight simulator while history buffs are enamored with restored passenger and biplanes of yesteryear. Visitors can also step inside the first 747 ever built. Housed in Delta's original 1940s-era aircraft hangars, the museum is, shall we say... pretty fl.y
Home to a medley of hands-on, educational exhibits specifically for kids ages 0-8, the Children’s Museum of Atlanta provides a playground for pint-sized minds and hands. Sensory play includes an interactive pond with magnetic fish while pretend-play features a miniature market with small-scale shopping carts. Engaging learning opportunities abound in other parts of the museum, too. The hardest part will be convincing your kiddo to leave.
Easily recognizable as the headquarters of nefarious President Snow in The Hunger Games, the IRL Swan House is as far from a dystopian residence as you can imagine. Situated in prestigious Buckhead, the 1928 mansion exudes all things Jazz Age: Atlanta’s very own West Egg. The iconic home often hosts weddings and special events and is open for tours daily. However, a cruise down Andrews Drive offers you a quick Instagram photo-op.
If one of Atlanta’s many rooftop bars don’t fulfill your desire for a bird’s-eye view, head to SkyView Atlanta. Here, the stately ferris wheel with climate controlled gondolas (think: Atlanta’s own London Eye) offers panoramic scenes of the city below. For an experience unlike any other, book an extended trip in the VIP pod featuring a glass floor and Ferrari-inspired seats.
The Battery Atlanta is an immersive year-round experience. The mixed-use development is anchored by SunTrust Park, home to the Atlanta Braves and is host to a bevy of other fun, too. There are over 25 restaurants and retail spaces along with several entertainment spots including the Mizuno Experience Center and The Coca-Cola Roxy theater. Where else can you enjoy ice-skating in the winter and baseball in the summer?
A list of top Atlanta attractions would not be complete without Six Flags Over Georgia. The amusement park’s roller coasters soar to astonishing heights while offering thrill-seekers stunning views of the city skyline. The latest addition to the park’s roster is Pandemonium, a swinging pendulum towering 15 stories high and speeding up to 70 miles per hour. Any takers?