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Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during blue hour after sunset
Photograph: Courtesy Shutterstock/Rob Hainer

The best things to do in Atlanta right now

Locals and visitors alike can find plenty of exciting things to do in Atlanta, from museums and attractions to outdoor activities

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
Contributors
Tiffany J. Davis
&
Jennifer Bradley Franklin
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With so many varied things to do in Atlanta, it’s one of the best cities in America to visit and enjoy – whether you’re a local looking to rediscover the city’s wonders or an out-of-towner who doesn’t know the difference between sweet tea and Peachtree.

Since 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, Georgia’s capital has enjoyed a slow and steady rise in popularity. Sure, countless business types pass through the city annually – here on a work trip for Coca-Cola, CNN, Delta, or any of the other major corporations who call the ATL home – but more and more leisure travelers have been coming through town, firmly positioning the area as one of the most popular and beloved destinations in all of the South. (Take that, New Orleans.) 

And it's not hard to see why: The South’s largest city boasts historic sites and attractions, awesome music venues like the Fox Theatre, a vibrant nightlife scene and even an eclectic range of activities to tackle with the kids in tow. Be sure to come with an appetite, as Atlanta carries bragging rights for some of the country’s most delicious restaurants.

Just remember, (if you’re not familiar with the city’s sweltering summer weather) there’s a reason for the “Hotlanta'' nickname and you might want to position your visit for a cooler time of year, or else you might be finding yourself making a beeline for air conditioning whenever you can find it. Fortunately, many of these key attractions and activities are indoors, providing a handy, year-round option for those looking for something fun and interesting to do with their friends and family.

Best things to do in Atlanta

  • Museums
  • Butler Street

Note: buildings are temporarily closed

Celebrate the spirit of the visionary Civil Rights leader on a stroll along Auburn Avenue for a few well-spent hours. Dr. King’s birth home features restored rooms and original furnishings from his childhood. Then pay your respects at his nearby crypt on the grounds of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change. Here, you can also explore exhibits dedicated not only to Dr. King, but his wife (an accomplished opera singer) Coretta Scott King and fellow social reformer Mahatma Gandhi. Since Dr. King inspired minds, hearts and socio-political change, it's no wonder that visitors here find the entire site infinitely moving. 

  • Theater
  • Centennial Place

The city’s turn-of-the-century movie palace is now home to Broadway tour stops, top-billed bands and comedy headliners. The Fox Theatre is the place in the ATL to catch everything from the B-52s and Chelsea Handler to a summer movie series sponsored by Atlanta’s most famous local band and the schedule of Broadway Across America touring shows. The Egyptian-style venue includes the largest working Moller theatre organ in the world, “Mighty Mo,” built in 1929.

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  • Attractions
  • Hillside Cottages

Atlanta’s answer to Central Park, Piedmont Park is a haven for joggers, bocce players and picnic lovers. With flourishing greenery, rippling waters and bustling wildlife, it's a world away from the concrete metropolis of the city. This natural oasis is also the setting for frequent art fests throughout the year, including the Dogwood Festival, a spring celebration of flowers and fine art; Memorial Day weekend’s Atlanta Jazz Festival; outdoor performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in summer; and farmers’ markets.

  • Attractions
  • Techwood

The largest indoor aquarium in the Western hemisphere doubles as a teaching hospital with over 100,000 water-loving residents. This attraction, adjacent to Centennial Park, boasts enough fresh and saltwater habitats to keep even the most attention-challenged visitor happy for hours. The aquarium’s big stars include the massive whale sharks, Beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. There’s a free self-guided tour app available for download that will navigate you through the exhibits.

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A former railway corridor around the core of Atlanta has been revitalized into a vibrant, multi-use path lined with art, native plants and attractions. While not all sections are paved yet, the loop is fully accessible. When completed some time around 2030, it will ultimately connect 45 neighborhoods within the city. Walk between stops like Ponce City Market and Piedmont Park, or enjoy events along the BeltLine like fitness classes, art events and more.

  • Museums
  • Lake Claire

Between the stunning atrium featuring a suspended life-scale brontosaurus skeleton and swank after-hours events, Fernbank isn’t just a school-trip destination. Walk through swampland and foothill dioramas populated with prehistoric, Mesozoic and modern day flora and fauna in the crowd-pleasing exhibit “A Walk Through Time in Georgia” or take in a larger-than-life educational 3D IMAX film.

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  • Museums
  • Midtown

World-renowned and captivating, the High Museum of Art houses a cross-era, international scope of work. And the building isn't shabby either: the white concrete, glass and steel art behemoth is striking inside and out. Originally designed by starchitect Richard Meier, and featuring a 2005 expansion by Renzo Piano, the High Museum's collection includes everything from African art to modern and contemporary work by Ellsworth Kelly and Spencer Finch. The museum is particularly strong on American photography, including a retrospective on 180 years of female photographers.

The massive former Sears & Roebuck building, erected in 1926, has been repurposed into one of Atlanta’s most exciting mixed-use developments. You can spend all day here browsing big-name retailers, small local boutiques, and a roster of buzzy restaurants and food stalls (featuring several James Beard award-winning chefs). Catch a show at the RoleCall Theater, check out the farmers market, exercise your brain at a Trivia Night (or your bod at the gym) or just hang out at the rooftop bar. You can even stay at the market in one of the many available rentals.

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Celebrating the achievements of both the American Civil Rights Movement and the global human rights movement, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is designed to inspire action and change. The bold, modern building includes immersive exhibits that begin with the 1950s Jim Crow era and the fight for equality, and ties together the fight for broader human rights around the world. Educational programs and community discussions enhance the museum’s mission.

Indie Craft Experience events have the vibe of your favorite Etsy page, only better and IRL. Christy Peterson and Shannon Mulkey have spent a decade curating and cultivating the Atlanta craft scene. The duo’s themed Atlanta crafting “retreats,” seasonal pop-up events and shopping markets, bring together makers, re-makers, collectors and those that delight in swapping DIY wares and sharing the stories and techniques behind them. 

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  • Attractions
  • Morningside

Pretty flowers are just the beginning at this 30-acre botanical center bordering the northeast side of the city’s largest public park. Traipse through oak, hickory and poplar treetops on the 600-foot Canopy Walk footbridge suspended 40 feet above the blooming hydrangeas, perennials and bulbs below. Afraid of heights? Go zen in an authentic Japanese garden dating back to the 1960s and featuring a 300-year-old lantern, gurgling waterfall and a seasonal rotation of irises, azaleas and maples.

The life and presidency of Georgia native Jimmy Carter is celebrated throughout the 24,000 square feet of this museum. The grounds and modernist building are impressive, and within the museum you’ll find interactive exhibits covering President Carter’s life before, during and after his time in the White House. His Nobel Peace Prize is on display, with exhibits dedicated to his charitable work.

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  • Attractions
  • Grady

Green spaces and beautifully maintained stones and statues make Oakland Cemetery one of the most popular picnic spots in the city. Strike out on a self-guided tour to view the final resting place of Atlanta notables including Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and Atlanta’s first African-American mayor Maynard Jackson. Guided tours explore various strands of city history through its late inhabitants, from local scandals to brewing. 

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“The Benz” is an architectural icon, home to the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and Atlanta United FC of Major League Soccer. The multi-purpose stadium hosts a variety of events and is equipped with all the bells and whistles a fan (whether sports or music) could want: massive screens, a retractable roof, an art collection and great food offerings. Attend an event or take a tour.

  • Movie theaters
  • Browns Mill

This Art Deco drive-in that first opened in 1949 is still a beloved date spot for loved-up locals. Grab some wheels to check out the nightly double features and retro Tex-Mex food stand (also serving sodas, candy and popcorn) at this old-school drive-in theater. On Saturdays, head to Starlight between 6am and 3pm for a swap meet (with the equally retro admission price of 50 cents) chock full of Americana goods, vintage clothes, records and some good ol' people-watching.

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  • Things to do
  • Buckhead Triangle

Anyone can record their story through this oral history project run by StoryCorps, the Atlanta History Center and WABE 90.1 FM. In fact, The Atlanta History Center is the only permanent recording location in this otherwise roving network. Recordings (which are archived at the Library of Congress) memorialize milestones both historical (J.T. Johnson and Al Lingo’s 1964 protest to integrate a Florida swimming pool) and deeply personal (Brent Hendricks and his mother Barbara’s talk about his sister’s terminal cystic fibrosis diagnosis). Book an appointment to add your story to the mix. There's currently a "virtual recording booth" to facilitate off-site storytelling.

  • Things to do
  • Bankhead

Apart from “a former goat farm,” the Goat Farm is hard to classify as any one thing – and that’s precisely why it’s become so popular. Built in the 19th century, you can always expect the usual arts suspects (think dance, drama and music), many of whom rent studio space in the rambling complex. Highbrow art critics, creatives and laptoppers love it for a great cup of joe and an eclectic slate of events in its exposed-brick breezeways, including writers’ workshops and experimental art shows.

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  • Attractions
  • Brooklyn

This gleaming museum chronicles the history of Coca-Cola as well as the soda industry itself. Coke is king – and ubiquitous – in the city that saw its invention in 1886 (and also houses the brand’s global corporate headquarters). True to the name, when it comes to total soda universe domination, the World of Coca-Cola is totally overwhelming, in a fun, fizzy, hyper-commercialized sort of way. Check out replica soda fountains, the pop-culture museum, 4-D theater displays and DIY beverage fountains dispensing flavors from around the world. Feeling thirsty? Pick from over 100 beverages, including all the classics as well as limited editions.

  • Museums
  • West End

African-American folklore comes alive via the gifted storytellers at the former home of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, who spent four years working on a plantation in his youth, popularized traditional tales of Brer Rabbit, Mr. Fox and others through the character. Tour the well-preserved Victorian Harris family home and have a snoop in the author’s bedroom, which is virtually unchanged since the early 20th century. 

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Jump on a guided Civil Bikes tour and get pedaling – it’s a sure-fire way to get to know the Atlanta spots bursting with stories. Breeze through the historic Sweet Auburn District, the site of the Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King Jr. and his father preached for decades), and pedal back in time to sites related to the landmark human rights campaign to free African-American widow Rosa Lee Ingram.

Planning a trip with youngsters?

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