Best things to do in Atlanta
What is it: Conjure the spirit of the visionary civil rights leader on a stroll along Auburn Avenue for a few well-spent hours.
Why go: Take a ranger-led tour through Dr. King’s birth home, featuring 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 explore exhibits dedicated not only to Dr. King, but also 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.
What is it: The city’s turn-of-the-century movie palace is now home to Broadway tour stops, top-billed bands and comedy headliners.
Why go: The Fox Theatre is the place in the ATL to catch everything from the B-52s to Chelsea Handler to a summer movie series sponsored by Atlanta’s most famous local band to the schedule of Broadway Across America touring shows. Between events, you can book behind-the-scenes tours of the palatial, Egyptian-style venue, including the largest working Moller theatre organ in the world, “Mighty Mo,” built in 1929. If you’re feeling flush, buy a ticket to experience the luxe rooftop Marquee Club before a show.
What is it: 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.
Why go: This natural oasis is also a 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 most months of the year.
What is it: The largest indoor aquarium in the Western hemisphere doubles as a teaching hospital with over 100,000 water-loving residents.
Why go: 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.
What is it: A foodie joint that hosts some of the city’s best live blues nights—oh, and they barbecue downright irresistible grub, too.
Why go: If you like blues, mini pecan pies and sauce so deliciously sweet and tangy you mourn the moment your ribs or chicken are gone, brave the epic (but mercifully fast-moving) line at Fat Matt’s Rib Shack. A half-bird, accompanied with fresh collard greens and slaw? Juicy.
What is it: Between the stunning atrium featuring a suspended life-scale brontosaurus skeleton and swank after-hours events, Fernbank isn’t just a school-trip destination.
Why go: 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.
What is it: World-renowned and captivating, the High Museum of Art houses a cross-era, international scope of work. Living up to all you've heard about it, this white concrete, glass and steel art behemoth is striking inside and out.
Why go: Originally designed by starchitect Richard Meier, and featuring a 2005 expansion by Renzo Piano, the High Museum of Art'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 and visiting exhibits, including the crazy-popular “Infinity Mirrors” by Yayoi Kusama.
What is it: Indie Craft Experience events have the vibe of your favorite Etsy page, only better.
Why go: 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.
What is it: Pretty flowers are just the beginning at this 30-acre botanical center bordering the northeast side of the city’s largest public park.
Why go: 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, featuring a 300-year-old lantern, gurgling waterfall and a seasonal rotation of irises, azaleas and maples.
What is it: A handful of the city’s most buzzed-about food makers and restaurateurs have put down roots in a former cast-iron stove factory.
Why go: The network of tempting stalls sells everything from morning smoothies at Nature’s Garden Express to bacon cheeseburgers at Fred's Meat and Bread. Whether you’re in the market for a Jeni’s Ice Cream cone, a craft brew at Hop City Store and Bar or handmade bath goods from Mama, you won’t leave hungry or empty-handed.
What is it: Its green spaces and beautifully maintained stones and statues make Oakland Cemetery one of the most popular picnic spots in the city.
Why go: 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 ($12) explore various strands of city history through its late inhabitants, from local scandals to brewing.
What is it: Jarrett Steiber’s BYOB pop-up restaurant concept—a locally-focused menu in an impromptu dinner party setting—breathed new life into sleepy Candler Park.
Why go: It's worth venturing slightly out of town to Decatur's SOS Tiki Bar to find EatMeSpeakMe every Wednesday through Saturday night. The restaurant uses only locally sourced ingredients, so the menu changes weekly—though the chef always offers an omakase-style five-course tasting menu. But here's a tip: if you want to get a taste of the delicious edibles on offer, don't hang about—this eatery operates on a first-come-first-served basis and has a limited capacity.
What is it: Like any good multivendor vintage destination, Paris on Ponce has a few different faces—and something to please any sort of customer.
Why go: More than 30 dealers sell everything from estate jewelry and indie-designed bridal gowns to salvaged furniture and jaw-dropping light fixtures. Even if you can’t afford to drop some cash on the treasures for sale here, you’ll at least enjoy the window shopping and a cup of coffee from Three Heart Coffee Roastery.
What is it: This Art Deco drive-in that first opened in 1949 is still a beloved date spot for loved-up locals.
Why go: Grab some wheels to check out the nightly double features and retro Tex-Mex food stand (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 retro admission price of 50 cents) chock full of Americana goods, vintage clothes, records and some good ol' people-watching.
What is it: Anyone can record their story through this oral history project run by StoryCorps, the Atlanta History Center and WABE 90.1 FM.
Why go: 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.
What is it: Everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Jennifer Lawrence has made it a point to visit (and rave about) the basement strip joint beneath a Ponce de Leon Avenue motel. As of 2018, the “motel” looks different, thanks to a multi-million dollar renovation, which re-launched the property as Hotel Clermont, complete with a rooftop bar, swanky rooms and Tiny Lou’s, a French restaurant.
Why go: Yes, the exotic dancers are all-natural (and many are older than you’d expect), crush beer cans with their ta-tas and change in the customer restrooms. But naked ladies aside, the Clermont Lounge has a gritty, raunchy, “real Atlanta” allure that’s hard to describe unless you see it up close.
What is it: 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.
Why go: Highbrow art critics, creatives and laptoppers love it for a great cup of joe (at Warhorse Coffee Shop) and an eclectic slate of events in its exposed-brick breezeways—from writers’ workshops to experimental art shows.
What is it: This gleaming museum chronicles the history of Coca-Cola as well as the soda industry itself.
Why go: 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.
What is it? African-American folklore comes alive via the gifted storytellers at the former home of Uncle Remus author Joel Chandler Harris.
Why go? 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.
What is it: This monument and public-learning institution dedicated to the Georgia-born 39th President’s legacy makes for a fascinating day out.
Why go: Atlantans love the Carter Center as much for its history as for its thought-provoking programming, featuring literary events and exhibitions by the likes of Salman Rushdie and documentary photographer Jean Mohr. Inside, peruse artifacts from the Carter administration and his peace advocacy travels, ranging from the president’s personal diary to a full-scale replica of the Oval Office.
What is it: Jump on a guided Civil Bikes tour and get pedalling—it’s a sure-fire way to get to know the Atlanta spots bursting with stories.
Why go: 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?
Old-school arcades, iconic theaters, treetop jungle gyms—the best things to do with kids in Atlanta are sweeter than a Georgia peach. Whether in the heart of the city or kayaking the Chattahoochee River, you can’t help but fall for the Southern charm and family-friendly destinations.