Atlanta is a city which has been etched in my mind since 1996 when it held the Olympics – the first I remember watching – and I was absolutely captivated by Michael Johnson and his golden shoes. It ignited a passion for athletics which has led me to stadiums around the world for the rest of my life since. So visiting Atlanta has always been a bit of a dream for me.
On researching a visit, I was disappointed to read that the Olympic stadium is well gone (now in use for college Football), the Olympic torch is over a freeway and the Olympic exhibit at the Atlanta History Center was closed for a re-design. Nevertheless Centennial Olympic Park remained, and I realised there was much more to this city than ‘just’ the Olympics.
Did you know it’s the home of Coca Cola? Did you know Martin Luther King Jr was born in Atlanta? Did you know The Walking Dead is filmed there? Or loads of Marvel Films? Did you know President Jimmy Carter’s presidential library is there? No…me neither. It’s actually a super diverse city with lots on offer to suit all interests, so I decided to visit anyway.
We visited in the ‘Fall’ (autumn) and found this to be a good time to visit – there weren’t too many people around and we mostly had attractions to ourselves. 3 days was also the perfect amount of time in the city to see the main highlights – and I recommend splitting the days in to areas (1 day in Downtown, 1 day in Midtown and 1 day in the east of the city in the Old Fourth Ward area).
Day 1 (Downtown)
A. Grab breakfast at the Atlanta Breakfast Club
Kick the morning off with a breakfast to fuel you for the busy day ahead. The Atlanta Breakfast Club is an amazing place – it’s low-key and retro and the food is delicious. I had the pancakes and they were so yummy (and also as is normal in America – the size of my face).
B. Center for Civil and Human Rights
So anyone who reads this blog will already know I’m a museum geek – but honestly the museums on offer in Atlanta are really special. The Center for Civil and Human Rights highlights the story of the 1960s civil rights movement, the life of Martin Luther King, and then also looks at the state of human rights across the world today. Want to learn which countries still have dictators in charge? Want to read inspiring stories from those who have made a stand? Then this museum is for you – and it probably makes it in to my top 10 museums ever. And that is saying something from a museum geek.
C. World of Coca Cola
When I was researching Atlanta, I had absolutely no idea that it is the home of Coca Cola. About a 2 minute walk from the Center for Civil and Human Rights is the World of Coca Cola. Here you can learn about the story of Coca Cola, meet the polar bear (!), understand their marketing strategy, discover the secret formula, understand how Coca Cola is made and distributed and of course – taste the many different varieties from around the world. Such a fun few hours and a great option if you have children in tow.
D. Centennial Olympic Park & Olympic rings
After 2 museums, you’re going to need a bit of fresh air. I was SO excited about visiting the Centennial Olympic Park and seeing the rings – the weather was great (despite it being November) so we explored, and then lay on the grass in the park for an hour or so and grabbed some lunch nearby. We then walked over to the Olympic rings for the obligatory photo. There is also a cool little treasure hunt around the park that you can do on your phones if you want a bit of entertainment.
E. CNN Studio Tour
Just across the road from the Olympic Park are the CNN studios. They are open for tours, and if you’re interested in the media and how it works then this is a really interesting tour. You can even catch a glimpse of shows being filmed (though they meant nothing to me given I don’t watch US TV).
F. Georgia Aquarium
Finally to finish off your first day in Atlanta, head back through the Olympic Park and to the Georgia Aquarium. I recommend visiting after 6pm as it’s reduced entry price and all the children had gone home. It meant we had it virtually to ourselves and it was really wonderful. You can watch dolphin feeding, explore lots of different aquatic species from penguins to coral – and the highlight is definitely the massive observation wall in to the main tank. Stunning!
Day 2 (Old Fourth Ward and East of the city)
A. Jackson Street Bridge
Start off your morning with an iconic view out over Atlanta, that anyone who has watched The Walking Dead will recognise.
B. Marin Luther King Jr Historic Site
It doesn’t get much more historic than this! Spend the rest of your morning exploring the full site of Martin Luther King Jr. This is the birthplace of the most recognised Civil Rights leader in the world, his church and his story. He and his wife are also buried here, and you can visit their graves at the site. You can also visit the church in which he preached, explore the museum on site documenting the civil rights movement, and even tour the actual house where MLK was born – we had a fantastic guide who really brought his early years to life.
C. The Carter Center
After a break from lunch and to digest the things you’ve seen and heard at the MLK Jr site, it’s now time for a trip a little bit out of the centre of the city. Set in acres of beautiful garden, with a tranquil lake and a really interesting museum about Jimmy Carter’s presidency, The Carter Center is a must for anyone with an interest in US history or politics. In the Center you can learn about this President’s upbringing, his campaign, his presidency and post presidency years including his policies on energy, the Iran hostage crisis and dealing with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Now 95 and still committed to peace efforts across the globe, this centre is a fascinating insight in to Carter’s life.
D. Krog St Tunnel & Market
Krog St Tunnel is a cool tunnel full of graffiti which is fun to explore. There is also a nice indoor market to eat in nearby. We stopped here for a laid back Vietnamese dinner which was really tasty.
E. Catch a basketball game
You can’t come to America and not watch some sport! We were lucky enough to get tickets to watch The Hawks take on The Bucks. We had Outkast and 2Chainz perform in the breaks and it was amazinggg – such a great night out.
Day 3 (Midtown)
A. Piedmont Park
Today is a day outside, so make sure you schedule this day for the one with the best weather! Piedmont Park is a nice, open space with a lake that has great views to the Atlanta skyline. We spent a few hours here walking around and sunbathing (in the middle of November!).
B. Atlanta Botanical Gardens
At the top of Piedmont Park are the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. They are beautifully maintained – offering amazing flower displays in the summer and a Christmas wonderland in late November/ December. Typically for us we timed a visit right in the middle so all the displays were down (!), but we still spent a few hours walking around and enjoying what was there. There’s even an Orchid house and greenhouses which double up as jungles.
C. The Beltline
From the Botanical gardens, you can explore the Atlanta Beltline. Like the high line in New York, this redeveloped walking path is home to cool art work, quirky bars and nice shops. A fun way to walk between attractions.
D. Ponce City Market
Ponce City is a huge complex of restaurants, street food stalls, clothes shops and everything else. We didn’t do that great with our food in Atlanta. But my goodness, the food in Ponce City Market was amazing. Our personal favourite was Botiwalla, which is Indian Street Food and utterly delicious. They even serve alcoholic slushies so I was in heaven. In such heaven, I didn’t even take any photos….
There are also lots of nice clothes, home and other shops here. Our fave was Citizen Supply which had not only lovely things to buy, but also had a hidden bar which was quiet and a great spot for a rest in between shopping. A lovely way to finish off the day and your trip to Atlanta!
After all of that exploring, you will be ready to relax for your final evening in Atlanta. If you have longer in the city, you could also check out a bonus museum, The Atlanta History Center.
The museum covers everything from exhibits on the Civil War with a focus on the role of the South and the Confederate states, to an interesting look at the ethnic diversity and history of Atlanta over time, to a huge Cyclorama of the Civil War and a look at the 1996 Olympics. We spent a whole day here as there is so much to explore – and had lunch at the delicious cafe/book store on site which serves incredible soups.
Other tips for visiting Atlanta
Where to stay
I would recommend staying in Mid-town or Buckhead for your stay. We stayed Downtown and it didn’t make us feel safe. On one evening we were walking to dinner and someone asked us for money, we refused and he chased us up the road threatening to kill us both after raping me. We had to run, fast.
We also had to move rooms in our hotel. We stayed in the W Atlanta Downtown – a nice, upmarket hotel. However, our neighbour had a serious weed smoking issue and our room smelt so bad that we physically couldn’t stay in it. On the plus side, the view was epic.
There does seem to be a drug problem in Downtown too – we saw discarded needles on the streets and a lot of people in the Downtown area were pretty out of it after dark. So – maybe don’t stay Downtown – it was fine in the day but not at night. AND don’t be put off visiting. Every city has good and bad areas, and we chose to stay in a bad one. We moved to Midtown for our final night and it was totally different. So just learn from our mistakes, but don’t be put off going.
We walked a lot of the time around Atlanta – the Downtown area is really compact, and we even walked out to the Carter Center.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to use that then the MARTA rail system can get you around pretty well. A single trip is only $2.50 and you can get a Breeze card topped up with however much money you need. One thing I did notice though is that often MARTA stops are still a little walk to the site (e.g. Inman Park stop to the Carter Center), although that can also be nice to explore the suburbs a bit.
If you’re in a rush, then the city is also serviced by Uber, which were really easy to get and pretty well priced.
However you choose to explore, Atlanta is well worth a visit and I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did!
Thank you for reading! I hope you’ve found this post useful if you’re thinking of or planning a trip to Atlanta. Stay safe and happy travelling.