Atlanta isn’t a destination on most travelers’ radars, instead typically overshadowed by Southern gems like Charleston, Nashville and New Orleans. But it’s an ideal stopover on your way south to Florida (or, really, heading almost any direction in the South). There are more attractions than you might initially realize, and most are within walking distance of one another.
I was born and raised in the Atlanta area, and while I didn’t think it was cool growing up, I’ve come to appreciate it as an adult. I love the mix of old and new—specifically, historic buildings near street art and murals. And the food is great as well. It’s not just about Southern food anymore (although there’s plenty of it), as you can find all forms of international cuisine here.
Arriving in Atlanta
Arriving into the city is easy by plane as the airport connects directly into downtown using the MARTA trains. Those traveling by Amtrak will arrive in Midtown for further connections on local buses. If you arrive by Greyhound, you’ll be near the Garnett MARTA Station, which you can take to get further into town. The Megabus stop is at the Civic Center MARTA Station, another easy-to-access point.
But if you’re driving, prepare yourself, as Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the country. If at all possible, leave your car at your accommodation and use other means to get around. Purchase a MARTA Breeze card as soon as you arrive, which you can stock up to ride buses, trains, and the streetcar.
Eating and Drinking
Atlanta has so many great restaurants that it’s impossible to narrow them down to just a few. The brunch places deserve a list of their own! You can find delicious food in several different categories: touristy but still great, fine dining, casual and international.
Polaris– Located in the iconic blue-domed building in the Hyatt Regency downtown, this restaurant was once visited by Jim Morrison. It closed for many years, but reopened recently with a new menu, while keeping favorites like the peach daiquiri. Take in the views as it rotates over the course of 30 minutes.
The Varsity – Known as America’s largest drive-in, you can order inside or with carhop service, just like when the restaurant first opened in 1928. Choose from favorites like chili slaw dogs and Frosted Oranges. It’s a popular spot for dining before and after sporting events like Georgia Tech games.
Fox Brothers BBQ – Meat lovers rejoice at Fox Brothers, where the meat is massive, especially the ribs and pulled pork. But don’t discount the sides, which include macaroni and cheese, tater tots and Frito pie.
Antico Pizza Napoletana – You never hear about “Atlanta style” pizza, but Antico may change that. The pizzeria has the best of the mother country, from the dough to the cheese to the ovens they’re cooked in. There’s no hostess, so grab any seat you can find and bring your own wine. They close when they run out of dough!
There are dozens of attractions in Atlanta, mostly located around downtown, and you can visit the majority on the CityPass. Here are a few activities I recommend you do before leaving town.
Georgia Aquarium – You may have been to aquariums elsewhere, but this is the largest in the world. In fact, its main tank is the largest aquarium tank anywhere. The aquarium has sections devoted to local wildlife, as well as those in ecosystems worldwide. The whale sharks and beluga whales are the big hits, as well as the otters.
Atlanta BeltLine – A postgraduate project became a reality a few years ago when dilapidated rail lines around the city were transformed into walking and biking paths. The Eastside trail is the most popular, which runs between the Old Fourth Ward and Piedmont Park with dozens of restaurants and shops along the way.
Atlanta Botanical Garden – Speaking of Piedmont Park, the botanical gardens are located inside of it. Admire the impressive plant life as well as outdoor art pieces by Chihuly and others, along with seasonal exhibits.
Atlanta Movie Tours – Fans of “The Walking Dead” rejoice as this company runs not one but two tours to filming locations. They also have tours for The Hunger Games, Gone with the Wind, and more general television and movie tours.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights – One of the newest additions to the downtown tourism corridor is this museum. There’s a large exhibit devoted to the life of Atlantan Martin Luther King Jr. and his contemporaries as well as sections devoted to more modern struggles for equality.
A visit to Atlanta might not be on your itinerary, but once you come, you’ll be glad you did. Visitors may take time to warm up to it, as I did, but will fall in love once they learn about the history and sample the dishes we’re known for in the South.
About the author: Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer and travel blogger from Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about her travel experiences in the southern United States on This Is My South.