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AAA World | Southeast States
First-Timer’s Atlanta


My hometown of Atlanta may be best known in the travel world for Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest airport for passenger traffic. But if you venture into the country’s ninth-largest metropolis, you’ll find globally renowned attractions, deeply rooted African American history, a melting pot of cultures and eclectic neighborhoods. Atlanta’s unique balance between a bustling downtown and quiet suburbs, traffic-laden highways and endless evergreens, combines a big-city experience with neighborhood vibes.

To squeeze in all there is to do, see and eat in Atlanta, stay in the Downtown, Midtown or Buckhead areas for convenient access to most attractions. Here, a wide selection of hotels appeals at varied price points. Instead of navigating through Atlanta’s notorious traffic, hop aboard MARTA’s trains, which run to the city from the airport, and the Atlanta Streetcar, which loops around the city.

Atlanta MLK Jr. Statue. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauHope Moving Forward, a bronze sculpture of King unveiled in 2021. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

The birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. has a rich African American history, and you’ll want to spend time exploring the attractions in the Old Fourth Ward (also known as O4W), where King grew up. Start your day with a leisurely breakfast at Highland Bakery, known for its Southern-style sweet potato pancakes with warm caramelized brown sugar butter sauce and toasted pecans. Housed in an O4W historic building, the bakery sits in a neighborhood of shotgun houses, Victorian homes and Craftsman bungalows on residential streets that open up to green spaces and interconnected trails.

King’s legacy can be seen practically everywhere in O4W, from street names and parks to statues and museums. Self-guided and guided walking tours take you to his childhood home and church as well as his final resting place.
The Human Rights gallery and a mural at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauThe Human Rights gallery and a mural at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

The powerful stories, landmarks, monuments and exhibits at the 35 acres of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park encourage a deeper appreciation for the man who fought for justice, equality and peace for African Americans. Even today, the Sunday service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King served as a pastor, is a moving experience, as you can still feel his presence.

For lunch, walk a couple of streets over to the neighborhood of Sweet Auburn, where Municipal Market, housed in a 1918 brick building, features 30 or so independent vendors and incubator businesses. The food court-like setting offers a variety of flavors, from Afro-Caribbean dishes to pizza to poke. Be sure to step outside on Butler Street and Auburn Avenue to see the new 65-foot-tall mural dedicated to Civil Rights hero and late congressman John Lewis.
The Human Rights gallery and a mural at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauThe Human Rights gallery and a mural at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau
Having grown up in India, I had learned a lot about the life of Mahatma Gandhi and his movement for nonviolence, but it wasn’t until I came to Atlanta that I understood his connection to King and his impact on communities around the world. Downtown, at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, you can see the commonalities of brave and visionary people who have fought for equality, dignity and freedom.

Starting with curved exterior walls that represent two hands coming together to protect human dignity, the 43,000-square-foot museum movingly depicts our shared struggles for human rights. Be sure to check out the bold mural that echoes classic 20th-century protest posters from around the world, and get up close to the large-scale etched-metal illuminated installation that features Dr. King’s ideals presented in his own handwriting.

Georgia Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Georgia AquariumGeorgia Aquarium. Photo courtesy of Georgia Aquarium

Just steps from the museum, you’ll find the Georgia Aquarium, known for its African penguins, beluga whale and, its newest gallery, SHARKS! Predators of the Deep. Also nearby is my personal favorite: the World of Coca-Cola, a fun museum featuring the history of the popular beverage and the opportunity to sample some 60 Coca-Cola products customized for regions around the globe. In the same vicinity is the 20-story-high SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel and Centennial Olympic Park, a 22-acre greenspace built when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1996.
Atlanta Downtown Skyview Olympic Rings. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauAtlanta Downtown Skyview Olympic Rings. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

And when you work up an appetite, dining options abound. Taste the famous hot dogs (the recipes haven’t changed since it first opened in 1928) at the iconic Varsity. For a taste of classic Southern fried green tomatoes or shrimp and grits, head to Paschal’s or Old Lady Gang. Take the elevator to the revolving Sun Dial Restaurant at The Westin Peachtree Plaza to enjoy a cocktail while taking in spectacular views of the city. 
AtlantaMidtownPCMBeltLineEntrance. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauAtlantaMidtownPCMBeltLineEntrance. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau      


On mornings and weekends, meet up with visitors and locals alike enjoying the 22-mile-long Atlanta BeltLine on foot, bike and rented scooters. The BeltLine connects to the city’s largest urban greenspace: Piedmont Park. From there, meander through neighborhoods filled with historic architecture and vivid murals to Ponce City Market (PCM) food hall.

The old 1926 Sears regional headquarters that houses PCM has been converted into a mixed-use building noteworthy for its Italian Renaissance Revival-style architecture. It’s also prized for its boutique shopping and diverse restaurant fare, including Indian spiced kabobs at Botiwalla, fresh-baked guava pastries at El Super Pan, South African cocktails at Biltong Bar and Southern-inspired vegan tapas at Bar Vegan.

Atlanta Westside Beltline Tunnel Mural. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors BureauAtlanta Westside Beltline Tunnel Mural. Photo courtesy of Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau

While at PCM, shop for North African-inspired apparel at Souk Bohemian, makeup and fragrances at Glossier, and affordable artwork at The Print Shop by FreeMarket. Then, take the elevator to Skyline Park at The Roof of PCM to soak in panoramic views of downtown Atlanta and play vintage carnival games like Skee-Ball and ring toss.


Make your way north along Peachtree Road, the city’s lifeline, to the posh Buckhead neighborhood. If you’re driving, detour onto the side streets past grand homes and luxurious estates, including the Greek Revival-style governor’s mansion (public tours are offered from February to October).

In Buckhead, learn about the making of Atlanta’s history, art and culture at the Atlanta History Center. The multimedia installation The Battle of Atlanta is a 132-year-old, 49-foot-tall, 360-degree painting that immerses you in the Civil War battlefield model below it. It’s one of the country’s few remaining cycloramas (IMAX of the 1800s). This and other museum exhibits transport you to key moments in Atlanta history, such as the arrival of the railroad, the Civil War and the 1996 Olympics. Stroll through the museum’s gardens, too.  

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Today, Atlanta is a hub for movie and television productions. For a behind-the-scenes look, sign up for a Southern Hollywood Film Tour. Starting in Peachtree City, the guided tour takes you to Pinewood Atlanta Studios (known for Marvel movies) and Raleigh Studios (home of The Walking Dead TV series). Along the way, you’ll also see locations from movies such as Fried Green Tomatoes, Sweet Home Alabama and more.

Cap off your day in Buckhead Village, a trendy shopping and dining area surrounded by upmarket hotels. The restaurants and cafés showcase design that makes for great Instagram backdrops and sets the mood for distinctive cocktails and modern international food. Some of my favorites are the lush and airy Le Colonial for French-Vietnamese, Carmel for bold Yucatán flavors, the Spanish-Moorish Gypsy Kitchen and the garden atrium at the Garden Room. 


Atlanta’s rich history combined with its thriving international community inspires people in the art, music and culinary scenes to create a differentiated and hospitable experience. With its myriad attractions and vibes to fit any mood, Atlanta is well-deserving of a days-long stopover.