Best Things to Do in Atlanta
By Kelly Skinner
Atlanta Local Expert
While you may plan your Atlanta trip around a specific activity, like visiting Six Flags Over Georgia or hiking to the summit of Stone Mountain, what you'll find once you arrive is that there is far more awaiting youthan what you may have expected. And that's a good thing! Given the city's diversity, there's an abundance of museums, cultural centers, theater, concerts, events, festivals, parks, monuments, museums, restaurants and more.
Thus, options for a well-rounded vacation come aplenty with a diverse variety of attractions to consider, whether you're arriving with a group of friends, a spouse, a lover, colleagues on a business retreat or family. Art aficionados can take their pick of galleries and small museums to browse through, though the High Museum of Art provides a unique experience attracting renowned artists and collections from all over the globe. If the arts are dear to your heart, you'd do well to stick near the Woodruff Arts Center (where the High makes its home) and check out performances at Alliance Theatre where world premiers are commonplace. Broadway acts and globally recognized musicians pay regular visits to the gilded Fox Theatre nearby (where a pre-performance drink at The Georgian Terrace is in order).
Nature lovers will fawn over the forested city, a beautiful example of which is the leafy, family-friendly Piedmont Park (almost always the site of a festival or event of some kind). When the city gets too hot for comfort, nature mesmerizes at the Georgia Aquarium.
Piedmont Park is Atlanta's Central Park, or at least a mini version of it. Among all the skyscrapers in the Midtown area, this is a beautiful piece of green. There are paved trails that many like to come and roller blade on a weekend afternoon. There's even a dog park for fido. Besides the green space, there's a beautiful pond, a swimming pool, tennis and basketball are available too. People of all different types play at Piedmont Park, so everyone is welcome and no on is out of place. There are lots of free events, so check online sites to see the latest about events at the Park. (404-875-7275)
Centennial Olympic Park
Located just steps away from other Downtown landmarks, Centennial Olympic Park will bring out the child in you, especially during the dog days of summer when the fountains are running. The park offers spectacular views of the downtown skyline, and makes for a scenic spot as a mid-afternoon reprieve. Be sure to check out the sculptures and other items commemorating the 1996 Olympics. Free concerts and festivals often find their way to the park as well, so look at the schedule online before you go. In the winter months, the park is home to a popular ice-skating rink as well. (404-222-7275, 404-223-4412)
Located in Grant Park, Zoo Atlanta has become well-known for its natural habitats and its various breeding successes. It is home to endangered animals such as rhinos, orangutans, gorillas and elephants. The Children's Zoo has a playground and petting area. The Living Treehouse and open-air aviary exhibit are not to be missed. The Masai Mara, which is home to lions, zebras, giraffes, gazelles and other African animals mimics the plains of Africa with similar trees and vegetation. The most popular area seems to be the Rainforest, which is home to several species of gorillas. Other attractions include train and carousel rides as well as a children's playground. (404-624-5600, 404-624-5864)
Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Located along Ponce near the Carter Center, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is an interactive museum that will appeal to people of all ages. Permanent exhibits include dinosaur fossils and massive skeletons, an exhibit dedicated to Georgia's geography, 16th Century Spanish artifacts from St. Catherines Island and an exhibit exploring the world's various interpretations of personal adornments (everything from jewelry to masks). Visiting exhibitions and regularly scheduled educational and social events add to the appeal. The museum is also home to a five-story IMAX theater (the biggest movie screen in Atlanta) airing acclaimed nature films at multiple times throughout the day. (404-929-6300, 404-929-6400)
Inside CNN Tour
CNN offers visitors a chance to see news in the making in its behind-the-scenes tour, the Inside CNN Studio Tour. Start off by stepping into a room that simulates CNN's main control room and get a glimpse into what goes into creating a real news broadcast. Attendees will also get to learn about all of those special effects and how they work, like the weather map. Your tour also includes a glimpse of the newsroom, where you can potentially catch part of a live newscast. If you are lucky, you may catch sight of your favorite TV journalist. See additional features with the Morning Express Tour (you get to meet Robin Meade) and the Inside CNN VIP Tour. Reservations are recommended as tours sometimes sell out. (404-827-2300, 877-426-6868)
World of Coca-Cola
Explore the history of Coca-Cola in the 60,000+ square foot exhibit. You'll find the world's largest permanent display of Coke memorabilia, a tasting room and a behind-the-scenes look at the bottling process. The tasting includes over 100 beverages from around the world. Plan to spend 1-2 hours at the museum in order to see a show at the 4D Theatre, pose for a picture with the Coca-Cola Polar Bear or take a multimedia journey through Coke's exciting past. The World of Coke is especially fun for those visiting with young children. They will find the tasting room and the possibility of sampling so many varieties exciting. It is also fun to see the history of Coca-Cola from its beginning to how far the company has come today. (404-676-5151, 800-676-2653)
High Museum of Art
The High Museum of Art is one of the top art museums in the Southeast. Located in Midtown, the High has more than 12,000 pieces of art in its permanent collection. The Museum has an extensive collection of 19th and 20th-century American art as well as a significant amount of European artwork on display. There is a growing collection of African American art and burgeoning collections of modern and contemporary art. The High is also dedicated to supporting and collecting works by Southern artists and is distinguished as the only major museum in North America to have a department specifically devoted to the field of folk and self-taught art. (404-733-4444, 404-733-4400)
The breathtakingly beautiful Fox Theatre was originally erected in 1928 as a home to Atlanta's Shriners Organization. Today, it serves both as a historic landmark and as a favorite venue for Atlantans. The gilded Midtown theater regularly attracts world-class musical acts as well as Broadway musicals, classic films, comedy shows and stage performances year-round. On an annual basis, the theater hosts more than 300 productions to half a million guests visiting from around the globe. The 4,678-seat venue is on the National Historic Register, and is also available for rental. Its majestic ceilings and grandiose décor make it a favorite for weddings. (404-688-3353 - tours, 404-817-8700 -box of)
Stone Mountain Park
A majestic mountain in the middle of Atlanta? You called it! With Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson carved prominently on the face of the mountain, the five-acre park offers visitors a chance to soak up local history and get in a good workout. The mountain (the world's largest piece of exposed granite)boasts numerous hiking routes demanding exploration. Those less keen on huffing and puffing can avoid the effort with a ride on the Skylift instead. The "town" at the park packs a lot of kitsch, but it's of the kid-friendly variety. Rides and amusements include mini-golf, the Sky Hike attraction (which connects miles of suspended bridges among the treetops), and a train ride aboard a 1940s-era train. (770-498-5690, 800-317-2006)
It doesn't matter how old you are, or how much you know about the ocean, the Georgia Aquarium is an absolute must-see. Claiming the title as the largest aquarium in the world, the massive downtown attraction is home to countless sea creatures. The mesmerizing Ocean Voyager takes top prize for its staggering array of underwater giants. Watch in wonder as whale sharks, manta rays, and thousands of sharks and fish swim overhead. Watch the other-worldly beluga whales dance in the Cold Water Quest gallery and enjoy an interactive experience petting horseshoe crabs, sea stars and stingrays. Those who'd like an even closer look can partake in the dolphin, sea otter and penguin encounter programs. (404-581-4000)
About Kelly Skinner
Kelly Skinner comes to Atlanta by way of sunny coastal city, Pensacola, FL. A lover of all things food, music and travel, Skinner found her perfect match in Atlanta in the food-centric hub of Decatur. A full-time freelance writer and editor, Skinner's byline has appeared in a range of publications including Paste, The Atlantan, Jezebel, Redbook, South and Living Intown. When she's not writing, editing and exploring Atlanta for the best places to eat, drink and play, Skinner loves doing yoga, running with her dog in Piedmont Park and scouring book stores and record shops for hidden treasures.
Read more about Kelly Skinner here.