Atlanta is sometimes called the capital of the New South, and it's no surprise. This big city with its sprawling metro area has no shortage of entertainment, from top quality shows and restaurants to thrifty fun you can enjoy on a budget. Looking for things to do in Atlanta? You’ve come to the right place. This definitive guide of 31 must-see places includes everything from the tourist sites you can't miss — World of Coca-Cola — to the off-the-beaten-path places that are popular with locals.
Top Atlanta Tourist Spots
It's big: beluga whale big. The Georgia Aquarium is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, and you can easily spend a day there. Along with the exhibits of whales, whale sharks, sea turtles, otters, and other creatures, there are live demonstrations. Get there early to make sure you get a seat for the bottlenose dolphin training sessions and the adorable sea lion shows. In the atrium, you might get lucky and catch a Waddle Walk, a parade of African penguins that don't mind the crowds as they swagger by. Other creative additions, like a 100-foot underwater tunnel, a sneak peek window in the sea otter exhibit, and a touch tank, let you experience aquatic life in new and exciting ways.
CNN was the world's first 24-hour news network when it started back in 1980. It's changed a lot since then, and you can follow its history at the CNN Center. Just under an hour long, the Behind-the Scenes Tour features a guided walk-through the center and shows how they handle live broadcasts, make backdrops for news reports, and manage coverage. You can even peek into the newsroom below and see where the magic happens.
If you're a news buff, the VIP Tour costs a bit more, but it gives you access to the control room, newsroom, and other exclusive places. The most deluxe tour is led by star news anchor Robin Meade herself.
"What'll ya have?" It's the friendly, familiar phrase that greets every hungry customer lining up at The Varsity. The Midtown restaurant is an Atlanta icon serving up fast food made fresh — never frozen — like chili dogs, burgers, fries, and milkshakes since 1928. The fried pies are memorable, but it's the Frosted Orange Shake that has developed a cult following. You also get a paper hat, which you can wear proudly or keep as a souvenir of your amazing meal.
World of Coca-Cola
Part museum, part tribute to an American institution, the World of Coca-Cola is a colorful journey through ads, art, memorabilia, and treasures related to this Atlanta-based brand. You can get your photo taken with their mascot, the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, and learn about the company's humble beginnings in Columbus, Georgia. One theater loops creative Coke commercials while another provides a fantasy-filled 4D ride through a quest to find the secret formula.
Freshen up at the end by sampling drinks from around the world. Fruity colas, spicy soft drinks, and the regular classics — you won't leave thirsty.
Margaret Mitchell House
One of Atlanta's biggest claims to fame is "Gone with the Wind," the movie that shattered records and even now has the highest inflation-adjusted box office sales of any film in history. It all started in a Midtown apartment, now the Margaret Mitchell House, where an unknown journalist wrote the novel that made her famous. You can learn about her life and times, the movie premiere, and the stars in this two-story gallery.
If you have extra time, head up to Marietta, a suburb 20 minutes northwest of the city, where the Gone with the Wind Museum has even more movie memorabilia.
What's more touristy — or more satisfying — than getting the best view in the city? It may not be the tallest attraction, but SkyView Atlanta wins for scenic 360-degree views of downtown. The giant Ferris wheel carries passengers in closed gondolas — complete with air conditioning — more than 19 stories above the ground. On clear days, you can see as far as Kennesaw Mountain more than 20 miles away. At night, the city sparkles with lights. Both daytime and nighttime views are great for photos or simply passing the time in the heart of the city.
Mary Mac's Tea Room
Mary Mac's Tea Room isn't a high-tea service with cream and scones; it's a down-home cooking restaurant, beloved by Atlantans since 1945. What kind of Southern delights can you find? Here's a taste: Brunswick stew, fried okra, chicken livers, shrimp and grits, cornbread, pimento cheese, and peach cobbler. Bonus: First-time visitors get a free cup of pot likker, the savory broth left after boiling turnip greens. It's delicious soaked up with the restaurant's homemade bread.
Top Free Things to Do in Atlanta
Centennial Olympic Park
Built for the 1996 summer games, Centennial Olympic Park is a 21-acre oasis in the middle of downtown. The Visitor Center has free Wi-Fi and friendly staff who can tell you about the park and Atlanta, making it a great first stop on your tour of the city.
Download the audio tour to learn more about interesting points of architecture and history around the park. Other highlights include a playground, botanical displays, and everyone's favorite, the Fountain of Rings. This interactive fountain shoots jets of water from five linked circles, inviting visitors to walk through the spray. Four times a day, it puts on a synchronized music and light show.
A guided tour of the first floor at Rhodes Hall has a nominal fee, but if you want to take a peek on your own, it's free. This 1904 mansion, nicknamed the Castle on Peachtree, was created for furniture magnate Amos Rhodes, a millionaire trying to outdo his wealthy neighbors by creating the grandest home. He may have even won. It's hard to say since it's the only mansion of its era left standing on Peachtree Street.
Built in a Romanesque Revival architectural style straight from Germany, the house itself is true Georgian, made from granite quarried at Stone Mountain. Inside, the place is lavish, from its tall stained-glass window down to the original tile floor.
You wouldn't usually think of a cemetery as beautiful, but historic Oakland Cemetery is worthy of any Instagram feed. Daffodils, irises, roses, and dozens of other flowers add color to the garden. The many trees, including the oaks for which Oakland was named, provide shade and scenery. Even the tombstones are impressive. From angels and animals to vases and vaults, the detailed sculptures are works of art in themselves. The inscriptions can be mysterious, touching, or even funny.
Guided tours aren't free, but anyone is welcome to wander the cemetery on his or her own. You can easily spend several hours covering the 48 carefully tended acres at this Victorian historic landmark.
Murals of Old Fourth Ward
Old Fourth Ward is far off most tourist trails, but this in-town Atlanta neighborhood is gaining in popularity for its artsy, urban scene and vibrant nightlife. Near Boulevard, the main thoroughfare that used to be one of the city's high-end streets, you can find dozens of murals. They range from outrageous and fun to serious social commentary. On one street corner, you can see a close-up of Puddles the Clown, now famous for his appearance on America's Got Talent, and a comic strip of women crying over Atlanta traffic. Check out the Outerspace Project to see a map of murals in O4W and beyond.
The BeltLine connects, bikers, walkers, and joggers with the best of Atlanta, including dining, retail, and entertainment. It also has unexpected pieces of installation art spread across the trail.
When you visit, keep your eyes peeled for murals, sculptures, and more. One series called Tiny Doors features elaborate miniature doors drawn onto brick, wood, and concrete and is decorated with images like fences and figurines. At least two are on the BeltLine, and new art pieces are popping up all the time.
A tree-lined lake with the Atlanta skyline rising in the background — if you've seen this iconic photo, you've seen Piedmont Park. Like any good community green space, it has playgrounds, dog parks, sports fields, and a splash pad where you can enjoy the open air. Nature lovers appreciate the 200 acres of greenery and the romantic sunset views across the lake.
It's a popular spot for events, including city-wide parties like Music Midtown and the Atlanta Ice Cream Festival. On Saturdays, beginning in the spring and throughout the fall, Green Market offers up local produce, dairy, crafts, home goods, and more from vendors who are happy to chat with out-of-towners.
Top Budget-Friendly Stops
You would expect simple food from a place called Eats, and that's exactly what you get, but it's simple at its best: home cooking served with a smile. Choose from staples like jerk chicken, meatloaf, and barbecue, and add up the sides: black-eyed peas, collards, sweet potato, and mac and cheese.
The decor isn't fancy — license plates, handmade art, bright red booths — but locals swear by the food, and the prices can't be beat.
Buford Highway isn't a single attraction; it's several. The street is popular for authentic flavors from around the world: Vietnam, Taiwan, Mexico, Cambodia, Italy. The list goes on. You can find an affordable meal that you'll remember for weeks to come. Grab a bánh mì and bubble tea at Lee's Bakery, or if you're really hungry, try the affordable Bangladeshi lunch buffet at Panahar.
Beyond the dining scene, you can shop at retailers with global flair. Two fun options are the Buford Highway Farmers Market and the Atlanta Chinatown Mall. The indoor market has everything from European pastries to South American produce, while the mall, just off the highway, focuses on Asian culture, including a small garden with a koi pond, a bridge, and a Chinese mural.
Goat Farm Arts Center
The Goat Farm Arts Center is an incubator for some of the most creative art in Atlanta, and its weird industrial architecture is popular with filmmakers. If you've seen "The Hunger Games" sequel or "The Walking Dead," then you've seen the Goat Farm landscape.
Located in West Midtown, the Goat Farm is off the beaten track for tourists, but it's a must if you enjoy photographing urban settings or seeing edgy performance art. It hosts plays, concerts, dances, discussions, and more throughout the year with ticket prices that are fairly low. It even has a few resident goats.
Ponce City Market
Ponce City Market is known for its chef-driven restaurants and boutique shops, but a visit doesn't have to break the bank. Just touring the 1926 building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, tells a story thanks to the artifacts and informational displays throughout.
The Central Food Hall has around two dozen eateries to choose from, with plenty offering affordable lunch options. Budget-friendly favorites include the laidback Hop's Chicken and vegan-friendly Lucky Lotus. Splurge on a ticket to ride up to the roof and view Atlanta from 10 stories up. It's best at sunset.
Chomp & Stomp
All-you-can-eat chili for one low ticket price? Atlanta has it every November at the annual Chomp & Stomp Chili Cook-off and Bluegrass Festival . Chefs from around the city compete for the honor of the best chili in town. Appoint yourself a judge, and try as many samples as you can. It goes quickly, so get there early.
After the chili is gone, you can enjoy live bluegrass music or browse artisanal crafts and goods at one of the many stalls. This is Atlanta at its finest.
Top Things to Do in Atlanta in Summer
Atlanta Botanical Garden
How does 30 acres of floral beauty sound? The Atlanta Botanical Garden shows off blooms year-round, but it's especially colorful in summer. See roses, hydrangeas, lilies, irises, and amaryllis. The collection of aquatic plants, including fragrant lotuses, begins flowering in May. If you time it right, you can even see the impressive 5-foot-wide Victoria water lily.
Cool off under the maples in the Japanese Garden, or escape the sun at one of the indoor collections. The Orangery, Tropical Rotunda, Desert House, and Orchid Center guarantee you can still see a variety of plants, even if the weather turns bad.
Just six miles east of downtown, the city of Decatur is a charming suburb that's a must for longer trips when you have a few days for sightseeing. Founded in 1823 — more than two decades before Atlanta — Decatur is a historic town with good food and vintage shops.
There's always something going on at the square, especially during summer. Time your visit to catch one of the outdoor concerts or a festival. The Decatur Lantern Parade, Summer in the City, Pied Piper Parade and BBQ, and Blues & Bluegrass Festival are just a few of your choices.
Fringe festivals are a worldwide art phenomenon, and Atlanta puts its own unique stamp on it with the Atlanta Fringe Festival. Held each June over the course of a week, the event includes around 20 individual performances. Go to one or go to a dozen. Because these are local performers with stripped down sets, the tickets are budget-friendly with discounts available if you purchase a multi-show pass.
Past performances have included theater and dance, of course, but also comedy, opera, storytelling, puppets, and circuses. The venues vary around Atlanta. You could be at a school, a pub, or a ballroom, but the style is the same: indie, edgy, and entirely unique.
Queen of Cream
Born in Atlanta, Queen of Cream is an ice cream and coffee parlor ready to satisfy your sweet tooth and help you cool down on a hot summer day. The ice cream is made from scratch in house, so you're getting the freshest flavors. And the flavors aren't plain chocolate and vanilla, either. Opt for a scoop of lavender honeycomb or, if you're vegan, black pearl, which features coconut ash and velvety chocolate.
The shop is located on the corner of Inman Park, so take that ice cream cone for a sunny afternoon walk.
The Swan House at the Atlanta History Center is impressive any time of year. It's a 1920s mansion with a large fountain cascading down the hill in the backyard. However, in summer when the roses bloom, this place is pure romance. Take photos of the outside, noticing architectural details from the Second Renaissance Revival style and the formal boxwood garden. Then move indoors for a guided tour of this palatial home. The guide will point out the swans hidden around the rooms as well as share interesting facts about the wealthy Inman family that once lived there.
Top Things to Do in Atlanta in Winter
With places to live, shop, work, dine, and be entertained, the 138-acre Atlantic Station feels like a small village. It even has its own zip code. Bundle up, park your car, and spend an afternoon strolling along the wide brick-paved streets. This place comes alive for the holidays with real snow, festive décor, and a German-inspired Christkindl Market. Santa makes regular appearances at his cottage, and holiday music pipes through the air.
If you go after Christmas, the winter fun isn't over. You can skate on the Southeast's largest outdoor ice rink through February and then warm up inside a restaurant with something hot to drink. Escape the chill in the onsite cinema, including an IMAX theater.
Winter Wonderland at Fernbank
Usually, the first thing you notice when you step inside the Fernbank Museum of Natural History is the two-story-tall titanosaur filling the Great Hall. From November to January, the dinosaur has some competition. A ring of trees in the annual Winter Wonderland is likely to steal your attention with twinkling lights and intricate ornaments. The evergreens are decked with cultural items to represent traditions from around the world.
Need snow on demand? Stone Mountain has you covered. The 32,000-acre park features a farmyard, historic homes, a treetop course, 4D theater, and an aerial cable car that takes you to the top of the granite mountain. From November to February, it turns into Snow Mountain. Go tubing down a snowy hill by yourself or with a group of up to eight. Then head over to the SnowZone to climb an igloo, construct a fort, or build snowmen. Through the New Year, the place also adds some yuletide cheer with more than 2 million lights, a holiday parade, Christmas train ride, and nightly tree lighting.
The Fox Theatre puts on Broadway-style shows that are a great way to escape the cold weather outside, whether you want to see "The Nutcracker" by the Atlanta Ballet or one of the touring musicals that come through town. Even better, sign up for a tour of the historic theater. Tours are available in any season, but during the holidays, the building is lavishly decorated with poinsettias and holly. Get into the holiday spirit with help from your guide as you tour the landmark — hot cocoa and cider included.
Top Activities in Atlanta with Kids
The Center for Puppetry Arts
The Center for Puppetry Arts is a museum and theater rolled into one. Get a ticket to one of the family puppet shows, and admission to the puppetry museum and a puppet-making workshop is included. The workshops let kids as young as 4 (or 2 if accompanied by an adult) make their very own puppet to take home. Visitors of all ages can enjoy the museum filled with fascinating trivia and history as well as real puppets and marionettes.
Zoo Atlanta is lots of fun for all ages, but it makes a special effort to welcome the youngest visitors. Favorites include the petting zoo, splash fountain, and the challenging Treetop Trail with a zipline. Kids enjoy seeing the antics of the otters, orangutans, and lemurs that are always willing to put on a show. Meanwhile, the giant pandas and gorillas — two of the most popular exhibits — both have youngsters of their own you can glimpse when they're out at play.
The exhibits alone are enough to keep you busy, but pick up a calendar of events when you enter to customize your day. There are several animal demonstrations and feedings where trainers are happy to answer questions from curious kids.
High Museum of Art
General admission to the High Museum of Art gets you access to work by masters like Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and many more. If you want to save some cash, go during the second Sunday of the month to take advantage of free admission and special programming for families.
If you have older kids and teens, spend the afternoon browsing the collections of decorative arts and photography, from contemporary to folk art. There's more than 14,000 individual pieces in the permanent collection alone. To keep the little ones engaged, join one of the many Second Sunday activities, featuring stories, mini shows, art-making workshops, and more.
Children's Museum of Atlanta
"Don't touch" isn't something you see on the signs at this museum. Kids, especially the littlest ones, need hands-on activities to stay entertained, and that's what the Children's Museum of Atlanta is all about. Plus, it's educational. In the interactive galleries, your kids can learn about food, outer space, other countries, robotics, and so much more.
They become part of the experience by creating their own art or helping to run science experiments. There's information for parents so you know what exhibits are geared toward which age group, and there are even learning opportunities and dedicated play space for infants and toddlers. If they just need a space to release some energy, the museum has that too. Let them climb inside a giant globe or take on a multi-story treehouse to reach new heights.
Atlanta offers a diverse assortment of family-friendly activities designed to keep everyone entertained for days on end.
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