Atlanta is a relatively young city. It began in 1837, when an almost random dot on the map was named "Terminus" during plans for railroad construction. After the railroads arrived, the renamed Atlanta proved to be a crucial transportation center in the Civil War. Home to the huge Confederacy munitions industry, it was burned by Sherman's Union army in 1864, an act immortalized in Gone With the Wind. Recovery after the war was quick: Atlanta was the archetype of the industrial "New South," championed by "boosters" – newspaper owners, bankers, politicians, and city leaders. Giants who based themselves here included Coca-Cola, source of a string of philanthropic gifts to the city. Black immigration increased its already considerable African-American population and led to the establishment of the thriving community, centered on Auburn Avenue, which was to produce Martin Luther King Jr.
Today's Atlanta is at first glance a typical large American city, but no visitor could fail to notice its progressive feel. The city elected the nation's first black mayor, the late Maynard Jackson, and African-American politicians continue to reach success here. Its hosting of the 1996 Olympics is just the highest profile success in a sustained catalogue of entrepreneurial achievements. Tourists come to Atlanta for its vibrant arts, dining, and nightlife scenes, but must-see tourist attractions include the various sites associated with Dr King to cultural institutions like the High Museum of Art and Atlanta History Center.
The flip side of the fact that there was no great reason to put a city here is that neither are there any obvious geographical factors to prevent Atlanta from growing indefinitely. The population of the entire metropolitan area now exceeds five million. Cut off by roaring freeways, Atlanta's neighbourhoods tend to have distinct identities; lavish Buckhead is only a short drive away from grungier, punky Little Five Points, but the two neighbourhoods have little in common.
Atlanta is a city rich with history and culture, and is known as the “city not too busy to care.” It is often pointed to as an example of successful urban development and growth. Evidence of this can be seen everywhere from the skyscrapers that fill downtown to the many prosperous restaurants, shops and businesses spread throughout the city.
As in many cities, Atlanta's downtown serves as the center of business and government. It is not, however, the hub of the social or cultural scene, and other than fine dining or professional sports events, it pretty much shuts down after business hours.
The ever-changing skyline is dominated by sky-high hotels and office buildings. There is perhaps none more impressive than the Peachtree Center , which serves the business community in both capacities. Most major chain hotels are represented here, as well as many of the world's most well known corporations, such as the world headquarters of Coca-Cola. The Georgia World Congress Center plays host to a never-ending string of trade shows, while in the southern corner of downtown you'll find the golden-domed Georgia State Capitol Building .
Opened in 1989, the enclosed mall of shops and restaurants known as Underground Atlanta also houses the most comprehensive division of the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau . Standing near the entrance is the World of Coca-Cola , the soft-drink giant's interactive museum. For athletics, visit the 71,000-seat Georgia Dome , home of the Atlanta Falcons, or check out Philips Arena , featuring Hawks basketball and Thrashers hockey. Across the street, the massive CNN Center is home to cable television's first 24-hour news network.
Midtown's skyline is dominated by mighty hotels such as the Four Seasons and Sheraton Colony Square standing side-by-side with the regional headquarters of such giants as IBM and BellSouth. Midtown is home to the city's greatest concentration of cultural outlets, including the Fabulous Fox Theater , the High Museum of Art , and the Woodruff Arts Center , which hosts the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra . Known for its diversity, Midtown is home to much of Atlanta's gay community. You'll see plenty of rainbow flags fluttering from porches of the beautifully restored Victorians between Ponce and 10th Street. From the mansion dwellers in Ansley Park , to the seedier elements that haunt the liquor stores of Ponce de Leon and the grungy-cum-preppy types that wander around Georgia Tech, a broad cross-section of Atlanta natives will greet you on the sidewalk. Despite the neighborhood's reputation for glamorous clubs and fine dining, the unquestioned social center of Midtown is Piedmont Park , a 180-acre expanse of green where Atlantans turn out to walk their canine companions.
The legends of how Buckhead earned its unusual moniker are varied, but most center around the mounting of a slain deer over the door of a 19th century public house. Today, the wild tavern tradition is still in full swing. Despite the regular disorder brought on by the drinking crowd, Buckhead's downtown area remains safe, and is home to many fine shops, restaurants and spas. World-class hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and the Grand Hyatt Atlanta stand steps away from the city's most elegant shopping venues in Phipps Plaza and Lenox Square .
As you move away from central Buckhead, a growing battalion of high-rise luxury apartments and condos attract the city's prosperous up-and-comers, while the tree-lined neighborhoods west of Peachtree live on as exquisite enclaves of old Atlanta money. Just a mile down this awe-inspiring stretch of road from the rollicking, disco-themed Have A Nice Day Cafe sits the Georgia Governor's Mansion .
More commonly known as "the Highlands," this largely residential neighborhood centers on the intersection of the Virginia and North Highland avenues. Most points are within walking distance of the Jimmy Carter Center in Inman Park , Emory University in Druid Hills, and Piedmont Park in Midtown.
High rents have banished the starving artist crowd downtown, but in their place have come numerous galleries, representing the city's best mix of modern and folk art. Although not as glitzy as Buckhead, shopping is a casual pleasure, and quirky boutiques like Metropolitan Deluxe and Providence Antiques draw a large window-gazing crowd.
Young and middle-aged professionals mix easily with a mild influx of students from the nearby university in the Highlands' bars and restaurants. A vibrant nightlife thumps through the laid-back atmosphere at such pubs as the Dark Horse Tavern . Highbrow restaurants like Southern-influenced Harvest rub amicable shoulders with popular brazier joints such as Neighbors and Moe's & Joe's.
Little Five Points
This conglomeration of second-hand shops, piercing parlors, funky bars and music venues touches on the old neighborhoods of Inman Park and Candler Park , pricing much of the real estate well beyond the range of the young rebels that flock here. Many nicely-restored bungalows and post-Civil War era homes line the peaceful streets nearby, including a good number of respectable bed-and-breakfasts. Good eats are plentiful in Little Five Points, but fine dining has thus far eluded the rough-edged neighborhood. One notable exception is the Flying Biscuit Cafe , home of Atlanta's best breakfast.
Climbing out of a long period of steady decline, this is the latest addition to a growing list of gentrified Atlanta neighborhoods. As is the case elsewhere, the process in East Atlanta is a slow one, and even as a solid collection of shops and restaurants gains a foothold in the blocks around the intersection of Flat Shoals and Glenwood Avenues, most of the surrounding area continues to struggle. One notable out of the way spot is JavaVino , where you can sip wine to slow down and then coffee to speed you back up. Your shopping options represent an interesting mix, while most of the area's watering holes lean toward the local, blue collar crowd.
This trendy area has re-invented itself over past few years to become a rather enviable and affluent neighborhood. Sitting at the far northwest corner of the city, the Vinings is largely home to folks who want to live in the city but really don't. Following the money, great new restaurants like Canoe are gaining widespread praise as they take their place alongside such re-invented local favorites as the Vinings Inn . Shopping, however, still draws the majority of traffic, mostly to Cumberland Mall at I-75 and Windy Hill Road, but also to the Vinings Jubilee center, a collection of shops and boutiques developed to resemble a town square.
From fine to casual dining, Atlanta offers many dining options ranging from French to African to Asian to Cajun that suit many different palates. Definitely check out their nightlife, which is both vibrant and sophisticated, and brings out some interesting and colorful characters.
Downtown's place to see and be seen is a high-end favorite with local celebs called City Grill , which puts out fancy renderings of old Southern classics. For business meetings, head for the no-nonsense, wood-paneled charm of Dailey's .
The city's best Russian is found at Nikolai's Roof on the 30th floor of the Atlanta Hilton and Towers . You'll find the Westin well-stocked, too, from the Savannah Fish Company at street level to the elegant, rotating Sun Dial offering unparalleled views from the roof. For local tradition, few options can touch the Varsity . Since 1928, this white tiled drive-in has turned out greasy dogs and chili burgers to rave reviews.
The downtown club scene matches the restaurant scene, with chic options. Go to Dailey's for oaken charm and good cigars. For a younger, trendier crowd, try the Mark .
Trendy Midtown is home to some of the city's most enduring culinary landmarks, sitting side by side with the latest and trendiest kitchens. Top choices include South City Kitchen , where local chefs fashion innovative twists on Southern favorites, and Veni, Vidi, Vici , consistently rated atop Atlanta's crowded list of the best Italian.
A bit kinder on the pocketbook but rich in local tradition is Mary Mac's Tea Room , favorite of local son Jimmy Carter, while just up Piedmont Road, the city's best barbecue and blues await at Fat Matt's Rib Shack . No dining tour of Midtown would be complete without a bite at the Park Tavern , situated within Piedmont Park with sweeping views of the skyline.
This lively neighborhood is top of the Atlanta heap for trendy, cutting-edge nightlife. The martini rage continues unabated at the Leopard Lounge, where the swinger-cum-yuppie crowd shakes to the beat of swing music. Go to Halo to kick it stylishly with the high-rollers, or hit the Loft for live music. Over at the slower-paced Prince of Wales, darts and ale prevail with a view over Piedmont Park .
Buckhead packs more tables per square foot than anywhere else, and features many of Atlanta's hippest offerings. Nava's upscale Tex-Mex fusion is capped by the most dazzling dessert cart in town, while Chops vies with Bone's for top dog status in the steak and business game. For unbridled contemporary elegance, it's 103 West , while seafood takes center stage under the three story, 50 ton copper trout at The Atlanta Fish Market , a popular stop for media mogul Ted Turner.
For Italian, sample the Tuscan platters at Maggiano's Little Italy . For the utmost in romance and new Southern, choose the patio at Horseradish Grill across from Chastain Park .
Peachtree Road offers an impressive stretch of bars, starting with Fado , an Irish-themed pub that serves up great stout amid regional decor. The most dignified spot for a drink in all Atlanta is the bar at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead . Stop by for a brandy if you want to drink in Buckhead but you like things quiet.
As the night heats up and you find yourself wanting something more lively, head to the M!X for tapas bites and a trendy atmosphere. Once you've got something in your stomach, end your night by mingling with the beautiful people at Eleven50 .
The hippest Highlands grub to be had is at Dish, a converted corner gas station offering a unique global menu, and the single-room, upscale Thai phenomenon, Surin of Thailand . Down the street, the casually-elegant La Tavola is tops for Italian, while Noche provides margaritas and chic Southwestern. Come early for Atlanta's most popular weekend brunch at Murphy's across the street, or sample their solid American dinner menu. The shack with the big covered porch next door is Taco Mac , a favorite for affordable Mexican, people watching and every beer known to modern man.
Where Highland meets Virginia Avenue, you'll find Highland Tap hosting the young professional martini gang, while margaritas reign a few doors down at Noche . If you're more in the mood for a cold pitcher, cross the street to Moe's & Joe's or stop by Neighbor's for a bite and a seat on the Highlands' biggest patio. The Dark Horse Tavern is a crowded night spot; if you don't like the crowd, head to the downstairs bar to hear a local band play.
Little Five Points
The restaurants of "L5P" keep pace with their surroundings, in energy and attitude. Walk through the enormous skull on Moreland Avenue and enter the Vortex Bar & Grill , a landmark famed as much for its oversized burgers as it is for the huge skull sculpture outside. For unique, unbeatable omelets and fanciful dinners, venture off the main drag to the Flying Biscuit . Lodged among the piercing parlors of Euclid Avenue, you'll find Cuban sandwiches at La Fonda Latina and tastes from around the Caribbean at the Bridgetown Grill.
This eclectic corner boasts Atlanta's most extreme nightly parade of alternative rockers and rebellious youth. Wear your nose ring when you visit the Vortex , one of L5P's most visible and lasting landmarks. Across Moreland Avenue, remember your earplugs when diving into the Star Community Bar , where local bands drive young crowds wild. Nearby, the Brewhouse Cafe offers good brew and live international sports.
Euclid Avenue has another slew of options. Start with El Myr Burrito Lounge , and choose from over thirty brands of tequila. The Little Five Corner Tavern down the street has more drinks and food, on one of the best corners in the city. Finally, the Five Spot has more indie and eccentric performances, usually with no admission charge.
From Olympics and sports, to a tour of Atlanta's historical landmarks, your visit will allow you to experience how Atlanta connects residents and visitors alike to the culture and history of the new South. For the business minded traveler, you can tour one of the banking centers of the world, as Atlanta is the headquarters for 13 Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Atlanta is home to some of the most prestigious universities, theaters, and museums in the nation. Your time spent in Atlanta will be a memorable one as you venture from Downtown to attractions outside the city.
Centennial Olympic Park
The Visitors Center at Centennial Olympic Park is a good place to start any visit to Atlanta. The site of the tragic Olympic bombing in 1996, the park now features a memorial, ringed fountains whose displays are choreographed to music, and a column of flags honoring past Olympic hosts. Across the street stands the state-of-the-art Georgia Dome , home of the Falcons and Super Bowl XXXIV, as well as Philips Arena , where basketball's Atlanta Hawks and hockey's Atlanta Thrashers play their home contests. Facing these two imposing structures is yet another: the CNN Center , headquarters to Ted Turner's media empire. Enjoy a 45-minute behind-the-scenes tour, which can be booked from the website. From CNN, walk along Marietta Street east to Peachtree, go south a few blocks to Capitol Avenue, then follow it west to the corner of Capitol and Washington, for a 45-minute guided tour of the State Capitol . Built in 1889, the 75-foot golden dome crowns one of the most beautiful government buildings in the Southeast. Before you leave the area check out the Peachtree Center where you can grab a bite to eat at Azio-Downtown.
World of Coca-Cola Museum
Atlanta-based soft drink giant Coca-Cola is never really out of sight in the city, and nowhere is that more true than at the interactive World of Coca-Cola Museum . Just beyond Centennial Olympic Park is Underground Atlanta , an enclosed 12-acre facility that now boasts over 100 stores and restaurants. While you shop, keep an eye out for the marker that denotes the location of the original last stop of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, from which the city got its original name: Terminus. Between the World of Coca-Cola and Underground Atlanta is Ted's Montana Grill , a great place for American fare. In addition, the Georgia Aquarium and Museum of Design Atlanta are both located close by and definitely worth a visit. One word of caution: Downtown Atlanta is primarily a business district, and the area largely shuts down after dark. While not explicitly dangerous, downtown at night is not the safest place to be.
Historic Virginia Highland
This 1900s vintage district is home to many galleries and specialty shops. Stroll south along Highland Avenue and enjoy a half-mile stretch of one of Atlanta's most charming residential districts, which features a diverse showing of late 19th and early 20th century architecture. As you approach Virginia Avenue and the neighborhood's namesake intersection, browse an array of boutiques featuring everything from folk art to high fashion. Here you will also find George's Restaurant & Bar , a great place to stop in for lunch, dinner, or a drink. Next, the Jimmy Carter Center features 30 acres of gardens and lakes, a commanding view of the downtown skyline, and more than 27 million pages of documents, correspondence and photos from the Carter administration. Backtracking along Highland to Ponce de Leon, turn right and head east into one of Atlanta's loftiest zip codes. Your final stop is the Fernbank Museum of Natural History at 156 Heaton Park, just half a block off Ponce. This unique building is set on 65 acres of wooded grounds and rolling lawns, and also houses a planetarium, science center and IMAX theater. Also nearby in Druid Hills is Emory University , one of the top ten universities in the nation. While in the area you can also relax at one of the many parks around the university.
Just 16 miles from downtown, Georgia's Stone Mountain State Park offers a broad range of activities for all ages. Stone Mountain is a great place for groups to get away and stay at the Stone Mountain Family Park Campground . The park centers around a 1,685 foot high granite boulder which can be accessed via a short gondola ride up the steep north face, or by a hearty mile and a half climb up the gently sloping east side. Be sure to get a look at the world's largest bas-relief sculpture, which portrays Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and President Jefferson Davis. More than 3,000 acres of natural woodland, lakes, fields, and trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, or just communing with nature. Also, the Stone Mountain Golf Course is located inside the park. The Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad departs regularly on treks around the base of the mountain, making various stops on its breathtaking half hour run. Stone Mountain is easily-accessible by public transportation. Catch an East Line MARTA train to the Indian Trail station, from which point bus service will deliver you directly to the park. In addition, you can visit the Stone Mountain Antique Car and Treasure Museum . This museum is great for the whole family and features unique collections of historic toys and other memorabilia.
As you tour Atlanta you can catch a breath taking sunset via plane, hot air balloon, or as you roam around on your own. Wherever you end up in Atlanta you will be among southern hospitality and historic sites.
Underground Atlanta ( +1 404 523 2311/ http://www.underground-atlanta.com/ )
Bus & Car Tours
Atlanta Tours ( +1 888 811 9237,+1 770 662 3827; http://www.atlantatours.us/?gclid=CMK_g9y0qpYCFQ89awodQGHRzQ/ ) American Sightseeing Atlanta ( +1 404 233 9140; http://www.americansightseeingatl.com/ )
Air Atlanta Helicopters ( +1 770 458 7771; http://www.airatlantahelicopters.com/ ) North Atlanta Executive Air Service ( +1 770 844 8687; http://www.atlantaheli.com/Services.htm/ )
Magic Carpet Ride ( +1 770 436 9960/ http://www.magicballooning.com/ )