Photograph by Marc Romanelli, Getty Images
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The Georgia Aquarium holds more than one hundred thousand species, including whale sharks, bottlenose dolphins, and manta rays.

Photograph by Marc Romanelli, Getty Images

Discover the Best of Atlanta

Get the most out of your trip to the cultural hub of the South with these top ten tips.

It is no coincidence that Atlanta began its history as the hand-picked spot for a regional railroad terminus in the 1830s; or that it is, today, the locale of the world’s busiest airport for two decades; or that it is HQ for a slew of corporations. The capital is well priced and well positioned for businesses. But, it is also a dream for real people who need a manageable and green headquarters from which to explore.

Most Iconic Experience

The Atlanta Beltline, which converts 22 miles of former railway corridor around downtown, will not be completed until the year 2030. Still, simply the concept’s ongoing evolution, construction, and forward movement has had a transformative effect on a town yearning for a more human pace. That pace will eventually connect 45 neighborhoods through 33 miles of multi-use trails and 1,300 acres of parks. Presently, sections on the Northside, Westside, and Eastside Trails are open for walkers and cyclists, along with shops, beer gardens, street art, and outdoor activities.

Natural Wonder

Often called the world’s “largest piece of exposed granite,” Stone Mountain is a certainly one of the planet’s largest monoliths. The massive outcropping, about 20 miles northeast of the city, is 1,683 feet high. Miles of hiking, cycling, and running trails circle and summit the behemoth. On its north face, the natural wonder also features a controversial carving—larger than Mount Rushmore—depicting Confederate soldiers Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.

Must-See Spot

Arguably no Atlantan has achieved as much, or deserved as much recognition, as Martin Luther King, Jr., who, using a message of nonviolence, helped steer the civil rights movement in the United States. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, or the King Center, established in 1968, sits on a 23-acre National Historic Site and includes his birthplace and his crypt, art work, photographs, and historical exhibits. Admission is free.

Best Day Trip

Athens—an hour and a half east of Atlanta—is home to the University of Georgia, established in 1785. The historic center is dense with atmospheric cafes, boutiques, and restaurants. The sensation here is like being in one most happening neighborhoods in the South. For those outside the state, the “Classic City” is best known as the birthplace of the B-52’s and R.E.M. and its early influence on alternative, or indie, college rock. Today, Athens is still an incubator for live acts in venues across town.

National Park

The Chattahoochee River runs through Atlanta’s metro area, creating a natural connector between the Appalachian Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico. The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area protects the waterway and its banks over a 48-mile span, along which Atlantans get away from the pressure of city life by rafting, fly-fishing, cycling, and hiking.

Late Night

Nearly every Atlanta resident has a story about the Clermont Lounge, which opened in the basement of the Clermont Motor Hotel (recently reopened as the boutique Hotel Clermont) in 1965. Perhaps a tenth of those stories are true. What is guaranteed is that the Clermont—which combines elements of seedy with real seedy, cheap booze with PBR, scantily clad with un-clad, and funk with soul—is consistently one of the best discos in the city.

Neighborhood to Explore

Considered one of the city’s friendliest areas, the Decatur district on the east side of the greater metropolitan area, is, in fact, a city in its own right—founded in 1823, 14 years before Atlanta. Some of the South’s best and most forward-thinking restaurants, bars, and boutiques are clustered around the courthouse and spill into Decatur’s tangle of tree-lined streets. Among the must-visit establishments, the Brick Store Pub, which opened more than two decades ago, helped reinvigorate the historic center and was seminal in the growing popularity of the region’s craft-beer industry.

People-Watching Spot

The ultimate insider’s neighborhood, Little Five Points satisfies multiple categories for travelers looking to get the real Atlanta scoop. This quadrant of the city acts as a link between downtown, the Old Fourth Ward, and Decatur and has a distinctly post-modern hipster vibe: gourmet burgers, tattoo parlors, vintage shops, bars to attract every demographic, and the iconic Variety Playhouse music venue. If you start your trip here, you might not leave.

Historic Place

Georgia’s second Nobel Peace Prize recipient was also the state’s only president, Jimmy Carter. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum opened in 1986 and holds approximately one million photographs, thousands of hours of video, and some 40 million pages documenting his administration. The library is also open to the public for research.

Cultural Site

Fox Theatre sits on Peachtree Street, between the downtown and midtown districts. No structure—minus the gold dome of the capital—in Atlanta is as iconic. Originally commissioned by the city’s chapter of Shriners, the opulent building, with its combination of Arabesque architecture and Art Deco style, opened as a movie palace in 1929. Today, the 4,665-seat Fox, provides an intimate venue for touring Broadway performances, variety shows, and some of music’s biggest acts.