Atlanta is one of the south’s true metropolitan cities. The sprawling city is home to 5.5 million residents and is visited by more than 50 million people every year. Founded in 1847. Atlanta has a rich history, and it’s continually developing new attractions. The city has long been a center for businesses and transportation.
Today you’ll find plenty of compelling reasons to visit this thriving city. Georgia’s bustling capital city is home to impressive museums, an excellent local dining scene, beautiful hotels, tranquil outdoor spaces, and many historic sites. With so many great options, it’s hard to pick just a few things to do while in the city.
While I actively try to avoid going through the Atlanta airport, I do enjoy spending time in the city itself. There’s always something new and exciting happening alongside the city’s classic well-known attractions.
If you’re planning a trip to Atlanta, it can be overwhelming to figure out what to include on your travel itinerary. Here are a few of the best things to do in Atlanta to help make your trip a fun and enjoyable experience.
Tour the Georgia Capitol Museum
Built in 1889, the Georgia Capitol is still used as a working government building and is busy throughout the day. The University of Georgia Libraries runs the Georgia Capitol Museum that is housed in the Capitol building. You can take a self-guided tour of the Georgia Capitol. If you have a large group, you can request a guided tour, but you’ll have access to the same area either way.
A visit to the building begins on the fourth floor at the Georgia Capitol Museum. The museum’s collection guides visitors through the important events in Georgia’s history. On the third floor, you’ll find the senate chamber and house chamber. The rooms have been restored to their original design from 1889 and all of the desks are original. This floor also houses the Georgia Hall of Fame.
On the second floor, you can admire the impressive rotunda with marble busts and portraits of notable figures from the state. There are also portraits of former governors and a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Finally, the first floor houses the Georgia Hall of Valor.
The Georgia Capitol is worth visiting both for its historical significance and to appreciate the beautiful neoclassical architecture. I’d suggest starting your trip to Atlanta with a visit to the Capitol building. You’ll enjoy the rest of your trip even more after learning more about the state’s history.
Get a Chili Dog at the Varsity
When you get hungry, it’s time to head to the Varsity. The first Varsity opened in Atlanta in 1928. The restaurant has been incredibly popular over the years and even made a profit on the day the stock market crashed at the beginning of the Great Depression.
In the 1940s, the restaurant had its first renovation and by the 1950s, the Varsity was the world’s largest drive-in. Today, the downtown Atlanta location can accommodate 600 cars outside at the drive-in and over 800 people inside the restaurant.
The Varsity is best known for its hotdogs which are usually ordered with a side of onion rings or french fries. You can also get classic fast food staples like burgers and chicken nuggets.
The restaurant is an Atlanta institution. It’s especially busy on Georgia Tech game day weekends. And, it draws visitors from all over the world. Celebrities, musicians, and governmental officials frequent the Varsity as well. Over the years, Clark Gable, Elvis Presley, and Jimmy Fallon are just a few of the famous names who have eaten at the restaurant. The movie We Are Marshall with Matthew McConnaughey also had scenes filmed at the iconic restaurant.
You’ll definitely find a crowd when you visit the Varsity, but that’s part of the fun of coming here!
Watch the Penguins at the Georgia Aquarium
Make a stop at one of the largest aquariums in the world during your visit to Atlanta. At the Georgia Aquarium, you’ll find over 200 aquatic species and be able to enjoy seeing marine life from areas all over the world. I recommend buying skip-the-line tickets online and in advance to save time.
You can easily spend several hours visiting the Georgia Aquarium. In fact, most people need at least 3 hours to visit, but to really see everything you need 5-6 hours there. The aquarium has eight large galleries each made up of smaller exhibits and activities centered around a unifying theme.
The newest exhibit at the aquarium is called SHARKS! Predators of the Deep. This exhibit focuses around the misconceptions people have about sharks and provides information on how these predators are important in the ecosystem. There’s also a diving cage where visitors are able to interact with the sharks. The tickets for the shark cage dive experience are pricey, but it’s a cool experience for those who are interested.
On a less intense note, my favorite gallery at the aquarium is Cold Water Quest. If you want to see penguins, puffins, and sea otters, this is the place to go. The Cold Water Quest gallery is very popular because everyone wants to get a closer look at these aquatic animals.
Explore the World of Coca Cola
The Coca Cola formula was invented in Atlanta, so it isn’t surprising the Coca Cola cooperation has created a museum dedicated to the company’s history here. Despite what you might think at first, the World of Coca Cola is incredibly interesting for visitors.
There are hundreds of artifacts in the museum. Some objects on display date as far back as 1892 when the first Coca Cola product was created. Coca Cola’s first advertisement was published in the Atlanta Journal in 1886 and features the slogan “delicious and refreshing”. For anyone interested in advertising, it’s fascinating to see how marketing trends have changed over more than 130 years.
You’ll also find lots of interactive features at the museum. At one of the newest exhibits, the scent Discovery exhibit, you learn how smell affects your sense of taste and try to identify a variety of smells. At another exhibit, you get to sample some of the different beverages the Coca Cola company sells around the world. Depending on the flavors you’re used to, some of the beverages are more appealing than others.
While at the World of Coca Cola, make sure to watch the “Moments of Happiness” short film in the theater. Yes, the film is an ad for Coca Cola, but you’ll find yourself tearing up just a bit by the end. I looked around when I was leaving the theater just to check that I wasn’t the only one having an emotional moment.
You can buy skip-the-line tickets online so you don’t have to wait in the lines when you arrive.
Catch an Atlanta Braves Game
You can’t even mention Atlanta without someone bringing up the Atlanta Braves. The MLB team had a 14-year winning streak in the 90s and 2000s, and their fans are still dedicated to the team today. Today, the team plays at Truist Park rather than Turner Field, but seeing the Braves on the field is still a classic Atlanta experience.
While I’m not a huge sports fan in general, it’s fun to be part of the atmosphere at an Atlanta Braves game. In my opinion, it’s more interesting to be at a baseball game than to watch it on tv.
There’s plenty to do near the park before and after the game as well. The area surrounding the park is called the Battery Atlanta, and it’s home to lots of great restaurants and shops. Going to a game and getting dinner is a fun way to spend a date or even just a day out with friends.
If you can’t get tickets for a game, or one doesn’t coincide with your trip’s dates, you can book a guided tour of Truist Park and learn all about the Brave’s 150-year history.
Eat Lunch at Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While in Atlanta, you can expect to eat well. One of the best places for classic southern fare is Mary Mac’s Tea Room. Despite the name, tea isn’t the main thing on the menu. Instead, Mary Mac’s was originally called a tea room because it wasn’t proper for women to open up restaurants at the time. Clearly, owner Mary MacKenzie was doing something right though. The restaurant first opened in 1945 and has continuously been serving excellent home-style meals since then.
The cuisine served at Mary Mac’s today is made with recipes developed by the original owner as well as the restaurant’s second owner Margaret Lupo. Try out the delicious southern favorites including fried okra, fried green tomatoes, and of course, Georgia peach cobbler. You can order a glass of sweet tea here as well.
Mary Mac’s isn’t the only place serving southern food in Atlanta, but it’s a unique experience to see all the traditions still carried on at the restaurant after so many years.
Ride the Roller Coasters at Six Flags
For thrill seekers, there’s no better place to visit than Six Flags Over Georgia. Located right outside of Atlanta, this park has rides everyone will love.
Try out rides like the Dare Devil Dive, the Sky Screamer, and Acrophobia if you’re prepared for the intense experience. You can also take a ride on the Sky Coaster where you’ll be dropped from a 180 steel foot arch and swing back and forth on a cable. I managed to find the courage to try the Sky Coaster once and was reminded exactly why I’m scared of heights. It was fun for me after the initial drop though.
For those who want gentler rides, you have plenty of options, too. You can’t go wrong with riding Thunder River on a hot day. Just be prepared that there’s always a possibility of getting soaked as you ride over the white water waves. Six Flags also has classic carnival rides like the Riverview Carousel which was originally built in 1908.
Six Flags has managed to create a park that’s just big enough to have every type of ride you could want while also not being overwhelming. It’s one of the best theme park experiences in Georgia.
Spend the Afternoon Outdoors at Piedmont Park
The land for Piedmont Park was originally purchased by the city of Atlanta in 1904. The park is now one of the best outdoor spaces in the city and is full of different activities for locals and visitors to enjoy.
The majority of the activities at the 211-acre park are free and available to the general public. Take a walk along the paved pathways, shop at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, have a picnic, or watch the Legacy Fountain’s water and light show.
The Atlanta Audubon Society hosts free bird walks on the first Saturday of each month or you can take a guided tree tour of the park.There’s always some event happening at Piedmont Park. You can listen to local experts during the speaker series, enjoy trivia nights in the park, or take an interactive garden workshop.
Depending on what you want to do, you could easily spend several hours or even an entire day at Piedmont Park.
Discover the Beautiful Plant Collection at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens
Right next to Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden is well worth the visit. The 30-acre grounds first opened in 1976 and is home to a beautiful collection of plants. You’ll find rare and endangered tropical and desert plants in the Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory. If you are interested in orchids, there’s an impressive variety on display at the Fuqua Orchid Center.
Besides enjoying the beautiful plants, you can also have a great meal at Atlanta Botanical Gardens. At the Longleaf restaurant, you can make dinner reservations for a menu with options like garden heirloom tart, garlic butter scallop, lobster tortellini, and lamp bolognese. At lunch, you can pick up a meal from the Longleaf Quick Cafe which has slightly less decadent, but still delicious, food and drinks available.
Check the garden’s event schedule to see if anything interests you. There are sessions on topics like flowers, gardening, and beekeeping as well as lectures from authors and art classes. Sometimes, there are even cooking classes and wine tastings on the schedule, so it’s a good idea to see what’s going on during your visit.
Enjoy Dining and Shopping at Ponce City Market
Located in a renovated Sears, Roebuck, and Co. building from 1926, the Ponce City Market is one of the coolest areas in Atlanta. The mixed-used development has shops, offices, dining, entertainment, and even a residential section.
If you enjoy shopping, you’ll be excited to find well-known clothing, make-up, jewelry, and home goods brands as well as locally-owned brands. Foodies will enjoy the more than 20 restaurants and stalls, some of which are run by James Beard Award winners. Plus, you can get fun treats like coffee, donuts, popsicles, and gelato here as well.
While at Ponce City Market, make sure to visit The Roof. Here you’ll find Skyline Park, a fun venue with games, mini golf, and other amusement-park-type entertainment. You’ll also be able to visit 12 Cocktail Bar where you can enjoy handcrafted cocktails in a beautiful setting.
There are always different events going on at Ponce City Market. Some weeks there are vintage flea markets, trivia nights, ceramics classes, and other cool opportunities. Check the website to see what’s going on during your visit. If you’re looking for high-end accommodations, you can even book one of the lofts at Ponce City Market so you can stay right in the middle of all the action.
Explore the Outdoors on the Atlanta BeltLine
Spend time outdoors on the Atlanta BeltLine. This unique space transforms 22 miles of old railroad tracks into trails and walkways connecting parks and neighborhoods throughout the city. The BeltLine is still in progress and will eventually contain trails, transit, and greenspace all along the route.
Several sections are already completed including the Northside Trail, Eastside Trail, and West End Trail. Restaurants, bars, and shops are easily accessible along portions of the route making it fun and enjoyable to walk from one area to another.
One of the best sections to walk right now is from Ponce City Market to Piedmont Park. This section is very popular and can get crowded on the weekends when the weather is nice. It’s a lot of fun to walk, bike, or even rollerblade on the BeltLine. You can also enjoy the different art installations that are featured in the space. You’ll find murals, sculptures, and other special exhibitions of art on display.
Visit the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
Run by the National Park Service, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park honors the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and preserves important moments from his life. The park fills almost 35 acres and includes multiple landmarks, monuments, and exhibits.
The home where Martin Luther King Jr. was born and lived during his childhood is open for guided tours. The spots for tours are limited to 10 people per tour, so get there early to make sure you’re able to tour the home.
You can also visit the King Center to find audio, video, and writings of Dr. King. Dr. King and Mrs. King’s Tombs are located on the grounds. The park also has an Eternal Flame lit as a symbol of the commitment to making Dr. King’s dream of justice, peace, and equality for all a reality.
Browse the Food Stalls at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market
The Municipal Market, locally known as Sweet Auburn Curb Market, first opened in 1918 as an open-air market. The building that currently houses the market was built in 1924. Today, the market is one of the best places in the city to find local businesses and try out amazing food.
At the market, stalls sell fresh produce, meats, and seafood along with a variety of different restaurants. There’s everything including soul food, tacos, pizza, poké, and vegan food. If you’re looking for a treat rather than a meal, try out Panbury’s Double Crust Pies or Miss D’s Pralines.
The market helps small businesses get started, showcases local businesses, and also provides access to fresh food. Some of Atlanta’s popular restaurants began at a stall in the market. Foodies will definitely want to visit to try out the newest eateries or visit local favorites.
Indulge in Dessert at Cheesecaked
For anyone with a sweet tooth, Cheesecaked is the place to visit. The dessert shop specializes in over-the-top sweets. Pecan praline, salted caramel, white chocolate, vanilla bean, and banana pudding are just a few of the cheesecake flavor options. Many of the cheesecakes are also topped with brownies, whipped cream, fresh fruit, and other delicious additions.
Don’t feel limited to just the cheesecakes though. The shop’s milkshakes are incredible as well, and they’re piled high with whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, and everything else you can imagine. You shouldn’t choose your order based solely on how good it will look in photos, but thankfully, these treats taste just as good as they look.
Get Together for Brunch with Friends at Pancake Social
Pancake Social is one of the best places to enjoy brunch in Atlanta. The restaurant and coffee house, which is located in Ponce City Market, serves breakfast all day. You’ll feel like you’ve just stopped by a friend’s house to have a cup of coffee and chat for a while. The dining room is incredibly cute with plaid booths and white wooden chairs.
Pancake Social offers a variety of pancakes (obviously) along with breakfast sandwiches, french toast, chicken and waffles, grits, and other delicious options. You can also order dishes to share with the table like potato fritters and beignets.
Chef Anne Quatrano is a James Beard Award-winning Chef. She’s been involved with many successful Atlanta restaurants, so it’s no surprise that Pancake Social is so good. No matter what time you get to Pancake Social, there will probably be a line, but you won’t be disappointed when the food arrives.
See a Show at Fox Theatre
The building alone is a compelling reason to visit the Fox Theatre. Built in 1928 for the Atlanta Shriners organization, the lavish building was inspired by the Far East. The architecture included domes, minarets, and archways while the interior contained gold leaf, opulent furnishings, and beautiful art. The building was so expensive that the Shriners decided to lease it to William Fox. Fox completed the construction and turned the building into a “movie palace.”
The first film shown in the theatre was Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse in 1929. The theatre remained popular and changed owners over the years. Icons like Elvis Presley and Aretha Franklin performed shows at the Fox Theatre. During the 1960s and 1970s, the building was not maintained, but a local campaign successfully restored the building and set up a not-for-profit theatre.
You can visit the theatre to watch Broadway shows, concerts, ballets, and other forms of entertainment. More than 250 different shows take place at the Fox each year. No matter what you choose to see here, it’s an amazing experience to get to see a performance in such a beautiful setting.
Order a Waffle Cone at Butter & Cream
If you’re in the mood for a treat stop by one of the city’s best locally-owned ice cream shops. Butter & Cream serves ice creams and other frozen desserts made in small batches with fresh ingredients.
You can pick from classic flavors like vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate or more unique creations like honeycomb forest, a honey ice cream with homemade honeycomb candy mixed throughout. One of the most popular flavors is called O.G. Goodness Ice Cream. It’s a brown sugar ice cream filled with pieces of butter cake. There are also desserts like ice cream sandwiches, slushies, and floats to choose from.
Butter & Cream has two locations. The original storefront is located in downtown Decatur. The second store is located in the Old Fourth Ward on the BeltLine in Atlanta. Butter & Cream is the perfect place to enjoy a rich, decadent treat.
Try the Classic Cocktails at Kimball House
This romantic restaurant is located in a 19th-century train depot and was inspired by an old hotel in Atlanta with the same name. Kimball House is one of the best places in the city to enjoy oysters and sample items from the farm-to-table menu. Selections change according to what’s in season and what’s available.
The food is excellent here, and the cocktails are equally inspired. The bar at Kimball House has repeatedly won awards and has been named one of the best bars in the South by multiple outlets. Having classic cocktails in such an elegant setting is an unforgettable way to spend the evening.
Attend Dogwood Festival in the Spring
For over 80 years, the city has hosted the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. The springtime festival is the third oldest fine arts festival in the United States. The festival takes place in Piedmont Park and features art, food, and entertainment for everyone to enjoy.
Over 250 artists, including some of the best painters, photographers, jewelers, sculptors, leather workers, metal craftsmen, and glass blowers, set up booths at the festival. There’s live music throughout the weekend featuring all genres of music. You can also watch performances on the International Stage which highlights some of the international communities that have made their home in Atlanta.
The festival takes place Friday through Sunday one weekend in the spring. It’s incredibly popular and attracts around 200,000 visitors. If you’re able to visit Atlanta during the festival, you’ll encounter crowds, but you’ll quickly understand why the festival is so popular.
Arrive early to make sure you get to see everything before it gets too busy. Also, plan to take MARTA, the public transportation system in Atlanta, so you don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot.
Stay at the Elegant Whitley Hotel
If you’re looking for a luxury stay, book a room at the Whitley Hotel in Buckhead. The hotel was formerly a Ritz-Carlon, and the lobby and guest rooms have recently been renovated with modern updates while retaining the hotel’s timeless charm and sophistication.
The rooms are elegantly decorated and have beautiful bay windows. There’s an indoor lap pool for guests to enjoy. You’ll definitely want to visit the lobby bar, and if you have time, book a treatment at the hotel’s spa.
The hotel is conveniently within walking distance of the Lenox Shopping Center, and you can access downtown Atlanta via the Buckhead subway stop. The Whitley Hotel is the perfect place to stay to enjoy all Atlanta has to offer during the day and then return to relax in the grand hotel to relax in the evening.
Enjoy the Views at Nikolai’s Roof
Located in the Hilton Downtown, Nikolai’s is an upscale French-Russian fusion restaurant. The restaurant has large windows spanning the floor to the ceiling with lovely panoramic views of the city. The restaurant is located on the 30th floor, so you really are perched above the rest of Atlanta.
While the views are undeniably one of the biggest reasons to visit Nikolai’s Roof, the food is also a 5-star experience. A meal in the dining room requires a reservation and includes 2 courses plus a cheese course and dessert. While the menu changes regularly, a few items typically available include foie gras, gnocchi, and salmon. There’s also the option to eat in the lounge where you can order drinks and small plates.
If you’re able to time your visit for sunset, you’ll get to enjoy romantic views as the light fades. Once it gets dark, the atmosphere in the candle-lit restaurant is absolutely magical. Nikolai’s Roof is the perfect venue to celebrate a special occasion or have a date night.
Enjoy your Visit to Atlanta!
Atlanta’s popularity and growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. In a city this size, there truly is something for everyone to do. Whether you want to enjoy all kinds of dining, spend time outdoors, go shopping, or visit historic sites, you’ll find those things and more. Come to Atlanta for yourself to see why so many people want to be here.