Atlanta is the capital of the U.S. state of Georgia. It played an important part in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Don’t expect to find a romantic southern city, but rather a large and vibrant American city with southern charm and plenty of things to see and do. Its tourist attractions range from the arts to sports and include historic sites, museums, and gardens.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Atlanta is from March to May, when you can take advantage of mild weather while enjoying the city’s concerts and outdoor activities. Though you’ll also have access to various events between June and August, Atlanta summers are notoriously hot and humid, and room rates are at their highest.
Top Places to Visit in Atlanta
1. Georgia Aquarium
One of the top things to do in Atlanta with kids, the Georgia Aquarium features a wide variety of marine life and some very interesting and interactive activities for visitors. The world’s largest aquarium, it houses more than 100,000 aquatic creatures, including the largest in the ocean – whale sharks. You can see rare albino alligators and watch as trainers interact with California sea lions. One unique option offered by the Georgia Aquarium is the opportunity to dive or snorkel in the tank with the sharks. To participate in the dive program, visitors must have SCUBA diving certification. For those not looking to get wet, the aquarium also has an acrylic tunnel to walk through and view fish swimming on all sides.
2. Atlanta Botanical Garden
The Atlanta Botanical Garden offers a lovely space with a variety of well laid out gardens, including formal flower beds and majestic trees that frame the urban landscape of Midtown Atlanta. The Botanical Garden is a great place year-round, with something always in bloom. Spring is, of course, an amazing time with a riot of colors. Some of the highlights include the Orchid Display House in the Fuqua Orchid Center, the Winter Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Conservation Garden, and the Desert House. Two of its major specialties are the Rose Garden and the hydrangeas, each of which comprise the largest collections in the southeast.
3. Atlanta History Center
The Atlanta History Center is a large complex that comprises the Atlanta History Museum, Centennial Olympic Games Museum, Swan House, Smith Family Farm, and the Kenan Research Center, along with a number of historic gardens. The History Museum features changing exhibitions and a permanent collection with topics such as the American Civil War, Folk Art of the South, and various other exhibits related to the history of Atlanta.
4. Oakland Cemetery
The Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta began as six acres in 1850. It was originally designed as a garden cemetery. Over the years, particularly during the time of the Civil War, the site grew, accommodating those killed on the battlefield. Eventually the cemetery came to encompass 88 acres. In 1884 the cemetery stopped selling plots. Eventually this once lovely cemetery fell into disrepair as those tending the plots moved away or died. In 1976 Oakland Cemetery was declared a National Historic Landmark and the Historic Oakland Foundation was established. In combination with the city the organization has done much work to maintain the cemetery. Today it is promoted as a historic cemetery and parkland with gardens, sculptures, and wildlife. There is even a Visitor Center and Museum Shop.
5. Stone Mountain Park
One of the most popular places to visit near Atlanta is Stone Mountain Park, 16 miles east of the city center in DeKalb County. At its center is Stone Mountain, an 863-foot-high mass of exposed granite with a circumference of five miles. On the east flank of the hill is a relief of the three Confederate leaders, President Jefferson Davis and his two generals, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, hewn from the rock between 1923 and 1970. But there is much more to do here than see this memorial to Confederate soldiers, who fell in the Civil War. You can climb to the top of the hill or ascend by cable car, and around it runs a 1940s locomotive on a five-mile circuit through the park. There are endurance courses of suspended rope walks and bridges through the treetops, a petting farm for small children, a land/lake tour on a 1940s Army DUKW that includes some local history, a restored antebellum plantation, and a museum with Native American artifacts and exhibits.
6. Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Opened in 1992, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History portrays the nature and environment of Georgia, as well as technical and scientific phenomena with the aid of modern techniques. Some of the most eye-catching exhibits at the museum are the huge dinosaur statues at the entrance and the dinosaur skeletons in the Great Hall. Perhaps more entertaining are the interactive displays of the “Sensing Nature.” There are many other interesting exhibits on the natural history of the local landscape and cultures from other parts of the world. Even the floors are attention-getting, made of limestone tiles with embedded fossils. A huge gallery is dedicated to temporary and traveling exhibits, and an IMAX theater shows nature-related films.
7. Piedmont Park
Located just a short distance northeast of downtown Atlanta, Piedmont Park is the oldest and largest park in the Atlanta metro region. The grounds were the site of the Battle at Peach tree Creek during the Civil War. In addition to providing walking and running trails, the park has off-leash dog parks, gardens, sports fields, a lake with fishing piers, children’s playgrounds, a swimming pool at the Piedmont Park Aquatic Center, and a splash pad for children at the Legacy Fountain. Local farmers and artisans gather on Saturdays at the Green Market, where you may find everything from fresh peaches, handmade soaps, and smoked meats to biscuits, Irish pancakes, sheep cheese, and sheep milk caramel. Look for chef demonstrations every Saturday from 11am until noon. On Saturday mornings April through November at 11 am, you can learn about the park’s history on a free guided walking tour, and on the first Saturday of every month, Piedmont Park Conservancy partners with the Atlanta Audubon Society for bird walks that explore the park’s many different habitats. The park also hosts various events, from musical entertainment to fitness programs.