Few cities in the US have the diversity of Atlanta; the people, the shopping and the food are a rich meld of cultures, histories, and global influences. From upmarket Buckhead to Downtown’s main tourist attractions and business area, the city is an enticing mix of neighbourhoods that celebrate their individuality.
But there is more to the city than its cosmopolitan sheen; Atlanta was also pivotal to America’s modern history and gave birth to the Civil Rights Movement.
Located in the northern half of Georgia, Atlanta’s landscape is one of undulating hills and tall trees that shield the ‘City in a Forest’ from the summer sun. Atlanta lies in the Piedmont region, wedged between rugged mountains to the north and a flat coastal plain to the south. Its unique geographical position has made it the transportation core of the South since the 19th century.
From meagre beginnings as a small railroad town, Atlanta has become a booming cultural, economic, and historical epicentre offering traditional Southern hospitality with modern flair. This was proven when the city hosted the 1996 Olympics.
Despite being a sprawling city, Atlanta is easy to negotiate. Begin your exploration in Five Points, now considered the city centre and referred to by locals as “downtown”. Home to Woodruff Park and Underground Atlanta, an historical shopping area built under viaducts supporting the city’s streets, it’s now a hotspot for shops, fast food and souvenirs. Nearby is the distinctive gold-domed Georgia State Capitol building and museum.
Dotted around Centennial Olympic Park are the CNN Center and, since 2013, the SkyView ferris wheel. Nearby on Marietta Street, the College Football Hall of Fame will open in 2014. Next door in Pemberton Place is the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola and, opening, in 2014, the $30 million National Center for Civil and Human Rights, dedicated to commemorating the struggle for equality and freedom.
To explore the city’s important civil rights history, head to the Martin Luther King, Jr National Historic Site along Auburn Avenue. In 2014, the streetcar returns to Atlanta connecting downtown to Dr King’s birth home, tomb, the famous Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center, established by his wife after his death.
The east side of Auburn Avenue ends at Irwin Street, the start of the Eastside Trail, which connects the thriving neighbourhoods of Inman Park and Virginia Highland, both epicentres of boutique shops and lively restaurants.
The Eastside Trail is a hit with cyclists, rollerbladers and walkers, passing by art installations, new open spaces and Ponce City Market, one of the largest buildings in the Southeast, due to open in 2014 brimming with shops and restaurants.
The trail ends at the sizeable Piedmont Park, the perfect place to stroll and relax on a warm afternoon. Overlooking the park, Atlanta Botanical Garden is a highlight of Midtown, along with arts district favourites, the Fox Theatre and The High Museum, part of the Woodruff Arts Center.
North of Midtown are Atlantic Station, a retail complex, and Buckhead, Atlanta’s premiere shopping district. Endless boutiques line Peachtree Street and designer brands such as Louis Vuitton and Prada can be found within Lenox Square Shopping Mall.