Best Midtown Atlanta Attractions

The Midtown Atlanta Hustle and Bustle

Getting a feel for Georgia’s capital is easy, whether you have a week — or a day — to explore attractions in Atlanta, Georgia. All you need is a map, a few suggestions and a sense of adventure.

Something Fishy!

The exterior of the 8 million-gallon Georgia Aquarium (404-581-4000), the world’s largest, was designed to look like a giant ship breaking through a wave. As guests enter the huge atrium inside the building, they’re led into the facility by “a wall of fish” guiding them inside. They then have the choice of entering five galleries. Each gallery is easily identified by an icon and signage at the entrance: Georgia Explorer has a light house; River Scout displays a cascading waterfall; Cold Water Quest has an ice covered cliff; Ocean Voyager offers a peek window into the huge habitat; and Tropical Diver has two video screens displaying the perspective of a fish on a reef. Guests will enter each gallery and then return to the main atrium before entering the next gallery. Visit Georgia Aquarium for information on current exhbits and admission prices.

This Just In…

Go behind the scenes of CNN, CNN International and Headline News on the CNN Studio Tour (CNN Center, Marietta and Techwood Sts., Atlanta, 404-827-2300), which illustrates how these leading news networks prepare and deliver the world’s top stories. The 50-minute guided tour also includes the CNN Special Effects Studio and the CNN Control Room Theater. The VIP Tour, run in small groups, investigates a little deeper in a visit of one hour and 10 minutes and actually takes you onto the newsroom floor. Advance reservations are suggested. Visit CNN Studio Tours for more information.

Entertainment, 19th-Century Style

Long before silent movies, Technicolor and THX were invented, Americans flocked to cycloramas — paintings in the round — for entertainment. Most of these paintings depicted stories of human tragedy and triumph, love and loss, bravery and patriotism. The Atlanta Cyclorama (Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, 404-624-1071), which was created in 1886, is no exception. The 42-foot high, 358-foot-wide painting illustrates the Battle of Atlanta, which was one in a series of Civil War engagements fought Cycloramathroughout Georgia. It is one of three remaining cycloramas in the United States, and today, visitors view it from a rotating theater. The massive painting is enhanced by a three-dimensional diorama, as well as a narration of the battle and how the painting was created.

Olympian Offerings

The $75 million, 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park (265 Luckie St., Atlanta, 404-222-7275) is the centerpiece of downtown Atlanta. With its Fountain of Rings, Great Lawn and Southern Company Amphitheater, the park provides a fantastic setting for a wide variety of outdoor entertainment. The park also connects the Georgia World Congress Center to the hotel district. Just a few miles away, Turner Field (755 Hank Aaron Drive, Atlanta), still sports the freestanding Olympic Cauldron that housed the Olympic flame. Although the city hosted the Olympics in 1996, many other sites in and around Atlanta provide today’s visitors with a brand-new experience, thanks to more than $2 billion worth of Olympic-related improvements. Visit Centennial Olympic Park for the latest happenings at the park.

Home Sweet Home

Auburn Avenue, or “Sweet Auburn,” as it was affectionately called, was the cradle of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born at 501 Auburn Ave., and he, like his father and grandfather before him, preached at nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church (407 Auburn Ave.). Just up the block, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Inc. (449 Auburn Ave., NE., Atlanta, 404-524-1956) enshrines his tomb. The area was also home to former slave Alonzo Herndon, who founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the largest black-owned company in the country. Today, you can visit the company’s headquarters (953 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, NW, Atlanta, 404-659-2100). Visit Sweet Auburn Avenue Events for a current list of happenings and historic buildings to tour.

Coke Is It

Midtown Atlanta is Home to the Coca-Cola CompanyAdjacent to Underground Atlanta, the neon-lit World of Coca-Cola (55 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive at Central Ave., Atlanta, 404-676-5151), is a three-story shrine to the century-old, hometown soft drink that grew up to be a global favorite. It’s a world of fun, from its colorful collection of Coke memorabilia to the “Barnes Soda Fountain,” where an old-fashioned soda jerk demonstrates how early Coca-Cola was made. The self-guided tour also includes “Bottling Fantasy,” a tribute to global beverage bottlers, as well as opportunities to sip soft drinks while viewing commercials from around the world. The last stop on the tour is the Everything Coca-Cola retail store, which is filled with contemporary and nostalgic gifts and collectibles. Visit World of Coca Cola for information on current exhibits and about the upcoming move to a brand-new facility located adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium.

Atlanta on Foot

To sample the city beyond downtown, lace up your walking shoes and join guides from the Atlanta Preservation Center (327 St. Paul Ave., Atlanta, 404-688-3353) on one-hour tours which are the perfect Atlanta tourist attraction. You can choose from six areas, including Historic Downtown; Auburn Avenue/Martin Luther King, Jr. District; and the neighborhoods of Ansley Park, Inman Park and Druid Hills, which was the setting for the film Driving Miss Daisy. Call for more information or visit Atlanta Preservation Center.

Frankly, My Dear…

Gone With the Wind‘s Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler live on at the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum (990 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-249-7015), the place where the author lived when she wrote the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. The house, fully decked out in authentic period furniture, is a majestic turn-of-the-century, three-story Tudor Revival mansion. The restored and renovated building attracts more than 55,000 visitors annually seeking a look at the life of the woman who created fiction’s most famous Southern belle.

Going Underground

Only in Atlanta can you have a historic shopping experience. Underground Atlanta (Peachtree at Alabama St., Atlanta, 404-523-2311) provides a retail experience and history lesson all in one. Here, visitors see where Atlanta rose from the ashes of the Civil War as they browse through six city blocks of shopping, dining and entertainment venues. This urban marketplace has retained all the charm of its 19th-century origins with cobblestone streets and renovated buildings. More than 100 specialty shops, street-cart merchants and restaurants, along with the only Café du Monde outside of Louisiana, are offered.

Stone Faced

The world’s largest relief carving can be found at Stone Mountain Park (Hwy. 73 E., Stone Mountain, 770-498-5690), which is located 16 miles east of downtown Atlanta. The enormous carving of President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson sits on the face of an 825-foot-high granite mountain. Aside from the carving, the park offers a scenic railroad; skylift to the top of the mountain; riverboat complex; beach and waterside complex; a plantation and petting farm; restaurants and shops; and museums. The park’s newest additions include “The Great Barn,” a children’s funhouse opening in November 2001, as well as “Crossroads,” an 1870s town opening in late spring 2002. Visitors can also explore 3,200 acres of lakes, forest and miles of nature trails. There is also tennis, golf, fishing, hiking, camping and more. It’s no wonder that this is Georgia’s most popular attraction!

The Law of the Land

View Atlanta’s lawmaking history on a self-guided tour of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion (391 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, 404-261-1776). Highlights of the stately Greek Revival home include 19th-century American paintings, porcelain and Federal-period furniture. For current lawmaking, head for the State Capitol (Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and Capitol Ave., Atlanta, 404-656-2844), where the governor may be attending a session of the legislature. Guided tours are offered weekdays. The capitol is also home to the Georgia Capitol Museum (404-656-2846).

Food for the Soul

Atlantans take great pride in their hearty regional cuisine. Sample some of the authentic concoctions at Mary Mac’s Tea Room (224 Ponce de Leon Ave., Atlanta, 404-876-1800), where fried green tomatoes is more than just the name of a book. Near the capitol, Silvia’s (241 Central Ave., Atlanta, 404-529-9692) features an impressive range of soul food classics, from collard greens to sweet potato pie. The Collonade Restaurant (1879 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, 404-874-5642) has served down-home favorites since 1927, and Agnes & Muriel’s (1514 Monroe Drive, Atlanta, 404-885-1000) offers American fare with a decidedly Southern twist.

It’s a Jungle Out There

One of the oldest zoos in the United States, Zoo Atlanta (Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Ave., SE, Atlanta, 404-624-5600) features nearly 1,000 rare and exotic animals. Some of the top Atlanta attractions are the giant pandas, Sumatran Tiger Forest and the Orangutans of Ketambe. At the Masai Mara section of the zoo, giraffes, lions, zebras, black rhinos and gazelles roam in remarkable settings reminiscent of their native habitats. Native to China and Nepal, the adorable red pandas Bamboo and Pip are on long-term loan from the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee. Children will enjoy the petting zoo and the Norfolk Southern Zoo Express Train.

Theme Park Heaven

Six Flags Over Georgia (275 Riverside Pkwy., SW, Austell, 770-948-9290) features exciting roller coasters, including Batman the Ride and the themed Gotham City section, complete with all of Batman’s latest crime-fighting devices. Six Flags Over Georgia – Batman the Ride begins at the entrance of the beautifully landscaped park in Gotham City. From there, thrill seekers travel through underground tunnels running beneath Gotham City. After taking the tunnels, they escape to the Batcave and are whisked away on the suspended coaster with gravity forces of 4Gs and speeds of up to 50 mph. Little thrill seekers should check out Bugs Bunny World, chock-full of exciting rides and attractions.