Atlanta city guide
Rapidly growing but still full of quaint Southern charm, Atlanta has emerged as an internationally relevant city, rich in history and progressive in its growth. The “Capital of the New South” is worth visiting for many reasons, sports high among them. With three teams in the major pro sports, a strong college athletic scene and a legacy as the host of the 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta can satisfy the appetites of any sports fan.
If you’re coming to see sports, you’ll find there’s plenty to do when you’re not at the games. So reserve some time for sightseeing as well. Below you’ll find some suggestions for spending your time in the Deep South’s biggest metropolis.
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Atlanta’s sports scene is changing significantly, with two new venues and one new team. The Falcons and Braves both moved into new digs in 2017. The Braves left the central city area for a suburban ballpark, while the Falcons’ futuristic-looking Mercedes-Benz Stadium was constructed next door to the site of the Georgia Dome, their home for more than 20 seasons. Meanwhile, Turner Field, the Braves’ old home just south of downtown, has been converted into the new home stadium for Georgia State football.
The city’s new MLS team, Atlanta United FC, began play in 2017, starting life using Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium as its home venue before moving into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in late summer.
• Mercedes-Benz Stadium: Home of the Falcons and Atlanta United FC. Located at 1414 Andrew Young International Boulevard NW.
• Philips Arena: Home of the Hawks. Located at 1 Philips Drive.
• SunTrust Park: Home of the Braves. Located at 755 Battery Avenue SE in Cobb County, north of downtown Atlanta.
The main entry point for visitors is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), which by some measures is considered the world’s busiest airport. it’s the primary hub for Delta Airlines, which offers flights to and from just about every other city it serves from Atlanta. Most major American carriers offer some level of service to the city as well. The airport is located about eight miles south of downtown via Interstate 85.
Drivers into the city can use Interstates 75, 85 and 20, which connect the region with such cities as Chattanooga, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte, N.C. All three interstates run through downtown Atlanta, with I-75 and I-85 merging into one north-south route that cuts through the heart of the city core.
Where to stay
Downtown and Midtown, just north, have the highest concentration of hotels in the region, and nearly every major brand is represented. Philips Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium are located among several other major attractions, including the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park, and thus have numerous major hotels within walking distance. Another district to consider is Buckhead, which lies about seven miles north of downtown, making it more convenient to SunTrust Park and is a popular spot for restaurants and nightlife.
Atlanta’s road grid is generally straightforward but can be confusing in one respect: the curiously large number of streets that have the word “Peachtree” in their names (more than 70 depending on who you ask). In downtown there’s Peachtree Center Avenue NE and Peachtree Street SW in close proximity to each other, and in Midtown, you’ll find Peachtree Street NE and West Peachtree Street NE running parallel to each other. Be sure to double-check the address of the location you’re headed and examine a map before heading out.
If you don’t have a car, you can get to most places of interest using Atlanta’s MARTA train system, consisting of four rail lines traveling either north-south or east-west. Every MARTA train, no matter the line, stops at Five Points station, located downtown about a half-mile from Philips Arena. Even better for the thrifty traveler, the southern terminus of MARTA’s Red and Gold lines is at the airport, and the station exit leads directly into the main terminal.
MARTA does not extend far enough north to reach SunTrust Field, but other forms of transportation such as shuttles, a local circulator and ride-sharing are being touted as ways to get to the ballpark.
Lots and spaces are plentiful at all three pro sports venues. Philips Arena and Mercedes-Benz Stadium share their parking lots with the other major attractions in the area, such as the Georgia World Congress Center and CNN Center. SunTrust Park is part of a mixed retail-entertainment district that includes plenty of parking.
Explore downtown Atlanta
The downtown area is full of tourist attractions, and if it’s your first visit to Atlanta, this is likely where you’ll want to start. The major attractions in the area include World of Coca-Cola (dedicated to the history of one of the world’s most enduring brands), the Georgia Aquarium (the largest aquarium in the world), CNN Center (which offers a tour of the studios and working areas of the cable news behemoth), the College Football Hall of Fame (opened in 2015) and Centennial Olympic Park, site of the bombing that marred the 1996 Games. (If you’re looking for the Olympic cauldron, though, you’ll have to go to the intersection of Capitol Avenue SE and Fulton Avenue, just north of Turner Field, aka the former Atlanta Olympic Stadium.)
More Southern attractions
Atlanta is full of museums that mark its place as a hub of Southern culture and history. Some of the more popular institutions include the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, celebrating the civil rights leader’s legacy; the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, with artifacts from the city’s Civil War days and the 1996 Olympics; the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, with exhibits relating to the country’s 39th president; and the Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, dedicated to the author of the Civil War epic Gone With The Wind.
Experience Deep South cuisine
The mention of Southern food usually conjures up thoughts of fried food and grits, which you can certainly experience in Atlanta, but the city has a more refined food scene. Here are a few suggestions for uniquely Atlantan spots that are popular with tourists and locals alike (all addresses listed are in Downtown or Midtown):
• Fat Matt’s Rib Shack (1811 Piedmont Ave.): Nondescript BBQ joint that’s also well-known for live blues music at night.
• Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles (529 Peachtree Street NE): Soul food offered up by a celebrity restauranteur sounds like the makings of a tourist trap, but the establishment seems to have a good reputation among locals as well.
• Manuel’s Tavern (602 N. Highland Ave. NE): Boasts of being “Atlanta’s quintessential neighborhood bar,” but has the atmosphere, staff and clientele to back it up.
• Mary Mac’s Tea Room (224 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE): Another popular Southern food establishment, serving dishes like shrimp and cheese grits and grilled liver and onions. It’s popular with tourists and locals alike.
• The Varsity (61 North Ave.): The self-proclaimed “World’s Largest Drive-In Restaurant” (it certainly does seem huge), it’s famous for chili dogs, burgers and onion rings.
• The Vortex Bar & Grill (878 Peachtree St. NE): Serving burgers with a wide variety of toppings and a large beer selection in an eclectic atmosphere.
The local college sports scene consists mainly of Georgia Tech, a member of the ACC in most sports. Its campus, which includes Bobby Dodd Stadium (football) and McCamish Pavilion (basketball), sits in Midtown, just west of I-75/85. Many locals support the University of Georgia, which is located 70 miles east of Atlanta in the town of Athens.