AOL PICK from our Editors
When you leave Atlanta, you can count on two things: You’ll have learned something—maybe a lot—and you’ll have had a bunch of fun. Whether your idea of a good time is soaking up high culture at a museum or just enjoying the sights with your companions (especially if you have kids), Atlanta delivers. Kids of all ages love the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca Cola and Stone Mountain Park, a few of the best things to do in Atlanta, while the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, the Federal Reserve Bank and the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum provide great learning experiences for the whole family. Be aware that admission prices for some of the best things to do in Atlanta can be steep: We recommend the Atlanta City Pass
which will grant you entry to six of the top things to do in Atlanta, the best five of which are included in our top ten below. The adult CityPass is just $74, and for kids it's $54—the Georgia Aquarium portion alone (which includes a Quick Dip tour) would set you back more than half of that. CityPass also allows you to bypass lines in many locations.
Neighborhood: Grant Park
One of the country's oldest continuously operating zoos, Zoo Atlanta got its start in 1889 when a traveling circus broke down in the city. The zoo now houses 1,300 animals from 220 species, including the nation's largest collections of gorillas and orangutans. It's also one of only four American zoos where giant pandas reside and contains one of North America's most diverse collections of reptiles. The parakeet exhibit, which just opened in 2009, is very cool. Called Boundless Budgies: A Parakeet Adventure exhibit, it will let you hand feed some of the more than 500 free-flying parakeets. Zoo Atlanta is one of the best things to do in Atlanta with kids, the exhibits will keep the family busy for hours. The zoo is open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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Neighborhood: Stone Mountain
Georgia’s most popular tourist attraction covers 3,200 acres of park, lake, and woodlands about 15 miles east of Atlanta proper. It's named for the mountain it straddles. While quite large, it's not the world’s largest free-standing piece of exposed granite as some claim. It’s probably best known for its bas-relief sculpture—which genuinely is the biggest in the world—of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Stone Mountain State Park is one of the top things to do in Atlanta for families. A number of fun, family-friendly and outdoors options include Sky Hike, America's largest adventure course. The Summit Skyride, which takes riders to the top of Stone Mountain, offers gorgeous views of Atlanta and the Appalachians—a must when the fall leaves are turning. If heights make you giddy, the open-air Scenic Railroad takes a less direct but just as beautiful five-mile journey around the peak. There's also an antebellum plantation, a collection of preserved buildings from late 18th to late 19th century Georgia that showcase what plantation life was really like. The park is open year round, but during spring and fall some attractions are open only on weekends.
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Take a 55-minute behind-the-scenes tour of the news giant that helped put Atlanta on the international map. You’ll tour a replica of the CNN control room, look into the real newsroom from above, and, rather randomly, see the world's longest freestanding escalator. Specialty tours include the Inside CNN Morning Express Tour, where you can watch host Robin Meade present the Headline News Morning Express show live and the Inside the Conversation Tour, which takes you behind the scenes with Rick Sanchez for his show Rick's List. Phone reservations for the main tour are recommended (call at least one week in advance to guarantee yourself a spot), and tickets for the pricier specialty tours can be booked in advance online. If you’re a news junkie—or a fan of Sanchez or Meade—this will give you the inside line of what their work is all about.
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Covering 30 acres in Midtown’s Piedmont Park, this gorgeous garden complex is a collection of themed gardens that wow you with botanical splendor while gently educating you about these environments. At a minimum you’ll want to see the Japanese garden and the unexpected and wonderful Dorothy Chapman Fuqua Conservatory, which showcases flora from tropical and desert climes, along with the adjacent crowd-pleasing Fuqua Orchid Center. It houses the largest permanent orchid display in the United States, and plays host to the annual wintertime Orchid Daze, when exhibitions of rare and beautiful orchids are paired with art and performances. There are also a rose garden, a children's garden and woodland areas to explore if you have the time. Atlanta Botanical Gardens is one of the best things to do in Atlanta if you're visiting in the spring. The garden is open Tuesdays to Sundays year round, with longer hours from April to October.
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An unlikely source of excitement, the Visitors Center and Monetary Museum of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta never ceases to incite uncontrollable drooling, as guests watch millions of dollars being counted, sorted and (gasp) shredded. Also included are more mundane but educational elements like a display on the history of money, examples of rare coins and currency and a multimedia explanation of the Federal Reserve’s role in the economy. Admission is free, and you can even walk away with a bag of shredded cash as a souvenir.
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This totally modernized incarnation of the popular World of Coca Cola reopened in 2007 after a massive overhaul. It presents a bubbly array of Coke-related exhibits including a 4D theater (that's 3D with moving seats), a Pop Art gallery, global drink samples from over 60 products, and, unsurprisingly, the world's largest collection of Coca Cola memorabilia. Sure it’s a big ol’ commercial for pricey sugar water—and some grumble about the steep admission prices ($15 for adults, $10 for kids)—but kids love it and so do we. The World of Coca Cola remains one of the top things to do in Atlanta, especially for families visiting with young kids. An average visit takes about 90 minutes. Open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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Neighborhood: Druid Hills
The Michael C. Carlos Museum is the Southeast United States' largest collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome and the ancient Americas. It features a number of items from Africa and Asia as well. Housed in a Michael Graves-designed building on the campus of Emory University, the museum was named for its main benefactor, Michael C. Carlos, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based wine and spirits wholesaler National Distributing Company. You won't get to see the mummy of Ramses I (which the museum purchased in 1999, and then—showing real Southern manners— graciously returned to Egypt after it was positively identified), but you will see many important and astounding artifacts, such as the childhood mask of Tutankhamen and the coffin of Tanakhtnettahat. Closed Mondays.
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A must for Gone With the Wind fans (but a potential bore for others), this is the home of the famed novelist. Guided tours take visitors through the Crescent Avenue apartment—which Mitchell herself called "The Dump"—where she wrote her epic, while a separate exhibit traces her life and times. A third focuses on the classic film, tracing its journey from adapted screenplay to casting and production to its debut as a cinematic blockbuster. The house and museum are open every day but Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Day, and New Year's Day.
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Neighborhood: Sweet Auburn
This multi-building complex in Sweet Auburn movingly honors the places where civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, worked, worshipped and is buried. The best place to start is at the National Park Service Visitor Center, where you can register for a tour of Dr. King's boyhood home—led hourly by park rangers on a first-come, first-served basis. The tours are strictly limited to 15 people per tour so they fill up fast on weekends and holidays. Other attractions include the Ebenezer Baptist Church (where Martin Luther King—both Jr. and Sr.—were pastor) and the King Center, dedicated to advancing Dr. King's legacy. Visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site is one of the best things to do in Atlanta to educate your children, and yourself, about civil rights and our nation's continuous journey to equal rights for all. It’s impossible to understand modern America without understanding the struggle for civil rights, and Dr. King was the vortex of the movement that is still transforming us today. This tour makes his journey—and the journey of the civil rights movement—personal and intriguing. Admission is free, as is parking, and the site is open year round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
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Built largely with a generous $250 million gift from Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, this is the largest aquarium in the world. It houses 100,000 animals from 500 species in a staggering 8 million gallons of fresh and salt water. Distinct exhibits focus on tropical, cold water, ocean and river creatures, and there's a separate shark tank. Start at Ocean Explorer, which at 6.5 million gallons is the world’s largest fish tank, then see the specialized exhibits that interest you most. Great attention is paid to kid-friendliness at the aquarium, and the wee ones simply love it. General admission is $26 for adults and $19.50 for children, and parking is extra. Behind the Scenes tours, while interesting, can tack on another $40 or so per person. If you’ve ever wanted to get up close and personal with a penguin or a whale shark (the world’s largest fish), this is your chance and it’s a lot less than a ticket to South Africa or the South Pacific. The Aquarium’s African penguins (also known as “Jackass penguins” due to their loud braying) can be noisy, but they’re adorable! It's open every day of the year, though opening times vary. Check the Aquarium’s website for details.
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