A guide to Downtown Atlanta including the best things to see & do, places to eat, and where to stay. It’s an often overlooked Atlanta neighborhood, but there’s actually a lot of great things to do in central Atlanta
Atlanta is a sprawling city with a lot of suburbs and distinct neighborhoods. It’s one of the biggest cities in the southern USA and its sprawling size probably has something to do with their notorious car traffic. And while the outer neighborhoods of Atlanta all have something unique to offer (including a number of cool things to do!), Downtown Atlanta is still at the heart of the city in location and in spirit.
Downtown Atlanta Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Downtown Atlanta
The American Hotel
Downtown Atlanta is home to most of the city’s biggest hotels. It’s very convenient and quick to reach Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport via public transport from Downtown Atlanta, which is why you’ll find so many hotels in the area. Plus, all the biggest tourist attractions, arenas, and festivals & events take place in the city center, so it’s where most visitors stay.
The American Hotel, however, offers a unique accommodation option different from other cookie-cutter options. It was Atlanta’s first modern hotel and the first in downtown Atlanta to desegregate during the civil rights movement.
With its unique (and important) history, the hotel offers the opportunity to travel back in time to the mid-century, but with all the modern amenities of today. The property is designed in the mid-century modern design style with plenty of cool and unique design features. The hotel also offers a continental breakfast, 24-hour gym, and a small on-site convenience store.
Plan a trip to Atlanta during Atlanta Pride!
Atlanta Pride weekend is in early October, following a week of LGBTQ events and activities. Join thousands of participants in one of the largest pride festivals in the USA. Pride events include a kick-off ceremony at the Georgia Aquarium, a Tea Dance in Piedmont Park, a Stonewall art exhibition, and a pride parade through the city.
Where to Eat & Drink
As the commercial hub of the city, many of the Atlanta restaurants and bars are open during standard business hours, and in the late evenings might be quieter than usual. And despite the highly touristic nature of Downtown Atlanta, there are actually quite a few cool and unique places to grab a bite to eat.
Old Lady Gang Southern Cuisine
One of Atlanta’s hottest TV series exports was Bravo’s series Real Housewives of Atlanta, and fans can catch a glimpse of that ritzy lifestyle at the Old Lady Gang Southern Cuisine restaurant. In the Castleberry Hill neighborhood, just south of Downtown, their flagship restaurant is a buzzy spot for southern soul food classics. And, of course, a boozy Sunday brunch!
Twin Smokers BBQ
Southern food is on the menu when in Atlanta, and Twin Smokers BBQ in downtown Atlanta serves some of the region’s best BBQ. A lot of the menu is inspired by other regional BBQ flavors from across the South, including Texas, North and South Carolina, Kansas City, and Memphis. But what’s on offer at Twin Smokers adds that taste of Georgia to make it unique—and local.
Municipal Market of Atlanta
Also called the Sweet Auburn Curb Market, the food hall originally opened in 1918 as an open-air market, and today has 30 different local businesses in food service—including some of the city’s best restaurants and eateries. Today, it’s on the edge of Downtown Atlanta and the Sweet Auburn neighborhoods in an indoor market hall full that’s especially popular during lunch. Don’t miss the Sweet Auburn BBQ stand, or international bites from local favorites like Arepa Mia.
The legendary restaurant and bar, Trader Vic’s is the home of the original Mai Tai rum cocktail. With a tiki-bar design aesthetic (including a palm-thatched ceiling and Pacific island carvings in the walls & pillars) makes this a fun and funky place. The large, open bar area features a wood-fire stove. Tiki drinks come in stylized cups and the menu features international Pacific Island dishes.
What to Do in Downtown Atlanta
In Downtown Atlanta, the Underground Atlanta shopping complex is a historic mixed-use site with restaurants, shopping, and work spaces over several blocks. Originally opened in 1969, it’s currently under renovation, but it’s a fun way to explore and experience historic Downtown Atlanta.
The Georgia Aquarium is an impressive non-profit organization that’s home to tens of thousands of animals—from the beautifully mesmerizing jellyfish to beluga whales, whale sharks, and stingrays. The Aquarium also participates in important conservation effort around the world; they are the only aquarium in North America to house rescued whale sharks. It’s also one of the world’s largest aquariums so it offers a great way to learn and understand more about life under the sea.
Centennial Olympic Park
Atlanta hosted the 1996 international Olympic Games and the Centennial Olympic Park was the site for a lot of the activity. Today, the park serves as a meeting point and festival grounds for many of Atlanta’s biggest events. A number of Olympic plaques and sites, such as the commemorative rings, are available to see when walking through the park.
World of Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola was founded in Atlanta in the 20th century by a local pharmacist, and the World of Coca-Cola experience offers visitors a chance to learn the history and see what has made the soda drink into one of the world’s most formidable brands. It’s a surprisingly fun, family-friendly experience where you can learn about the iconic brand’s history, watch some of its most iconic advertising, and even taste-test hundreds of Coca-Cola products from around the world.
National Center for Civil and Human Rights
The National Center for Civil and Human Rights documents the civil rights movement with important historical artifacts, letters, photographs, and videos. It’s an emotional journey through American history, specifically focusing on Georgia and the Atlanta region. The center also features an exhibition on civil and human rights movements from around the world, touching on women’s rights, LGBTQ equality, and other crises in modern human history. If you’re unable to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. national park, this museum offers a great way to still learn the history.
CNN Headquarters & Studio Tour
One of the world’s largest news networks, CNN has had its headquarters in Atlanta since its founding. It’s possible to join a studio tour which lets you experience what a newsroom is like, and even offers a view into live studios and the newsroom where many stories break. The CNN Headquarters is located in the CNN Center, a historic building with the world’s longest free-standing escalator (it climbs up 8 stories!).
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Note: My trip to Atlanta was sponsored and supported by Hiltons of Atlanta. All opinions here, as always, are my own.