If you mention Atlanta to me, I picture Gone with the Wind: stately rows of homes in the city, antebellum mansions in the countryside. Fragile, pale white women wear corsets and bell-shaped skirts. They fan themselves in the sticky heat while they gossip and complain. In the background, enslaved blacks work ungodly hours to help the whites maintain their “genteel” way of life.
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Of course, I know perfectly well that Atlanta is nothing like that today, thank goodness. Atlanta is a modern, booming, diverse city of half a million people, and since it was mostly burned to the ground in the Civil War, there isn’t much left of that supposedly genteel society.
I went to Atlanta once, many years ago before I was a blogger. I was just passing through and spent a day with some local friends, without doing any sightseeing. But as you can imagine, I do a lot of travel planning (i.e. dreaming). If I ever go back, here is what I would see in a weekend in Atlanta:
Day 1 of my Atlanta weekend
On my first day I’d focus on history, which means three important sites that together would pretty much take the whole day, I suspect.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park
I’d visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park. While I already have a clear view of his story, this would give me a first-hand feel for the place that incubated greatness. This site includes several buildings:
- Ebenezer Baptist Church is where Martin Luther King, Jr. was baptized and, later, where he was pastor until his death in 1968.
- The Birth Home is where he was born.
- At the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change you can visit King’s grave as well as learn about him, his wife and Mahatma Gandhi.
- There’s also a vintage fire station where you can learn about the desegregation of the Atlanta Fire Department.
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park: 450 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta. All except the Birth Home are open daily 9:00-17:00. The Birth Home is only open for tours led by park rangers operating daily 10:00-16:00, first come first served. Admission: free. Website.
Either of these walking tours would be a good way to learn about the fight for civil rights in Atlanta and about Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Atlanta History Center
My next stop would be the Atlanta History Center to get a bit of background on the city’s history. I’d particularly want to visit the exhibitions about the Civil War and about the original Native American inhabitants.
The center also includes several historic buildings. Smith Farm is a farmhouse from the 1840s with a separate cookhouse and other outbuildings. Swan House is more of a mansion than a house and dates to the 1920s. A log cabin from the early 1800s illustrates how the pioneers lived when this was the frontier and the land it stands on was taken from the local Creek Indians.
At a different site in the middle of Atlanta, the Atlanta History Center also operates the Margaret Mitchell House, where the author of Gone with the Wind lived and wrote. Apparently the guided tour of the house is good at pointing out the inaccuracies in the novel: how it paints such a rosy picture of pre-Civil War Atlanta and the institution of slavery, as well as its racist depictions of the African American characters.
Atlanta History Center: 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, Atlanta. Open Tuesday-Sunday 9:00-16:00. Historic homes open at 11:00. Admission: Adults $23.41, children 4-12 $9.80. Website.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights
The struggle for civil rights and human rights is not just historical but continues today. In a stunning building, this museum looks at both: the struggle back in the 1950s and 60s of the American Civil Rights movement as well as similar movements around the world today.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights: 100 Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, Atlanta. Open Thursday-Saturday 12:00-17:00 and Saturday 10:00-17:00. Admission: $16:00. Website.
Day 2 of a weekend in Atlanta
My second day would be more frivolous, and would include these two sights:
The World of Coca-Cola
For a laugh, I think I’d check out the World of Coca-Cola, which sounds like it’s full of playful yet interesting exhibits. It has a 4D movie theater; a bottle works, where you can see how Coca-Cola is bottled; a scent discovery exhibit where you can learn about aromas, and a tasting room where you can taste lots of other drinks produced by this Atlanta-based company. It would make for a fun few hours!
The World of Coca-Cola: 121 Baker Street NW, Atlanta. (Parking at 126 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd NW, Atlanta.) Hours vary, but usually it’s at least open 10:00-17:00. Some days it opens at 9:00 and/or closes at 19:00. Skip-the-line tickets start at $18 for adults, $14 for children 3-12.
The Delta Flight Museum
I’ve visited the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. several times, and always found it fascinating. I absolutely loved the Aviodrome in Lelystad in the Netherlands. This has something to do, of course, with my general fear of flying. Watching planes take off and land is also something I enjoy. Somehow, it reassures.
So if I went to Atlanta, I’d make sure to visit the Delta Flight Museum. It’s got lots of historic and more recent planes to view, and even has a 737 flight simulator. Once a month, tours take visitors inside a DC-3 passenger plane. If the timing worked right, that would be a real glimpse into the past.
The Delta Flight Museum would combine well with an early arrival or a late departure in Atlanta, because it’s right next to Atlanta’s airport.
Delta Flight Museum: 1060 Delta Blvd., Atlanta. Open Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday 10:00-16:30 and Sunday 12:00-16:30. Closed on Wednesdays. Admission $10-$15. It costs $425 to take 1-4 people on a one-hour simulator flight. Website.
While there’s plenty more to see, these attractions would be on my shortlist if my time was limited to a weekend in Atlanta. I’d get a glimpse of the old Atlanta—the Gone with the Wind version—but since that Atlanta relied on slavery, I’d be happy to see the city that grew from the ashes of the Civil War.
If you’re planning a trip to Atlanta, book your hotel by zooming in and clicking on the map below!
Have you been to Atlanta? What do you recommend seeing?
Note: I originally wrote this article as a sponsored post for a hotel company back in 2016. It’s not sponsored anymore so now (May 2021) I’ve updated and changed it considerably from the original.