From the American Civil War to Martin Luther King, OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan explores historic, cultured, buzzing Atlanta, the capital of the southern US state of Georgia.
It's inspired artistic creations from Gone with the Wind to Driving Miss Daisy. Atlanta - capital of Georgia and powerhouse of the American South - has under half a million inhabitants within its city limits, but over ten times that in its wider metropolitan area.
Atlanta at night. Photo: Atlanta CVB.
Born of the railroad, this Southern end-of-the-tracks was incorporated and renamed Atlanta in 1847, before being well-nigh razed to the ground in 1864 in the American Civil War - becoming the only major American city ever destroyed by war.
After, Atlanta soon emerged as the new Georgia capital, with a distinctive downtown business sector growing skyward in the Roaring 20s. The scrapers of Downtown, Midtown and Buckhead now make Atlanta's three skylines - the Bank of America building being the tallest office building in the US outside New York or Chicago.
Atlanta soon became known as the "City Too Busy to Hate", strengthening minority rights well ahead of other states, and fathering their native son, Martin Luther King.
Atlanta hosted the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996 and they built the world's busiest airport just south of Downtown, making it the hub for Delta and Southwest Airlines. It's also a major conference centre and the economic crux of the South.
Martin Luther King's Birthplace. Photo: Atlanta CVB.
Most of Atlanta's in-town districts are individually easy to walk around, although you really need a car or public transit to move between districts. MARTA is the high-frequency rapid rail and bus network in and around Atlanta - all on the great-value Breeze Card, via top-up credit or unlimited-ride multi-day passes.
SEE 'N' DO
There's a rich history to Atlanta and so plenty of attractions to visit throughout the city.
Starting off to the North: Atlanta History Center (Buckhead) - is one of America's largest collections of Civil War memorabilia with a big exhibit on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games held in Atlanta. It also boasts the historic Swan House and Smith Family Farm, in gorgeous leafy grounds.
High Museum of Art (Midtown) has fine art from the 19th Century onwards, in a modern light-and-airy building, part of the Woodruff Arts Centre which is next to Symphony Hall and the Alliance Theatre. Not far away is Piedmont Park, the largest park in Atlanta. It's very leafy, with plenty of lakes!
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (Sweet Auburn) includes the home where King was born, his local church, a museum, his grave plus eternal flame memorial.
Historic Oakland Cemetery (near Sweet Auburn) contains the graves of almost 7,000 Civil War soldiers, plus Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell. She also has a house & museum of her own but it is not currently open.
Atlanta's three biggest and best attractions are located within two blocks of one another Downtown:
World of Coca-Cola tells the history of arguably Planet Earth's ultimate brand, with Secret Formula Room, 4D cinema and as many samples as you can hold down.
Georgia Aquarium is the world's largest aquarium by water volume, housing sea otters, beluga whales, whale sharks and a Dolphin Show that screams Broadway.
CNN Center Studio Tour provides an hour behind-the-scenes at one of the biggest US news broadcasters which starts on the world's longest single-span escalator.
Centennial Olympic Park features the Fountain of Rings, and the discreet bomb memorial which recognises the first responders who came to the aid of people caught in the 1996 Olympic bombing in Downtown Atlanta. It's dedicated to Richard Jewell, the late security guard scrutinized as a bombing suspect before he was cleared of suspicion during the FBI's investigation.
Center for Civil and Human Rights is also Downtown with theatrical, high-tech interactive exhibits use motion, sights and sounds to immerse visitors in the American Civil Rights Movement, plus human rights activism around the world, from the past to the present day.
The Fountain of Rings at Centennial Olympic Park
Mkimemia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Out to the West - Little Five Points is one of Atlanta’s hippest neighborhoods. Shoppers head to Moreland Avenue’s indie stores for off-beat vintage clothing, vinyl and cool gifts, while young locals hang out at the dive bars, burger joints, and Ethiopian and vegan eateries. The Variety Playhouse, a live music venue in a converted 1940s cinema, hosts an eclectic range of local and national acts. Also there you'll find
Fernbank Museum of Natural History which houses the remains of the largest dinosaur ever discovered.
And back more centrally and going South you'll find Grant Park. It's Atlanta's oldest city park which includes
Zoo Atlanta home to over 1,500 animals from over 220 species, boasting the US's largest zoo collections of gorillas and orang-utans, plus giant pandas.
Atlanta is very big on performing arts, most notably:
Atlanta Ballet - founded in 1929, the oldest professional dance company in America, showing at various venues, including its annual Christmas Nutcracker at the historic and ornate Fox Theatre, an opulent, historic 1920s landmark which was originally built as a Shriner, a US Masonic Headquarters.
A motorcyclist leads the way as they ride down Peachtree Street in the Atlanta Pride Parade.
Photo: Marilyn Nieves
Atlanta Opera - award-winning company, founded in 1979. Based at the vast, hi-tech Cobb Energy Performance Center, the company stages several high-quality productions a year, oft featuring amazing digital scenery projections and a treasure trove of original content that you can stream on all your favorite devices.
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra - based in Symphony Hall in the Woodruff Arts Centre in Midtown, next to the Alliance Theatre and High Museum of Art, and renowned for its creativity and innovation, and its support for young musicians.
New American Shakespeare Tavern - home to the American Shakespeare Company (ASC), the first US troupe to complete the production of all 38 of The Bard's plays. Atmospheric Elizabethan tavern setting, where many come early pre-show to enjoy a tasty meal, deserts then served at the interval. The company is a pretty unique all-pro Shakespearian rep, with high-impact performances of great clarity and flair.
Alliance Theatre - busy repertory company in the Woodruff Arts Centre in Midtown, next to Symphony Hall and High Museum of Art. Mounts wonderful dramas, often with a local Southern flavour.
BOP, BOOZE 'N CRUISE
Atlanta's original gayborhood, cultural Midtown is still the core of LGBT life in Atlanta, hubbed around the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue. Just north east of Midtown, Ansley Mall and Cheshire Bridge Road have more recently become a beacon for LGBT partygoers.
LGBT community and their friends and families line Peachtree Street for the Atlanta Pride Parade.
Photo: Marilyn Nieves
The Ansley Square and Ansley Mall shopping complex being a virtual gay courtyard of gay bars and retail shops. Yet further north, Atlanta's wealthiest district, Buckhead, is famed for its shopping, for being home to Atlanta's only gay sports bar (Woofs), and for being part-time home to Sir Elton John.
You might consider planning your trip around the Out on Film LGBT cinema festival or Atlanta Pride, both every October.
Atlanta Pride is the largest Pride event in the South East of the United States, and often has more than 300,000 people attending.
BARS AND CLUBS
Make sure you visit: BJ Roosters which is a busy bar with go-go boys.
Blake's on the Park which is fairly central and busy with lots of drag, or neighborhood bars Felix's and
Hideaway both of which are friendly local venues, and Tripp's who serve some of the stiffest gay drinks from their bar on Piedmont Circle.
Atlanta Gay Pride
Photo: JD Harvill from Atlanta, USA
CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
For food and drink in Piedmont Avenue you'll find X Midtown (TEN), a gay bar & grill with a bistrolike southern kitchen known for its fried chicken options & buzzy bar scene at night and Midtown Moon a gay bar with karaoke, drag shows & other live entertainment and some classic pub grub.
There are also two gay video bars to look out for on that street. They are Mixx and Oscars.
Later in the evening also check out gay house 'n hip-hop club Bulldogs which is always worth a visit, as is Heretic, a bit of a labyrinthine nightclub. For late night relaxation or maybe some extra excitement, if you are lucky, try gay spa FLEX on 4th Street.
To the west of Downtown there's Ponce City Market and Poncey Highland which is home to Ponce de Leon Ave, and one famous gay bar called
Friends on Ponce. This as you would expect is a zero attitude bar where making friends is not just easy it's their Motto! Enjoy a
relaxed atmosphere, good prices and heavy pours. Going South to Glenwood Ave Mary's is a compact gay and mixed bar with karaoke and DJs spinning alternative tunes.
Future Atlanta in Lower Alabama St is a club on two levels known for Shameless Sundays, Dragnificent Tuesdays, Karaoke Wednesdays and
their Disco Dollz show on Fridays. Their Saturday cabaret performances include the famed Fantasy Girls show with fun, theatrics and glamour provided in a seated dinner setting.
As we mentioned, the city's only gay sports bar is called Woofs and it's to the North in Piedmont Road, Buckhead. Woofs sponsors several local
gay sports teams and organizations and also supports a variety of non-profit LGBT organisations and programs.
HOTELS TO STAY
If you have some money to spend, one of the best restaurants in Atlanta is Livingston. It's in the Downtown area and set in the former lobby of the historic "modern classic" Georgian Terrace Hotel, overlooking the likewise historic Fox Theatre. The Livingston serves a wide menu of excellent food throughout the day and evening - think walnut ravioli followed by carrot cake with ginger glazing! It offers an old-meets-new airy atrium alongside a historic ballroom, vintage barrel-matured whisky bar and cute little Café Mims, plus highly scenic roof-top gym and pool deck.
Hooked up to the airport and wider city via MARTA, W Atlanta - Midtown combines a large hotel with the chic and staff-care normally associated with smaller boutique affairs. They have a Whiskey Park bar, the TRACE restaurant and offer free morning coffee or noisy evening cocktails together with a 5th Floor WET Deck and Bliss Spa.
Nearby neighbor, the Loews Atlanta has a lively, ambient 'Bar Eleven' behind the spectacular lobby, mixing up cocktails and martinis alongside craft beers and fine wines. Their adjoining eatery 'eleven' dishes up a tasty, saucy fusion in that magic culinary space where Southern meets French, from clams and oysters to juicy rib-eye steak.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK
BJ Roosters (2345 Cheshire Bridge Road NE; facebook)
Blake's on the Park (227 10th St; Website)
Bulldogs (893 Peachtree St NE; Website)
Felix's (1510 Piedmont Ave NE; Website)
FLEX (76 4th St NW; Website)
Friends on Ponce (736 Ponce de Leon Ave; Website)
Future Atlanta (50 Lower Alabama St, 180 SW; T: +1 470-225-1955; Website)
Heretic (2069 Cheshire Bridge Road; Website)
Hideaway (1544 Piedmont Ave NE; Website)
Livingston (659 Peachtree Street NE; T: +1 404 897 5000; Website)
Loews Atlanta (1065 Peachtree Street NE; T: +1 404 745 5000; Website)
Mary's (1287 Glenwood Ave SE, East; Website)
Midtown Moon (1492 Piedmont Ave NE; T: +1 404-343-6514; facebook)
Mixx (1492 Piedmont Ave NE; facebook)
Oscars (1510 Piedmont Ave, Ansley Square Shops; Website)
Tripp's (1931 Piedmont Circle; Website)
W Atlanta Midtown Hotel (188 14th Street, NE; T: + 1 404 892 6000; Website)
Woofs (494 Plasters Ave. NE, Suite 200; T: +1 404 869-9422; Website)
X Midtown (TEN) (990 Piedmont Ave NE; T: +1 404-347-3360; Website)
The great-value Atlanta CityPASS allows free entry to top attractions:
Georgia Aquarium; World of Coca-Cola; Inside CNN Studio Tour; Zoo Atlanta and/or Atlanta History Center; High Museum of Art and/or Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Available from: www.citypass.com/atlanta.
Revised August 2022.