A couple weeks ago, we spent 5 days in Atlanta, Georgia. My husband had a technology conference to attend and I tagged along. Atlanta is a quick 4+ hour drive from Charlotte so we made a road trip out of it.
We spent two entire days and our evenings midweek touring the city. I’ve put together a list of the top tourist attractions, a few Instagram-worthy locations, an affordable place to stay and tips on using public transportation. I have also grouped things to do by area so you don’t exhaust yourself and family hopping all over the city. If you are looking for Gluten Free Dining in Atlanta, check out my other blog post.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you purchase from them. Thanks for supporting the free content on this site!
downtown – lodging
Most of the top things to see and do in Atlanta are located in Downtown. Booking a hotel in this area will help you be close to everything. We stayed at the Hilton Atlanta.
- Proximity to tourist attractions
- Proximity to MARTA (public transportation) Peachtree Train Station
- Easy pickup for Uber or Lyft
- Views of the city from the top floor
- Proximity to the Peachtree Center Mall
- Great workout facility
- Walk to main attractions Downtown
- Breakfast is not included
- Parking is $32 per day
- Rooms are slightly outdated
downtown – things to see
1. georgia aquarium – 3 – 4 hours
The Georgia Aquarium had to be the highlight of our visit to Atlanta. This attraction is currently under construction for a new exhibition featuring sharks. It is due to open in the fall of 2020.
This location is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere and it does not disappoint. *TIP: With the construction, you will need to walk all the way around the aquarium to purchase tickets. Save time by using the outdoor kiosks.
Upon entering the main floor of the aquarium, we felt a bit lost. People walking this way and that and no real direction as to a flow of sites to see. We chose to start with the Coldwater Quest and work our way counter clockwise.
The dolphin show is an extra cost so we did not see it. Unfortunately, that is the only way to see the dolphins. 🙁 We did catch the free California sea lion show, which was a cute 15 minute presentation. Until we reached the Tropical Diver and Ocean Voyager sections, we were a bit let down. However, these two areas are the entire draw to this aquarium!
The Tropical Diver has beautiful viewing galleries of jellyfish and seahorses. There is also a living reef exhibit where you can sit and watch accompanied by background music.
The Ocean Voyager is where we spent the majority of our time. You can’t help but get lost in time walking through the underwater tunnel and standing in front of the enormous viewing window watching whale sharks and giant manta rays swim by. We finished the tour watching the beluga whales swimming with one another. Is it me, or are they smiling? *TIP: If you enjoyed your visit, the Georgia Aquarium has live webcams where you can see the beluga whales any time you like.
2. World of Coca-Cola – 1 to 2 hours
Right next door to the Georgia Aquarium is the World of Coca-Cola Museum. As health nuts, we don’t drink soda; however, we aren’t so stuffy that we can’t take part in local attractions. 🙂
Upon entering the World of Coca-Cola Museum, you are offered a free can of Coke. We declined, but asked for water as we were dying of thirst. We were directed to the water fountain by the bathrooms. Big thumbs down on that one Coca-Cola. 🙁
The tour through the facility is well thought out and people flow easily from one exhibit or theater to the next. The theme of the tour is: “Who has the recipe for Coca-Cola?”. Don’t expect to learn too much from this attraction. However, it is entertaining and has lots of hands on exhibits which would be fun for children and families.
The end of the tour includes a bar with every drink around the world that Coca-Cola offers. Drink as much or as little as you like. To exit the facility, walk through the large store selling t-shirts, pajamas and everything you could possibly desire with the Coca-Cola logo on it.
3. Centennial Olympic Park – 30 minutes to 1 hour
When you approached the aquarium and museum, you might have walked right through the Centennial Olympic Park. It is a 22-acre greenspace serving as a commemorative spot for the 1996 Summer Olympics Games. We came back to this spot at night to catch the city lights. My goal was to capture the park and the SkyView from the Southern Company Amphitheater. The pathway designed with commemorative bricks created perfect leading lines to my subject: the Ferris wheel.
4. SkyView Atlanta – 10 minutes
What better way to see the city of Atlanta than at night? It was the perfect ending to our day. You can purchase tickets online or on site. It was a week night and the line was short so we decided to be spontaneous. SkyView Atlanta tickets will run you about $15 per person, which is a little hefty for the 10 minute ride (I think it was shorter, but I wasn’t keeping track. The workers said that was the length of the ride.). However, it is one of the best ways to see the city skyline.
marta: public transportation
As this next site seeing section takes you outside of Downtown, I’m going to share our review of the public transportation system. If you are going to use the transit system multiple times during your visit, purchase a Breeze Card. Normally, each trip you take on MARTA is $2.50. We purchased a 7 Day Marta Pass for $25 per person. We only had to ride the train 10 times to make it worth our while and WE DID! 🙂
The train system is fairly easy to use once you get your bearings. We primarily road the train North and South. It helped that the PeachTree Station was a couple blocks from Hilton Atlanta.
tech square – Things to See
5. Fox Theatre – 1 hour
Unfortunately, we ran out of time and could not see the Fox Theatre. We did pass it along our way to dinner at BareBurger and I caught a glimpse of the exterior. If you are interested in history, architecture and the arts, be sure to book the 60 minute guided tour or better yet, purchase tickets to an event. *TIP: Take MARTA heading North to the North Avenue Station.
6. Ponce City Market – 1 to 3 hours
Upon leaving the North Avenue MARTA Station, it’s a 30 minute walk or 10 minute bus ride to Ponce City Market. The old Sears, Roebuck & Co. building now houses a Food Hall, offices, shops and housing. We tried several of the restaurants, did a little shopping (Anthropologie, for me!) and caught the sunset. Since it was late when we finished up, we caught an Uber back to the hotel for about $8.00.
midtown – Things to See
7. High museum of art – 1 to 3 hours
Take MARTA North to the Arts Center Transit Station. One block away is the High Museum of Art. Bring a snack and wear comfortable shoes because you will be here for a while. *TIP: Pack healthy gluten free, protein bars in your backpack or purse each day. We enjoy RXBars and Evo Hemp Bars. Never go hungry on the go! Currently, there is an exhibition by Romare Bearden. We found this highly interesting coming from Charlotte where we have a park named after him. We knew nothing about the artist until visiting this art museum in Atlanta! As I am a photographer, we spent the remainder of our time in the Strange Light: The Photography of Clarence John Laughlin exhibit.
*TIP: A Instagram-worthy selfie spot is found on the first floor of the High Museum of Art.
8. atlanta botanical gardens – 1 to 4 hours
We walked from the MARTA Arts Center Transit Station all the way to the Botanical Gardens. It was just under 1 mile. Unless it’s a gorgeous day and you have time to spare, take Uber or a bus. ha ha!
We were fortunate to catch the last Thursday night Cocktails In The Garden Event. If you are visiting during the heat of the summer, I highly recommend this. Atlanta had a heat wave while we were there and we appreciated walking the grounds without the warmth of the sun. This event is once per week from May until September. The grounds are open from 5:30 PM – 9:30 PM.
The current exhibit is the Imaginary Worlds of Alice’s Wonderland. There are 11 main sculptures throughout the grounds to look for. I was able to photograph 8 of them. The Earth Goddess had all her greenery removed as the gardens were preparing for Christmas.
Most of the event, and people, were located by the Skyline Garden. Once we found all 11 sculptures and toured the Fuqua Conservatory, we headed for the eastern side of the gardens where the Chihuly Saffron Tower and Water Mirror Staircase were located.
*TIP: If you are looking for a few more Instagram-worthy locations, the Atlanta Botanical Gardens has them everywhere! It’s also an amazing location for portraits.
If you attend the Cocktails In The Garden Event and prefer an easy route back to your hotel, it cost about $8 for Uber to get you back to Hilton Atlanta. They will pick you up at the Visitor Center.
I hope this in-depth travel post has been helpful for you. My goal was to show you how much you can see and do with five days in Atlanta. If you are looking for restaurant recommendations, check out my post Where to Eat Gluten Free in Atlanta. In my review, I’ve included the nearby local attractions so you don’t have to search for someplace to eat after spending hours in the High Museum of Art or the Georgia Aquarium. Thanks so much for reading and enjoy your trip to Atlanta.