It was a city I didn’t know much about — but when my mom was traveling for business, I took advantage of a free hotel room and set out to spend 48 hours in Atlanta. The city surprised me with all it had to offer – from some of the best ribs I’ve tasted to one of the coolest parades I’ve ever attended. Here’s how I spent 48 hours in Atlanta.
Things to Do: 48 Hours in Atlanta
See the City from Above
There are two cool ways to get a bird’s eye view of downtown Atlanta: the SkyView Atlanta ferris wheel and the Sun Dial Restaurant atop the Westin. The ferris wheel costs about $14 for adults, and it’s located right next to the Centennial Olympic Park, which was used for the 1996 summer olympics. When you’re up in the sky, you’ll be able to easily spot other Atlanta landmarks like the Georgia Dome, the CNN Center, and the World of Coca Cola.
To get to the Sun Dial Restaurant for another perspective, you’ll ride a glass elevator to Level 72 of the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel. There you’ll find 360-degree views of Atlanta for just $8 per adult.
Learn about the History of the Civil Rights Movement
Atlanta is the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King, and today is home to the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Located in the historic Old Fourth Ward, the site is completely free to visit and should definitely be on the agenda during 48 hours in Atlanta. The Visitor Center serves as a small museum, where I learned more about the civil rights movement than I ever did in any school class on American history. It’s simply a must visit.
The most popular part is MLK’s birth home, where he lived the first 12 years of his life. You can also visit one of the south’s first desegregated firehouses and the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. Tours of MLK’s birth home are offered on a first come, first serve bases and can only accommodate 15 people at a time. As poor planners, we weren’t able to get one – but interested and better-informed visitors can sign up in the Visitor Center. Get there early and be prepared: you may have to wait several hours for a tour.
Explore the BeltLine
If there’s one thing I didn’t love about Atlanta, it’s that the city isn’t very walkable. The different neighborhoods are spread out, and public transportation options are not great. However, the city is making strides to improve. Case in point: after riding the ferris wheel, we were able to take the newly-launched Atlanta Streetcar from Centennial Olympic Park to the King Historic District.
Another project the city has undertaken is the Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile stretch that is being converted from abandoned railroad tracks into a bike-friendly and pedestrian path. While it’s not yet complete, it’s already become really popular and plays host to cool events like the Lantern Parade, which takes place every September. I happened to be in town during the parade, and it was such an awesome experience – hundreds of people showed up carrying lanterns they had made for a kind of DIY parade. It’s great to see a city creating and promoting green spaces and public art like this.
Visit Little Five Points
Located on the east side of Atlanta, Little Five Points is one of the most unique neighborhoods in the city. It’s known for being “alternative,” meaning it’s packed with graffiti-covered walls, hipster coffee shops, vintage shops, and smoke shops. There are a number of fun bars and restaurants to check out in the area, too. I have to say, it was refreshingly different from where we were staying in Buckhead, a neighborhood known for its posh eateries and upscale shopping (to me it felt like a crowded suburb).
One place we visited was Wrecking Bar Brewpub. If you didn’t know you were entering a brewery, the building itself would never give it away: it’s a 20th-century Victorian home that’s also served as a church. But in the basement, there’s a cozy brewpub where you can sample craft beers and some pretty good food, to boot.
Eat Something Bad
Ok, so maybe this is more of a personal preference, but anytime I find myself in the south, all dietary considerations are out the window. For example, when I spent a weekend in Dallas, I polished off an entire barbecue meal after consuming a Bloody Mary with enough toppings to be considered two meals itself. In Atlanta, our hotel concierge suggested Fat Matt’s Rib Shack as the place to indulge.
Apparently it can get crazy busy, but on a September Saturday afternoon, we lucked out with only a short line. Fat Matt’s is, quite literally, a shack. It’s no frills, but they serve delicious ribs and beer for cheap and have fun live music. What more could you want?
48 hours in Atlanta turned out to be educational, entertaining, and… filling. I didn’t expect much from the city and did practically no research prior to the trip – but I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. Given that Atlanta is such an important connection airport (Delta is headquartered there), I’m sure I’ll find myself stopping by again in the future for more ribs and more adventures!