As cities go, Atlanta was very easy to navigate and enjoy but here are some tips I would definitely pass along to first time visitors:
-Save your money by eschewing cabs and instead make use of MARTA, the city’s public transportation system. MARTA rail takes visitors to and from the airport in less than 30 minutes with stops at major stations like Peachtree Center, Midtown, and Arts Center. A ride on MARTA will cost a fraction of what it would if taking a cab. While there are certain neighborhoods that MARTA rail does not serve, for most visitors, it does hit the “highlights” (e.g. Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Aquarium, Coca-Cola World). If you plan to ride it more than once, definitely invest in the Breeze card. You can get everything from unlimited day passes (1-4 days) or even specific number of trip passes. I found the rail cars to be extremely clean and MARTA staff was always pleasant and helpful. For reference, a single trip costs $2.50 while a 3 day pass (unlimited number of rides) costs $16.
-If I have the choice, I always prefer trains (subways, elevated trains) to buses. I know there are some people who actually like buses more, namely the fact they like being street level and seeing exactly where they’re going. For me, the nerve wracking thing about buses in a new city is that buses, unlike trains, will never make all stops if someone either hasn’t requested to get off or no one new is waiting to get on. This can be tricky when needing to get off at an exact stop. But back to Atlanta buses. I’m used to bus stop signs listing the routes that stop there (it’s like this in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago). In Atlanta, there are bus stop signs, but no actual route numbers are listed. Seeing as how bus routes can change/stops can be discontinued, I found this a bit “unhelpful” as a visitor since you can’t always entirely rely on the fact that Bus #2 will indeed be stopping at the intersection of X and Y streets. The reason for this point is that when we went to the Martin Luther King birthplace area, we’d planned on taking a bus over to Oakland Cemetery as it was relatively near and the bus stop was only a few blocks away. We discovered that we would have had to wait for almost 30 minutes for the next bus. We decided to skip the cemetery and instead try to take a bus back to our hotel. We didn’t like the fact that none of the signs were listing actual bus routes and in the entire time we were walking around the King birthplace area (over an hour), we never once saw a bus (even one didn’t want to take). Coming from a major city, it was odd to not see one single bus in all that time. Not to mention, it wasn’t as if we were in some remote, random area. It was crawling with tourists. We ended up calling a cab to take us back for no other reason than fearing we’d be stuck in this area for a lot longer than we wanted to be. The King birthplace area is unfortunately one section that MARTA trains don’t go anywhere near. The city is currently constructing a trolley line that will actually go right near it from the downtown, but when we were there it wasn’t operating yet. If you do need to take a bus, just get specific and current information from someone at your hotel.
-Unlike some other major American cities, parts of Atlanta’s downtown were quite dead in the late afternoon and especially during the evenings. Its downtown was very much a 9-5, Monday-Friday kind of setting, especially in regards to restaurants and other food establishments. We were never out very late, but when it’s dark, it’s dark, so the streets can always appear somewhat more intimidating. I never felt uneasy while walking on some of the deserted streets, but I also always walk with a purpose and don’t linger. So if you do happen to be out on the streets after dark, just be sensible.
-Take advantage of the city’s free attractions, most notably the Martin Luther King historic area (the graves of him and his wife, his childhood home, the National Park Service Visitor’s Center), Oakland Cemetery and Olympic Centennial Park. While two are old and the other new, all are replete with history and greatly connected to the city. So, when you tire of spending more than $15 a person on visits to the Georgia Aquarium and CNN Studio Tower, remember these three places.
-While Atlanta is often called the “New South,” a city of modern skyscrapers filled with transplants from all across the country, it hasn’t betrayed its roots, at least from a culinary standpoint. Some of the best traditional Southern food can be found right here in the “New York of the South.” You can’t go wrong with dining at Mary Mac’s Tearoom, a staple in the city’s Midtown neighborhood for more than 50 years, and serving nothing but incredible home cooked classics at wallet friendly prices.
-If you decide to see a Braves game and don’t want to pay for a cab or drive yourself, you can take the MARTA Braves Shuttle which transports passengers between the Five Points station and Turner Field on game days. If you already have a Breeze pass you can use that; otherwise getting there costs the same as a normal ride on the bus or trains.
While brief, I really did enjoy my time in Atlanta and look forward to returning in the future to try out more of its restaurants and catch the sights I missed the first time around.