Atlanta is not New York, Chicago or anywhere else. But it is a melting pot of old and new from its architecture to its deepening roots in entertainment and media. So if you're expecting to see what antebellum Atlanta looked like before Sherman burned it to the ground, you'll be disappointed. It's not here.
But if you're looking for an urban experience with a handful of hidden gems and some alternatives to overrated attractions in Atlanta, you've come to the right place.
Unlike many of Atlanta's most celebrated attractions, may of its hidden gems are completely free starting with Atlanta's Central Library branch (One Margaret Mitchell Square, 404-730-1700).
Although Margaret Mitchell destroyed most of her infamous Gone With the Wind manuscript, part of it still exhibits at the Atlanta Library. A permanent exhibit on the fifth floor showcases pieces of the manuscript, the author's library card, an original Gone With the Wind movie script and other rare memorabilia.
If you want to learn more about the author, head to the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum or check their calendar of events for an author reading.
Also in Midtown, the Shakespeare Tavern (499 Peachtree St NE, 404-874-5299) produces dazzling Shakespearean plays since 1984. A British pub menu, beer and wine is available for purchase before the show and during intermission.
Season performances vary, but productions have included The Tempest, Romemo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar and much more. The cast is talented and competitive. It's not unusual for Shakespeare Tavern's performances to rival similar performances in New York.
Over near Grant Park, Oakland Cemetery (248 Oakland Ave SE, 404-688-2107) offers an idyllic stroll through Civil War era and modern gravestones. An urban Atlanta backdrop and ornate cemetery statues and tombs leaves visitors feeling like they've stepped into a different time and place.
Oakland Cemetery is also the final resting place of Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell.
Get ready for live jazz, martinis and IMAX at Fernbank Natural History Museum. Their Friday night Martini's and Imax (767 Clifton Rd NE, 404-929-6400) event invites guests to relax to a live band while sipping on cocktails. You can even take your drink right into the theater come show time.
Guests who just want to listen to jazz and throw back a few drinks can pay a $7 cover and skip the movie. But the charge is waived if you buy an IMAX ticket. Special exhibits at Fernbank are also occasionally open for an additional charge during Martinis and IMAX for an additional charge.
Dubbed "The Shrine", the Shrine of the Black Madonna Cultural Center and Bookstore (946 Ralph D. Abernathy Blvd SW, 404-752-6125)is a non-profit aimed at featuring the creative work of African descent. It is also one of the country's largest and oldest black-owned bookstores.
A church next door is affiliated with the bookstore and practicies Christianity rooted in Black Libertarion Theology. Come for Sunday services or go to the bookstore to browse, attend a book signing or reading and learn more about African American culture.
Once the home of Charles Howard Candler (son of Coca-Cola president Asa Candler), Callanwolde Fine Arts Center (980 Briarcliff Rd NE, 404-872-5338) offers concerts in the garden, film screenings, gallery exhibits, private events, a cafe on site and plenty of fine arts and music classes for all ages.
The Gothic-Tudor style mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located between the Virginia Highland neighborhood and Druid Hills. Check their website in advance for events and hours.
Perhaps one of the best kept secrets in Atlanta, Lullwater Park (on the Clairmont Campus at 1463 Clifton Rd NE at Emory University) situated on the Emory campus nestles the President of the University's home. Lush nature trails, open fields, rustling trees and a suspension bridge creates a retreat from the surrounding setting.
Take a quiet stroll and get inspired before heading over to the nearby, and also underrated, Michael C. Carlos Museum on the Emory campus. The museum houses over 16,000 pieces from ancient Egypt, North and South America, Greece, Rome, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
A surprisingly fun and free tour hides in plain sight in Midtown, Atlanta. The Federal Reserve Bank Monetary Museum allows self-guided tours and guided tours for groups of 10-30 people.
Guests learn about the history of money, illegal wildcat banks and currency including a $10 'Dix' bill. Dix means 10 in French and may have lead to the term "Dixieland." You can also see the bank at work, get a glimpse of a "cash bus" where large sums of money are transported and even get to take home your own bag of shredded cash.
There's plenty more to see and do around Atlanta. Want to mix in a handful of popular spots? Get a 45% off discount on Atlanta attractions:
- The Georgia Aquarium
- World of Coca-Cola
- Inside CNN Studio Tour
- High Museum of Art or Fernbank Museum of Natural History
- Zoo Atlanta or Atlanta History Center
For more savings, check out the free attractions Atlanta has to offer.