Metro Area Cities
Atlanta is located on the Piedmont Plateau, over 1000 foot above sea level and the coastal plains of Georgia. This altitude means that the city is somewhat cooler than other places in the US South, a fact that certainly helped the growth of the city in pre-airconditioning days.
Atlanta benefits from a very large temperature range. Temperatures in winter can go into the low teens, and snowfall is not unknown. Summers are hot and humid, with temperatures commonly reaching 90°F. Rainfall is high in late winter and early spring, and afternoon thunderstorms are common in summer. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit.
Atlanta was originally founded as Terminus in 1836, the name reflecting its function as a railway terminus, and renamed Atlanta in 1847. Atlanta remains a key junction point of the US rail system, with several lines connecting in a complex of junctions within the downtown area.
During the American Civil War, the city became the target of a major Union invasion in the American Civil War as part of Union General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea. Union forces entered Atlanta on September 2nd, 1864 and Sherman ordered Atlanta burned to the ground on November 11 in preparation for his march south. As a consequence almost all of buildings in Atlanta date from after 1864.
In the late 20th century, Atlanta has grown to be a major commercial center and is the home of several major enterprises, including Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola, UPS and CNN. At the same time, Atlanta became one of the major centers of the American civil rights movement. Martin Luther King was born in the city, and his boyhood home on Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn district is preserved by the National Park Service as a National Historic Site; his final resting place is in the tomb at the center of the reflecting pool at The King Center.
In 1996, Atlanta hosted the 26th Olympic Summer Games of the modern era. Sadly the games were marred by a terrorist attack on the Centennial Olympic Park, which killed 2 and wounded many more. Subsequently the games were also criticised for poor transport facilities and consequent traffic congestion, and are regarded by many as the least successful games of recent times. However they have left a legacy of civic improvements and sporting facilities which benefit the visitor.
Atlanta is essentially a place to live and work. There are some interesting things to see in the metro area, but nothing significant enough to motivate a visit to the city from too very far. However it is well worth the trip from cities such as Chattanooga, TN or Athens, GA for big name concerts and excellent dining.
Despite, or perhaps because of, this, Atlanta has become a major conference and exhibition city. Most of the venues are in the area around Peachtree Center, and when there is a large show in town it can sometimes seem like every second person in the city is wearing a name badge.
Atlanta's principal airport is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which is situated 10 miles south of downtown Atlanta. This is often claimed as the busiest airport in the world, and it does have many flights from both US domestic and, to a lesser extent, international destinations.
It should be noted that Hartsfield is largely set up as a hub airport, with much of its traffic being transfer rather than arrival or departure traffic. The airport has a single groundside terminal, connected to 5 mid-airport concourses by underground walkways and rail transit. The concourse furthest from the terminal (concourse E) is dedicated to international flights and all immigration and customs formalities are conducted here. This makes international arrival procedures rather cumbersome. Passengers arriving from overseas will need to clear immigration controls, reclaim hold baggage from a baggage carousel, clear customs, check hold baggage back in, ride the underground transit to the main terminal, reclaim hold baggage again from another carousel, and finally exit the airport.
Hartsfield airport is the terminus of the southern branch of the MARTA rail system (see 'Get Around' below), and for travellers going to locations in downtown, midtown or northern Atlanta this forms a good and economic way of getting there. Most MARTA stations have taxi ranks to aid completion of the journey, and some hotels (especially in the Sandy Springs area) have free shuttles which will collect from their nearest MARTA station on telephone request. Alternatively the airport has the usual complement of taxi ranks, airport shuttle vans and car hire offices.
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Atlanta is served by Amtrak's Crescent train, which runs daily and serves New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Charlotte, Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans (and vice-versa). Southbound, the train leaves New York just before 3pm, calls at Atlanta at around 9am and reaches New Orleans by 8pm. Northbound, the train leaves New Orleans at around 7am, calls at Atlanta at around 8pm and reaches New York by 2pm.
In Atlanta, the train calls at the Amtrak station at 1688 Peachtree St. N.W., which is several miles north of downtown and not well served by local public transport. You will probably need to budget for a taxi to complete the journey.
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Greyhound Bus Lines provide bus service to Atlanta from many locations throughout the US. Buses arrive at, and depart from, the Greyhound terminal at 232 Forsyth Street, which is on the southern edge of the downtown area and directly beneath MARTA's Garnett Station (see 'Get Around' below).
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Atlanta is linked to the rest of the US by the interstate highway network. The principal interstates serving the city are I-75 (serving traffic from Chicago and Detroit to Florida), I-85 (connecteding the North-East to New Orleans) and I-20 (connecting California and Texas to South Carolina), all of which cross through the downtown.
I-285 (commonly called the Perimeter by Atlantans, and the Atlanta Bypass on overhead signs) rings the city at a distance of about 10 miles out, crossing and connecting with all the above freeways as well as the airport.
All these highways can become extremely congested during rush hour and periods of construction, which are usually at night and on the weekends during the summer.
Within the downtown and midtown areas, walking is a reasonable way to get around. All the streets have sidewalks and pedestrian crossings.
However outside these areas, Atlanta is a distinctly unfriendly place for pedestrians. Many streets have neither sidewalks nor pedestrian crossings, and the width and traffic density of some streets make then almost uncrossable; the problem seems to be worst in the most recently developed areas. In some areas you will need to reconcile yourself to using car, taxi or shuttle for journeys of less than one hundred yards.
If you are tempted to brave the traffic on foot, remember that this is the city that allowed its most famous literary citizen (Margaret Mitchell, author of 'Gone With The Wind') to be knocked down and killed by a speeding taxi driver.
Atlanta is well served by MARTA, (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) which operates both rapid rail and bus networks in the city of Atlanta and the counties of Fulton and Dekalb.
The rail network comprises two principal lines making up a cross. The north-south line runs from a southern terminus at Hartsfield airport through downtown and midtown Atlanta, before splitting into two branches serving terminals in north metro Atlanta at North Springs and Doraville respectively. The east-west line runs from an western terminal at Hamilton E. Holmes, via an interchange with the north-south line at Five Points station in downtown Atlanta, to an eastern terminal at Indian Creek. Trains run on all lines every 10 minutes during peak periods, reducing to every 20 minutes on Sundays.
The bus network comprises over one hundred different bus routes, with many routes operating every 20 minutes or so. One feature of MARTA is the close integration of rail and bus services. Many rail stations have integral bus stations, and in some cases the buses enter the station's 'paid area' thus avoiding the need to use transfers.
A single ride on MARTA costs $1.75 including transfers. Ride tokens are sold in vending machines at all rail stations or at RideStores at Airport and Five Points stations. When starting the journey by bus, drop the token or cash fare into the farebox and, if necessary, ask the operator for a transfer ticket. When starting the journey by train, drop the token into the turnstile and, if necessary, press the button to request a transfer ticket be printed. When transferring to a bus, show the operator your transfer ticket. When transferring to a train, swipe the transfer ticket through the reader on the turnstile.
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Until the past few years, Atlanta had lousy cab service. You didn't even want to think about trying to flag down a cab. They were few and far between. It is getting easier in the downtown area along Peachtree St. up to the Buckhead area to flag one down, but your best bet is to go to a hotel or a MARTA train station to get one.
Lately, it has been possible to call a cab in (Checker, etc) and have them do pick ups within 5 minutes around the Midtown/Downtown area. The prices are high (expect to pay $10 within Midtown/Downtown and an extra $10-20 if you're going to Buckhead/North Atlanta).
Cars are the most popular form of transport in and around Atlanta and as such, traffic can be pretty bad. While the Interstates are large (Eight lanes in one direction in several places), rush-hour can see them at a stand-still. Travelling during business hours or on non-holiday weekends, though, can be quite easy.
Downtown Atlanta is the old central area of Atlanta, which still contains much of the commercial activity of the city. All the places to see here are within 10 minutes walk of each other, and within a similar walking distance of any of the MARTA stations at Five Points, Peachtree Center or Omni-Dome-World-Congress Center.
Midtown Atlanta is the area due north of Downtown. It also has significant commercial activity, but it is also a major restaurant and arts quarter, with significant 'urban living' apartment coverage. All the places listed are within 15 minutes walk of each other, and within a similar walking distance of the MARTA stations at Midtown and Arts Center.
These are areas within the City of Atlanta that are commonly refered to as "intown" by Atlantans.
All these sights can be found somewhere in the suburban sprawl that is Atlanta. A car is probably the best way to visit them, but some are accessible by public transit as indicated in the listing.
Have breakfast at the Flying Biscuit Cafe on McLendon Avenue. Eat anything--anything--at the Varsity, but make sure you're prepared for heartburn. Meet up with the goths and dance all night at The Masquerade. See the wall Hank Aaron hit #755 over at Turner Field--this section of the original outfield wall from Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium was preserved when the new ballpark was built. Visit Centennial Olympic Park, where you can play in the fountain and pay your respects to the victims of the 1996 Olympic Park Bombing. Hike up Stone Mountain and watch the sunset, then come down and see the bizarre, kitschy Laser Light Show. Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Museum. Check out the mummies and the Moche pottery exhibition at the Michael C. Carlos Museum.
Atlanta is home to some of the nation's best universities and colleges. The most prominent is probably Emory University, located just east of downtown in Druid Hills. Emory is a private research university with a top medical school, and is home to the excellent (and free) Michael C. Carlos Museum of Art and Archaeology. There are two undergraduate colleges, Emory College and Oxford College (in Oxford, Georgia); graduate and professional programs include the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Medical School, Law School, Goizueta Business School, Woodruff School of Nursing, Allied Health School, and the Rollins School of Public Health. Admission is highly competitive.
In the heart of downtown is Georgia State University, a predominantly commuter university without a centralized campus.
Georgia Tech, just across I-75/85 from midtown, is one of the US' best tech schools, and is also a basketball powerhouse.
Among the most distinguished of Atlanta's educational institutions are Morehouse College (men) and Spelman College (women), the best-known historically black colleges in the United States. Morehouse and Spelman are part of the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of historically black colleges that includes Clark Atlanta University and Morris Brown College.
Atlanta is also home to Agnes Scott College, a women's college located in Decatur.
Specialized colleges and universities in the Atlanta area include the Columbia Theological Seminiary, the Art Institute of Atlanta, and the Atlanta College of Art.
High Schools In addition to the public school system, Atlanta is well-supplied with private high schools of all types. Well-known parochial/religious high schools include St. Pius X (Catholic); Marist (Catholic); W.D. Muhammad (Muslim); Landmark School (Evangelical Christian); and Yeshiva High School (Jewish).
The best-known of the prep schools are Woodward Academy, the Westminster Schools, Pace Academy, and the Lovett School. The Paideia School, Atlanta's 'hippie prep school' is a funky cousin to this group. All the schools in this category are expensive and highly competitive.
Elementary Schools The City of Atlanta operates a struggling public school system; conditions are somewhat better in the county school systems, particularly the wealthier Cobb and Dekalb counties. The City of Decatur runs an excellent small system of public neighborhood schools. Atlanta abounds in small Catholic elementary schools; the junior editions of the prep schools above take in large numbers of wealthier students.
Little Five Points
This bohemian district to the east of downtown Atlanta contains many interesting eateries. Here are some of them:
Virginia-Highland is a popular area for twenty- and thirty-somethings. The better bars are:
College students favor:
If you're looking for Irish bars, take a look at:
Atlanta offers a wide variety of lodging options to fit all budgets. Here are a few options:
In order to make local phone calls, all ten digits of the phone number are required. As such, you'll notice that all phone numbers will include an area code. Currently they are 770, 404, and 678. At one point you could determine where a number went by the area code, but they have now become quite jumbled.
As with any large urban metropolitan area, use caution and don't let your guard all the way down. Be careful of areas south of Interstate 20.
For those more interested in scenic beauty and outdoor activities, the Appalachian mountain chain begins about sixty miles north of Atlanta. The southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is on Springer Mountain in north-east Georgia, an easy drive from metro Atlanta.