Metro Atlanta is Georgia's principal urban area, and the eighth largest metro area in the United States, with a population of over 5.5 million. It encompasses Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, Dekalb, Douglas, Gwinnet, Henry, Fayette, & Fulton Counties.
Atlanta is of course the center of Metro Atlanta. Highways I-75, I-85, and I-20 radiate out in a 6-sided star pattern. Atlantans tend to think of I-285 (the beltloop highway 10 miles outside the city, often called the Perimeter) as the practical border of Atlanta, and often speak of destinations as being ITP (inside the Perimeter) or OTP (outside the Perimeter).
Great places to go in Metro Atlanta, that are safer than Downtown are Buckhead, Gwinnett County, and Cobb County. Gwinnett and Cobb Counties boast a great enviroment for people who want to leave the city and explore nature. For example, a really good place to go is Stone Mountain Park, which is in Northern Dekalb County. It is a great tourist attraction for families and people who love the enviroment. It has a beautiful lake and a plantation on it, which is open for tours for a history buff.
Also in Cobb County, is the Cobb Galleria. This holds amazing Broadway plays and shows, shopping, and much more. Also, for the family Six Flags is a great place to go (but not at night) to have family fun.
In Hall County, which is a short ride up Interstate 75, is Lake Lanier. It is a huge lake with boating and many other tourist attractions. Lake Lanier Islands is a water park and resort for a family.
In Gwinnett, you might also want to visit Historic Lawrenceville, Historic Lilburn, or Historic Duluth. These places have fountains and old buildings that are immaculantly preserved. Make sure to visit these places in Gwinnett County.
Located in Northern Georgia, Meropolitan Atlanta is a diverse set of people who are different from county to county. Centered by Atlanta (Fulton County), and outskirted by Gwinnett, Cobb, Hall, Forsyth, Walton, Dekalb, Clayton, and Gilmer just to name a few. The Metro Atlanta area has 28 large Counties spreading from the Georgia-Alabama Border, east to Athens, south to about Macon, and north to Jasper. It is over about 8,376 square miles and holds over 5,475,213 people, making it the ninth largest metropolitan area in the United States.
With no natural features to constrain its growth, Atlanta tends to grow out rather than up, leading to massive urban sprawl. Atlanta is also at the junction of three major U.S. Interstate Highways, which contributes to its reputation as a driving city.
Many people assume Atlanta is hot during the summer. They're right, but it's not as bad as it sounds; overzealous air conditioning and sweet tea make it bearable. If you do spend time outside, shorts and sandals are de rigeur from May to September. Autumn is mild, but temperatures do not really drop until October or later. Winters are unpredictable; most years see some freezing temperatures, but a couple days of sunshine can unexpectedly bring the temperature to the 60s or higher. Anything more than a dusting of snow is uncommon; when it happens, drivers will forget how to drive, stores will sell out of eggs and milk, and schools and businesses will shut down. The more usual problem is ice, which happens when daytime temperatures rise just enough to melt the snow, which then refreezes on the streets overnight. Spring is mostly marked by an unpredictable rainy season, interrupted by a torrent of pollen that turns every car in the city a dusty yellow for two weeks.
With many false asumptions that Georgia is a "backwoods" state, the Metropolitan Atlanta area is a mixture of people. And yes, you will find the occasional southerner with a charming southern accent, who will greet you with southern charm and hospitality.
Also in the metro area, people take offense to you calling Atlanta "The ATL", "Hotlanta", and "The Big Peach". If you say these to locals they will know you are a visitor, and assume you know nothing about Atlanta. Many locals call Atlanta simply "Atlanta" or "The Metro".
Metro Atlanta is serviced by Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport (IATA: ATL ICAO: KATL), often referred to by locals as "Hartsfield-Jackson," "Atlanta," "ATL," or simply "the airport." It is located about ten miles south of downtown Atlanta, so you will need to take public transit, a cab, or a rental car in to the city.
Atlanta has been the world's busiest airport since 1999, and is a major hub for Delta Air Lines and AirTran Airways. Although most passengers fly through Atlanta as a connection rather than a destination, few complain about the airport, which has excellent service and a largely headache-free layout (unlike airports like Chicago-O'Hare).
Atlanta has a rail/bus system, and surrounding counties have some buses as well, but the fastest and most reliable way to see Metro Atlanta is by car.
Because of its massive urban sprawl and highways running in every direction, Atlanta has always been a car city. With the exception of a few specific areas, most places are best accessed by car, even if they appear to be only a short trip away.
Driving in Atlanta can be intimidating. Speeding is endemic; expect most highway drivers to go 75mph in subruban 55mph zones and 60mph+ in the downtown 45mph zones, while speed demons blow past at 80mph or more. Highways are up to 7 lanes wide in each direction, and drivers weave back and forth with little regard for lane ettiquette or turn signals. As an unwritten rule, the police do not generally stop highway drivers for going 60-75 if they are keeping up with traffic; unfortunately this means if you do get stopped, you will probably have a massive ticket for going 20mph or more over the speed limit.
Unfortunately, the interstate highways really are the best to get around metro Atlanta. U.S. Highways are generally urban arteries with low speed limits, lots of lights and lots of traffic. Only about a half-dozen of the Georgia State Routes in metro Atlanta are limited-access.
The best thing you can do is keep pace with traffic and be alert for drivers around you who will pull hazardous maneuvers.
Highways and nicknames
In conversation, higways in Atlanta are referred to by number: 75, 85, 285, and 400 (but usually I-20, oddly enough).
I-285 forms a complete loop around the city with about a 10-mile radius. This is known as "the Perimeter". Rather than using cardinal directions, people (especially traffic reporters) refer to the "inner loop" and "outer loop" (clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively). The north segment between I-75 and I-85 is often called "the Top End". The northern intersection of I-285 and I-75 is the "Cobb Cloverleaf", and I-285 and I-85 is "Spaghetti Junction".
Downtown, I-75 and I-85 converge for 7.5 miles; this is called "the (Downtown) Connector" or just "75/85". Traffic reporters have standard points around the metro area they refer to, but one you are likely to encounter is where GA-400 and I-85 merge southbound, which is sometimes called "the 400 Meltdown".
The most notable shopping malls/districts in Metro Atlanta are: