An ideal visit to Atlanta could easily last a week, with mornings spent touring museums and historic sites and lazy afternoons sipping sweet tea. But you can take in the best of the ATL in just a couple of days. To be centrally located, stay in Downtown or Midtown.
Begin with a visit to Centennial Olympic Park (Centennial Olympic Park Dr. and Luckie St., 404/222-7275, www.centennialpark.com , daily 7 a.m.–11 p.m.). Enjoy the Fountain of Rings and the monuments to Olympic athletes, but devote most of your morning to exploring either the Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St., 404/581-4000, www.georgiaaquarium.org , Sun.–Fri. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., $26 adult, $19.50 child, $21.50 senior) or the World of Coca-Cola (121 Baker St., 404/676-5151, www.worldofcoca-cola.com , Mon.–Sat. 9 a.m.–6 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–6 p.m., $15 adult, $9 child, $13 senior), which will require 2–3 hours each.
Next, take in the hour-long Inside CNN Tour (190 Marietta St. NW, 404/827-2300, www.cnn.com/studiotour , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., $12 adult, $9 child, $11 senior); purchase tickets online to save time at all of the major attractions. Grab lunch at the Sun Dial Restaurant (210 Peachtree St., 404/935-4279, www.sundialrestaurant.com ), a rotating restaurant with breathtaking views.
Head to the Sweet Auburn District and dedicate an hour or two to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site (450 Auburn Ave., 404/331-5190, www.nps.gov/malu , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., until 6 p.m. June–Aug., free). If time permits, visit Ebenezer Baptist Church (407 Auburn Ave., 404/688-7263, www.historicebenezer.org , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m.)
For dinner, head to Virginia-Highland and check out one of the many fine restaurants along North Highland Avenue, north of Ponce de Leon.
The neighborhood has plenty of bar-hopping options, including Atkins Park (794 N. Highland Ave., 404/876-7249, www.atkinspark.com , Mon.–Sat. 11 a.m.–3 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–midnight) and Dark Horse Tavern (816 N. Highland Ave., 404/873-3607, www.darkhorseatlanta.com , Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–3 a.m., Sat. noon–3 a.m., Sun. noon–midnight).
Eat a classic down-home breakfast at Mary Mac’s Tea Room (224 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404/876-1800, www.marymacs.com , daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.), then continue your immersion in Southern culture at the Atlanta History Center (130 W. Paces Ferry Rd., 404/814-4000, www.atlantahistorycenter.com , Mon.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sun. noon–5:30 p.m., $15 adult, $10 child, $12 senior) in Buckhead. If time permits, check out the splendid 1928 Swan House nearby, which gives a glimpse into how upper-crust Atlantans lived in the Jazz Age.
Buckhead has no lack of great lunch options. For quick and easy, hit Souper Jenny (56 E. Andrews Dr., 404/239-9023, www.souperjennyatl.com , Mon.–Wed. and Fri. 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Thurs. until 10 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m.–2 p.m.) or check out the eye candy at R. Thomas Deluxe Grill (1812 Peachtree St., 404/872-2942, open 24 hours, 7 days a week).
Spend your afternoon exploring the High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St., 404/733-4400, www.high.org , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Thurs. until 8 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $18 adult, $11 child, $15 senior) in Midtown, which can easily take 3–4 hours, or visit the nearby Center for Puppetry Arts (1404 Spring St., 404/873-3391, www.puppet.org , Tues.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m., $8 adult, $6 child, $7 senior). If time allows, take a quick tour of the Margaret Mitchell House (990 Peachtree St., 404/249-7015, www.gwtw.org , Mon.–Sat. 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Sun. noon–5 p.m., $12 adult, $5 child, $9 senior), which includes a Gone With the Wind museum.
You’ll be tempted to eat dinner in Midtown, which has dozens of great restaurants, but you’ll see more of Atlanta if you trek east. Try extravagant Two Urban Licks (820 Ralph McGill Blvd., 404/522-4622, www.twourbanlicks.com , Mon.–Thurs. 5:30 p.m.–midnight, Fri.–Sat. 5:30 p.m.–1 a.m., Sun. 5:30–10:30 p.m.) in Poncey-Highland, or check out the famous Flying Biscuit (1655 McLendon Ave., 404/687-8888, www.flyingbiscuit.com , Sun.–Thurs. 7 a.m.–10 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 7 a.m.–10:30 p.m.) in Candler Park for affordable Southern fare.
With a little advance planning you can score tickets to a performance at the Fox Theatre (660 Peachtree St., 404/881-2100, www.foxtheatre.org ), an eye-popping 1920s movie palace that hosts traveling Broadway musicals and concerts. Or check out the Alliance Theatre (1280 Peachtree St., 404/733-5000, www.alliancetheatre.org ) to end your Atlanta journey on a cultural high.