Atlanta by Layover

See Georgia’s capital in just a few hours.

By Hannah Lott-Schwartz

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest in the world: Millions of travelers pause here on layover each year. Outside of the terminal walls is a Southern city that stands at the intersection of history, culture and entertainment. Atlanta does community spaces amazingly well, drawing people out to enjoy the temperate weather while also encouraging socialization indoors at an array of markets. To see for yourself, simply pick up the light-rail (MARTA) at baggage claim and ride it into this lively city.

If you have three hours…

Start at Krog Street Market (99 Krog St. NE; 770-434-2400; dinner for two, $18*), an indoor marketplace built into an old warehouse where some of Atlanta’s best chefs churn out casual eats. Richards’ Southern Fried (Krog Street Market; 678-732-9594; lunch for two, $18) serves as a delicious introduction to hot chicken, a spicy regional staple that migrated from Nashville. Next, you can head to the Atlanta BeltLine—a massive urban redevelopment project that has transformed a former railway corridor into more than 20 miles of trails and parks—and walk the Eastside Trail (multiple trailheads). There’s an access point near Krog Street Market at Lake Avenue and Irwin Street; hop on there and go north, taking in the large ever-changing murals and urban parks on your way to the city’s historic Old Fourth Ward (O4W). Here you’ll find Ponce City Market (675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE; 404-900-7900; lunch for two, $18), a mixed-use redevelopment of Atlanta’s iconic Sears, Roebuck and Company building. There’s another outstanding food hall, plus sit-down restaurants and various shops. The original warehouse cargo elevator goes up to the rooftop, which has been turned into Skyline Park (675 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE; 770-999-1530; adults, $10; children 3–12, $7; children 2 and under, free), a carnival for all ages with rides, games, cocktails and more.

If you have six hours…

Delve deeper into O4W and the Sweet Auburn neighborhood (there’s overlap between the two), a National Historic Landmark and the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. The 35-acre district houses the King Center (449 Auburn Ave. NE; 404-526-8900; admission, free), which has added special exhibitions to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, on April 4 of this year. You can wander the streets where the civil rights leader grew up; visit the eternal flame and the crypt where he and his wife, Coretta Scott King, are buried; and let the stories told in the King Center inspire you. While you’re in the area, consider a visit to Curb Market (209 Edgewood Ave. SE; 404-659-1665; lunch for two, $15), an institution since 1924, or the Royal Peacock (186 Auburn Ave. NE; 404-827-9885; admission, free before midnight), a nightclub where Gladys Knight, B.B. King, James Brown, Little Richard and others once thrilled crowds.

If you have more than six hours…

Atlanta has an impressive lineage of visual artists and American writers. You can explore the arts district in Midtown, home to the world-renowned Fox Theatre (600 Peachtree St. NE; 404-881-2100; ticket prices vary) as well as the Dale Chihuly–decorated Atlanta Botanical Garden (1345 Piedmont Ave. NE; 404-876-5859; adults, $22; children 3–12, $16; children 2 and under, free) and the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum (979 Crescent Ave. NE; 404-249-7015; adults, $13; seniors and students 13 and up, $10; children 4–12, $6), where the Pulitzer Prize–winning author wrote Gone With the Wind. At the acclaimed High Museum of Art (1280 Peachtree St. NW; 404-733-4400; adults, $15; children 5 and under, free; admission is free on the second Sunday of the month), there are some 15,000 pieces in the permanent collection, and many traveling exhibitions make their U.S. debut here. The High showcases work by artists from the American South; by African artists, from prehistoric to present day; by European painters; and more.

  • *Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: April 2018