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Atlanta a National Geographic Traveler ‘Place of a Lifetime’

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National Geographic Traveler lists Atlanta's trees among its greatest features — one that landed us on the magazine's list of "50 Places of a Lifetime." These trees and runners are in Piedmont Park. AJC file photo

The October issue of National Geographic Traveler details “50 Places of a Lifetime,” and there’s Atlanta, hoisted up with natural beauties, ancient cities and little-known islands.

We’re one of only seven U.S. sites in this latest round, the only major city among them. We’re on the map with the island of Molokai, Hawaii, forests in California and Oregon, the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, the Piedmont of Virginia, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

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Sweet Auburn Springfest 2009. AJC file photo

I can’t help but think: why us? I don’t disagree — this city has been key to happiness in my lifetime — but Atlanta never makes a list of beloved geography without New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Seattle. (This new list is an expansion of an older project, which did include some other large cities.) So…why?

In exactly the response one expects a National Geographic publication to give, it first mentions our trees — “magnolias, dogwoods, Southern pines, and magnificent oaks.” Of course. They are pretty, aren’t they?

Then comes history, neighborhoods, Southern charm, art, shopping and architecture. (Highrises? “Sexy,” they say.) Atlantic Station, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola get a nod. The magazine seems to appreciate that Buckhead, East Atlanta Village and Virginia Highland are wildly different, but fun to visit.

Manners, sugar water and greenery did not decide our place on this list. I have to believe it’s because of the fun to be had here, a dynamic variety different from a forest, mountain, island — and other cities.

An accompanying essay by Emory University Associate Professor Lynna Williams gets into more specifics — CNN, Piedmont Park, Oakland Cemetery, Lenny’s Bar —  while admitting Atlanta’s “eternal love affair with its own bright future.” Atlanta is a place, she writes, where people “come in search of of past-as-prologue, and find it tucked into the modern city.”

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Oakland Cemetery. AJC file photo

I noticed this list posted at Decatur Metro, along with the astute observation that Atlanta’s “‘must visit’ attributes really aren’t things you can buy tickets to, but must experience collectively.” So true.

It seems National Geographic Traveler collected our very best features and presented them for travelers to pop in,  mark it off the list and leave with a panda T-shirt. (Sexy.) It’s not going to teach us anything.  Just try the quiz — you’ll get 100 percent, too.

The written introduction to the city acknowledges our size but not the traffic;  race, but not racism; political diversity, not division. We know it’s not all soft light, poetry and drawl-soaked chit-chat, but I love to read about the city this way. I like the reminder that all this is my place in this lifetime.

Is Atlanta among “Places of a Lifetime” for travelers? When you have visitors, what are the sites and activities they must see and do? Share your thoughts in the comments.

149 comments Add your comment

Brandon

September 17th, 2009
9:55 am

Atlanta certainly has strengths and faults as does any city, but its home for me. Where else but Atlanta does a light rail train come out of a subway and when you look out you see skyscrapers pooping out what looks like a vast forest. There is a unique and signature beauty in that I think. In fact the lack of trees is one of the first things i notice when i go elsewhere. Does Atlanta has its faults? yes. Does its metro and city center cooperate for the good of all? not really. But whos fault is that? is this not a republic? quit bitching about what is wrong and start moving to make things right. I have no time for those who bitch but never leave their homes after 5.

Matt

September 17th, 2009
9:53 am

I agree with the first poster – The ATL is a mess.

Nolan

September 17th, 2009
9:53 am

I’ve gotta say, I wasn’t happier than the day I returned to Atlanta (6/3/09) after living near Los Angeles for 3 years. Every day since I’ve been back has been awesome. Events, parks, shops, food, music, people, history, sports – hooray!

Kevin

September 17th, 2009
9:41 am

Wow…I’m hearing a lot of negative things about Atlanta from previous posts….if it is so bad, why are you all still here that are complaining? Get over it.

kw

September 17th, 2009
9:37 am

Call it…”Delta’s ready when you are”

Suzie…if you were so happy to leave Atlanta, then why the h*ll are you still reading Atlanta news websites like this one? Go read the news site in you own town now.

Yeah, Atlanta’s got traffic, crime and corruption…name me one large city that doesn’t have these. Traffic is just as bad in Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc… Crime…go check out local tv websites in other cities, particularly Chicago lately…seems you cannot walk around Lincoln Park there without getting mugged lately. Corruption…do Richard Daley, Marion Barry, David Dinkins, Kwame Kirkpatrick, the former mayor of San Diego (whatever his name is) come to mind?

Yeah, we are not perfect. But it is nice to ready something positive about Atlanta after what seems like a year’s worth of negative this and negative that.

lantana

September 17th, 2009
9:37 am

I’ve been in Atlanta 20 years and the city has been nothing but kind to me. I live in the East Village and adore my neighborhood for it natural beauty and convenience to everything a city should offer. If you are not happy in Atlanta, you are not trying!

Intown

September 17th, 2009
9:33 am

I too could not believe my eyes when I read this essay in NG Travler. Atlanta on a list of the 50 best places to visit around the world?!?! But, there we are. I suppose we made the list becasue Atlanta is a place to experience over time but, not one that delivers unique experiences to the traditional touristy traveler. I hope Alabama and Florida read this article so they can see the beauty they are now attempting to destroy and will not be able to replace on their own.

Chris

September 17th, 2009
9:32 am

Ha ha ha. How funny. Let them spend a weekend downtown or in SW Atlanta and see how they like it. The only decent places in Atlanta are the park (in the daytime), most of Buckhead, and VA Highlands. The thugs have ruined the rest of it.

Suzie

September 17th, 2009
9:31 am

I was never happier than the day I left Atlanta. This must be some kind of joke. Atlanta is the one of the most racist, meanest cities I’ve ever lived in.

Call it like it is.

September 17th, 2009
9:26 am

“Place of a lifetime” Are you kidding me. Atlanta?? Traffic, crime, corruption, poor leadership. I have travel all around this world and Atlanta is not even in the top 100 places that I have gone to. How much did they pay off these guys to be listed.