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Atlanta a National Geographic Traveler ‘Place of a Lifetime’


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.


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.”


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


September 18th, 2009
9:16 am

I love Atlanta and I’m glad it’s been recognized as a great city to visit. For those of you who hate it, and have left and/or are planning to why are you still reading the AJC? I’m just saying…..morons.


September 18th, 2009
9:15 am

I love living in the metro-atl area but I can’t for the life of me understand why piedmont park would make the top 50 places on the earth. Just off the top of my head, I don’t think I’d rate it in the top 50 in GA.

Jamie Gumbrecht

September 18th, 2009
9:14 am

Thanks to those of you staying on topic and keeping the discussion moving forward! Interesting topic, interesting perspectives.

Southern Charm

September 18th, 2009
9:14 am

Enter your comments here

Why do we get upset because the article expresses the good in Atlanta and does not tell us what we already know about traffic, etc.?
One of the oldest “Southern Hospitality” traditions is:
Just smile, and say Thank You


September 18th, 2009
9:12 am

I agree with Get Real, DC is a much better city than Atlanta ever will be. Yeah there is crime, but at least it rarely bleeds over into the areas people want to be. I never felt threatened walking Cap. Hill, downtown, Georgetown, Adams Morgan or any other similar neighborhood at night. I loved living there and am trying to move back right now. Oh and the Metro system actually gets you to most places in the city you need to go. I drove my car about twice a month when I lived there.


September 18th, 2009
9:12 am

Piedmont Park is stunning. Except when it gets turned into a fairground several times a year with the festivals. Portal potties, crowds, litter, trampled ground are the order of the day. Va-Hi is quaint.Inman Park is nice. Grant Park would be wondetful except for the continued crime. Atlanta is a mixed bag of good and bad.

Left wing management

September 18th, 2009
9:07 am

To Chris: “I just want you to know that the only reason I read the AJC is to keep up with my alma mater in sports.”

I’m ROFL now. That may be the case, but you obviously can’t resist stopping over to a forum about Atlanta being featured in National Geographic to weigh in, can you? :)


September 18th, 2009
9:06 am

You go Vince. Negative people suck. They are less happy and less productive. And they live a shorter life. You have to look at Atlanta and the metro area as a whole. Examining one aspect gives you no insight. Have you checked out all the aspects of the areas? All cities have certain parts that are not good. So don’t go to them.

Left wing management

September 18th, 2009
9:04 am

moot: “It is really annoying because if this place wasn’t too obsessed with trying to be like somewhere else its optimistic and friendly people could create a place more interesting and unique.”

Read my post above from yesterday where I address this tendency of Atlanta to ‘pose’ among the elite cities, which infuriates the city purists and people like you but nonetheless Atlanta mostly pulls it off.

By the way, I think you’re dead wrong about Atlanta not being the LA of the South. I actually have always found that to be a pretty good description of what Atlanta is with the immense similarities between the two places.


September 18th, 2009
9:03 am

Atlanta is what you make it. There are hundreds of beautiful places to go and things to do. I’m highly suspect of anyone who derides it to the contrary. Some folks must not get out much. Or maybe you live in the suburbs. It may not be a top 50/100 “city of a lifetime” but it’s wonderful all the same. And the people here are easily the friendliest I’ve encountered of any place I’ve visited in the world.

And some of the comments here are really off the deep end! Atlanta as “racist” and “mean” and not having an “attractive downtown” (NYC, DC, Orlando, Nashville – haha, are you people serious?!). Plenty of people with an apparent axe to grind. Atlanta isn’t perfect, but every city has crime, traffic, etc.