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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

Alvin

September 18th, 2009
10:07 am

I love Atlanta. I have been here since November 95. If it had a beach it would be perfect. Every city has crime and corrupt politicians. When I go back to the north after 3 days I am ready to return to my Atlanta. Hey maybe it is not for everybody(so leave!!!!!) The most beautiful woman live here and the good weather last longer. Hey traffic sucks, but hey I can live with that. I love the melting pot is has become.Yes there is old school racist here, but that is the few. I have a problem with the confederate flag, but I feel eventually a change is coming.

Bob

September 18th, 2009
10:05 am

I thought Atlanta could qualify for the list until I saw all of the negative comments on this post. Get a life and move along! Atlanta would certainly improve without your award-winning attitude.

A Realist

September 18th, 2009
10:04 am

For all of the City of Atlanta haters….MOVE or if you don’t already live in the City of Atlanta…don’t move here!!!!

I just wish there were more green spaces within the city like Piedmont Park. Yes, there is definitely room for improvements overall, but Atlanta is still a great city. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world and there are only a few places that can compare and/or better. The majority of those places are definitely outside of the US as oppose to being in the US.

DJ

September 18th, 2009
10:03 am

If every notable “guide” or “survey” points out how valuable an asset our tree-cover is, why do the politicians insist on sucking up to developers who want to cut down every tree in sight?

Evan

September 18th, 2009
9:59 am

Look, Atlanta does have crime, traffic and racism. But what major city doesnt. Just start at the beginning of the list. Amsterdam?!? That city is known world wide as a filthy city (in many meanings of the word). Almost every major city on the list has terrible crime and most have an awful political atmosphere. Im not saying that New York or Chicago shouldn’t have been on that list with Atlanta, but let’s remember the criterion for the list. It is a list of wonderfully unique places to visit and soak in sights and culture you can’t find anywhere else in the world. It is not saying that Atlanta is perfect, far from it. Some of the “flaws” contribute to the uniqueness that put Atlanta on the list in the first place. So let’s not bash it because you didn’t enjoy your time here or have had a few bad experiences in traffic or downtown, and let’s remember that despite everything, Atlanta has a great deal to offer.

Left wing management

September 18th, 2009
9:59 am

When I saw the piece was headlined in this morning’s online edition I figured we’d see a fresh batch of trolls – and I wasn’t disappointed. Good morning Allie F. Good morning Will. Let me ask you, why are you guys so angry about Atlanta? Do you think you might be projecting your hurt and frustration over unfortunate incidents you’ve experienced onto the city perhaps?

Stewart

September 18th, 2009
9:54 am

The obsession with place is an interesting phenomenon. Many people search for a place to live that will make them happy, while ignoring that place often has little to do with happiness. Relatedly, many of these posts tell you much more about the poster than they do the city of Atlanta.

And for the record, I’m a lifelong resident of Atlanta. I love Atlanta, and I think it has a lot going for it. It needs a lot of work and more people like me who will love it.

What

September 18th, 2009
9:54 am

Are they kidding — “place of a lifetime” if you like crime, traffic, poor air quality, poor public schools, poor local government and leadership — corruption, steel plate covered roads, poor infrastructure, way too many people, thugs, rap, humidity, trees everywhere, poor public transportation, etc….

Brian

September 18th, 2009
9:53 am

i want to know how long these Atlanta bashers have lived here.
it must be difficult to live in Atlanta when it is not “perfect” like the city you lived in before.
yes, the traffic has become worse over the years and one solution is for you people to GO BACK TO WHERE EVER YOU CAME FROM.

LL

September 18th, 2009
9:53 am

The one best thing about Atlanta are the non-stop flights out of Hartsfield. The worst thing about Atlanta is driving to Hartsfield