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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

Native Southerner

September 18th, 2009
10:58 am

I have traveled to many places around the world and I believe that when you consider everything Atlanta has to offer, it’s not such a bad place to live. It does have it’s problems…politics, crime, transportation, differing cultural opinions…but most major cities struggle with these. I enjoy the vibrancy of large cities but, I don’t believe any other cities in the US are worth the costs, hassles or climate extremes. Cities like London, Paris and Amsterdam truly have so much more to offer than American cities but, like others have mentioned in this blog, they can be very difficult places to actually live. The cost of living in Atlanta is so reasonable that I can afford a great, quality lifestyle. At one point in my life I lived in a penthouse in central London but, I still felt as if I had a poor standard of living. I loved the diversity and culture the city had to offer but, again, it was such a hard, fast-paced life.

What Atlanta needs is more focus on the city center. This has already begun in Midtown and to some extent in the downtown area. I just hope it doesn’t take another 20 years to reach its potential. The city has changed so much during the time I have spent here and even if I move (most likely to Paris), I will always follow its progress. If and when that happens, I’m sure I will look back at my time here and remember how comfortable life was.


September 18th, 2009
10:42 am

The people that are saying it (ATL) is racist are indeed the real racist!

Duluth, GA

September 18th, 2009
10:36 am

I love Atlanta and will always love this city. Yes, Atlanta does have some problems just like every other place in the world, but it is not as bad as some are claiming it to be. As it has been mentioned, stop being so negative and some of you will begin to see the positives in this city. It is never too late to start being positive.


September 18th, 2009
10:34 am

National Geographic Traveler recognizes Atlanta (the city and metro area) as one of the “50 Places of a Lifetime.” That’s funny. I remember my friend joking, “Atlanta is a good place to live, not to visit.” Anyway, the essay that accompanies the NGT recognition is problematic. Aren’t others tired of these essays and comments on Atlanta that continue to preserve the false notion of “a city too busy to hate,” especially given the well documented racial and class disparities? Atlanta is a good place to live but it defies logic and reality to rank it among great places in the world.


September 18th, 2009
10:33 am

I live in Jacksonville Fl and I visit the A frequently and I love it. Its my favorite city. I wish I would have moved there instead of J,ville.


September 18th, 2009
10:30 am

I agree with the article that Atlanta is a great city to see and visit. Every large city has its share of problems so I would suggest to the people complaining to quit watching the local news. There is a lot of good going on in this city that you will never hear about. Your negative views are controlled by your thoughts so look for the good going on in Atlanta and again, turn off the negative news.


September 18th, 2009
10:28 am

I think Piedmont Park would be a lot nicer if it didn’t have a new multi-story parking lot in it’s center. The eastern entrace to the park is more like a fortress than a park. The Conservancy and the Botanical Gardens have comandeered a portion of the park for their own use against the practically universal wishes of all residential stakeholders.

Shirley U Jest

September 18th, 2009
10:27 am

Was an Atlanta resident for six years, now just the occasional tourist. Liked it at first, but then the glow quickly wore off, so I moved on. I can understand why NGT saw it the way they did. Tourists have no concept of the high taxes and fees the residents pay for substandard services, the oppressive traffic, the ever-struggling public school system, latent racism, homophobia, and the ineptness of both the administrative and legislative arms of the city government. Plus considering how much of the city’s strained resources are being expended to make the visitor experience positive, it’s good to know that somebody noticed. It may be the one thing in Atlanta that is working, but tourists don’t vote on election day.

Try riding your bike here

September 18th, 2009
10:25 am

and see how long you last.
This is not a top city. Yet. It will take a major shift in thinking on the part of a lot of folks to earn that merit badge.
I’ve lived here since ‘64 and it’s better, but it’s not that great.


September 18th, 2009
10:23 am

I’ve grown up around Atlanta my whole life. I personally think that Atlanta and the metro area has been making a comeback the last 6-7 years. Howell Mill, Highlands, Atlantic Station, Mid-town are all cool places. Crime is a problem, but there is also some really nice homes within the perimeter. I think three things have hurt Atlanta:

1.) it’s infrastructure is ill equipped to handle the massive growth that has taken place in the last 20 years( hence the problem with traffic etc.)
2.) White Flight in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and the birth of surburbia, which has done nothing but plunge the city and metro suburbs into decay.
3.) the influx of transplants from the north( although to be fair, Atlanta has been known as a “Carpet Bagger” City ever since reconstruction).

I too have visited some great cities. But at the end of the day, Atlanta is home to me and I really can’t imagine living anywhere else.