City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

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

Left wing management

September 17th, 2009
12:59 pm

GA Peach: “people actually have manners here”

Now now, let’s not get simplistic. People have good manners in New York and Chicago too. :)

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September 17th, 2009
12:53 pm

As soon as Atlanta gets a new mayor and police chief serious about tackling crime, she will be restored to her former glory. I remember reading in the AJC several years back that Atlanta is so beautiful in the spring, it is like a beautiful lady who is wearing all of her jewelry at once. I agree.

GA Peach

September 17th, 2009
12:53 pm

I have just moved back to ATL since being gone for 10 years. Traveled all over the country, lived in NC, Sweden, and most recently (and regrettably) S. Fla. The S. Fla bit I will be recovering from for some time. The day I moved back I was able to sleep, eat, laugh, sigh, and be happy for the first time in three years. Atlanta has grown in such great ways – the east side villages, the in town living. We have amazing food every where we go. And cheap! Taquiera del Sol, Figo, Fellini’s, Rathbun’s, etc, etc. Everyone we have run into has been really nice and people actually have manners here! I am so glad to be home. And proud that Atlanta made that list! I agree that it should be on that list. :D


September 17th, 2009
12:44 pm

On the surface Atlanta is nice but when you dig down it’s rather bland. Sure, Buckhead has some nice buildings and restaurants but its depressingly fragmented. One minute you’re looking a beautfiul new (but empty) building and the next minute you’re looking at a run down strip mall.

Don’t get me started on the quality of the roads here. You would think Atlanta gets hit with heavy snow and ice in the winter with the condition these roads are in.


September 17th, 2009
12:32 pm

If you can’t appreciate what Atlanta has to offer, get out, so there’s more room for the rest of us who do. I could have never bought a brand new home in the North where I’m from, period. I live in East Atlanta and love it. I wouldn’t live in Buckhead if it was free (bleached and tanned posers). There’s plenty to do here if you get off your couch. If you’re looking for a crime-free, thug-free, corruption-free, racism-free environment, you’ll need to move to Mars because on earth it doesn’t exist so snap out of your fairy-tale mind-set and get real. All cities have problems, why shouldn’t Atlanta, it’s a city isn’t it?? For those who don’t know, Utopia was created in a BOOK.


September 17th, 2009
12:28 pm

This place has become the biggest joke. No real identity of the people….too many people from other places invading this once proud and beautiful state and area…..Traffic terrible and the people too….
Pure joke…


September 17th, 2009
12:21 pm

The local media hates Atlanta. Don’t believe me; see for yourself.

Jim K.

September 17th, 2009
12:03 pm

your comments here

I moved to Atlanta 10 years ago after travelling here on business for 20 years. I love this place!


September 17th, 2009
11:53 am

Chris….you are an ignorant doofus. I have lived in Cal, N Car and FL but have lived the longest in various parts of ATL. The happiest view I had of CA was in the rear view mirror when leaving and got happier and happier each mile closer to ATL. I now live in SW ATL and have never once been bothered by a thug Chris, not in over 20 years.