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

Arrivederci, ATL!

September 17th, 2009
2:04 pm

Enter your comments here
I’m not going to say whether or not Atlanta should have been chosen as one of NG’s “50 Places of a Lifetime”, but as a former resident and citizen of Atlanta for more than 45 years, I will say that there was a time in Atlanta’s past that it was as special of a place to live and work as described in the article. Today? I don’t think so.

Today, it is the most racist and vitriolic city I’ve ever known and I’m not speaking of the attitudes of whites towards blacks, but rather just the opposite. It’s crime rate is through the roof — it has become one of the very top drug centers of the U.S. It’s government is more than corrupt, it is reprehensible. The veneer and facade of a gleaming skyline and self-pompous promotion can’t hide the ugly warts and such that have overtaken and sought to kill the life of the city.

I admit to missing Atlanta’s beautiful changing of the seasons there, from it’s crown and glory of Spring to the wistful and crisp times of Fall. There are certain other things I miss, too. But, even these special individual momentos and treats of a place I once loved are not enough to ever lure me back there. Like authors Anne Rivers Siddons and Pat Conroy (both native area Atlantans and left for similar reasons) there is a time to go…and go they did and I did, too. But, we’re all sad we had to.

I left Atlanta in 2008 for San Diego, California. I used to LOVE Atlanta with a passion. It’s physical beauty nothwithstanding, it was a delight to tell others that I was from Atlanta. When we moved here in the mid-1960’s, it was much smaller and, therefore, had a lower crime rate, fewer traffic problems, etc. But, as Atlanta grew, so did it’s problems. One of them


September 17th, 2009
1:56 pm

I love the person who said they’d never even been to Atlanta, and called the article a joke. For those of you who have only seen Downtown and Centennial Olympic Park, you have been sadly deprived. ATLANTA IS one of the most diverse, charming and eccentric cities. If you haven’t explored anywhere outside the Perimeter, or even the outlying neighborhoods within, you haven’t really visited Atlanta. As some who has lived in Miami, Alaska, and Atlanta, I LOVE THIS CITY!!!!!


September 17th, 2009
1:42 pm

Blah blah blah. I hate Atlanta. Get out then? I have lived in Charlotte, Dallas, San Jose, San Diego twice, and I love it here. So much to do. Festivals all over the place, like Other Sound in Lil 5 this weekend and the EAV Strut. Beer festivals, parades, etc. Great lil neighborhoods like EAV, Castleberry Hill, Lil 5, VA-HI, etc. And lots of stuff for tourists as well.

Also, you are a short drive from a lot of stuff. Beaches, gorgeous mountains, raging rivers, wineries. Great restaurants. Great airport, decent mass transit that takes you to another of my favorite areas ITP – Decatur. Love this place.

Yes, we have a crime problem, but what major city doesn’t? I have friends getting broken into in San Diego. Its everywhere. We do lack good leadership, but let’s hope that is coming soon.

For those that don’t like it, this is a free country, you can say what you want. And you can leave whenever you want to head to your utopia. I have traveled all over the Northeast, and I do like a lot of cities up there, but only Chicago would I live in, and it definitely has its share of issues.


September 17th, 2009
1:38 pm

people(and i’m talking men) talk about crime and fear in downtown atl! maybe that’s what your problems are, a lot of you so-called men have no backbone, and fear your own shadows. for a grown man to not go outside or participate in life, less this or that happens to him is mind-boggling. if you guys have a woman, how do u keep them?? actually, the only thing wrong about atlanta is too many sensitive(??)men, not willing to stand up for themselves. if u did that, u wouldn’t fear anyone or anything. sure be careful, but don’t cower!!!

GA Peach

September 17th, 2009
1:23 pm

Left Wing Management – People in NY do not have ANY manners, that’s why S. Fla sucks so bad. Well, one of the hundreds of reasons…

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

September 17th, 2009
1:19 pm

P.S. East Atlanta is “electric.” Atlanta’s the “happenest” spot in the world: the Center of the Universe. If it “ain’t” right for you, get to where you can be happy.

Will Jones - Atlanta Jeffersonian Exegesis

September 17th, 2009
1:15 pm

Seems like there are intelligent geographers and lucky people.

The single “dog” I have in the “fight” is wanting only the best for myself and my family. Born in D.C., I’m from America, travelled all the world, driven in almost all of our major cities, and lived in some: for twelve-month-a-year living, raising a family and being around the best America has to offer, amidst the closest bloodstock and Spirit to those who created America, there is no place equal to Atlanta, Georgia.

Atlanta’s drivers and roads are the best. This is a “magic” town: the New Jerusalem.

A thousand feet above sea-level, without the humidity of D.C. or NY: of the top fifteen U.S. metro areas in population Atlanta is second in altitude only to “The Mile-High City,” Denver, whose region’s backwardness and heat inversion air pollution is legendary – and days from a beach.

The Mafia and the Roman Catholic Church, or their Big Oil fronts, control Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, SanFran, Miami, New Orleans, and Texas. Seattle gets rain all year and is miserable waiting for the next Big Tsunami.

D.C. is Babylon on the Potomac…all aligned with the “New York/L.A. Sodom and Gomorrah axis.”

Anyone doesn’t love Atlanta, Georgia, and particularly North Georgia, needs to look in the mirror. Shape up, or ship out.

There’s good reason this is Dr. King’s hometown. Come to Atlanta to find G-d. If one can’t manage that try a little harder.

It’s all up from here without the fascists in the White House, a homegrown girl will do well as mayor, and American Civilization will be pivoting on our urban culture.

Atlanta is true America’s only hope and, thank G-d, Obama is Atlanta’s president.


September 17th, 2009
1:13 pm

I’m reading and there are a lot of A town haters out there. I live in NC and I can’t wait until I can have a chance to move to Atlanta. The people are nice and it has everything you want. A big city feel in downtown, midtown, and Buckhead and still some southern charm in some of the surrounding area’s. And if you want a suburbian feel just go outside of I-285 and commute into the big city. How many cities can say that? How many cities have a heavy rail system especially in the south. Not light rail folks because there is a difference. Most cities don’t have heavy rail because it can’t be supported. Light rail are smaller, shorter trains that are more like a trolley. Heavy rail is used in major cities because it has it’s own exclusive right of way. Unfortunately it is not extended where it needs to be 1) because there is no state support for MARTA and 2)there are people that don’t want a rail stop in their area because it attracts crime…one of the dumbest things I’ve heard. Every rail stop I’ve seen on MARTA was clean and most had nice high end development around it, including on the South line! Why are so many stars moving to ATL… black and white? How many cities have natural beauty like Stone Mountain and man made like the skyline of the city? Why were the Olympics set here? People… the OLYMPICS!! What is keeping on the haters here? Someone said they probably can’t afford to leave. Probably true. Every city has crime and traffic. That is just part of a big city. I love the A town and can’t wait to get down there. It has everything I need.

Left wing management

September 17th, 2009
1:11 pm

Tori: Atlanta has such a bad rap…it is one of the largest cities in the country and never gets a lick of press.

I don’t know, I think Atlanta gets a pretty fair amount of attention. This NG magazine piece is a case in point. What I think Atlanta does NOT get is much respect from the city snobs. And probably one reason it does not is that life here is not as hard as it is in other places. As I once overheard somebody who’d just moved to LA say: “the harder it is to live in a place, the more exciting it is” (he was speaking of LA and NY). So there’s a romanticism of urban grittiness. For those with little patience, Atlanta is too big to have any mid-size charm (a la Denver, Austin) but too small for true big city sophistication. Meanwhile, the actual city that falls through the cracks in this way gets overlooked and dissed, and that’s a shame.


September 17th, 2009
1:03 pm

Atlanta has such a bad rap…it is one of the largest cities in the country and never gets a lick of press. everyone who has visited me here has had a fabulous time…from touristy Coca-Cola and Aquarium to the pubs of the Highlands, to swanky Buckhead, and vibrant Midtown. We eat good, enjoy the parks and museums, watch shows, shop, drive through beautiful intown neighborhoods with historic homes, etc.

I have lived all over, including London and I agree with Joe…London is lonely and its a hard, hard life. Atlanta is the only big city I have been in where its easy to live here. I am from youngstown, ohio area orginally…crime and corruption are everywhere. If we concerned about it, we need to work to fix it and I think Atlanta has done a good job and continues to improve itself.