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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
8:38 am

Dear Chris:
Atlanta is an awesome place to live. The city is new, exciting, and full of entertainment for the whole family. The homes are beutiful and the neighborhoods are diverse. Sure there is crime like any other major city, but that doesnt negate the fact that all people are welcomed and enjoy the experience. I lived in several other major cities and they are like concrete jungles. Atlanta has an awesome skyline with a very green backdrop. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Get Real!

September 18th, 2009
8:37 am

You gotta be kidding! I was born and raised (as a caucasian) in Washington, D.C. Moved to Atlanta 41 years ago, and if it wasn’t for my kids being born here and living here, I’d be back in D.C. in a flat N.Y. second! Washington D.C. has it all over Atlanta.

In with the NEW

September 18th, 2009
8:36 am

I moved here from the north to take the jobs the Georgia educational system can’t fill (as it ranks 46th) and to introduce myself to the beautiful women the southern gentlemen can’t satisfy.

I figure it took Yankees to burn Atlanta down… and ya’ll we’re waiting for the Yankees to build it back up.


September 18th, 2009
8:28 am

if atlanta is so nice why has everyone moved 35 minutes north of the city


September 18th, 2009
8:25 am

Go ask those Ga Tech student who keep getting robbed if Atlanta is a place of a lifetime.


September 18th, 2009
8:24 am

Atlanta ahead of Boston ,San Francisco ?? PLease ! At one time Atlanta was a wonderful city but over the last 30 years it has become a city lacking in everything except hip hop. There is no downtown to walk through and enjoy without fear . Our major attractions are the World of Coke ,The Aquarium ,CNN,Stone Mountain and the Fox . Would I visit this city to visit those attractions ? NO ! I can’t wait to move from this crime infested ,corrupt ,hip hop city with nothing to do .What we call attractions are a joke !

Jamie Gumbrecht

September 17th, 2009
11:13 pm

Ha! Lily, the one I ALMOST answered incorrectly had to do with The Varsity potatoes. I really had to think about just how many cars are pulling in and just how much each one orders.


September 17th, 2009
5:55 pm

I’m not a hater, just an observer. Many of the most vocal supporters of Atlanta on this thread are from somewhere north (yes, that includes South Florida). It’s a delight to have you, but to keep Atlanta the place we love, please pass along the word to any less courteous transplants you may know: we walk and drive on the right; don’t block supermarket aisles with your carts while we chat; seldom find ANYTHING important enough to justify cutting in line or interrupting; and use the horn as a warning instrument, not long-distance profanity. Humoring our little quirks will keep your stay and our city much more pleasant. Just saying…

Lily Hunt

September 17th, 2009
5:34 pm

Enter your comments here I love that Kudzu AND the Big Chicken made it into a 10-question quiz! To me, one of the best things about Atlanta is watching us all assemble at Piedmont, not really to watch the old movies, but just because we like being together. Piedmont Park, the Starlight, any neighborhood fair any time of year…just bring out the food and we’ll be there, fixin’ to shoot the breeze!


September 17th, 2009
3:37 pm

First, would the Atlanta-bashing trolls please follow through with their rhetoric and MOVE? (And once you have moved, there’s probably not much reason to keep reading a column on “fun stuff to do in Atlanta and beyond”, unless I guess if you live in beyond.) Once y’all move, traffic should ease up somewhat, although some of the Atlanta-bashers don’t seem to get out much.

Here’s what I posted last week, when some of the same people were outraged that Atlanta had been mentioned as one of the ten most fun US cities (we placed 6th):

“Fun in Atlanta includes Horizon Theatre, Actors’ Express, Theatrical Outfit, the (Tony-winning) Alliance, 7 Stages, TWO Shakespeare companies (Atlanta Shakes Downtown and Ga. Shakes in Buckhead), PushPush, Synchronicity, True Colors, Theatre in the Square, and Dad’s Garage! Unlike the other cities on the list, we even have a French-language theatre, Theatre du Reve.
Check out the High (not just the high-profile exhibits), the Carlos, the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, Spelman Museum, MOCAGA, Oglethorpe Museum, MODA……….and galleries such as Marcia Wood, Solomon Projects, Sandler Hudson, Saltworks, Kiang, Jackson (for photo), Lumiere (also photo), and Barbara Archer.
Check out the superb symphony, and the best-on-the-planet ASO Chorus.
Listen to jazz at Churchill Grounds and blues at Blind Willie’s. Eat at any of the 100 best restaurants around town. Stroll through Piedmont Park in the spring, or hike the Chattahoochie Nat’l Rec. area in fall. Visit the world’s largest aquarium, and one of the nation’s best zoos.
And if you’re frightened by fellow citizens because they’re black, please move to Alabama.”

I would like to know whether any of the trolls have been to 5 or more of the places on that list.

To clarify a few points: the city population isn’t 400,000; since 1990 it has increased to over 500,000, the highest ever.

And contrary to some comments here, the city and the metro area, through the ARC, have excellent transportation plans. Such plans have existed for over a decade. The problem is: (a) the state underfunds metro Atlanta, raking off our tax dollars to fund projects in the rest of the state, and (b) the state will not even let us VOTE to tax OURSELVES to fund transit.