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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


September 18th, 2009
8:48 am

Who in the world did the city of Atlanta pay off to get in National Geographic Traveler?

Matt C.

September 18th, 2009
8:46 am

I moved here a decade ago for school, never expecting I’d stay but here I am. I love this city and I’ll gladly take the bad parts with it. For all of you who were looking for Mayberry, I’m sorry you didn’t find it here. Good luck with that.

To answer the question posted. It’s got to be all the parks and festivals that are spread throughout the year. Atlanta is such a wonderfully social city. And it’s a beautiful city.

Everyone that thinks this city is scary…turn off the news and go outside and meet your neighbors.


September 18th, 2009
8:45 am

And I love the diversity here….Black White Indian Asian Mexican…yes Mexican. I am White. I love all these different foods they all bring here. I have tried them all. Indian has become one of my favorites. Life without all these different cultures would get boring.

Mactown Marvel

September 18th, 2009
8:44 am

First and foremost let me emphasize the fact that no U.S. metro city is perfect! One thing I can say is that while ATL has it’s faults like every other city ATL does provide you with the ability to live an affordable life. Having lived in both LA and now the God forsaken city these infidels call Beantown by far ATL has these cities beat when it comes to cordial ethics, cost of living, and overall cleanliness! As far as the traffic goes, traffic in the ATL has gotten worse because the infidels that move there for the likes of LA and Beantown that don’t have the common sense to move over when someone is trying to merge onto the highway (Ooops my bad, you infidels know this as being the Interstate). Common sense bottom line is the difference between persons that were born in ATL and have seen ATL become the present day city that it still is now know what the city is and is still beautiful in regards to its mystique and captivating charm that made NGC place it on its list. Now if all of these infidels that wrote their opinions about the city and are not originally from ATL take a deep breath, click your heels twice and take your infidel behinds back to where you came from!


September 18th, 2009
8:43 am

I moved here 16 years ago from Ohio. Atlanta and the metro area is so vast and varies so much from area to area. But the one thing I loved that you cannot get anywhere up north is the newness to everything. I love new and hate old. I grew up with old. Knew no different. Besides everyone is moving here. From all over the north to here. Why? Weather and beauty. The mountains, hills, trees and scenery do make it awesome. Visitors come down and tell me how every subdivision has such pristene well maintained landscape. I know people who moved here and moved back thinking the grass was greener and then reversed course. Now everyone regretted it. The drought was just a cycle. Look the weather now. Another cycle. Change is good. Same o same o is boring. Unless you have been other places like I have you have no clue. The cost of living here is very affordable. Traffic? Yeah I had a problem for 7 years. Then I changed jobs to where I drove the opposite of traffic. No my commute is 20-30 mins and loving it. No stress. That’s my take on this anyway.


September 18th, 2009
8:41 am

Oh yeah Jim. If you would check the latest census reports the city of Atlanta population has grown in the last five years. That includes alot of people returning to the city. Besides, I there is no other place in metro atlanta like Piedmont Park.


September 18th, 2009
8:41 am

I relocated from NYC because my job came to Atlanta. Overall, the city isnt all that bad. What impressed me the most was the amount of trees around the city. Overall, its relatively clean too. There are alot of things to do around town. I do like the weather better down here too.
The negatives are the city government,( alot of potential going to waste), No Marta train to Turner Field, (a no-brainer to have a stop there, whats up with that??), Downtown not to safe at night. I feel safer in downtown NYC than I do here. This city needs more of a police presence so the folks visiting have a sense of security. Just my take from a northerner….


September 18th, 2009
8:40 am

Enter your comments here
Piedmont park is not accessible to most. There is not enough parking, and it is so congested I avoid the area. It’s a great park if you live within walking distance, but it is a turn off, not a draw, to those who live in other parts of the city or suburbs. Locals view Piedmont Park as “theirs,” and do not welcome “outsiders” to “their park.” As a Chicago native, parks are designed to be accessible (lots of parking, public transportation that’s safe and accessible) a huge draw to local, suburbanites, and out of state visitor–and locals are proud of this. There’s a very different attitude in Atlanta.

Donald D

September 18th, 2009
8:40 am

What’s the old saying???? Something about “seeing the glass half full or half empty??” dependent on your own frame of mind.
Look for the beauty and it’s there before you; live in negativity and that’s what you get.

chuck allison

September 18th, 2009
8:38 am

Atlanta is a cesspool of corrupt leadership, black racism, traffic, poor architecture, crime, rap music, MLK’s descendants fighting in court,Cynthia McKinney, Wayne Williams, and moral decay. Don’t ask me why I don’t leave. I did, and now I hate to even drive through Atlanta or go through the airport. Imagine how wonderful Georgia would be if we could get rid of Atlanta.