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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
9:01 am

There are negative people in this world who see only problems.
There are positive people in this world who see the beauty.
Thank goodness an unbiased, well-respected magazine can see the truth.


September 18th, 2009
8:59 am

Atlanta is AWFUL! I thought a city with this much crime, traffic, corruption was the norm for a large city. I was so upset when my company transferred me to the Chicago branch but I couldn’t be happier here in Chicago. Even the “windy city” has less corruption than Atlanta. And for the previous poster who mentioned mayor Daley as corrupt, you obviously don’t know anything about him. And for those of you who are going to tell me to “read my own town’s newspaper” and “stop worrying about Atlanta”. I just want you to know that the only reason I read the AJC is to keep up with my alma mater in sports.

Left wing management

September 18th, 2009
8:59 am

To chuck allison: why do you even read the paper online then if you’re so happy to be done with Atlanta? Let me guess, you probably wish Atlanta were South Carolina or Alabama with no real major cities and you probably were rooting for Joe Wilson when he made his outburst in Congress. Am I right?

Love your city

September 18th, 2009
8:58 am

My goodness, what negativitities amongst our very own population…I, for one, happen to agree with the list. Atlanta is one beautiful city-full of diversity, culture, amazing entertainment, shopping, world class culinary cuisine, one of a kind parks, historical Vistorian homes on expansive tree-lined streets, mini ‘neighborhoods’ where there is literally something for everybody, countless Fortune 500 companies headquartered here,just hours from the mountains or the ocean, live music galore, art exhibits, and tons of Civil War history!?? I didn’t even mention Hartsfield-where we can literally jump on a non-stop flight to Seoul, Korea. Ladies and gentlemen, coming from a world travelled native Atlantan (born and raised right here and still here), I suggest some of you start seeing the beauty and intrigue of this fascinating city…


September 18th, 2009
8:58 am


What kind of corruption was former NYC Mayor David Dinksin involved in?

Heels 4 Real

September 18th, 2009
8:58 am

I just moved to Atlanta from Charlotte last weekend and am definitely liking it so far. I lived in Virginia-Highlands and have yet to experience any of the bad things people mention.


September 18th, 2009
8:58 am

One of the main reasons that Atlanta is unappealing to so many people is that it tries so hard to be something, usually the _____ of the south. For example, there was an article yesterday asking if Atlanta was the LA of the south (really?). When I moved here, I heard people call it the NY of the south (not even close). Little Five Points is made up to be a slice of San Francisco and Buckhead is supposed to be like Beverly Hills. I don’t know what Atlantic Station is supposed to be – perhaps an experiment in kitsch.

It is really annoying because if this place wasn’t too obsessed with trying to be like somewhere else its optimistic and friendly people could create a place more interesting and unique.


September 18th, 2009
8:54 am

Atlanta is a joke of a city. St. Louis has a city park that is 12 MILES around and it is beautiful. It makes Piedmont look like somebody’s backyard. The art museum here suffers from a lack of art, and the zoo is about 50 years behind the times. The Botanical Garden isn’t much bigger than gardens in many private homes–again, St. Louis has a Garden about 20 times larger. Maybe Atlanta suffers from lack of civic interest in all these things. What Atlanta does have is traffic and nasty, rude people.


September 18th, 2009
8:50 am

Is this a joke? Piedmont Park is a dump compared to REAL parks. It’s just a bunch of grass with a ‘lake’ and a splattering of trees. NatGeo must have been desperate to complete their list.

In with the NEW

September 18th, 2009
8:49 am

Hey Mactown Marvel, do you have a moment to get out of your trailer and tell me why nothing changed in Atlanta until the “infidels” showed up and started cleaning your town up?