Georgia’s capital city has long been a hub of culture and commerce in the Southeast U.S. Atlanta has grown that reputation while moving into the modern age, still managing to retain its historic charm. These days, though, the city that played such a vital role in both the Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement hides historic and modern marvels alike for travelers willing to look beyond the obvious. Here are 10 things you didn't know about Atlanta.
Atlanta Wasn’t Always the State Capital of Georgia
It wasn’t until a vote during the post Civil War Georgia State Constitutional Convention of 1867-68 that it was decided to temporarily relocate the state capital from Milledgeville, Georgia, to Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta had been suggested and rejected as the capital prior to the war, although the city was already known as a transportation and commerce hub of the Southeast. In 1887, the convention finally voted to permanently place the capital in Atlanta. Today the capitol building's signature gold dome gleams as a beacon to visitors. Completed in 1889, the building is of high architectural and historical significance. Interpretive tours give visitors a glimpse of the interior grandeur, with state history items throughout.
Atlanta’s Aquarium is the Second Largest Aquarium in the World
Here, some 10 million gallons of water are home to more than 100,000 sea creatures. Even better, Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium is a non-profit dedicated to marine research. With some of the largest viewing windows in the world, the experience is immersive, dropping you into the blue with giants like whale sharks, the biggest fish in the world. In its conservation efforts, the aquarium also operates the Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station in Marineland, Florida, with a focus on recovery and rescue of large marine life in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s coast.
Swan House Appeared in 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Part museum, part movie backdrop, Atlanta’s Swan House has graced the screen as well in The Walking Dead, Stranger Things and The Vampire Diaries, among other films and shows. The home and its grounds were designed by famed Atlanta architect Philip Trammell Shutze, and constructed from 1926 to 1928 as the Jazz Age wound down before the Depression kicked in. With its signature blue doors, the home blends Italian and English classical styles, making it the perfect period set piece. Part of the Atlanta History Center, the house and gardens are open to the public for tours of its array of exhibitions and installations.
Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the World’s Busiest
Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport is also known simply as Atlanta Airport. The massive facility south of downtown is named for former mayors William B. Hartsfield and Maynard Jackson. Their namesake airfield has held the title of world’s busiest since 1998, and today serves 150 U.S. destinations and more than 75 destinations in 50 countries. Some 275,000 passengers a day move through the humming hub. It’s fitting, too, that the world’s biggest airport has the tallest flight tower in North America, at just under 400 feet, making it the fourth-tallest worldwide.
Ponce City Market is Atlanta’s Largest Commercial Adaptive Reuse Project
Ponce City Market is the conversion of a former Sears, Roebuck and Company brick building into a community-focused meeting space with a food hall, retailers, apartments and office space. Part of the revitalization of its Fourth Ward neighborhood today, the property was acquired in 1925 by Sears for its city-blocks big retail outlet and warehouse hub, which once supplied the entire Southeast. The building’s meticulous rehab pays homage to that past by leaving original elements in place. A highlight of such reuse is the trip to the rooftop on a freight elevator. Awaiting is the Roof at Ponce City Market, where you can enjoy panoramic views, boardwalk-style amusements, mini-golf and an array of food and drink establishments at which to imbibe.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the Most Sustainable Sports Venue in the World
Home of this year's Super Bowl LIII, Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the first professional sports stadium in the U.S. to achieve LEED Platinum status, according the the venue’s website. The home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and the MLS Atlanta United FC soccer team, the retractable-roof stadium features one of the most advanced sliding roof structures ever built, its eight petal-like leaves swirling open and shut in unison like a camera lens. State-of-the-art video screens immerse fans in the experience, and the venue features original murals, photography, mixed-media installations and outsized sculptures commissioned and curated by the Savannah College of Art specifically for the stadium and its grounds.
Atlanta’s Fox Theater Has the Largest Pipe Organ of Its Type in the World
This venerable movie house and live performance theater was the height of entertainment glamour in its day, including its immense instrument. Installed as the final touch to the lavish entertainment palace, the 3,622-pipe Moller organ, nicknamed “Mighty Mo,” went into service when the Fox opened its doors on Christmas day in 1929. That day, a sold-out crowd packed the place to watch Steamboat Willie featuring Mickey Mouse. The melodically billowing beast is the the largest organ of its kind on the planet. Still an active showhouse, the Fox Theater is open for tours, so you don’t have to wait for performance night to check out its prodigious pipes.
The Doll’s Head Trail is a Quirky, Hidden Wonder
An urban oasis reclaimed from the remnants of an abandoned 19th-century brick factory, Constitution Lakes Park is a nature preserve hemmed in by commerce of bustling Atlanta. The now-thriving wetlands area is a haven for bird watchers and wildlife alike. It also has a quirky side. Here, intermittently displayed along the park’s paths, are the bizarre and eerie visions of Joel Slaton, the outsider artist who left the vignettes of discarded doll parts and industrial trash intermingled incoherently. Known as Doll's Head Trail, the linear installation dedicated to found art is a short, whimsical walk in the woods. Peaceful, if a little spooky.
The Atlanta BeltLine is the City’s Biggest Public Redevelopment Effort Ever
This monumental adaptive reuse project is the legacy of a Georgia Tech graduate student who spearheaded a grassroots groundswell in 1999 around returning 22 miles of abandoned railway lines to public use as walkways, hiking trails and parks. Encircling the Atlanta metro area, The Atlanta BeltLine is among the largest, most far-reaching efforts at urban redevelopment currently underway in the U.S. So far, it has resulted in a lot of green, open spaces for Atlantans and visitors to enjoy, and further enhancements are scheduled out to 2030 as the sustainable, transformative revitalization rolls on where trains once did.
Atlanta Has a Waffle House Museum
Atlanta’s Waffle House Museum is a shrine to the iconic breakfast chain that started right here in the Avondale Estates neighborhood, and the 1950s throwback is even having a comeback cultural moment of late, getting name checked by celebrities and sports stars alike in the media. Located in the original spot, a replica of the original 1955 waffle shop is adorned in authentic period signage and displays with original style uniforms for pure retro nostalgia, plus Waffle House memorabilia from the past 60 years. Save room in your suitcase for a souvenir Waffle House coffee mug.