By Brian Jewell
You could argue — and many people do — that Atlanta is the cultural capital of the American South. It takes just three days to discover why.
Besides being the largest city in the region, Atlanta enjoys a long, eventful history and a thriving metropolitan scene. Locals have a bevy of options for weekend outings or nights on the town, and visitors will find dozens of ways to enjoy this city as well.
For tour groups, Atlanta offers enough world-class activities to pack a multiday itinerary. Groups can spend an entire day in the city center, where one-of-a-kind attractions such as the World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium and the CNN Center give travelers experiences they won’t likely find anywhere else.
Art- and culture-lovers can spend another day in Midtown at the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, then return for an evening performance at the famous Fox Theater. And just outside of town, Stone Mountain Park merits a daylong visit of its own, giving groups a mix of history, nature and recreation.
Day One: Cultural Campus
In the center of Atlanta, a number of must-see attractions have sprung up around Centennial Olympic Park, which was the heart of the action during the 1996 Olympics that took place in the city. Today, the park and its accompanying museums and attractions have become known as the Cultural Campus.
Groups should plan to spend an entire day exploring this area, which includes such famous sites as the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola and the CNN Center.
Built several years ago as the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium gives visitors an immersive look into the oceans of the planet and the creatures that inhabit them. Groups can use free time to wander through the exhibit areas, including the new Dolphin Tales theater, or plan a memorable behind-the-scenes experience.
“The aquarium has a number of behind-the-scenes encounters,” said Jo Ann Hayden-Miller, director of consumer markets at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In one, you can actually have an experience with the belugas. You can swim with the whale sharks, with deep-sea diving garb on. It’s an unbelievably memorable experience, and you don’t have to snorkel in the ocean to do it.”
Groups will also find plenty of hands-on experiences at the World of Coca-Cola. America’s most famous soft drink was created in Atlanta, and this museum opened in 1989 to showcase the beverage’s impressive history and memorabilia. Five years ago, it moved to its current location, just across Pemberton Plaza from the aquarium.
Visitors to the museum will find galleries describing the origins and development of Coca-Cola, as well as displays of the pieces of branded merchandise that have become collectors’ items. Many visitors enjoy a chance to taste a variety of international beverages at the museum.
“They have a wonderful sampling area where you can taste the flavors of Coke from all over the world,” Hayden-Miller said. “They also have a 4-D theater, a pop-culture art gallery and a theater where you can see every Coke commercial that has ever been made.”
This year, the museum installed a vault that holds the legendary secret Coca-Cola formula.
CNN, another popular American brand, got its start in Atlanta as well. The company continues to operate its international news broadcast network from the CNN Center, near Centennial Olympic Park, and offers behind-the-scenes tours to groups that make reservations before their visits.
“You can literally walk through and see how the news is made,” Hayden-Miller said. “You see the history of how CNN was established, and you go through exhibits and observation areas, where you can see anchors as they’re broadcasting.”