One of the most-visited cities in the entire United States, Georgia’s capital Atlanta has a whole host of iconic landmarks and enticing tourist attractions for visitors to check out. While some such as the World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium charge an entrance fee, many of its most-popular parks, museums and markets are free for all to enjoy.
Famously burnt down during the Civil War, the teeming metropolis has since bounced back with its three sparkling skylines containing the global headquarters of lots of huge companies.
With an exciting list of free things to do in Atlanta, a rich history and heritage to uncover and several important Civil Rights monuments this is a city well worth exploring.
In this post, we'll cover:
15. Atlanta Monetary Museum
A fascinating place to visit, the Atlanta Monetary Museum looks at the turbulent history of banking in the States. Actually located within the Federal Reserve in Midtown, its rare coins and currencies can be viewed for free on any weekday with free group guided tours available by appointment only.
Through dozens of displays, the museum covers the early days of barter and other frequently traded goods and services right up to modern banking and our credit cards. It also focuses on the Federal Reserve’s role in the economy and allows guests a quick peek at the big Bank’s automated vault and cash-processing areas.
Aside from learning about how its monetary policies affect your life, you can see common products previously used as money and gain a greater grasp of various financial systems throughout history.
14. Krog Street Market
Loads of fun to wander around, Krog Street Market is home to scores of enticing eateries, specialty shops and food stalls from all around the globe. Besides taking in the lively yet laidback atmosphere and examining all its colorful fruit and veg, you can pick up some tasty snacks and smoothies here before continuing on with your sightseeing.
Often described as one of the best food halls in the world, it opened back in 2014 along the Atlanta BeltLine in Inman Park. In its historic old 1920s warehouse, you can find bakers and butchers lying next to stands selling either souvenirs or artisanal food products.
While some restaurants at the hugely popular west coast-style market are quite pricey, other eateries are more affordable with Indian, Italian, Latin American and Vietnamese options all being on offer.
13. Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta
Sure to be of interest to history lovers, the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as a pastor in the sixties. Now protected as part of the National Historic Site of the same name, it is free to enter any weekday and sit and contemplate on its old wooden pews.
Since being founded in 1886, the charming church has been the spiritual home of many locals in the Sweet Auburn district of Atlanta. Before being ordained himself, both MLK’s father and grandfather also preached from its pulpit with all three calling for desegregation and equal rights. Due to this, it soon became recognized around the world as a stronghold for the Civil Rights movement.
After visiting the church and listening to some recordings of MLK’s most poignant speeches, make sure to spend some time exploring the rest of the park outside. It includes not just his early boyhood home and gravesite but a center all about the Civil Rights movement too.
12. Georgia State Capitol
Definitely one of the most important and impressive buildings in the city, the Georgia State Capitol rises up dramatically above the lush green gardens around it. The seat of the state’s government, its elegant interior is free to enter and explore on any weekday.
Exhibiting some exquisite Classical Revival architecture, the grand building was completed in 1889 and is adorned with a glittering golden dome topped by a statue of Miss Freedom. Designed to look somewhat like the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., its facade features a superb four-story portico fronted by six sturdy Corinthian columns.
Its interior is just as arresting as rich oak and marble panelings are used throughout with enormous staircases and atriums overlooking its central rotunda. Other than taking in all its fine features, there is also an excellent museum to visit on its fourth-floor full of artifacts and exhibits on the history of Atlanta and Georgia.
11. Atlanta BeltLine
As it encircles the center of The Big A, the Atlanta Beltline is a wonderful way to get around, enjoy some exercise and see more of the city at the same time. Very popular with locals and tourists alike, it connects numerous neighborhoods and parks with countless public art installations, cafes and restaurants also lining the route.
Part of a huge plan to rejuvenate the city and its suburbs, the multipurpose path will stretch roughly 33 miles in length when all parts are completed in 2030. Following the tracks of a former a railway corridor, it already has miles and miles of scenic sections for you to walk, run, jog or cycle along.
While some paved parts wind their way past the Krog Street Market and Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, others pass through the pretty woods and meadows of Piedmont Path. With so much to see and do along the trail, the BeltLine is a brilliant way to get out of the center and explore some of the city’s other attractive neighborhoods and outdoor areas.
10. Climb Stone Mountain
On the eastern outskirts of Atlanta, around half an hour’s drive from downtown, is the soaring Stone Mountain. Hiking to the top of the hulking great monolith is fun and free with its summit boasting some phenomenal panoramas over its surroundings and the city’s sparkling skyline in the distance.
Now protected as part of a park, the mighty mount rises 825 feet above the verdant woodlands and reflective waterways all around it. While the 1.3-mile-long trail to its top is quite steep, the stunning scenery and nature you pass on the way and the views from up high make the effort well worth it.
Aside from climbing Stone Mountain, there are a couple of trails to check out around its base which take you past lakes, streams, and the Confederate Memorial Carving. There are also scenic cable car rides, boat trips and steam train journeys to enjoy though these of course are fee-paying attractions.
9. Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
Located just a few minutes’ drive northeast of downtown is the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum. While it costs 12$ for adults to enter, the absolutely gorgeous gardens and grounds around them are free to stroll about any day of the year.
Sprawling across a massive area, the Carter Center’s grounds encompass everything from koi ponds and cut flower gardens to sculptures and shady wooded areas. At its Circle of Flags, you can see all fifty from each state with colorful flowerbeds and twinkling fountains also lying here and there.
Particularly picturesque parts are its fragrant rose garden home to over forty varieties and its lovely Japanese Garden containing azaleas, rhododendrons, river birch and maple trees. To round it all off, there is also a native oak forest and pollinator garden to amble around peacefully.
8. Ponce City Market
Just a stone’s throw away in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of town is the ever-popular Ponce City Market. Besides being home to offices and flats, the ginormous mixed-use building has plenty of shops and restaurants for you to check out alongside a rooftop amusement park.
Once a Sears catalogue facility, the big red 1926 building was completely renovated in 2014 with its colossal Central Food Hall lying right at the heart of everything. Here you can peruse around eighty or so stands and stalls selling everything under the sun or stop for a delicious bite to eat at one of its trendy bars and restaurants.
Afterwards, you can always play some arcade games and mini golf up on the roof while drinking in divine views over downtown. There is also a rooftop beer garden to relax at one you’ve had a go on the amusement park’s fast three-story slide and huge Heege tower.
7. Fernbank Science Center
Long a firm favorite with families, the Fernbank Science Center has loads of exciting exhibits and hands-on activities for visitors to enjoy, all for free. Situated just fifteen minutes’ drive northeast of the center, it lies just a bit further along from the larger and more widely known Fernbank Museum of Natural History.
Since first opening in 1967, its well-done displays on science, nature and technology have delighted generations of young and old alike. While some galleries are home to live snakes, salamanders and turtles, others focus instead on space with its original unmanned Apollo 6 Command Module being one of the museum’s main highlights.
Many people also come to watch a scintillating science show in its planetarium or go star gazing at the Ralph Buice Jr. Observatory. Although you need to a buy a ticket for these two extra attractions, admission is very affordable, and the shows are literally out of this world.
6. Oakland Cemetery
A very pretty and peaceful place to wander around, the atmospheric old Oakland Cemetery lies only a short walk or drive to the southeast of downtown. Full of elaborate monuments and mausolea, it is thought to be the final resting place of some 70,000 souls with burials still often taking place today.
One of the largest green spaces in all Atlanta, the Victorian-style cemetery covers an enormous area with ancient oaks and magnolias dotting its lawns. Established in 1850, it has countless sections and gardens to stroll around with some being dedicated to both Jewish and black citizens and other rows to Confederate soldiers.
Amidst all the weathered graves and extravagant tombs, you’ll find lots of impressive sculptures and monuments. Many of these highlight the vital role the city played in the Civil War and Civil Rights movement with others being of influential politicians, artists, and architects.
5. Atlanta History Center
For those interested in learning all about the city and state’s storied past, a trip around the excellent Atlanta History Center is an absolute must. Although its extensive exhibits are usually quite pricey, military personnel always receive free admission as do the holders of certain credit and debit cards on the first full weekend of each month.
Founded in 1926 in the Buckhead part of town, its green grounds have numerous historical houses, farms, and gardens for guests to explore. These cover not just local Native American culture and the lives of early settlers but the Civil War, 96′ Olympics and Southern folk art too.
Among its main highlights are the antebellum Smith Farm and the elegant Swan House which dates to 1928 and is surrounded by some exquisite Italian-style gardens. As there is so much to see and do here, you can easily spend all day exploring the Atlanta History Center.
4. High Museum of Art
Back in Midtown is yet another of Atlanta’s highly-rated institutes that is well worth checking out if you have the chance. Boasting an incredible collection of paintings, photos and sculptures, the High Museum of Art is free to visit between noon and 5PM on the Second Sunday of each month.
The largest visual art museum in the Southeastern United States, it was established in 1905 and now occupies a sparkling white, porcelain-enameled building in the arts district. While the unique shapes and designs by Richard Meier and Renzo Piano already make for a stunning sight, its light and airy galleries inside are just as delightful to amble around.
On display are roughly 18,000 artworks with arresting African and European pieces lying alongside thought-provoking photography installations and contemporary creations. As such, visitors will see everything from intricately carved masks and exceptionally fine textiles to masterpieces by Monet, Matisse and Rodin among others.
3. Piedmont Park
Home to lots of stupendous landscapes, scenery and nature is the popular Piedmont Park in between the neighborhoods of both Midtown and Virginia Highland. As well as picturesque woodlands and lakes, it has plenty of playgrounds, paths, and sports facilities for visitors to make use of.
Originally the private estate of Dr. Benjamin Walker, the vast tract of land was eventually bought by the city and opened up to the public as a park in 1904. Over the decades, tons of trails have been set down with some taking you along Cedar Creek and around Lake Clara Meer and others meandering their way past basketball courts, soccer fields and picnic pavilions.
While attractions such as the Atlanta Botanical Garden and aquatic center charge admission, the rest of the park is free to walk, run or cycle around. Other than taking in the striking scenery and views, you can also attend some of the countless cultural events and community festivals it hosts each year.
2. Centennial Olympic Park
The crown jewel of downtown’s entertainment district, Centennial Olympic Park boasts a wealth of fun, free things for you to see and do. Studded with lush lawns, monuments, and water features, it is ringed in by many of Atlanta’s main landmarks like the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola.
Part of a hugely successful project to revitalize the city center, its lovely landscaped outdoor spaces were unveiled just in time for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Previously a rundown eyesore, the park now contains attractive areas such as Paralympic Plaza and the iconic Fountain of Rings that lights up, plays music, and shoots jets of water around.
Aside from snapping some photos of its many monuments like the Gateway of Dreams and Quilt of Origins, you can also enjoy some of the free concerts, shows and festivals that regularly take place here. A lasting legacy of the games, no visit to The A can ever be complete without spending at least some time in Centennial Olympic Park.
1. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site
Atlanta’s other main unmissable attraction is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in the Sweet Auburn part of town. Completely free to visit, it encompasses the boyhood home, church and grave site of the renowned Civil Rights leader and a marvelous museum on the movement.
Founded in 1980, it offers an invaluable look at MLK’s life and legacy while its International Civil Rights Walk of Fame pays tribute to other courageous social justice pioneers from around the globe. The main sites to head in the park are of course the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he preached and the moving memorial site where he is buried. Guests can also take a free guided tour of his boyhood home though you do need to book in advance as slots are often filled up fast.
In the visitor center’s museum, you can see some fascinating exhibits and film clips on the struggles and successes of the Civil Rights movement. It also highlights the profound impact Martin Luther King Jr. and others had on the history of the United States.