Continually tearing down and rebuilding, Atlanta retains nearly nothing of its original — that is, antebellum — architecture. Outside the city, some structures remain, while still others, albeit preserved, no longer sit on their original sites. Even post-bellum Victorian Atlanta is reduced in numbers. Today's Atlanta, which is still re-inventing itself, has brought to life urban centers marked by modern structures. Here you'll find creations by Philip Johnson's firm (IBM Tower); Richard Meier (High Museum of Art); Renzo Piano (High Museum of Art addition); and I.M. Pei, Michael Graves (Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University).
Covering 28 counties, Metropolitan Atlanta is the eighth largest economy in the country, and hosts the third largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. The city offers a geographic extension and ethnic complexity that ensures some of the best food, entertainment and housing in the country.
To explore in comfort, you will need a car. Although MARTA is an excellent public transportation system providing both rail and bus transportation, the system doesn't go beyond Metropolitan Atlanta's two main counties: DeKalb and Fulton. Cobb and Gwinnett counties have their own transportation systems, which tie into MARTA at specific spots. And the posh Buckhead neighborhood offers a free shuttle bus system, called "The Buc," which operates among the neighborhood's hotels and retail zones.
There are numerous wonderful hotels in Atlanta. Get your first taste of the city's history by staying in historic Midtown, which escaped the 1917 fire that nearly engulfed the city, at the Victorian-era Shellmont Inn. Located on tree-lined Piedmont Avenue, the inn was built in 1891 by Walter T. Downing, a famous Atlanta architect, for William Perrin Nicholson, a prominent physician, as a wedding gift for his wife. Relax in one of the whirlpool-tub suites and take a brisk walk through this vibrant restored neighborhood before dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. Other lovely places to stay while in Midtown include the luxurious TWELVE Hotel in Atlantic Station. History buffs also will love The Georgian Terrace, from whose historic balconies Enrico Caruso would serenade Atlantans in the streets whenever the Metropolitan Opera was in town performing across the street at the Fox Theatre. The nearby Hotel Indigo Atlanta Midtown accepts guests with pets. The Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta is convenient to the district's arts, dining and entertainment scene. In 2010, Loews Atlanta Hotel opened its long anticipated hotel in Midtown on Peachtree Street at 11th. The W Hotels have two re-brands and one new construction in Atlanta. The new W Atlanta - Downtown opened in January 2009. The former Sheraton at Colony Square now is the W Atlanta - Midtown, and the former Crown Plaza Hotel in Buckhead is now the W Atlanta Buckhead; there's also The St. Regis Atlanta.
Visitors preferring the Downtown environment will enjoy The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta, or, if romance is in the air, the boutique The Glenn Hotel and downtown The Ellis on Peachtree, the latter ensconced in what once was the luxurious if ill-fated Winecoff Hotel, site of one of the nation‘s worst hotel fires in 1946. Its original architect, William Lee Stoddart, was famous for his hotels. One of the unique features of The Ellis is an all-women's floor. Another of Downtown's newest hotels is a TWELVE hotel, sister of the one in Atlantic Station. Joining its three siblings is the 2009 completion of the new W Atlanta - Downtown. Within the CNN Complex is the Omni Hotel at CNN Center, with good fine dining at its restaurant, Prime Meridian. Particularly well situated for exploring attractions around Centennial Olympic Park, the Embassy Suites at Centennial Olympic Park also offers fine dinning at Ruth's Chris Steak House, with service including a breakfast buffet and lunch. The Buckhead location of Ruth's Chris Steak House has moved to the Buckhead Embassy Suites Hotel, near the Financial Center. Check out Day 3 for lodging in affluent Buckhead.
Wherever you choose to stay, settle in and then get ready to begin your 72 hours in Atlanta!
DAY 1: Atlanta Botanical Gardens, World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium
If you're staying at the Shellmont Inn, start your day with breakfast there. If you're staying elsewhere in Midtown, head to the Flying Biscuit Café for classic Southern-style biscuits as well as omelets and other breakfast fixin's.
Begin your day with a visit to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens on Piedmont Avenue. Besides botanical displays, the garden is an extraordinary exhibition environment for art.
Sites to see in Midtown include the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, the re-constructed apartment building where Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell and her second husband John Marsh lived while she was working on the novel. Spaces showcase memorabilia from both the author and the film, which premiered in Atlanta. Ms. Mitchell called the place "The Dump," and since it was renovated, following a pair of mysterious fires, it looks substantially nicer than when the author and her spouse lived in a part of it.
After exploring Midtown, head to Downtown, taking MARTA from the Midtown Station located on 10th Street between Peachtree and W. Peachtree streets, to the Five Points Station. To find Atlanta's historic roots, visit Underground Atlanta. Near here is the spot where the Dartmouth-educated engineer Stephen Long supposedly thrust into the ground the stake marking the end of the western line of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, also known as the zero mile marker. Atlanta grew around this point. Today, the original entrances to these 19th-century commercial buildings, which were obscured when the street level was raised, lead to shops, restaurants and nightspots. Markers scattered throughout Underground Atlanta point out various important buildings or other moments in the city's history.
Jump back on MARTA at Five Points and ride west one stop to CNN Center, or walk the few blocks west along Marietta Street to CNN, right across from Centennial Olympic Park. Marietta Street west of CNN is another of Atlanta's once rundown neighborhoods undergoing revitalization. Most worthy are the regularly scheduled CNN tours, which take you behind the scenes at the hub of the world's news nerve center. Across the street lies Centennial Olympic Park, and just beyond the park are two must-sees: the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium. The Aquarium is a gift from Bernard Marcus, one of the two founders of Home Depot.
Got toddlers in tow? Also adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park is Imagine it! The Children's Museum of Atlanta, where the youngest tourists will find activities designed to intrigue them. Teens and those in their 20s will enjoy the College Football Hall of Fame, on Marietta St., near the CNN Center.
Atlanta's historic role in the Civil Rights Movement is embodied in its new National Center for Civil and Human Rights on Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard and in the Sweet Auburn district, which runs along Edgewood Avenue in Downtown. To get there, return along Marietta Street to Five Points and take MARTA's No. 3 bus to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site. Be sure to visit the home where King was reared, as it is open to the public. Across the street from the church at the visitor center, exhibitions detail his role in the Civil Rights Movement. And, of course, stop by his gravesite at the King Center, where King's widow, Coretta Scott, now also is interred. Across the street is Horizon Sanctuary, the modern Ebenezer Baptist Church, completed in 1999, where crowds celebrated the election of President Barack Obama in 2008. Many news commentators stated that here is where King preached, but it was not built until after his death. His preaching was at the original church across the street, now known as Heritage Sanctuary, completed in 1922. Having completed its two-phase renovation project, Heritage Sanctuary is open daily (except major holidays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but hours can vary so call before going.
Heading west from Downtown along Marietta Street, take a slight right up Brady Avenue to Howell Mill Road. This area, known now as the Westside, has become a haven for restaurants ranging from Atlanta's most renowned Bacchanalia to some of its most creatively casual, Bocado and Taqueria del Sol, both easy on the wallet. For a taste of Southern fare, JCT Kitchen & Bar offers splendid choices, and a magnificent view of the city's skyline awaits at Six Feet Under from its rooftop bar.
Or, if you prefer to return to Midtown for dinner, try the Italian fare at Campagnolo, while at the Vortex, late-night dining on burgers is a reality show. And if you wish to dine lightly, hit up TAP, popular for tapas and small plates.
South City Kitchen showcases upscale Southern fare, while nationally recognized ECCO is so popular, it may require a reservation, but at least merits a visit to the bar.
* Skyline image courtesy of Atlanta Tourism/ Twelve Hotel images courtesy of the Twelve Hotels official website