Atlanta Downtown Walk, Atlanta

Atlanta Downtown Walk (Self Guided), Atlanta

The capital of the U.S. state of Georgia was founded in the mid 1830s, some decade after the first Europeans settled in the area, as the terminus of a major national railroad that provided link between the port of Savannah and the Midwest.

Quite fittingly, the settlement was first known as Terminus, and then Thrasherville. When asked, in 1837, about its future, the railroad's chief engineer said that it would be good "for one tavern, a blacksmith shop, a grocery store, and nothing else". By 1842, however, the town had six buildings and 30 residents and was renamed Marthasville to honor Governor Wilson Lumpkin's daughter Martha.

Later, it was renamed Atlanta after becoming a convergence point among several railroads, spurring its rapid growth. The largest was the Western and Atlantic Railroad, from which the name "Atlanta" is derived, signifying the city's growing reputation as a major transportation hub.

During the American Civil War, Atlanta served a strategically important role for the Confederacy until it was captured in 1864. Almost entirely burnt to the ground during General William T. Sherman's March to the Sea, Atlanta rebounded dramatically in the post-war period and quickly became a national industrial center and the unofficial capital of the "New South". After World War II, the city further established itself as a hub for manufacturing and technology. During the 1950s and 1960s, Atlanta proved instrumental in the American Civil Rights Movement, with Martin Luther King Jr. becoming prominent figure in the movement's leadership.

Perpetually busy, Downtown Atlanta is marked by the presence of governmental facilities such as the Georgia State Capitol, the seat of the State government. The Fairlie–Poplar Historic District, a definitive center point and longtime commercial heart of Atlanta, contains many striking pieces of architecture dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The most famous of them include the Flatiron Building, a wedge-shaped structure from 1897, and the Healey Building, the last major skyscraper erected during the pre-WWI construction boom.

The Olympic Games of 1996 gave the Downtown a significant boost. Centennial Olympic Park, built as a physical memorial to the games, spurred the creation of a tourist district anchored by the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola drawing scores of people to a shiny new area that frequently sprouts various offerings, including festivals and regular lunchtime concerts. Among other prominent attractions in Downtown Atlanta are the CNN Center, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the College Football Hall of Fame.

The number of visitors to the "heart of the South" continues to rise steadily year on year, prompted by the round-the-clock, big-city excitement found in a multitude of places. To explore Atlanta's Downtown more closely, at your own pace and in your good time, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Atlanta Downtown Walk Map

Guide Name: Atlanta Downtown Walk
Guide Location: USA » Atlanta (See other walking tours in Atlanta)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: brian
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Georgia State Capitol
  • Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
  • Flatiron Building
  • Healey Building and Fairlie–Poplar Historic District
  • CNN Center
  • College Football Hall of Fame
  • Centennial Olympic Park
  • SkyView Ferris Atlanta
  • World of Coca-Cola
  • Georgia Aquarium
  • National Center for Civil and Human Rights
Georgia State Capitol

1) Georgia State Capitol

An architectural and historical gem in the heart of Downtown Atlanta, Georgia's State Capitol stands out proudly with its gold-plated dome capped by a statue of Miss Freedom, while the equally impressive, regal-looking interior has marble floors, grand staircases and pillars that give that "government" feeling. Offices of the governor, lieutenant governor, and secretary of state are found on the 2nd floor, while the 3rd floor comprises chambers for the General Assembly. Lastly, the 4th floor houses visitors' galleries overlooking the legislative chambers and a free museum documenting Georgia's historical past in terms of nature, people, government, state politics and the physical building itself.

If you come by when the legislature is in session (January through April), expect a madhouse of activity, as this is one of the busiest working capitol buildings in the U.S., with large crowds of lobbyists clustered 'around the rope lines' that lead into the House and Senate cloakrooms. Also make sure to drop in on the galleries if your schedule permits – both offer great ways to look in on the impressive legislative chambers, whether in session or out.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place for those with an interest in Georgia history, politics, or buildings with golden domes.
Surrounded by lushly landscaped grounds with large hardwoods that are home to several varieties of hawks.

Start on the fourth floor, where the museum is, and work your way down to the main level.
Take a photo ID or copy of passport, as you need it for entrance.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 8am–5pm; free admission
Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

2) Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

A paragon of simple beauty, Downtown's Catholic Shrine may lack the grandeur and scale of a Catholic cathedral, but nonetheless does not shy in serenity and majesty. Whether or not you are a Catholic, this church, named after Murillo's painting "Immaculate Conception", should be on your list of attractions to visit, especially if you are in the Downtown area and enjoy history. It is extremely welcoming and genuinely friendly to people from all walks of life and every background.

Located near the Georgia State Capitol and almost next door to the Central Presbyterian Church, the Shrine, completed and dedicated in 1873, is one of Georgia's oldest churches that was fortunate to survive the shock of Civil War (or "The War Between the States", according to a nearby plaque).

The main building has only one large interior room, but within it you will find the sides flanked with gorgeous stained glass windows and paintings describing the Passion of Christ, while the ceiling is adorned with eight large colorful portraits of Catholic saints. However, the main spotlight as you walk in is the ornate main altar. Absorb the serene atmosphere as you slowly walk toward it to admire its detailed beauty!

Try to go on a sunny day with the light streaming through the stained glass windows.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am–4pm
Flatiron Building

3) Flatiron Building

The English-American Building, located on the wedge-shaped block between Peachtree Street NE, Poplar Street NW, and Broad Street NW in Downtown Atlanta, has been commonly referred to as the Flatiron Building for its narrow, triangular shape and cast-iron steel structure since 1950. The project was completed in 1897, by the English-American Loan and Trust Co. which was established two years earlier to construct the tallest building in Atlanta.

Five years later, another Flatiron Building, this time in New York City, appeared with a similar prominent flatiron shape. The very first Flatiron, however, was built in Toronto, in 1892.

The Atlanta Flatiron was designed by Bradford Gilbert, a Chicago school contemporary of Daniel Burnham, the one who created NYC's Flatiron. The building has 11 stories and is the city's second and oldest standing skyscraper. It is protected as a historic edifice in Fairlie-Poplar district, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

During 1996 Summer Olympics, the Flatiron building was decorated with a gold medal.

In 2015 the construction on FlatironCity, a modern space for creators and innovation, got underway. In 2016 it was officially opened, quickly becoming a home to entrepreneurs and hosting NYE's Peach Drop. Today, FlatironCity houses a Microsoft Innovation Center, Women's Entrepreneurship Institute and 20+ businesses and startups.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Healey Building and Fairlie–Poplar Historic District

4) Healey Building and Fairlie–Poplar Historic District

Often dubbed "The Queen of Atlanta", the Healey Building in the Fairlie–Poplar District was the last major skyscraper erected in the Capital of the South during the pre-WWI construction boom. On August 8, 1977, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and since 1987 and has enjoyed local landmark status as well. 2001 saw the upper floors converted into condominiums, while the lower floors continue to be the home of galleries, shops, and restaurants. Anyone wanting to see a great example of adaptive re-use and rehabilitation of a landmark will enjoy a visit.

Part of downtown Atlanta's central business district, the Fairlie–Poplar Historic District is named for the two streets that cross at its center: northeast-only Fairlie and southeast-only Poplar. With smaller city blocks than the rest of the city (about half by half), and streets running at a 40° diagonal, Fairlie–Poplar contains many commercial and office buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including local interpretations of prevailing national architectural styles: Chicago, Renaissance Revival, Neoclassical, Commercial, Art Deco, Georgian Revival, and Victorian.

The district's buildings also represent the shift in building technology from load-bearing masonry and timber walls to steel and concrete framing. Other individual structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places that lie within Fairlie–Poplar include the Flatiron Building, Rhodes-Haverty Building, the Empire/C&S Building, the Prudential/W.D. Grant Building, the Retail Credit Company Home Office Building, and the Elbert P. Tuttle United States Court of Appeals Building.
CNN Center

5) CNN Center (must see)

The CNN Center is probably one of the most visited tourist attractions in Atlanta. You can see the different CNN shows and the various departments that comprise the company. The favorite part of many visitors is the control room where you can observe a live news broadcast. The CNN Center is the world headquarters of CNN. The main newsrooms and studios for several of CNN's news channels are located in the building. The facility's commercial office space is occupied entirely by CNN and its parent company, Turner Broadcasting System, a subsidiary of Time Warner. The CNN Center is located in Downtown Atlanta, Georgia, adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park.

The CNN Center also houses a major hotel (an Omni Hotels franchise owned by Turner Broadcasting, now Time Warner) and a large atrium food court frequented by local business employees, tourists, event goers from Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome, and conference attendees from the Georgia World Congress Center. CNN's multi-channel output to the world is broadcast on large screens around the center. Studio tours are available and include demonstrations of the technologies such as Chroma key as well as visits to viewing galleries overlooking the newsrooms and anchors of CNN, CNN International, CNN Radio, HLN, In Session, CNNfn, CNN Sports Illustrated, and CNN en Español. The atrium escalator that is used to transport visitors on the CNN tour has been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest freestanding (supported only at the ends) escalator in the world. The CNN Center is directly connected to the Philips Arena, home to the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.

Why You Should Visit:
Gives you a better behind-the-scenes idea of how 'news' are made and what goes on at CNN, and how many people are actually involved in the process, too.
There are paid 50-minute guided tours highlighting the CNN broadcasting and with a VIP tour, you can walk right through the newsroom among people working and take all the pics you want.

Perfect place to get your food and drink on before events at Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome (prices are half as much).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
College Football Hall of Fame

6) College Football Hall of Fame (must see)

If you are into college football or just want to gain a better understanding of the sport, this is a great place to kill an hour or two taking it all in. After being founded by the National Football Foundation in 1951, to immortalize the players and coaches of college football, the Hall was decided to be moved to Atlanta in 2009. The new building broke ground on January 28, 2013, and on August 23, 2014 the $68.5-million museum opened its doors for the first time.

Sections of the structure are reminiscent of a football in shape. The facility contains approximately 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) of exhibit and event space. They have plenty of impressive artifacts on display and informative/interactive exhibits, along with an authentic 45-yard indoor football field in the middle of it all, where you can kick a ball or throw a touch pass.

Additional reasons for a visit are the huge welcoming wall with helmets of every college team in the country, the displays of football equipment and accessories through the years, the gift shop stocked with lots to choose from, and the 3rd-floor Hall of Fame itself, which is a large circle of glass columns with etched names of the inductees. As of 2018, there are 997 players and 217 coaches enshrined in the Hall, representing 308 schools. Thirteen players, two coaches and one inanimate object (the Goodyear Blimp) were slated for induction in 2019.

Everyone working here is super helpful and will point out a few things that you might not discover on your own – things that people of all ages can enjoy!

Opening Hours:
Sun-Fri: 10am–5pm; Sat: 9am–6pm
Centennial Olympic Park

7) Centennial Olympic Park (must see)

Built by the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) as part of the infrastructure improvements for the Centennial 1996 Summer Olympics, this park plays host to millions of visitors a year and several events, including a summer popular music concert series (Wednesday WindDown) and an annual Independence Day concert and fireworks display. It covers 21 acres (85,000 sq m) and can be divided into The Great Lawn, Centennial Plaza, and the Visitor Center.

A key feature is the interactive Fountain of Rings which features computer-controlled lights and 251 jets of water synchronized with music played from speakers. An important formal architectural landmark that is also a fun and playful space, the computer-controlled fountain concept has since been replicated in other urban designs such as Toronto's Dundas Square and in commercial uses such as the Bellagio Fountains at the Bellagio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Apart from the light towers reminiscent of classical Greek marker columns, the fountain area is surrounded by flags representing the host countries of each Summer Olympics preceding the 1996 games. Scattered throughout are also several pieces of sculpture, including a statue of Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement.

The park has shows at the fountain four times daily (12:30/3:30/6:30/9pm). In 2013, SkyView Atlanta, a 200-foot (61-m) Ferris wheel with 42 air-conditioned cars and great views of the park and surroundings, debuted across the street.

Why You Should Visit:
Relaxing environment, family-oriented, clean restrooms, nice atmosphere.
City views from the main lawn and nice shade by the waterfalls and rocks.
The fountains are great fun for kids and a favorite backdrop for photographers.

If adventurous wear your swimming suit and cool off in the fountains. Your visit should otherwise start at the Visitor Information Center (pick up a walking tour map, or get the online version for your phone).

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7am–11pm
SkyView Ferris Atlanta

8) SkyView Ferris Atlanta

If you want to see the whole of Atlanta in one go, you can do it from here! SkyView Atlanta, a "one-and-done" type of attraction gives you a one-of-a-kind, thrilling panoramic view of the city and the surrounding metropolitan area from a new perspective – from atop a 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel – which is especially valuable if you don't have access to any of the city's high-rising buildings.

Towering nearly 20 stories above Centennial Olympic Park, surrounded by many other local sights, the wheel features 42 luxurious, climate-controlled gondolas, each holding up to 6 people. Those looking for an even more enhanced, “private” experience, may enjoy riding in style in a VIP gondola that can be easily pre-booked. In addition to the wonderful view, this provides all the perks including Ferrari-style seats, tinted windows, clear glass floor and a longer flight time. The length of time waiting and actual time on the ride are within reason.

Designed to thrill families, the attraction is fun, romantic, and non-expensive – only scary if you're already really afraid of heights. Still, with a view like this, everyone will be wanting a ride as a perfect compliment to one's downtown adventure.

Don’t miss the night-time light show! Try checking Groupon/local offers before purchasing onsite.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 12–11pm; Fri: 12pm–12am; Sat: 10am–12am
World of Coca-Cola

9) World of Coca-Cola (must see)

A classic Atlanta tourist destination, this place is well worth the admission and experience to see how much of an impact Coca-Cola have had on people's lives around the world. General admission for adults is $17, which is quite a good value since you will probably spend around 2 hours here exploring the different exhibits on two floors. Right as you enter, you are greeted with a free can of Coke, a short introduction by a guide about the company's historical artifacts, and a video – essentially a long Coca-Cola ad – which acts as a nice segway into the next portion – the entrance into the main hall.

On the 1st floor, you can explore "The Vault" (known to hold a physical copy of the secret Coca-Cola recipe), the "Milestones of Refreshment" walk-through exhibit, the manufacturing process in "Bottle Works", and even get to take pictures with the ever-jovial Polar Bear mascot. On the 2nd floor, there is the 4D theater with a wild roller-coaster feeling as the seats move to the short film, plus various galleries, massive gift shop, and of course the most exciting portion: the Tasting Room!

In the Tasting Room, you can sample over 100 different flavors of drinks from all over the world, produced under Coca-Cola license, as well as some drink specials from the bar. A very cool way to end the tour!

Why You Should Visit:
Tons of Coca-Cola paraphernalia and memorabilia, and you are given a virtually unlimited supply of Coca-Cola beverages from around the world to taste (naturally, you won't find any Pepsi drinks or merchandise here!).

Try to book online or buy the City Pass to jump at least one or two queues for entrance.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10am–5pm; Fri-Sat: 9am–5pm
Georgia Aquarium

10) Georgia Aquarium (must see)

Since it bills itself as the largest in the world, the Georgia Aquarium should definitely be on most visitors' lists of things to do while in Atlanta. It's a well designed aquarium with exhibits broken down by habitat and the only water tank big enough to accommodate several whale sharks, which is reason alone to buy tickets, especially if you've never seen them live.

Of course, while the whale sharks are the star attraction, the Aquarium has so much more! Their many smaller tanks feature an array of interesting species with everything from freshwater fish to penguins, otters, and beluga whales. Sea lion and dolphin shows are a part of the admission fee, but just watching the several species of jellyfish in their individual tanks can keep you mesmerized for hours as they move gracefully up and down with their flowing hairlike tentacles.

Everything is beautifully presented with large walls of thick glass so visitors can feel close to the sea life, separated by mere inches from the most amazing coral and fish, both large and small. In some places aquarium windows glitter with fish moving overhead, and at the entrance there is even a watery wall of schooling fish reflecting changing shades of blue light.

Why You Should Visit:
To experience all the world's major marine ecosystems in a single place – mostly via spectacular large displays and sometimes pop-up viewing stations/crawl spaces. From the Arctic waters where you'll see beluga whales and penguins to tropical seas where there is everything from seahorses to stingrays and sharks.

Buy your tickets online as it is a better deal – some discounts there cannot be purchased in person.
Consider paying a little extra to do the backstage tour – well worth the money and great for all ages.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am–9pm; Sat-Sun: 9am–9pm
National Center for Civil and Human Rights

11) National Center for Civil and Human Rights (must see)

Opened to the public in 2014 and located in the same downtown plaza as the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola building, the Center for Civil and Human Rights boasts stunning architecture and highlights the central role the city of Atlanta has played in the civil and human rights movement.

The Center hosts a number of exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, that not only tell the history of the civil rights movement in the U.S., but how that period is related to more contemporary human rights struggles around the world. During the development phase, it was determined that the average visitor would be more familiar with events in Sudan or the Middle East than they would with others in e.g. Selma, Alabama, and that civil rights history alone would not be enough to sustain the facility.

In early 2014, the New York Times named the Center as one of the biggest reasons to visit Atlanta, along with the then-soon-to-open Atlanta Streetcar and other new attractions. Do not leave the city without spending time here!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am–5pm; Sun: 12–5pm
Last entry: 1h before closing time

Walking Tours in Atlanta, Georgia

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Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles
Centennial Olympic Park

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.0 Km or 0.6 Miles