Atlanta Midtown Walking Tour, Atlanta

Atlanta Midtown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Atlanta

A commercial core of Atlanta, Midtown is also a residential neighborhood, anchored by a series of high-rising office buildings, condominiums, and hotels. The exact geographical extent of the district is uncertain due to the varied definitions applied by people, authorities and businesses involved. Although its boundaries have never been clearly defined, Midtown Atlanta basically comprises the area between Downtown to the south and Buckhead to the north, and includes Piedmont Park – one of the city's major recreation spots.

Midtown is also a vibrant cultural hub with the highest density of art institutions in the Southeast, for which the locals lovingly refer to it as Atlanta's "Heart of the Arts". Indeed, here you will find the famed Fox Theatre – a 1920s Moorish-motif movie palace; Woodruff Arts Center – the recently expanded home of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; the High Museum of Art – located in a striking modern building designed by Richard Meier and Renzo Piano; and many other cultural venues.

Directly opposite the High, on Peachtree Street, is the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA), the only one in the Southeast devoted exclusively to the study and celebration of all things design. Peachtree itself is a hotspot for high-end retail, bars and ample eating options, ranging from street food to fine dining. A few blocks away you will find the oh-so-yummy Mary Mac's Tea Room, officially declared by the Georgia House of Representatives to be "Atlanta's Dining Room", in 2011.

In the area surrounding Peachtree there are also notable pieces of original architecture caringly preserved, including the Margaret Mitchell House, the former home of the “Gone With the Wind” author.

Each year, Midtown attracts more than 6 million visitors. If you're one of them and wish to explore some of the district's key places of interest, from historic houses to fine restaurants, museums and churches, take this self-guided walk.
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Atlanta Midtown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Atlanta Midtown Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Atlanta (See other walking tours in Atlanta)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Fox Theatre
  • Mary Mac's Tea Room
  • William Perrin Nicolson House / Historic Midtown
  • Saint Mark United Methodist Church
  • Margaret Mitchell House and Museum
  • First Church of Christ, Scientist
  • Woodruff Arts Center / Alliance Theatre
  • High Museum of Art
  • Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)
Fox Theatre

1) Fox Theatre (must see)

An architectural rarity in Atlanta, the Fox Theatre was originally planned as part of a large Masonic Shrine Temple – as evidenced by its Eastern/Moorish design that may bring the Arabian Nights to mind. Opened in 1920, its main features remain the same: beautiful onion-shaped domes, minarets and arches, a colossal theater organ (called Mighty Mo) that can make thousands of sounds, and of course the Egyptian Ballroom, designed to replicate Ramesses' temple.

The 4,665 seat auditorium was ultimately developed as a lavish movie theater in the Fox Theatres chain and opened with great fanfare in 1929. A brass-trimmed marble kiosk brought from Italy served as a ticket booth, while the auditorium itself, complete with crenelated walls, was an Arabian courtyard under a twinkling starlit sky that, with state-of-the-art technology, could (and still can) be transformed to a sky at sunrise or sunset.

Now considered to be the last surviving "picture palace", the venue regularly hosts a variety of cultural and artistic events including the Atlanta Ballet, film series, touring Broadway shows as well as occasional concerts by popular artists. If you have the opportunity to attend an event or performance at The Fox, go! It's an intimate venue that will not disappoint.

Why You Should Visit:
Classic, historic, and intimate theater that feels like a magical place. The stage is large, the sound is great, a giant chandelier lights the "night sky" and gilt carvings abound.

Arrive a little early (like 30 minutes...) so you will be able to find your seat and get situated prior to the performance. You can also arrange a private tour of the theater and even rent areas of it for a private event.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am-5:30pm
Mary Mac's Tea Room

2) Mary Mac's Tea Room

For the best "soul food" in Atlanta, you can't beat Mary Mac's Tea Room in the Midtown district. Established in 1945, just after World War II, by Mary MacKenzie, the restaurant offered true southern cooking, especially fried chicken in several modes. One of many enterprising women in search of a living, many of them widowed by the war, MacKenzie called it a "tea room" as a polite way of elevating her endeavor. Celebrated for its top notch service and down to earth atmosphere, the restaurant is known for continuing decades-old cooking traditions: every morning, the workers shuck bushels of corn, hand-wash selected greens and snap the fresh green beans by hand, while breads and desserts are baked onsite.

Famous entrees at Mary Mac's include fried chicken dredged in buttermilk and flour, fried green tomatoes, and pan-fried cube steak – but just as popular are the restaurant's non-fried items: black-eyed peas, collard greens, cheese grits, steamed cabbage & carrots, and the unbelievable peach cobbler for dessert. No one leaves hungry as portions are huge, but bear in mind that you can purchase a batch of cinnamon rolls on your way out – you won't be judged!

Additionally, the drinks menu includes two most popular drinks that can only be found in Atlanta: the Georgia Peach Martini and the Augusta Lemonade – or you could try the delicious sweet tea, referred to as "the table wine of the South".

Be warned to go early or wait in line on weekends. Lunch during the week is usually the best time to go.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 11am–9pm
William Perrin Nicolson House / Historic Midtown

3) William Perrin Nicolson House / Historic Midtown

Built in 1891 by William Perrin Nicolson as a wedding present for his bride, Carolyn Crane, this house in historic Midtown Atlanta – the area largely noted for its bungalows and Queen Anne-style houses – is a beautiful example of the Eclectic Colonial Revival style. It was designed by regionally renowned master architect Walter T. Downing. Throughout his career, Downing created many public buildings and churches, but his most unusual and impressive designs were residential properties through which his eclectic and individualistic style really shines.

William Perrin Nicolson, owner of the house, died in 1928; following that it had remained in the Nicolson family until 1982.

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, and is a City of Atlanta Landmark Building and Site since 1989. One reason for its listing was that it remains a relatively rare surviving example of W.T. Downing's residential work, being one of only five of his houses still extant in Atlanta. It is also the only one reflecting the distinctive style he had developed in his projects commissioned in the 1890s.
Saint Mark United Methodist Church

4) Saint Mark United Methodist Church

One of the few Gothic Revival granite churches left in Atlanta is the Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Midtown. The building was constructed between 1902 and 1903 by the congregation of Merritts Avenue Methodist Church after they outgrew their previous house of worship.

The architecture is notable for its use of Stone Mountain granite, triple entrance portal, and twelve pictorial pot-metal stained-glass windows depicting scenes from the life of Jesus; the latter were installed gradually from 1909 to 1959. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also designated as a historic sight by the City of Atlanta.

The architect, Willis F. Denny, also constructed two other granite Methodist churches that survive today. The congregation chose this location to give themselves more room and to be in a less dangerous position than the "Tight Squeeze" area beyond the city limits.

In the early 1990s, the church was on the verge of closing but the congregation ended up swelling to more than 1700 members during the decade. It is now a diverse community for young and old, single and married, and those of various gender identities. A fifteen-year series of renovations to the main sanctuary was completed in 2008.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am–5pm; Sun: 9–10am / 11:15am–12:30pm
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

5) Margaret Mitchell House and Museum

One could honestly stay in the Margaret Mitchell House for hours given the amount of experience, information, and context provided. From seeing what Atlanta was like back in the 1920s to insights into Margaret Mitchell's entire life; the hype around the casting and making of the "Gone With the Wind" movie – you will find it all here!

The "house" part itself is really just the first-floor apartment where Margaret and her husband lived (they did not actually occupy the whole space), which was recreated with 1930s decor. Although the artifacts were not owned by Margaret, the look and feel bring observers into the aesthetic of where she penned her famous novel. Midtown Atlanta might not have been the best area back then, hence she referred to the apartment as "The Dump", but you'll likely find it to be pleasant.

If you have time, be sure to head into the separate building across the backyard (covered in the price of admission) to watch part of the documentary on how the GWTW film was made, including the original casting footage with various Hollywood stars at the time. Another interesting section, packed with pictures, news reels, and newspaper articles, documents what it was like during the movie's 1939 premiere in Atlanta.

All in all, if you at all enjoy the "Gone With the Wind" book or film, then you should check this nice little gem out!

Admission to the Atlanta History Center also includes tickets to the Margaret Mitchell House which you can use at any point during in the next 9 days. The visit to the house itself is greatly enhanced by a tour with a docent, which does not cost extra but is not always offered, so call ahead to make sure you can get on it. There are several exhibits inside house as well as a two-hour film on the making of "Gone with the Wind" in an attached building, so give yourself enough time.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 11am–4pm; Sun: 1–4pm
First Church of Christ, Scientist

6) First Church of Christ, Scientist

The First Church of Christ, Scientist is the main congregation for Atlanta's Christian Science community, whose service is quite different from that of other Christian communities. Opened in 1914, the church's historic Greek Revival edifice is located on the corner of 15th Street, N.E. and Peachtree Street, and is a contributing property in the Ansley Park Historic District.

In fact, there isn't any more prominent, high-styled building on Peachtree than this one. From the outside, it looks rather intimating: monumental, elevated, formal, symmetric, cool, ancient, yet pristine. The inside matches the outside in that sense: spectacular, yet a bit reserved.

Some people may fund the soaring symmetric interiors a bit uncanny. The Church calls it the "auditorium" rather than the "sanctuary." They don't hold weddings or funerals here, as the space isn't really fitted for either. So it may appear somewhat unfamiliar to those expecting a typical church interior. Despite its Beaux Arts look, however, there is no mistaking that this is, indeed, a house of worship.

Aside for the architectural importance, it claims to be the first air-conditioned building in Atlanta, having used a primitive system involving fans blowing over blocks of ice placed in the passages beneath the floor of the main auditorium.

The porch is a special place, designed to inspire humans. The sight from the narthex looking south through the open doors is spectacular. There is hardly any view in Atlanta that compares with that from the portico – a kitty-cornered terminal vista just north of Colony Square, across the street from the High Museum at the grandest entrance to Ansley Park. It makes it well worth climbing those stairs if you are in the area.

Opening Hours:
Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri: 11am–2pm; Wed: 6:30–8:30pm; Sun: 11am–12:30pm
Woodruff Arts Center / Alliance Theatre

7) Woodruff Arts Center / Alliance Theatre

If you love art, you will love Woodruff, no doubt! Some say, it's the place you should visit at least once a year. Opened in 1968, the Woodruff Arts Center is a visual and performing arts venue that houses three not-for-profit arts divisions on one campus, namely: the Alliance Theatre; the Grammy Award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra – renowned for its amazing sound due to the great acoustics (no bad seats on the floor, either); and the High Museum of Art – one of the premier establishments of its kind in the world.

In 1962, an airplane carrying leaders of Atlanta’s arts and civic community crashed in Paris. This devastating loss served as a catalyst to built a fitting memorial to the victims, which led to the creation of the Atlanta Arts Alliance. The Memorial Arts Center, as the Woodruff was originally known, opened in 1968. It was renamed the Woodruff Arts Center in 1982 to honor its greatest benefactor, Robert W. Woodruff.

The Woodruff campus expanded in 1983 with the addition of the High Museum of Art building designed by Richard Meier, the youngest Pritzker Prize-winning architect at that time. In 2005, a number of new additions came in including a full-service restaurant — called Table 1280 at the Woodruff — and a public piazza. The new "village for the arts", spanning several city blocks, was designed by another Pritzker Prize winner, Italian architect Renzo Piano.

There are always new things to do, see and listen to here, so the Woodruff never gets old. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people flock here every weekend and, despite that, there is not a major disruption to life. When you come, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes and be prepared to take your time, as that's the only way to enjoy this multi-leveled performing arts venue.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am–8pm; Sat, Sun: 12–8pm
High Museum of Art

8) High Museum of Art (must see)

The leading art museum in the Southeastern U.S, 'the High' is much larger than usually expected, with beautiful and varied collections inside the modern, sculptural, enamel-clad building. Founded in 1905 as the Atlanta Art Association, it has evolved into one of the best curated art museums in the country where one can easily spend half a day.

With more than 14,000 works of art in its permanent collection (more than one-third of which were acquired at the turn of the 21st century), it's a great place for 19th- and 20th-century American art; European art (including Tiepolo, Monet, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Pissarro, Rodin), decorative arts (especially from the late 1800s and early 1900s), as well as modern and contemporary art and photography. Among special highlights are the eclectic chairs and object art found throughout the galleries, Deborah Butterfield's "Horse Sculpture", and pretty much the contemporary collection in general.

The High places special emphasis on supporting and collecting works by Southern self-taught artists, such as Howard Finster, and includes a contextual installation of sculpture and paintings from his Paradise Gardens. Curiously enough, a curatorial department is specifically devoted to the field of self-taught art, a distinction unique among North American museums. What the artists lack in formal training they make up for in invention and a lot of it is just plain fun.

This museum does a great job on the rotating collections – go to the website to find out what's on display. Also check out the docent 'Highlights Tour' at 1pm daily (reservations not required).

Opening Hours:
Tue, Wed, Thu, Sat: 10am–5pm; Fri: 10am–9pm; Sun: 12–5pm
Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)

9) Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA)

MODA is the only museum in the Southeast devoted exclusively to the study, recognition and celebration of all things design. In this respect, MODA is unquestionably different from your standard art museum fare. It examines how design affects people's daily lives through exhibitions, educational outreach, and adult programming.

The MODA first opened in 1989 as the Atlanta International Museum of Art & Design, and was located in the Peachtree Center district of Downtown Atlanta. After re-branding and refocusing as a design museum (in 2003), MODA opened at its present location in Midtown Atlanta in 2011.

With about 6,500 sq-ft (600 m2) of exhibit space in two main galleries with clean, industrial lines and versatile concrete floors, MODA regularly features exhibitions on architecture, industrial and product design, interiors and furniture, graphics, fashion and more. The front desk area can double as a reception space and the back gallery has a vaulted ceiling with windows stretching up two stories. In addition, the museum impressively has a built-in A/V system with ceiling-mounted digital projectors, track lighting that switches on in the blink of a motion detector, and banks of security cameras.

If you find beauty in the objects around you and want to learn more about how they are designed and made, this place should be on your list. It's a great add-on to a day at the High, which is right across the street, or can be a stand-alone activity while out in Midtown Atlanta. You can take a comprehensive tour and learn more about the intricate world of design or stop at the museum's gift shop that sells an extensive variety of merchandise.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Wed, Fri-Sun: 12–6pm; Thu: 12–8pm

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