Living in Atlanta, I get asked about what to do, where to stay and what to eat. A LOT! But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love curating every inquisitor’s itinerary. If I’m being totally honest, I could tell you how to spend 48 hours in each of Atlanta’s bustling neighborhoods. Travelers could easily spend 48 hours in Buckhead, Decatur and Inman Park — each.
For the purpose of this 48-hour trip, I’m inviting you to explore Atlanta’s midtown and downtown areas. Yes, the very neighborhoods that used to be slammed with Planet Hollywood-, Hooters- and Hard Rock Cafe-goers. Try to erase that past from your memory. Midtown and downtown have had a rebirth of sorts, and both have become Atlanta’s cultural epicenter. It’s where our symphony wows listeners, where theaters showcase productions, and where museums inspire wonder, but it’s also where local restaurateurs have reclaimed our city — hopefully for good. This is how to spend 48 hours in Atlanta.
How to Spend a Weekend in Atlanta
Head from the road or the airport straight to the newly opened Candler Hotel to drop your bags. If you’re coming in from the airport, avoid the long ride share lines and instead hop on Marta. No train transfers are needed. Get off at the Peachtree Center Station and exit to Peachtree Street. You’re a two-minute walk (literally) to the hotel’s grand marble entrance.
The Candler Hotel is a part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, which means it’s an excellent choice for those looking to accrue or travel with reward points. It’s also one of the most beautiful, historic hotels in the city. Opened in late 2019, the newly renovated hotel was once home to Coca-Cola’s headquarters. It was built as an office building in 1906 and, at 17 stories, was at one time Atlanta’s tallest building. The renovation captured as many historic details as possible, which is evident from the moment you walk through the door. While the entire hotel is one breathtaking moment after another, the real star of the show is the grand marble staircase illuminated by an enormous crystal chandelier and flanked by two Tiffany glass windows, one of which is original to the building.
Use this time to explore the hotel and all it has to offer, and make sure you have your phone with you. As you wander throughout the historic building, note and scan the QR codes you see. Each code will open facts about the corresponding object. It’s a fun game of trivia and a great way to orient yourself to both the hotel and city. You’ll learn about prominent Atlantans, nearby attractions and more.
For dinner tonight, stay at the hotel and dine at By George. Named after the building’s original architect, George E. Murphy, the interior of the restaurant showcases the hotel’s marble grandeur. Buttery leather and rich wood furniture in streamlined shapes bring warmth to the stone while allowing it to shine. The French-inspired menu by celebrity chef and author Hugh Acheson includes everything from Southern cropped oysters to Steak Diane; however, don’t miss the pâté en croûte, a pastry covered warm pâté dotted with pistachios.
Once you’re sufficiently stuffed, head to the bar for a nightcap. Select a libation from the cocktail menu created by beverage director Kellie Thorne, then find a cozy spot to chat. The salon across from By George or the second-floor library are my top two choices to sip in serenity.
Rise and shine, and start your day at Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee in the nearby Flatiron Building. This locally owned coffee outpost has locations throughout the city, but this one is your closest bet for a quick cup. Select one of their brews to go. If you’re in a hurry to get started with the day’s activities, grab a pastry, or for a more leisurely breakfast, head back to By George at the hotel. With a breakfast menu as delightful as the dinner one, you’ll be ready to tackle a day of tourism.
Stop one is at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. The museum is located in the heart of Pemberton Place near neighboring attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Centennial Olympic Park and Skyview Atlanta. While much more serious than it’s fluffier neighbors, the museum is an emotional and powerful must-visit. Interactive exhibits immerse visitors in segregation, Jim Crow laws, the March on Washington and many other horrors of a dark period in America’s history. As you make your way throughout three floors of permanent and rotating exhibitions, you’re taken from past to present day where civil rights and human rights are one and the same. Exhibits on present-day freedom, women’s rights and gender rights are all covered. Include a stop on the lower level where Morehouse College curates a selection of artifacts from their collection of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s property.
After the museum, head to Atlanta’s biggest and best mixed-use property, Ponce City Market. Once a bustling Sears, Roebuck & Co., the historic building-turned-food and retail hub offers visitors hours of entertainment. Begin your visit in the food hall for lunch. Each of the restaurants are locally owned and range from food stalls to sit-down establishments. If you’re in the mood for a salad, go straight to Botiwalla for their Desi Salad. If you’re feeling a burger, pull up a seat at the counter at H&F Burger. For soup, it’s grab-and-go from Farm to Ladle. For the best veggie sandwich, you’ll want to venture upstairs to Root Baking Co. Or, grab one of everything and create a shared smorgasbord. But save room for dessert. Five Daughters Bakery, Honeysuckle Gelato or Batter Cookie Dough are all good choices for post-lunch sweets.
Spend the remainder of the afternoon browsing various local and large retailers. Citizen Supply will give you an assortment of locally owned artisan’s works all in one spot, while Modern Mystic will give you a chance to delve into the powers of crystals. After you’re all shopped out, grab a lift ticket and head to The Roof. Here, you can play various Midway Games, take in rooftop views of the city, sip on frozé, or nosh on beer garden-inspired fare at 9-Mile Station. You can choose to stay here for dinner or make your way back to downtown. Should you head back towards the hotel, there are a few options for dinner. Recently opened Lyla Lila is an Italian restaurant by Atlanta chef Craig Richards. The Spanish-Italian-influenced menu blends comfort food favorites with creative enhancements. Think cheesy lasagna with duck and spaghetti ragu with pork and prawns. The ambiance will have you enamored too. This chic space was designed by Smith Hanes Studio.
For a truly Atlanta experience, simply steer the wheel toward The Varsity. The largest drive-in in the world, The Varsity offers American classics like burgers, slaw dogs and onion rings. It might not be fine dining, but it is one Atlanta experience you’ll never forget.
On your last day in the Big A, sleep in a little. Once ready, toss your bags in your car and head down Peachtree Street to Joy Cafe for one last brunch. Joy Cafe is one of those places you’ll see locals and tourists alike. Locals love it for the food, while visitors love it for the location. Everything here is larger than life but in the best way possible. Think towering French toast and filled-to-the-brim burritos. My go-to choices are usually the Eggs Benedict, which always comes with soft, perfectly poached eggs and creamy hollandaise, or the garden sandwich where fluffy scrambled eggs are complemented by caramelized onions and a savory, spicy mayo.
After brunch, scoot up the street (yes, still Peachtree) to SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film. The only museum solely dedicated to fashion and film exhibitions features rotating exhibits from prominent fashion designers and filmmakers. Past exhibits have included “Isabelle de Borchgrave,” “Fashioning Paper from Art and Kaleidoscope Katrantzou: Mary Katrantzou,” “10 Years in Fashion,” and 2020 promises to bring even more exciting displays, including “Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey” as well as “Alaïa-Adrian, Masters of Cut.” Admission is just $10 and can be purchased at the door. Immerse yourself in fashion to give you an inspirational drive home, satisfied with a great 48 hour weekend in ATL!
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