Home of the Braves, Atlanta can grand slam dollars right out of your wallet. It's an incredibly fast-paced international hub, with the busiest airport in the world. It also ranks among the 10 most dangerous cities in the country. While visiting the Big Peach, delight in its sweet spots (it has quite a few) but be aware of surrounding venues. In the meantime, we'll try to help you balance expenditures wisely.
We looked for Wednesday round-trip flights into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International a month in advance. Coming from New York, American Airlines had the cheapest round-trip fares at $173, with noon liftoffs, a Charlotte stop going, and a JFK departure but a LaGuardia return; flights offered assorted takeoff times but shuffled departures and returns among JFK, LaGuardia and Newark's Liberty International. For $2 more, Hacker's United ticket let us depart and return at LaGuardia on morning and evening flights.
From points west, a United round-trip flight from Seattle-Tacoma International had 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. departures with one stop in Denver for $360; for comparison, traveling first class cost $900. For flying out of LAX, Kayak found a Spirit Airlines nonstop round trip for $222 with 12:35 p.m. and 10:30 a.m. departures. United's fares ran $20 more and added a stop in San Francisco International each way, yet originating at SFO cost an additional $40!
Flights out of Austin were $244 nonstop on Delta, but from Houston, you could catch a Spirit flight for just $89 or a Delta first class seat for $317. From Florida's Miami, we could have flown in and out of Fort Lauderdale morning, late afternoon or early evening for $160 on Southwest. Read our guide to finding the cheapest flight for general tips and tricks.
Downtown, by Turner Field, Ramada Plaza Atlanta Downtown Capitol Park had "double standards" with Wi-Fi, fitness center and pool for $83 a night. For perspective, the Motel 6 Downtown Atlanta was $108 (no Wi-Fi or breakfast) while Double Tree by Hilton was $206 a night for a king suite; $237 a night included breakfast. Moving on to Midtown, Residence Inn by Marriott Atlanta Midtown Peachtree at 17th was charging $182 a night for a queen room with sofabed and full kitchen; to compare, Courtyard's rooms started at $237 a night.
With "12 foot ceilings, heart-of-pine floors, antiques, private baths, walled garden and secured parking," Inman Park Bed and Breakfast was $140 a night. Near the Carter Library and two blocks from the subway, the restored "honeymoon cottage of Robert Woodruff, Atlanta's famous anonymous donor and Coca-Cola soft drink magnate," included continental breakfast and Wi-Fi.
Airbnb did not disappoint. We found a charming entire Midtown carriage house with full kitchen for just $93 a night for 4 guests; it was stylish, fantastically reviewed and offered Wi-Fi. Another smart apartment by Piedmont Park was $71 a night, with full kitchen, laundry, Wi-Fi and it's pet-friendly to boot. Finding free Wi-Fi isn't difficult in Atlanta.
Eating In Atlanta
You can pack a cooler and picnic on Centennial Olympic Park's lawn. Otherwise, for decent food at a reasonable price outside the park, if you're a Waffle House fan, one is within easy walking distance on Andrew Young International Boulevard. On Marietta Street, you'll find Chick-fil-A for chicken, Park Avenue Deli for variety that includes Asian, Gyro Wrap for Mediterranean and Max's Coal Oven Pizzeria for Italian. Park Avenue has a Subway and a Baja Fresh.
Switching to affordable Midtown options, try Eats on Ponce de Leon Avenue for jerk chicken, turkey lasagna, fresh veggies or mac-n-cheese. Buy soup by the quart at Metro Fresh for about $10, or go for traditional greasy drive-in atmosphere at The Varsity (one of the largest drive-in restaurants in the world, cooking since 1928), which fries up a list of tasty combos averaging $7-$10. For food options without the drive-in, Zesto does burgers, chicken, hot dogs and fabulous hard- and soft-serve ice cream creations. For the absolute burger with a side of specialty draft (you gotta be 21 years old on up) seek out The Vortex on Peachtree Street NE.
Centennial Olympic Park
The heart of see-and-do Atlanta is the sprawling complex known as Centennial Olympic Park, drawing visitors to the park's perimeter attractions. A City Pass costs $76 for adults and $62 for children and will provide admission to 5 sites, nearly halving total admissions. Yes, Atlanta attractions are expensive and crowded at peak times, which include summer, school holidays and weekends.
Georgia Aquarium, the "largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere," draws crowds. If you go, buy discounted tickets online; admission is still expensive, and lines are still long, but full-price window tickets are $39 per adult or $33 per child, and lines can be excruciating. If you buy online for 4 p.m. Imagination Nights, you pay just $25.00 a person. Georgia Aquarium also has Mommy and Me packages and other online discounts. However, expenditures lurk at every corner, including tchotchkes and food despite insufficient seating, so do your wallet a favor and fill up before your visit.
Recently completed, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is an impressive history of civil rights, complete with a sit-in lunch counter and tissues; admission is $15 per adult, $10 for children 4-12 and $13 for young people presenting a school ID. Bank of America credit card and debit card holders get in free on the first full weekend of every month by showing your credit card and ID.
If you want its full pedigree, World of Coca-Cola will supply that, a view of its bottling process and product tasting for $16 per adult and $12 per child. Beware the gift shop and adjacent Pemberton Café; a chicken salad sandwich, chips and drink will cost you over $12.
Children's Museum of Atlanta admission is $15 per head, but options include Target Free Second Tuesdays and other discounts. Timed tickets must be purchased in advance due to crowds, but youngsters can explore focus areas hands-on.
Although entry to the building is free (inside are 4 restaurants and a fast-food court), CNN Center offers 50-minute walking tours behind the scenes. Buy timed admission online to ensure you'll get a ticket, which will cost you $16 for adults, $15 for students with ID and $13 for children.
For all things football, the College Football Hall of Fame has history, trophies, a replica ESPN SportsCenter and a Chick-fil-A Fan Experience full of football activities. Buying in advance won't save you time or the $20 for adults or $17 for kids.
If dinosaurs are on your to-do list, the Fernbank Museum of Natural History has them, from fossils in the limestone flooring to Giants of the Mesozoic. The museum accepts City Passes; otherwise, admission is $18 for adults and $16 for children.
"The leading art museum in the southeastern United States," High Museum of Art is Atlanta's fine art experience. Check the website for special events like half-price Friday Jazz or Toddler Thursdays. General admission runs $20 for adults and $17 for children. The Museums on Us® program from Bank of America lets you visit the Atlanta History Center and the High Museum of Art on the first full weekend each month free of charge. Just present your Bank of America® or Merrill Lynch® debit or credit card and some form of ID.
Our absolute favorite, Atlanta Botanical Gardens will not disappoint. From world-class orchids to fascinating pathways and fountains, or the "green lady" titled EARTH, presentations are captivating; gorgeous light displays grace December holidays. Even the café's offerings, while not cheap, are almost gourmet. Admission runs $19 for adults and $13 for children; parking is additional, but for plant lovers, it's worth every penny.
What Not To Waste Money On
For what to skip, the Atlanta Underground leaves much to be desired in safety and offerings. The SkyView Ferris wheel near Centennial Olympic Park doesn't go that high, you don't see that much, and tickets are $13.50 a piece; meanwhile, attendants market pricey alcohol to those waiting in the long boarding line. If you want the ride, Groupon it for nearly half-price.
Everyone has different tastes, and you can decide what is and isn't worth your time and money.
By the way, Six Flags Over Georgia is also here. Admission is $45 online, $65 at the window; parking starts at $20, and no external food or beverages are permitted. In Summer time Six Flags White Water (a 69-acre water park) will definitely speak to families, though at $41.99 per adult and $36.99 for children under 48", it is an expensive bit of fun. They also offer a seasonal ticket which can actually be the cheaper option if you plan to visit at least twice during your stay.
If you visit when school's on break, make sure to brace yourself for crowds. It's worth noting that your Discover credit card lets you skip the lines and go straight through the exclusive Discover Cardmember Entrance during the first 2 hours of the day.
Discover also lets you get special deals on meals at restaurants in Six Flags, and if you have a Discover card we highly recommend you check these out for tasty savings. Plus you earn 5% cash back on purchases at Six Flags® and SixFlags.com (just make sure to sign up for this 5%).