20+ Best Things to Do in Atlanta in 2020 – 5 Are Free!
1. Visit the National Parks on one of five free days – FREE!
America’s National Park System opens up its exhibits for free on five days in 2020. You can visit any of our country’s National Parks for free, including places in and around Atlanta, like the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park near Macon and the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama. And, of course, the King National Historic Site is always free to visitors, but if you want to get a full sense of the area, then we highly recommend the King Historic District Tour (also rated by Conde Nast as one of the top ways to experience Atlanta).
2. Get inspired with Oprah
Oprah’s going on tour with Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus, her first national tour in five years. She’s picked just nine cities — and Atlanta is one of them — to inspire, celebrate, and motivate her legions of fans in their wellness and weight-loss journey. This sure to be sold-out event is certainly going to be one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2020, especially since she will be appearing alongside the amazing Dwayne Johnson. She describes the events as a “day-long party” to share lessons about her own wellness journey, as well as bring in speakers to discuss their wellness vision. Partnering with Weight Watchers Reimagined, this should be a home-run for fans of Oprah and those seeking to jump-start their 2020 goals.
3. Explore Atlanta’s historic cemeteries – FREE!
2020 is a great year to explore Atlanta’s historic Victorian cemeteries, as there has been a recent resurgence in interest and funding for these beautiful places. In the Victorian times, cemeteries were also public parks, meant to be a place for locals to gather, chat, picnic, and commune with the dead. Oakland (est. 1850) is Atlanta’s oldest public cemetery but other great choices are the Decatur City Cemetery (est. 1823), Westview Cemetery (est. 1884), and South-view Cemetery (est. 1886). All four are peaceful and beautiful places with walking trails, stunning mausoleums, and many important Atlanta leaders and citizens buried within their walls. And, for a unique perspective on Oakland Cemetery, join Atlanta Food Walks on their Grant Park Past & Future Food Walk, which includes tastes at nearby restaurants and a food-focused tour of Oakland.
4. Be amazed at the Atlanta Science Festival – FREE!
The Atlanta Science Festival is the city’s first festival focused entirely on celebrating science and getting kids and adults excited about learning. The month-long celebration includes escape labs, superhero science nights, exhibits at Fernbank and Georgia Tech, and book talks and meet and greets. The Festival culminates in a science expo with over a hundred interactive exhibits, demos, and science booths. Most events at this incredible science-celebration are completely free so check out their schedule and make sure you save some time in March to delve into the mysterious, magical world of science.
5. Eat the city with an experience or festival
Of course, you can eat at restaurants, but it’s so much more fun to explore lots and lots of different restaurants at one time. There are so many ways to do this. Try an Atlanta Food Walk which is an all-inclusive experience with tastings at many different restaurants including the history of the area in just 3 hours. Or, opt for a themed festival like the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival in April or the 10th annual Ice Cream Festival in July 2020. If you want it all and have a bigger budget, buy tickets to Taste of Atlanta or the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival which includes many classes, tasting tents, and other events.
6. Jump back in time!
The Georgia Renaissance Festival is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020 and is sure to have special events. There is something for everyone at RenFest with medieval-style playgrounds, petting zoos, jousting events, and adult-themed shows. Even if you hate cosplay and renaissance events, the food alone is worth a trip with enormous turkey legs, funnel cakes, fried everything, potatoes on a stick, roasted corn, and much more.
7. Explore rich African American history and culture
Atlanta has been America’s black mecca for over a century with significant impact from many African American figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, and many others. Delve into this history with many of Atlanta’s amazing tours and museums, including the King Historic District Tour, the Apex Museum, the King Center, the Atlanta History Center, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
8. Jam out at the epic Shaky Knees or Shaky Boots
Atlanta’s famous 3-day music festival, Shaky Knees, is definitely one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2019. Headliners include the Black Keys, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Strokes. But, there’s also plenty of other great bands performing including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Joan Jett, and StereoLab. If you prefer country over indie rock, then buy tickets to Shaky Boots, held the weekend after Shaky Knees. Brandy Carlisle and Dierks Bentley headline but there are other great musicians including Alison Krauss, Tanya Tucker, and Dwight Yoakam.
9. Get your history on at Hamilton
The award-winning Broadway show is back in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre. Since this is the second time it’s in the city, ticket sales haven’t been as intense as last time and it’s still possible to get somewhat reasonably-priced tickets to this amazing production. This is a must do for any history buff or Broadway lover and, to make it even more special, splurge on tickets to the Marquee Club where you can indulge in all-inclusive food and drinks. Even if you don’t purchase Marquee Club tickets, we always recommend pre-purchasing your parking through the Fox because it is usually significantly cheaper than purchasing parking at an open parking lot.
10. Go wild at Imagine Festival 2020
The Imagine Festival is an electronic dance and music festival, named one of the top 20 festivals by Fest300. In 2019, the festival immersed fans into a massive aquatic wonderland with sea creatures, mermaids, art installations, a huge wading pool, and multiple band stages. And, make sure you eat at the many delicious food vendors on site. Held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, join almost 100,000 attendees either with day passes or camping on site.
11. Geek out at Atlanta’s numerous Cons
Move over LA, Atlanta has become home to some of the most important conventions in the country for movie, comics, and television fans. DragonCon brings in almost 80,000 guests each Labor Day weekend to Downtown Atlanta with incredible costumes, panels, and fun. Don’t miss the annual DragonCon parade, a fan favorite for locals and visitors. But DragonCon isn’t Atlanta’s only Con; there’s also Atlanta ComicCon in July; Anime Weekend Atlanta in October; and MomoCon in the spring. Plus, there are also niche Cons, focused on a specific show or theme. Check out 221BCon focused entirely on Sherlock Holmes who lived at 221B Baker Street, or Furry Weekend Atlanta which focuses on anthropomorphic fandom (or people who like to wear furry animal costumes). There really is a Con for everyone in Atlanta.
12. Talk politics at Manuel’s Tavern
2020 is a big political year with a Presidential election, a Senate election with long-time Senator Johnny Isakson retiring, and several Congressional seats up for grabs. So, if you want to deep dive into politics, head over to Manuel’s Tavern which is Atlanta’s most famous political bar. The former owner, Manuel Maloof, created the tavern specifically to focus on conversation, going so far as to ban live music or a jukebox. The bar is a required stop for Democratic candidates and Jimmy Carter announced his 1970 gubernatorial bid at Manuel’s. It is still the place in the city to talk politics so expect it to be packed in 2020. If you want to get a virtual view of Manuel’s, check out the website, Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern, which details all of the historical artifacts at the tavern.
13. Celebrate the Centennial of the 19th Amendment at the Atlanta History Center
2020 is the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment, ending decades of the women’s suffrage movement and granting women the right to vote. The Atlanta History Center is celebrating this monumental achievement with a temporary exhibit opening on January 31, 2020. The exhibit will document how women gained the right to vote and showcase important Atlanta suffragists, such as Emily Inman, owner of the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center.
14. Celebrate the NCAA Men’s Final Four (FREE!)
Don’t worry about winning your bracket this year. You’ll win by getting seats at the NCAA Men’s Final Four held in Atlanta at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Semifinals will be held on April 4th and the championship will be held on April 6th. The city has not hosted the Final Four since 2013. This will be the first time that the games will be held at the newly constructed Mercedes Benz Stadium.
If you don’t want to pay for the actual game tickets, Atlanta will be hosting numerous FREE basketball-themed events during that weekend.
15. Go beyond the Beltline – FREE!
The Beltline is Atlanta’s most famous walking path but there are so many other incredible walking locations in the city that are much, much less crowded. Try the Freedom Trail that connects the King Historic Site with the Carter Center and includes the beautiful Freedom Park. Or, opt for the beautiful Silver Comet Trail, the creepy dolls at Constitution Lakes Park, or the newly created South Peachtree Creek Trail.
16. Sway to unique music at the Atlanta Symphony
The Atlanta Symphony always has wonderful shows and 2020 looks to be no exception. You could sway to the sweet sounds of Tony Bennett backed up by the Atlanta Symphony. Or, enjoy Star Wars – Return of the Jedi with the entire soundtrack played by the orchestra. That’s in addition to Beethoven and Mozart concertos, the Symphony’s Music for the Young program, and much more.
17. Head back to the 1920s with Porgy and Bess
America’s most famous opera is Porgy and Bess, a love story set in Depression-era 1920s, filled with stunning jazz music and glorious vocals, including the iconic “Summertime”. Written by the famed composers George and Ira Gershwin, the original cast in the 1930s featured classically trained African American singers in an operatic folk tale set in the South. The opera was — and continues to be — controversial, raising questions about racism, prejudice, poverty, and the stereotyping of African American music. Some black performers like Harry Belafonte refused to play the role of Porgy, while others like Sydney Poitier grew famous from that role. The Atlanta Opera is sure to put on a great performance of this nearly 100-year-old opera.
18. Stop and smell the dragons at Atlanta’s gardens
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens is one of the most creative botanical gardens in the country. Explore giant-sized topiaries including dragons, peacocks, earth goddesses, and camels. It’s beautiful in all seasons, too. Sniff flowers in the spring and summer, jump in orange and red leaves in the fall, and be mesmerized by the beautiful garden lights in the winter.
While the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is our favorite, there are lots of other amazing places to visit Atlanta’s beautiful greenery. Piedmont Park and Stone Mountain also host flower festivals. Or, take a quick day trip and head to Lake Lanier Island or Callaway Gardens.
In late fall 2020, the Georgia Aquarium plans to open its largest expansion, a new shark gallery. Guests will gain a deeper appreciation of the important role that sharks play in the ocean. The saltwater gallery will feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows plus include interactive stations. Seeing the new shark gallery is absolutely going to be one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2020. So, don’t miss this one.
20. Get into the holiday spirit with the Nutcracker at the Cobb Energy Center
After nearly 20 years performing the Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre, the Atlanta Ballet has moved to the Cobb Energy Center. Expect more shows but a different feel at the Energy Center, but the same beautiful ballet. The Energy Center is now the Atlanta Ballet’s preferred venue for performances.
7+ Best Festivals in Atlanta: Spring and Summer 2019
The South known for fun, which is why one of the most popular events are festivals in Atlanta. We’ve got the perfect list of festival fun for your spring and summer, with dates, places and hints about their family-friendliness. Take note of those marked with “365 Favorite!“ as it notates the 10 festivals we love the most!
1. Celebrate Spring at the Georgia Apple Blossom Festival!
Spring is one of the best times of the year to visit the North Georgia Mountains. It’s when blossoms create a snowy blanket on the apple trees. Come celebrate the beginning of spring at the Georgia Apple Blossom Festival in East Ellijay, Georgia. Shop at 50 hand-selected, regional vendors offering food, art, crafts, and more. The Festival is pet-friendly, charges no admission and offers plenty of free fun for the kids too!
2. June Family Fun Month at Beech Mountain
The town of Beech Mountain is a fun getaway for the entire family located at 5,506 feet above sea level in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Here you are free to unplug, unwind, reconnect. Families are encouraged to make their way up to the mountain in June for Family Fun Month. With 30 days of family activities plus discounted lodging specials like buy two nights, get a third night free, it is the perfect time of the year to get up to the mountains and enjoy some quality family time. Arranging visits is easy! Check out the calendar on the more information link, pick your dates, then select your preferred Family Fun Month lodging special and you are ready to go!
3. Experience the Rose Show and Festival in Thomasville, GA
Held in historic Downtown Thomasville April 25-27, 2019, the Rose Show and Festival has been a southwest Georgia tradition since the 1920s. Featuring several flower shows, parades, community events, concerts, and more, the Rose Show and Festival is fun for the whole family. Most events are free!
4. Taste of Alpharetta Will Have Your Mouth Watering
Come to Downtown Alpharetta May 2, 2019 for one of the most delicious festivals of the year. Voted a Top 20 Event by Southeast Tourism Society, the Taste of Alpharetta brings over 50,000 festival goers and foodies to the downtown Alpharetta streets each. Taste dishes from over 60 restaurants for one night only. Arrive hungry so you can try scrumptious samples from locally-owned and chef-driven restaurants. Free admission with food samples ranging from $1 to $4 each. It’s an event the locals never miss!
5. Let the Celebrate Freedom Rodeo Wow You This Spring
Come enjoy the Celebrate Freedom Rodeo in downtown Alpharetta’s Wills Park May 10 & 11, 2019. This fun, family-friendly event will feature the Wild Together Trick Riders made up of the sister team of Shanae and Hannah Ritter. Enjoy festival food, BBQ from award-winning Sam’s BBQ-1 vendors, kids’ activities and more. Gates open at 6pm. Rodeo starts at 8pm and includes bull riding, trick riding, roping and more. Admission: General – $15, Kids age 5-12 – $10, Kids age 4 and under – Free
6. Unleash Your Creativity at the Alpharetta Arts Streetfest
Over 90 artisans will come together at Alpharetta’s Village Green, May 25-27, 2019 for the Alpharetta Arts Streetfest. It is a three-day festival where art enthusiasts will find a plethora of art mediums including mixed media, photography, pottery, jewelry, textiles, wood, metal, glass, paper art and more. Meet the artists and watch many of them bring their craft to life. Grab a local brew or glass of vino from beverage vendors to enjoy as you stroll from booth to booth. Treat yourself to some delicious food at one of the local eateries throughout downtown . Free admission.
7. Bear on the Square Festival, Historic Downtown Dahlonega
Bear on the Square Festival, Historic Downtown Dahlonega Square, April 27-28: The uniquely-named event is always a big draw for crowds to experience an authentic Appalachian Festival. Held in and around Dahlonega’s Historic Public Square, the free celebration features bluegrass and old-time music, a juried Artists Market Place featuring traditional mountain crafts, storytelling, free music workshops and demonstrations, dance team performances, an old-time mountain dance, and more. Visit www.bearonthesquare.org for more information.
This family-friendly event has so much for kids to do that they won’t think to ever utter ‘I’m bored.’ Activities include: building a special project at the Home Depot booth; panning for gold, taking in a blacksmithing demo, learning how to weave a cloth or make a broom, visiting the Pick & Bow jam tent to see how well kids can play music or enjoying the balloon and face-painting booths
The New 24-Hour Guide to Atlanta
10 pm: Late-Night Delights
No matter what time of day you arrive in Atlanta, there are a handful of eateries where you can indulge well into the night. This is the home of Waffle House, after all. Meanwhile, Cook Out may not be native to the city, but there are enough locations around town that stay open until 4 and 5 am. Depending on the time of night, you might be standing in line alongside local college students or the post-bar crowd. Fill up with a burger, sides of quesadillas and fries, and, of course, a milkshake for a cheap, late-night feast.
12 am: Revelers Welcome
Every city needs a late-night movie theater and the Plaza Theatre in Poncey-Highland is Atlanta’s. First opened in 1939, it screens independent and classic films, including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A screening of cult classic is held every Friday night at midnight, put on by the fan group Lips Down on Dixie. Revelers dress up as their favorite characters and participate in various parts of the $15 show. The theater also hosts special screenings and premieres and has their own cocktail, the Plaza Punch.
2 am: Sing Your Heart Out
Still buzzing from your performance at Rocky Horror, end the night at a nearby karaoke bar. Fam-Fam is set up in the Elevator Factory in Grant Park and stays open until 3 am. You can bring your own alcohol and reserve a room by texting their phone number. Don’t expect to just walk up and get a spot on weekends as reservations are recommended. Karaoke costs $10 per person and a minimum of six guests is required.
Flying solo? Head to 10 High under Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highland for Metalsome Karaoke instead. With a live band for back-up, the brave can take the stage until 3 am most nights of the week. First-timers are free (duets are $20). Arrive early to claim your spot, or sing-a-long from the crowd.
6 am: Catch the Sunrise
If you’re still out, or already up, catch the sunrise on the Jackson Street Bridge, which has the best views of Atlanta and technically never “closes.” You likely won’t be the only one there as it’s a popular spot for snapping Instagram shots. If that’s not enough, the Atlanta BeltLine opens at 6 am so you can start your morning off with a walk through the city’s paved rails to trails pathway. Admire the public art that is found on all corners of the Eastside Trail.
7 am: Fuel up for the Day
Open 24 hours in a bustling corner of Buckhead, R. Thomas Deluxe Grill is the best place for an early-bird breakfast, open since 1985. Speaking of birds, be sure to greet the parrots and other feathered friends that live outside the restaurant. Grab a seat in the colorful garden patio and order a vegetable quinoa bowl and fruit smoothie for a much-needed detox. Nearby, Arden’s Garden is another great option for a healthful kick-start to the day (try the Oops! or Complete Recovery). The Atlanta-based, family-owned juice company dates back to 1995 and now sells its juices in 13 stores as well as supermarkets, coffee and bagel shops, health clubs and more.
9 am: Tour the Town
During civilized hours, there’s plenty to see around the city. But if you’re short on time, focus on the history and important neighborhoods. Start at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to learn about the Atlanta native, then head to Center for Civil and Human Rights in Centennial Olympic Park, which documents both Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and modern human rights struggles. From there, join Atlanta Food Walks’ Downtown Southern Food Walk, which weaves regional history and cuisine. It ends at Sweet Auburn Market, a formerly segregated market turned historic food hall.
3 pm: Fast-Paced Playtime
When you’re ready, head back to the area around the airport to finish your trip. The Delta Flight Museum documents the airline’s history from crop dusting planes to international company. And the Porsche Experience Center is home to the luxury car maker’s North American headquarters, complete with a museum, test track and restaurant overlooking the runways.
6 pm: Relax and Rejuvenate
There’s plenty to see and do within Hartsfield-Jackson from the art installations to shopping to the airport outposts of your favorite Atlanta eateries. Don’t miss the award-winning global cuisine and cocktails at One Flew South at Terminal E. Those with access to Delta Sky Club at Terminal E can indulge in a Deepak Chopra-designed treatment at Asanda Spa. Otherwise, check out Xpress Spa at Terminals A and C for massages, manicures and facials before you board.
THE ATLANTA BUCKET LIST: ALL THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE
1. Go roller skating at Cascade Fun Center
They shot ATL there! Also, every year they have events that bring all sorts of folks out to slide around on that slick, shiny floor. Word of advice: you might bust your ass trying that old reverse-in-motion trick you used to do in middle school, so don’t get too "turnt."
2. Find and visit the Land Trust
Although it’s pretty easy to locate online, part of the fun is accidentally discovering this completely hidden commune near Candler Park and Lake Claire. The other part include an emu named Big Lou who lives on the property and the monthly "drum circle" performances.
3. Visit MLK’s home
Damn you if you don’t stop by and at least see the porch swing in front of the Auburn Ave house where the greatest Civil Rights icon the world has ever known was born. Damn you in the most nonviolent way possible (“darn you”?).
4. Walk the entire BeltLine
They have tours, and you can break it into sections, but why not spend a day going all the way? Or if you're like us, maybe make a week of it.
5. Eat wings at J.R. Crickets
They’re nationally famous now, thanks to Donald Glover, but they’ve been famous in ATL much longer than Atlanta’s been on-air. Plus the fries are delicious and the prices are still reasonable.
6. See an Alvin Ailey show at The Fox Theatre
You have to pay homage to one of Atlanta’s greatest performance venues, and to better way to do that than buying a ticket to see one of the world’s most famous dance troupes. It’s a great date night, and there're people in tights. Also, you know, the culture and thangs.
7. Take the Coca-Cola Tour
According to the FDA, we’re all going to die of diabetes anyway, so you might as well celebrate Atlanta’s thick, syrupy blood by going straight to the heart that feeds the city’s financial arteries. For extra fun, ask your tour guide what they do in Rahway, New Jersey.
8. Visit the College Football Hall of Fame
It’s time to walk inside that half-built football on Marietta St erected in honor of young athletes who spent spend their college years earning major cheddar for "educational" institutions, and then pray to Joe Namath that your future son or daughter can be the next Cam Newton.
9. Hang in Southwest Atlanta
You can’t pretend to know your ITP if you don’t know what’s in the area (Cascade Springs Nature Preserve, prominent soul food restaurants, golf courses, high schools that produced some of the music industry’s biggest names, etc.) or what SWATS stands for (Southwest Atlanta Too Strong). As Dungeon Family rapper Cool Breeze once said, “These grounds are holeeeey!” Get out from under your elitist nose and go check it out.
11. Drink beers from every local brewery
This is still actually doable since Atlanta’s got a lot more craft beer than it did five years ago, but it isn’t nearly close to its Northeast neighbor Asheville in terms of catalog. If you give it the whole seven days you might be able to knock out the entire list simply by hitting all the Taco Macs in town.
12. Take a selfie at Headland & Delowe
If hearing Andre 3000’s opening bars to "Elevators (Me & You)" doesn’t make you love East Point, you suck. Go there. Take a picture of yourself at the intersection. Leave before you start looking like a mark.
13. Have Blondie crush beer cans for you
It’s crazy. It’s weird. It’ll make you feel alive. And like Blondie, it’ll never get old.
14. See a famous rapper at a local restaurant and let it be no big deal
Waka Flocka Flame is known to have sit-down business meetings at Whole Foods. As Slick Rick would say, this type of s*it happens every day.
15. Go to Flux Night
It’s once a year, and it’s crazy. There are a lot of light-based art installations, plus filthy hipsters, old weirdos, and actual cool people who are all drinking out in the open in Castleberry Hill until the morning’s wee hours.
Atlanta ranked among 2018’s best summer travel destinations
Summer in metro Atlanta means it’s time to hit some of the year’s best festivals, take advantage of those hidden waterfall hikes and indulge in a frozen treat at one of Atlanta’s beloved ice cream shops.
» RELATED: Your guide to Atlanta events all year long
According to a new ranking from personal finance website WalletHub, metro Atlanta is one of 2018’s top summer travel destinations. For the listing, analysts compared the 100 most populated metro areas in the country across six key categories: travel costs and hassles, local costs, attractions, weather, activities and safety.
The six categories were further assessed using 40 relevant metrics, such as cost of cheapest flight, cost of living, number of attractions, restaurants and more.
» RELATED: 5 easy hikes to Atlanta's hidden waterfalls
Data used to create the ranking came from the U.S. Census Bureau, Federal Bureau of Investigation and TripAdvisor among other reputable sources.
Of the 100 most populated metros in the country, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV metro area earned top honors, ranking in the top 10 in half of the six categories.
The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro area came in fifth overall.
Here’s more on how the region fared:
- Overall rank: 5
- Travel costs and hassles: 10
- Local costs: 55
- Attractions: 16
- Weather: 15
- Activities: 10
- Safety: 58
» RELATED: 5 of 2018’s trendiest summer vacation destinations
Other state metros on the list:
- Chattanooga, TN-GA (27)
- Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC (62)
The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell metro’s lowest scores came in for the local costs and safety ratings categories, though the capital city has experienced a decrease in its homicide rate in recent years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.
But when it comes to travel costs and hassles and summer fun, the region is a solid contender for a warm seasonal getaway.
» RELATED: Atlanta named top moving destination in the US for 8th year in a row
The top 10 summer travel destinations for 2018, according to WalletHub:
- Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
- Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL
- Austin-Round Rock, TX
- Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA
- Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN
- Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
- Oklahoma City, OK
- Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
More about the study and its methodology.
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