Atlanta is a diverse, cosmopolitan city that is home to major corporations’ headquarters, world-class cultural institutions and restaurants helmed by award-winning chefs. It has a rich cultural and political history, plus parks and trails to keep outdoor enthusiasts busy during the many months of the year when Atlanta’s latitude makes it pleasant to be outside. Here are five free things to do and see on your next trip to Atlanta.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HISTORIC SITE
The historic site is operated by the National Park Service. A film and an exhibition of photos, text and video clips in the visitor’s center give a comprehensive overview of the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership role. Up the street is the home where King was born. Tours of the birth home are free but must be reserved in person the day of the tour at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. The crypts of King and his wife, Coretta Scott King, sit in the middle of a reflecting pool outside The King Center. A few steps away, visitors can walk through Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King and his father served as pastors.
SWEET AUBURN CURB MARKET
Nearby lies the Sweet Auburn Historic District, which was a major economic, cultural and political center for African-American life for the first half of the 20th century, before a major highway bisected the neighborhood and decades of urban decline followed. Originally known as the Municipal Market, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is now an urban farmers market that provides a lively atmosphere for browsing and grabbing lunch. Stalls run by butchers feature pigs’ ears and feet, oxtails and many other animal parts and cuts of meat stacked neatly in trays behind glass. Produce vendors offer heaping stacks of collard greens, turnips and other seasonal produce. Prepared food stands offer a wide variety of lunch options, but it’s fun to browse whether or not you buy.
The Atlanta BeltLine is a redevelopment project that aims to turn an old 22-mile railroad corridor that rings the city’s in-town neighborhoods into a network of trails, parks, affordable housing and, eventually, transit. So far, only the 2.2-mile Eastside Trail has opened, with skyline views and regularly changing public art installations providing added scenery for those who walk, bike and jog along the path.
Sitting at one end of the BeltLine’s completed Eastside Trail is Piedmont Park. Like New York’s Central Park, the nearly 200-acre (80-hectare) green space in Midtown gives Atlanta residents and visitors a tranquil setting to picnic, play games, walk their dogs and relax in the meadow or along the shores of Lake Clara Meer. The park also hosts major city events, like the Dogwood Festival in April and the Music Midtown festival in September, and the finish line of the annual 10-kilometer Fourth of July Peachtree Road Race.
The graves of dozens of Atlanta mayors and six Georgia governors, as well as the rich and poor of different races and different religions dot the gentle hills of Oakland Cemetery. Some of the most famous residents are “Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell and golf legend Bobby Jones, as well as rows and rows of Confederate soldiers. Despite the surrounding busy streets and the clanking and beeping from the adjacent freight rail terminal, the 48-acre (19.4-hectare) cemetery feels calm and peaceful. Self-guided tours are free whenever the cemetery is open.