ATLANTA — There are a lot of good reasons why up to 53 million people every year visit Atlanta, a town that dates back to 1845. Aside from being the home of many big brands—from The Coca-Cola Co. and The Home Depot to the Atlanta Braves and CNN—it’s ranked as one of the 10 family-friendliest cities in the country and among the best summer travel spots. Also, Georgia was voted the top state to do business in.
But those bragging rights only skim the surface in explaining why this town—also known as “The Big Peach”—is such a popular destination for outsiders, or why the NACS Show has chosen Atlanta as its host city more times in the past decade (four) than any other location.
To appreciate why Atlanta represents such a great getaway, read on to learn more about what’s happening in and around town in the days before, during and immediately after the NACS Show. While this doesn’t serve as a comprehensive guide, it highlights the best that Atlanta has to offer during your stay, with recommended events organized by category.
Whether you’re traveling alone or with family, on a tight budget or eager to splurge, here are a few of the attraction options available ...
Want to explore the latest must-see Atlanta amusements? Check out any of these noteworthy new additions.
African Savanna at Zoo Atlanta. One of America’s best zoos now boasts amazing new environments for African elephants (including zoo favorites Tara and Kelly), giraffes, zebras, ostriches, warthogs and meerkats. The recently opened African Savanna includes Abana Pond, featuring two waterfalls; and the indoor Zambezi Elephant Center, which houses up to seven elephants. Look for Southern white rhinos to soon join their animal friends in the former elephant habitat, too.
From $25; 404-624-5600; zooatlanta.org
Imaginary Worlds: Alice’s Wonderland at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Famous for its giant topiaries, Atlanta Botanical Garden has outdone itself by bringing author Lewis Carroll’s fantastical creations to life in an incredible exhibit of live plants shaped like the Wonderland creatures encountered by Alice in her adventures through the looking glass. See a giant white rabbit that towers more than 27 feet tall and floats within an upside-down umbrella in the Skyline Garden Pond; marvel at the massive chessboard surrounded by nine heart trees; be on the lookout for the gargantuan Cheshire Cat; and see if you can spot Alice herself.
From $22; 404-876-5859; atlantabg.org
Georgia State Fair at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s not often that a NACS Show coincides with a state fair, but you’re in luck. Here’s where you can see white tigers, pig races, the famous Circus Hollywood (featured in the movie “Big Fish”), the Nerveless Nocks aerial stunt thrill show, Championship Wrestling events, an unforgettable Butterfly Encounter walk-through exhibit and much more. Bring the young ones and enjoy carnival rides, a petting zoo, pony rides, live music, Knockerball, and ample eats and tasty refreshments.
From $10; 866-99-FAIRS; georgiastatefair.org
“Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The New Musical” at the Fox Theatre. Step inside a world of pure imagination and claim your golden ticket to ageless fun by catching this colorful musical that includes toe-tapping tunes featured in the 1971 “Willy Wonka” film. Oompah Loompas, Everlasting Gobstoppers, chocolate waterfalls and lickable wallpaper are waiting to be rediscovered. Limited dates through Sept. 29 only.
Prices TBA; 404-881-2100; foxtheatre.org
If concerts and sporting events are your preference, there’s no shortage of selection in and around Atlanta in early autumn.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. What could be better than a Sunday afternoon NFL game that features two strong Southern teams with playoff hopes on their minds? The Falcons are looking to climb from their second-place divisional finish in 2018 with an impressive showing this season, but the Titans’ defense may put a crimp in those plans during this contest, set for 1 p.m. Sept. 29.
From $52; 470-341-4500; atlantafalcons.com
Atlanta United FC vs. New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Guess who has one of the largest fan bases in Major League Soccer, thanks in large part to winning the MLS Cup last year? That’s right—it’s Atlanta United FC, which began play as an expansion team only two years ago. If you’re a sports nut of any kind, make plans to attend this key game, set for 4 p.m. Oct. 6, and see for yourself why this club has captured the city’s heart.
From $50; 470-341-1500; atlutd.com
George Thorogood at Frederick Brown Jr. Amphitheater. He may be getting older, but he’s still bad to the bone. Who do you love? It’s gotta be George Thorogood and his band the Destroyers, who have more bluesy-inflected radio hits than many realize, including “Move It On Over,” “Bad to the Bone” and “I Drink Alone.” George is in town at 8 p.m. Oct. 5.
From $30; 770-631-0630; georgethorogood.com/tour.html
Maxwell with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Cadence Bank Amphitheatre. He’s the Grammy-winning godfather of “neo soul,” the Brooklyn-born maestro of modern musical cool, and he’s joining forces with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for one special night that you don’t want to miss. Maxwell first captivated us in 1996 upon the release of his debut album; his latest work, “blackSUMMERS’night,” continues to defy expectations. Catch the vibe at 8 p.m. Sept. 27.
From $45; 404-733-5012; atlantasymphony.org
Phil Collins at Infinite Energy Center. Collins ruled the 1980s with one top 40 hit after another, both as a solo artist and drummer/singer with Genesis. He stepped back from performing for a while, but now he’s returned to the road, ready to prove that he’s “Still Not Dead” (the name of his current tour). Dreaming of hearing “Sussudio,” “In the Air Tonight,” “I Don’t Care Anymore,” “Take Me Home” and countless other classics? Chances are your hits wish list will become Phil’s set list at 8 p.m. Sept. 28.
Prices vary; 770-813-7500; philcollins.com
For The Whole Clan
Brought your brood along on the trip? They don’t have to hang behind at the hotel all week. Make it a family affair by engaging in these and other entertainment offerings.
Atlanta Chili Cookoff in Brookhaven Park. Sample tasty chili from more than 75 area restaurants and amateur competitors at this eighth annual chili competition. There’ll be live music, a Kidzone and an awards ceremony for the chili offerings judged the best.
From $10; atlantachilicookoff.com
College Football Hall of Fame. Big fan of bowl season and Saturday afternoon pigskin? Beam with pride about your alma mater’s winning program? Make a trip to this shrine to college football, where you can experience exhibits dedicated to 770 different teams, see a three-story wall of helmets, examine historical artifacts, kick a field goal on a 45-yard gridiron and fulfill your dreams of playing announcer at the ESPN College GameDay Desk.
From $22; 404-880-4800; cfbhall.com
Fright Fest at Six Flags Over Georgia. Get a jump on Halloween fun and head to Six Flags, where a bloodthirsty cadre of zombies, monsters and ghouls are dying to greet you. Partake in all the park’s renowned thrill rides, plus experience several new attractions: Alien Abduction, Evil Passage, The Bunker, Cannibal Carnival, Bayou Burial Grounds and spooky movies at the Promenade Theater. Sept. 27-29 and Oct. 4-6; hours vary.
From $52; 770-739-3400; sixflags.com/overgeorgia
Legoland Discovery Center Atlanta. No visit to Atlanta with your kids would be complete without a stopover at this theme park dedicated to those timeless interlocking plastic bricks found in nearly every toy box. Among the can’t-miss attractions are Merlin’s Apprentice, the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride, the Master Builder Academy, the “Lego Movie 4D: A New Adventure,” and the Build & Test Zone. Put your skills—and imaginations—to work and build some lasting memories.
From $18; 404-848-9252; atlanta.legolanddiscoverycenter.com
World of Coca-Cola. Yes, the world’s favorite soft drink has its own interactive museum, and you’re invited. Observe how the beverage is bottled; witness more than 1,200 previously unseen artifacts, such as a 1939 Coke delivery truck from Argentina and vintage rare bottles; sample more than 100 different drinks made around the world by The Coca-Cola Co.; and catch a 4D movie about the brand’s secret formula.
From $13; 404-676-5151; worldofcoca-cola.com
Not every Atlanta amusement requires cash. Don’t want to spend? Try these options.
Atlanta BeltLine. Often the best way to get experiential value on a vacation is to commune with nature. You can explore the great outdoors—in all its gratis glory—via the Atlanta BeltLine, which offers 1,300 acres of public parks, 33 miles of multiuse bike and walking trails that link many of the city’s neighborhoods, ample examples of public art, and numerous shops and restaurants along the journey. Six parks and four trails are currently open.
Atlanta Hip Hop Day at Robert Woodruff Park. Groove to some great urban sounds and load up on local music culture by checking out this free family festival—now in its eighth year—that showcases the four elements of hip-hop (B-boy and B-girl exhibits, emcee battles, turntablism and graffiti artists) and highlights Atlanta’s contribution to the genre. Artists scheduled to perform include Skooly, Cadillac Don, Kwony Cash and Sean Teezy.
Oct. 5 and Oct. 6; hours vary. 678-459-4380; atlantahiphopday.com
Centennial Olympic Park. It’s no wonder why more than 3 million people congregate in this 21-acre park annually: It serves as the heart of the city and a memorial to the 1996 Olympic Games held in this spot. Plus, it’s downright fun, thanks to the Fountain of Rings dancing water display that offers a synchronized water, music and lights show 365 days a year at 12:30, 3:30, 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. You can also partake in an audio walking tour (available on the park’s website) that will guide you through the park with interesting trivia and historical context.
Fall Fest 2019 in Candler Park. If you truly want to appreciate what makes Atlanta special, visit this well-attended fest, featuring homegrown tastes and talents spread across more than 200 booths manned by local artists and vendors offering everything from paintings and handmade pottery to apparel and crafts. The Kidlandia section promises rides, sweet treats, street entertainers and live performances. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 5 and 6. fallfest.candlerpark.org
LakeFest in Pine Lake. This yearly festival, a quick drive east of the city, has it all: live jazz, gospel and choir music, carnival rides, chalk art and sand sculpture contests, a puppet show, lakeside group yoga, parades and more. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Oct. 5 and 6. pinelakefest.com