Atlanta review: a city of history and culture with one eye on its political past and another on its future

Head right to cycle through the Krog Street Tunnel and go left if you want to visit Ponce City Market - and don’t forget to pedal backwards if you want to brake!

Emily and Katy Hopkinson in Downtown Atlanta.
Emily and Katy Hopkinson in Downtown Atlanta.

That was the advice to us as we set off on our hired bikes along the Atlanta BeltLine trail through the newly gentrified area to the east of the city.

The BeltLine is one of the largest urban redevelopment programs in the United States and the trail itself will circle much of downtown and midtown Atlanta.

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We turned right and set off for the tunnel - famed for its colourful graffiti and street art.

Cycling along the Atlanta BeltLine.

The bikes took a bit of getting used to but soon we were confident in crossing lanes of traffic through the newly-regenerated districts and neighbourhoods with their cafes, shops and offices. The underpass was built in 1912 and connects the neighbourhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park.

Atlanta is a real multicultural mix of people and lifestyles. It is made up of nearly 45 intown neighbourhoods, each with their own identity.

Described as an ‘ever-changing urban canvas of images’, today’s Krog Street Tunnel gives a sense of the city’s vibrancy.

After taking in some of the artwork we turned round and headed for Ponce City Market and then on to Piedmont Park - a 200-acre space in the heart of the city.

Ponce City Market. Image: Gene Phillips, Courtesy of ACVB & AtlantaPhotos.com

The state of Georgia was again in the headlines before Christmas following the mid-term elections which brought its Democrat and Republican candidates neck-and-neck in the battle for the US Senate.

The state and its capital city have a long political history, from its part in the American Civil War and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

Atlanta stretches over a vast area - and the metropolitan region is home to more than 6.1 million people.

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And Hartsfield-Jackson Airport - the world’s busiest - saw more than 100 million passengers a year pre-pandemic.

Krog Street Tunnel. Image: Silei Li

One of the first places many people visit is the Martin Luther King Jnr National Historical Park which tells the story of the civil rights movement over the years and reminds visitors of the ongoing fight for equality.

As well as the visitor centre, the area includes King’s childhood home and Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was baptised and both he and his father, Martin Luther King Snr, were pastors.

It is both a moving and uncomfortable place to visit, reminding you of the huge struggles faced especially in America as its black citizens were segregated and denied their rights.

There has been immense progress made since King’s I Have a Dream speech of 1963, and yet huge strides forward are still needed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inman Park on the BeltLine. Image: Gene Phillips, courtesy of ACVB & AtlantaPhotos.com

As well as MLK, Atlanta is also the birthplace of some other world famous names.

Coca-Cola was created in 1886 by Dr John Pemberton - selling the first glass at Jacobs' Pharmacy in the downtown area of the city.

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We visited the World of Coca-Cola museum to get a taste of its history and sample the company’s sodas from around the world.

Visitors are invited to uncover the legend of Coca-Cola’s secret formula, identify the scents of its ingredients and relive some of the advertisements from years gone by - as well as buy a plethora of Coke-themed merchandise.

Just across from the Coca-Cola site is the Georgia Aquarium, home to hundreds of species across its seven galleries - ranging from the massive whale sharks and manta rays to smaller and more colourful creatures such as the clown fish, seahorse and red lionfish.

You can also add in experiences such as a pre-booked Shark Cage Dive or Dolphin Encounter as part of your visit.

The Visitor Center at Martin Luther King Jnr National Historical Park

Our tickets to the World of Coca-Cola and Georgia Aquarium were included in the Atlanta CityPass which also gives access to Zoo Atlanta and the Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

Another of Atlanta’s famous exports is the 1930s novel and movie Gone With The Wind. There are several opportunities to explore the world of author Margaret Mitchell, ranging from the Marietta Gone with the Wind Museum which features hundreds of artefacts and memorabilia to the Atlanta-Fulton County Library which houses a permanent exhibit.

Other places to discover include the High Museum of Art, Centennial Park - built for the 1996 Olympics - and the Atlanta History Center.

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And no visit during baseball season would be complete without a night out watching the Braves at Truist Park - 10 miles northwest of downtown Atlanta.

The newly-built $672million stadium is unlike anything you’d experience in the UK with its Wurlitzer organ introductions to the players, fireworks and interval entertainment.

Even if you have no interest in baseball, it’s worth a visit just to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the sights and sounds of the game.

Atlanta is a city of contrast, a city of history and a city of culture - with one eye on its political past and another fixed firmly on the future.

The World of Coca-Cola. Image: ACVB Marketing/Melissa McAlpine

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