Atlanta is not the first city most people think of when they think of great tourist destinations. New York is the classic choice for a metropolitan trip – there are few cities in the world with its mix of population density, diversity, and fascinating blend of cultures. Washington D.C., the museum- and monument-filled American capital, is also a natural choice for tourism.
On its face, Atlanta doesn’t seem to offer nearly as much to the traveler as do these cities. Most travelers’ experiences with Atlanta involve making a connection at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, Delta’s national hub and the busiest airport in the United States. However, if you ever do find yourself with a few days to spend in the South’s largest metropolis, there are a few sights you should try to see before leaving.
1. Stone Mountain
One of the most striking features of the greater Atlanta area, Stone Mountain is an excellent attraction for child and adult alike. The “mountain” itself doesn’t look like a traditional mountain – it has no peaks, it rises a mere 1,600 feet above sea level, and it is made entirely of stone, hence the name. Visitors often compare the mountain to a giant rock, and this comparison is more or less correct. Stone Mountain is, in fact, a quartz monzonite dome formed hundreds of millions of years ago. The mountain has a steep face on one side and a shallow sloping face on the opposite, the latter of which contains an extremely popular walking trail leading to the top. If you plan on visiting Stone Mountain and you’re physically able, walking to the top of the mountain is a must – the trail gives visitors an up-close look at the mountain itself, and the summit offers a magnificent view of Atlanta and its surroundings.
Much more recently, the residents of Georgia made their own mark on the mountain in the form of a giant carving. The steep face of Stone Mountain bears a bas-relief of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The bas-relief was carved throughout the 1960s and 70s and is the largest Confederate memorial in the South. While feelings about the Civil War and its causes are naturally complicated by historical fact and the dramatic cultural changes of the past 150 years, most visitors will probably take an interest in the craft and the sheer size of the carving.
Before leaving, be sure to check out the Plantation exhibit. This massive, open-air museum is easily missed, situated as it is on a side road leading away from the mountain, but tourists interested in antebellum and Civil War history won’t want to miss it. This “plantation” consists of several antebellum houses and buildings transported from around Georgia to a single spot. These structures used to house citizen and slave alike and served all sorts of other purposes, but they now fulfill a new role as memorials to a long-ago period of the nation’s history. The Plantation costs extra money to visit on top of the ten dollar ticket into Stone Mountain Park, but the expense is well worth the it.