Atlanta, once a sleepy southern town in Georgia State, manages to effortlessly combine traditional Southern hospitality with a progressive and modern outlook. Despite a skyline that is as spectacular as any in the country, Atlanta still offers a small town feel with many older tree-lined neighborhoods close to the city center.

Atlanta offers all the cultural attractions you would expect of a large city – excellent museums, shopping and nightlife. Restaurants offer everything from world-class cuisine to traditional Southern fare – grits, hush puppies and barbecue. And Atlanta doesn’t stand still for long – recent developments around the city include the 70,000 seat Georgia Dome and the spectacular aquarium.

And the city is considered to be one of the best and most diverse shopping destinations in the South – offering everything from the antique stores, boutiques and galleries of the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood to the upscale malls in the Buckhead area. And don’t miss Underground Atlanta – a complex of shops and restaurants in the middle of the downtown area.

You probably drink it every day – why not learn all about it? One of the city’s most popular attractions is devoted to one of the most famous drinks in the world. Coca-Cola was invented in Atlanta in 1866, and the World of Coca-Cola tells you everything you ever wanted to know about Coke, by way of high-tech exhibits, videos, memorabilia and other displays.

Naturally, there’s a well-stocked souvenir shop, and when you have finished the self-guided tour, you can sample unlimited Coke products, including oddly flavored Coke drinks from around the world.

The other not-to-be-missed Atlanta attraction is the CNN center. Apart from being the headquarters for world’ largest news organization, the center offers popular guided tours, including a revealing behind the scenes look. Visitors also have a chance to see the actual news floor where live news goes out 24 hours a day.

Atlanta also boasts the world’s largest aquarium. The newly-opened facility boasts eight million gallons of water and an astonishing 100,000 animals and fish. The aquarium features five different exhibits, each featuring a different habitat, such as cold or tropical waters.

One of the most famous residents of Atlanta was Martin Luther King, who will forever be associated with the city. King was born in a house at 501 Auburn Avenue, and spent his early years there. You can visit the house by taking one of the popular tours led by National Park rangers. The entire neighborhood – known as Sweet Auburn – has been revitalized and is now a National Historic District.

Not far from the house is the King Center, where you can explore the life and legacy of the civil rights leader through a series of inter-active displays. King himself is buried on the grounds in a tomb whose epitaph reads: Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I’m free at last. King was also pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where visitors are always welcome – but particularly at one of the lively Sunday morning services
Atlanta’s other famous resident is the author Margaret Mitchell, author of one of the world’s most famous books – Gone with the Wind. Mitchell spent several years of her life in the apartment building, and today the house and museum tell the story of the novel and its creator.

If Gone with the Wind has whetted your appetite for the Civil War, head to the Atlanta Cyclorama and civil war museum. The Cyclorama is a huge cylindrical painting, created in the 1880s, which is seen from a viewing platform and tells the story of the 1864 Battle of Atlanta. The adjoining museum explains how the Cyclorama was created, as well as depicting Civil war life and battles.

Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games – and the city is proud of the Centennial Olympic Park, which was created after the event was over. The park’s 21 acres replaced what was previously a run-down area of downtown – today it’s a park with delightful gardens, pools and fountains. Don’t miss the commemorative bricks – some of which have interesting messages inscribed on them.

Atlanta has certainly come a long way since William Sherman burned it to the ground in 1864 – today it can justifiably claim to be one of the most exciting and diverse cities in the country.