Atlanta‘s historic ties are too abundant to be ignored. With its designation as a capital city, and proximity to railroads and neighbouring port towns, Atlanta has long played a pivotal role in various key moments in American history, from the Civil War to the 1996 Summer Olympics. Here, we examine five vibrant Atlanta neighbourhoods, both then and now.
Sweet Auburn District
Then: The Sweet Auburn District has rich historical roots as an African American neighbourhood and is a National Historic Landmark. Located just east of Downtown Atlanta, the area marks the birthplace and early stomping grounds of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Now: Today, Sweet Auburn District remains a vibrant marker of Atlanta’s (and the South’s) past. Visitors can stop by numerous historic sites including the Atlanta Daily World (the first African American newspaper, still in operation), The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth home, and various others.
On the dining front, the circa-1924 Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a must-visit with throngs of fresh produce, baked goods, and food stalls to explore. Recently renovated, it’s a tasty and trendy place to grab lunch. You can’t go wrong with Sweet Auburn Barbecue or Bell Street Burritos.
Most recently, Sweet Auburn has become one of the first areas served by the new (and still under-construction) Atlanta Streetcar project. The East-West route connects Centennial Olympic Park to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.
Then: The nearby neighbourhood of Downtown Atlanta took shape around the railroad. After rebuilding the city post-Sherman’s March, Atlanta was named Georgia’s capital city. The capitol building was erected in the neighbourhood and businesses began taking root in the area. In 1996, Downtown Atlanta took the global stage as its newly constructed park served as a place for visitors to enjoy during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. By the late 1990s, the area had established itself as a thriving conference hotel area and home to the commemorative Centennial Olympic Park.
Now: Today, if you’re heading to Atlanta for business or to visit one of the area’s Fortune 500 companies, it’s tough to beat Downtown Atlanta by way of location. And if you’re travelling with the family, this is one of the best Atlanta neighbourhoods for museums and attractions, including the World of Coca-Cola, the aforementioned Centennial Olympic Park, and The Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Then: Long known as one of Atlanta’s ritzier addresses, Buckhead can trace its humble beginnings to a neighbourhood marketplace and meet-up spot called Irby’s Tavern – opened around 1838. To mark the location, the owner mounted a buck’s head over the entrance, and the name stuck.
The Western edge of the area played a critical role during the Civil War at the Battle of Peachtree Creek – a Northern victory that solidified the Union’s hold over Atlanta.
Now: These days, Buckhead is largely a high-end shopping and hotel district scattered with Georgian mansions and hip restaurants. Though the nightlife scene has dwindled from its former glory era, Buckhead still packs in a formidable group of esteemed restaurants and bars (top picks include the bar at The St. Regis Atlanta, King + Duke, and Pricci). Shopping dominates in the area, thanks to malls like Lenox Square and the high-end Phipps Plaza across the street.
Recently, mixed-use development Buckhead Atlanta (which calls itself the Rodeo Drive of the South) has been all the buzz with its tony group of restaurants and brand-name stores. Our favourites? Menswear showroom, Bonobos; lingerie powerhouse, La Perla; sky-high heel emporium, Christian Louboutin; and French eatery, Le Bilboquet.
Then: Central to downtown Atlanta, Grant Park claims Atlanta’s oldest and largest park as well as numerous famed sites; founded in 1882, the area is home to an immense number of historic Victorian mansions. The gorgeous, and somewhat eerie Oakland Cemetery (circa 1850) is central to the neighbourhood and provides a very real reminder of the past. Meticulously cared for, it’s the final resting spot for many famous Southerners including Margaret Mitchell, Bobby Jones, and Maynard Jackson.
Now: Grant Park has had a surge of regrowth in recent years. Aside from famed aforementioned attractions, the neighbourhood now has its own popular Sunday farmers market (running April through December) as well as Turner Field, home to professional baseball team, the Atlanta Braves (at least for now, the team is relocating to Smyrna in 2016). After a day spent wandering the area and catching a baseball game, kick up your feet with a beer at Six Feet Under’s rooftop patio (overlooking Oakland Cemetery).
Then: The in-town neighbourhood of Inman Park rests its reputation on its combination of picturesque historic homes, trendy restaurants, and a central location. Atlanta’s first planned neighbourhood and first trolley city, Inman Park gained early popularity as a commuter community for businesspeople working downtown.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the majority of the Victorian homes in the area have been restored to their original glory.
Now: Home gazing and park walking aside, the neighbourhood now is best visited for annual area events (such as the Inman Park Festival and Inman Park Restaurant Week) as well as the brand-new Krog Street Market. The latter – much of which is still under construction – makes its home within a 1920s cotton mill and offers up a range of food stalls, restaurants, and shops. Favourite pit stops include French brasserie The Luminary and meat-lover’s haven, The Cockentrice.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Atlanta from London Heathrow, making a visit to Little Five Points that much more convenient.
What is your favourite Atlanta attraction? Tell us about it in the comments section below.
Written by Kelly Skinner