11 of the best FREE things to do in Atlanta

There are so many delightful surprises that I could share with you about my adopted home, Atlanta Georgia. I could start with the Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the world….or I could tell you about the Margaret Mitchell House and point to the old sewing table where she penned “Gone With The Wind” over the course of several years. Maybe I could take you to Little Five Points, a funky neighborhood with a cool Bohemian vibe or if you just need to satisfy your coke addiction, we could head over to the New World of Coca Cola Museum. Between taking a studio tour of CNN Center or enjoying the latest collection at the High Museum of Art there is always something spectacular that you can get your hands into. There are a lot of wonderful free things that you can do while you are here too. So, take this as my personal invitation for you to enjoy:

  • First Thursdays – ArtsWalk – Self-guided tours of Downtown galleries occur the first Thursday of every month throughout the year starting at 5 pm and ending at 8 pm.  It is a great way for art-lovers to view the arts and tour historic districts of Downtown at their own pace.  The website even has sample itineraries that you can follow.  This event has surpassed simply being known as a gallery tour, it is a great meeting place for singles, has fostered friendships and is a great way for business people to unwind.  Don’t forget to stop to enjoy discounts at Downtown restaurants in between visits.  Free parking 6-9 pm at Lanier Parking Deck behind the library; tickets stamped at library front desk.  There is also free evening event parking at United Way parking garage.

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site - (450 Auburn Avenue, NE Atlanta, GA 30312-1525 +1-404-331-5190) This national historical site which is now a part of the National Park Service offers year round tours: the church where his father preached, Ebenezer Baptist Church, his and wife Coretta Scott King’s final resting places, the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame and the Visitor Center exhibiting civil rights memorabilia.  There is also a park ranger led tour of Dr. King’s birth home, but space is limited to no more than 15 people, so be sure to sign up early (there are no advanced reservations).  Admission and parking are free.

  • Centennial Olympic Park (between Marietta Street and Baker Street) Originally built to commemorate Atlanta being selected as the venue for the 1996 Olympics, this 21 acre park was once an unusable blight in the downtown area.  800,00 bricks were used to construct the park, more than half of which are engraved with the names of people whose loved ones wanted to create a lasting memorial for them or simply wanted to be remembered themselves.   It is now a beautiful green space where children can be found playing in the Olympic rings fountain on hot and humid days or playing on their choice of two great playgrounds.  There is an amphitheater where concerts abound, water gardens to admire and monuments to revere.

  • National Archives and Records – (5780 Jonesboro Road  Morrow, Georgia 30260; Phone: +1-770-968-2100) The Southeast Region of the National Archives is a destination for those longing to trace their southern ancestral history.  With archival documents dating back to the early 1700s, it is an excellent point for those interested in genealogy or history in general.  These documents are not only composed of textual records, but there are photographs, architectural drawings, Civil War records and maps kept on file too.  Located ten miles from Hartsfield Jackson Airport, their hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.  They are closed Sundays, Federal holidays, and Saturdays that precede any Federal Holiday which is observed on a Monday.

  • Fernbank Science Center – (156 Heaton Park Drive N.E. Atlanta, GA 30307 +1-678-874-7102 (receptionist)) created to foster the wonder and a love of science, Fernbank offers one- and two-hour programs for adults and families on the first Thursday afternoons at 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m of every month.  No registration or reservations are required.  The programs are free of charge and are open to the public.  Programs and times may change — call ahead first.  Just come to the reception desk ten minutes before the program!  The Center’s display and forest area are also free.

  • The Federal Reserve Bank – (1000 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309-4470; Kim Faison – +1-404-498-8777) Sounds like an unusual pick, I know…but bear with me.  The Fed provides free tours of their facility Monday through Friday at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m.  The website firmly states that tours are by appointment only, but I know some people who simply walk in during those times and can participate.  However, to cover your bases, go ahead and make a tour request anyway.  You will have to go through security to get a temporary badge and no photography is allowed.  Also, Individuals or groups of fewer than ten people may participate in self-guided tours of the Visitors Center and Monetary Museum from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Self-guided tours are limited to visiting the Visitors Center and Monetary Museum and do not need to be scheduled.  During the tour you will be shown various types of antiquated currency, get to hold real gold bricks, be shown how to spot counterfeit money, the bank’s vault and the cash processing area where you will see money being counted, sorted and destroyed.  The Fed is located right across the street from the Margaret Mitchell house, by the way.  At the end of the tour, you will be given a bag of shredded money as a souvenir, neat huh?

  • Lasershow Spectacular at Stone Mountain Park – (Stone Mountain Park  PO Box 778 Stone Mountain Park, GA 30086; +1-800-401-2407) This wildly popular light show practically requires you to show up early to claim a spot!  Find a place midway in the center of the lawn so that you will be able to view the colorful rays of light being shone on the face of Stone Mountain.  The entire show starts at sundown and lasts about 40 minutes where you will be serenaded with patriotic and southern music from artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd.  If you want to make a day of it, arrive early and take the sky lift (for $5.00) to the top of the mountain to treat yourself to some fantastic views.  The show is free, however, they do charge $10.00 a car for parking…so the more people that you bring,  the merrier.

  • The Atlanta Jazz Festival – (Piedmont Park in Midtown Atlanta) is one of the country’s largest free jazz festivals which lasts the full month of May. There are free performances throughout the month with many renown artists. The festival also has a health fair and jazz film festival. There’s something fun for kids of all ages.  It is the mission of the Atlanta Jazz Festival to expose and entertain a diverse audience of Jazz aficionados, young Jazz enthusiasts and aspiring musicians to the rich heritage and variety of Jazz as an authentic form of traditional music.

  • Lunchtime in the Studio – (139 Sycamore St. on the Square in Downtown Decatur; +1-404- 373-4154) is a free dance performance showcase in Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta.  Created to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Core Dance Studios, it allows the audience to get up close and personal with the dancers where “the company performs new choreography that evolves through experimentation, improvisation, and collaborations with artists from different mediums.”.  A free lunch along with free coffee from Starbucks is served to the first 40 audience members  five times a year from 12 to 1 pm.  Check the website for dates.

  • The Silver Comet Trail – This 61 mile trail starts 13 miles N.W. of Atlanta in Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties and extends all the way to the Alabama state line.  It is completely paved and has stations (with lots of free parking) along the way where you can sit and rest, use the facilities and at some stops, you can purchase refreshments or rent equipment.  The trail is used mostly for exercise and are built on or near abandoned railroad lines.  You will find casual walkers, rollerbladers, hikers, dog walkers, joggers, bicyclers and people training for marathons dotting along the length of the trail.  Intersections are usually traffic light or stop sign controlled, there are also bridges that are built above traffic lanes.  Funny story, when I was purchasing a house in 2001, my agent took me to a cute little house that I really would have considered buying.  There was only one issue that they needed to fully disclose.  I would lose half of my large backyard because it was eminent domain-ed for the trail.  While a fence would have been built to separate the two, you can imagine, it would be odd to have people walking literally steps from you at all hours of the day and night.  All, the same, if you need a quiet respite where you can walk with the family to get a bit of fresh air, this is a great way to do it.  Bring along a bottle of water and stretch those limbs.

  • Imagine it! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta - (275 Centennial Park Drive NW  Atlanta, GA  30313-1827) This interactive museum for children offers free admission on the second Tuesday of every month.  Sponsored by Target, lines usually form around 11 am and doors open at 1 pm and close at 7 pm.   Be prepared to hear your kids scream with glee since this museum isn’t actually one in the strictest sense of the word.  Instead it is a very kid-focused playground and allows the child to discover their budding creativity with painting, getting lost in the wonder of storytelling, climbing treehouses, or becoming sculpturers of moldable sand.  There is a room for kids 2 and under, so no one is left out.

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