Georgia is a state of many contrasts, which makes it an especially appealing place to go. The attractions that bring tourists to Georgia range from its mountain landscapes and natural features like the Okefenokee Swamp to the romantic antebellum squares of Savannah and the dazzling modern architecture of Atlanta. There are things to do in Georgia for the whole family, and for every interest. You’ll find everything from the world’s largest aquarium and the beaches of Jekyll Island to gracious antebellum homes and historic sites that illuminate life and events from prehistory to the late 20th-century struggle for civil rights. Plan your visit with this list of the top attractions in Georgia
The Savannah Historic District encompasses about a square mile, preserving the old city much as it appeared at the time of the Civil War. Its lovely shaded squares surrounded by gracious mansions, and its stone-paved streets lined by trees draped in feathery Spanish moss create one of the most romantic urban scenes of any city in the world. More than historic scenery, the Historic District is alive with art, culture, museums, and mansions to tour.
The north end is bounded by the riverfront, and at the southern end is Forsyth Park. Although the entire district is known for its many beautiful parks and squares, Forsyth Park is the largest and is a good example of a well-designed mid-1800s Southern park. Its landmark feature is a graceful fountain, and walking paths are shaded by lovely old trees that drape over them.
The world’s largest aquarium, Georgia Aquarium houses more than 100,000 aquatic animals in more than 10 million gallons of fresh and saltwater. While its sheer size may seem overwhelming, the exhibits are divided into various themes to make visits more focused and educational. Cold Water Quest explores cold water life across the world’s oceans, with unusual creatures that include Australian sea dragons and Japanese spider crabs. In Under the Boardwalk, trainers interact with sociable California sea lions, and in the River Scout exhibit are albino alligators, piranha, and emerald tree boas. The largest, the 6.3-million-gallon Ocean Voyager, houses whale sharks and manta rays among its thousands of fish and features a 100-foot-long acrylic tunnel for visitors to walk through, surrounded by swimming fish.
Address: 225 Baker Street NW, Atlanta, Georgia
The 30-acre botanical garden next to Piedmont Park comes as a surprise, right in Midtown Atlanta. This four-season attraction always has something in bloom, from its spring bulb display through the colorful autumn foliage, and at any time of year its several indoor gardens transport visitors to the tropics. The Fuqua Orchid Center displays orchids of all shapes and colors, while the High Elevation House shows the astonishing variety of plants native to the Cloud Forests of the Andes. Here, exotic bromeliads, mosses, ferns, trailing vines, and miniature orchids surround a massive indoor waterfall, and more exotics thrive in the Tropical Rotunda. Outside are an Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen, where fruits and vegetables are grown as landscape plants.
The Rose Garden is at its height in late spring and again in late summer, and the Hydrangea Collection is one of the finest in the Southeast, as is the collection of water plants. The Japanese Garden features a teahouse, waterfall, pond, bamboo, dwarf Japanese maples, and a Moon Gate that provides a photo-worthy frame for the beds of bright annuals outside.
Address: 1345 Piedmont Ave NE, Atlanta, Georgia
Dedicated to the civil rights movement in the United States and more broadly to the struggle for human rights across the world, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is a dynamic and powerful experience that brings visitors face to face with one of the greatest social initiatives of recent history.
The Civil Rights Movement gallery portrays the fight for equality in the 1950s and 1960s, immersing visitors in the sights and sounds through interactive displays that bring to life the individuals who worked to overcome the Jim Crow laws and secure equal rights for all. The Freedom Riders exhibit recreates the 1950s bus, with oral histories and a film made inside the bus. The Lunch Counter exhibit is perhaps the most moving, as visitors sit at a replica counter encountering the angry faces and listening with earphones to voices of tormentors, who threatened those who tried to eat at public lunch counters. Multimedia displays bring the March on Washington alive through songs and speeches. Martyrs who lost their lives in the struggle for equal rights are honored with their photos and stories. The Human Rights Movement gallery connects the struggles for human rights throughout the world, through interactive technology, exploring fundamental rights, and encouraging visitors to engage in the discussion.
Address: 100 Ivan Allen Jr Blvd NW, Atlanta, Georgia
The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta includes the birthplace and grave of this famous civil rights leader. On a self-guided tour of this two-block area, you can see the house where Dr. King was born, part of a restored block of modest homes. Here, too, are the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where a docent gives a fascinating description of the role this church played in the neighborhood. The Freedom Hall Complex includes exhibits, and volunteers at Fire Station No. 6 discuss this station’s place in community life.
Address: 400 & 500 blocks of Auburn Avenue, NE, Atlanta, Georgia
The Chattahoochee National Forest covers almost 750,000 acres in northern Georgia. This scenic area, with lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, is a great place for outdoor pursuits or soaking up nature. During the summer months this is a popular area for camping, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, picnicking, and more.
The popular vacation destination of Jekyll Island is also known as “millionaires island”. It was bought by a group of East Coast millionaires who named themselves the Jekyll Island Club. In 1947, the island was sold to Georgia for use as a state park. Today, the island is a resort area with beaches, nature trails, golf facilities, and camping areas. You can find everything from quaint oceanside villas to larger resorts catering to families or couples.
North of Columbus, on Pine Mountain, is a popular leisure center established by the industrialist Cason Callaway, with artificial lakes, gardens of magnolias and azaleas, and a butterfly house. Robin Lake, which hosts the annual Masters Waterski and Wakeboard Tournament, offers a great opportunity to participate in watersports. Also on the grounds are two excellent golf courses and numerous walking trails.
Address: 17800 US Highway 27
The Okefenokee Swamp, known to the Indians as the “Land of the Quaking Earth,” is an area of swampland in southern Georgia, covering more than 770 square miles. It is a maze of watercourses, cypress swamps, and swamp grassland. Interesting features are the “floating islands,” which quake under foot but nevertheless support whole forests and in the past provided protection for Indian settlements. The swamp is home to many endangered species, as well as an estimated 10,000 alligators. From the little town of Waycross there are boat trips into the swamp.
The Ocmulgee National Monument is dedicated to the 12,000 years of human habitation in the Macon area. Earthen mounds and a ceremonial lodge are available for viewing. Visitors can learn about the Native American Indians who inhabited this area and the Civil War battles that took place here.
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, in southwest Georgia, includes the Carter family home and former President Carter’s boyhood home and farm. The site also includes the Plains Train Depot and Plains High School. Visitors can get a glimpse of this president’s upbringing and social influences that may have shaped his ideas.
Although between romantic antebellum Savannah and the cultural attractions of Atlanta, Georgia offers plenty of things to see and do, the state is also surrounded by other interesting places to explore. South of Georgia is Florida, with its glorious beaches, the theme parks of Orlando, and the Gulf Coast attractions surrounding Tampa. North of Georgia is South Carolina, with historic Charleston and the beautiful long sands of Myrtle Beach. West of Atlanta, Birmingham, in the heart of Alabama, is a little over three hours away by train.
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