Enjoy big city thrills, world-class culture and a no cost fun family vacation with my guide to Atlanta, Georgia. No cost is an unbeatable offer when other summer vacations seem to get more expensive each week. Read on to find out how to enjoy much of the city’s outdoor recreation, arts, museums and live entertainment like the locals — without spending a dime.
Atlanta, Georgia earns its celebrated reputation as the capital of the South. The city is an exciting racial and ethnic melting pot, a cosmpolitan city with top notch amenities. Take advantage of free tickets to award-winning museums. Discover lush parks, public arts projects, great food and historical neighborhoods for almost free family vacations. Just follow what the locals do who play within its sprawling boundaries.
Here’s a look at how to save money on our suggested six-day family vacation itinerary.
Day 1. A (Free) Walk through Black History
Start your Atlanta visit with the name most closely associated with the city: Dr. Martin Luther King. The Martin Luther King Center (404/526-8900; 449 Auburn Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30312) was founded by Coretta Scott King in 1968 to preserve her husband’s legacy. Exhibits are dedicated to showcasing King’s teachings and nonviolent movement for peace, justice and equality. The grounds are also the final resting place of the Kings. Over at his birth home on 450 Auburn Avenue, visitors can peruse family artifacts, dishes, and period furniture.
Explore more of the city’s distinct Black culture. The historic African-American area along Auburn Avenue is referred to as the Sweet Auburn District. That’s where the Black community set up businesses, congregations, and community centers to avoid Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation. The Rucker Building, Atlanta’s first Black owned building, is one of the landmarks.
Day 2. No Cost Fun in Atlanta’s Government Center
Go civic. Get a behind-the-scenes look at Georgia’s government at work with a free tour of the Georgia State Capitol (404/656-2844; 206 Washington St SW, Atlanta, GA 30334), open Monday through Friday. Visitors can opt to linger in the heart of Georgia’s government with a free self-guided tour of the State Capitol Museum. The museum preserves Georgia’s history with exhibits, artifacts, historic flags, and artwork. Hours for tours vary by season and are contingent on political activities at the Capitol.
To see where Governor and First Lady Kemp hang out off hours, head to the Governors Mansion (404/261-1776; 391 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta, GA 30305-1099.) Take a free tour between early February and late October, any Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday between 10am and 11:30am. Docents in each room educate visitors about the collection and history of the Mansion. The 18-acre estate was completed in 1968 and houses antiques from the Federalist Period. First Flock, the fancy chicken coop designed by local 4H Clubs, is a fun and unexpected destination for kids visiting the mansion.
Learn more about civic Atlanta’s green future with a free Belt Line Tour. Explore the BeltLine project’s trails, public light rail transportation and more through 22 miles ofhistoric railroads. Guided bike tours cost $10 but the Arboretum walking tours are free of charge.
Day 3. Great Outdoors Provide No Cost Fun in Atlanta
Get outside. In East Atlanta’s Grant Park, take a walk through the city’s first municipal cemetery — the historic Oakland Cemetery. Grant Park was a gift to the city of Atlanta in 1883 from Lemuel P. Grant. A zoo was added in 1889. The amazing Cyclorama depicting historical events from 1893 is now in the Atlanta History Museum. Stop at the playground, the gazebo or stroll by the pond and catch live entertainment throughout the year.
Stop at Piedmont Park (10th Street and Piedmont Avenue) for a summer concert and an impromptu picnic. From June through October, stock up on picnic items found at the farmer’s markets open Saturdays at the 12th Street entrance. Get fit at Cardio Kids sessions, public workouts and gardening workshops, many of them free. Checkout a schedule of upcoming events.
Have a picnic lunch or cool off with a cold Coca-Cola at Centennial Olympic Park. The park features music events, jazz performances, educational family fun days and more. Let the kids splash in the Fountain of Rings or the Children’s Playground. Fun fact: The 686,000 inscribed bricks throughout the park were part of a fundraising effort to build the park. Locals bought the bricks and had their names forever cemented right in the park. There’s even a brick finder at the information center. The park helped revitalize the neighborhood and provide a gathering spot to celebrate the 1996 Olympics hosted in Atlanta.
Day 4. No Cost Atlanta Fun Hiking Around Stone Mountain
The outdoors is almost free outside of town, too. Hike a granite mountain, let the kids play in the expansive lawn, and tour the grounds at the historic Stone Mountain Park (770-498/5690). Stay after sundown and watch a spectacular laser light show set to all your favorite songs dance across the face of the mountain. The mountainside is carved to feature three Confederate heroes. Greet Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Robert E. Lee and Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson on an 825-foot-long wall. Their faces cover 583 acres.
You can hike right to the top and look over Georgia at 1,683 feet above sea level. There is a daily $20 parking fee for vehicles with 14 passengers or less. The real bargain is their $40 annual pass if you want to break this up into a two-day adventure.
Day 5. Window-Shopping at Atlanta’s Shops
Teenagers — maybe any kid — will want to shop the only-in-ATL stores in the cool Little Five Points district. Stop at the eclectic and funky Junkman’s Daughter (404/577-3188; 464 Moreland Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30307) first. Window shop for bizarre, funky, and quirky gifts you won’t find anywhere else at the shop that calls itself “Atlanta’s alternative superstore.”
Parents take a look at Wax n’ Facts (404/525-2275; 432 Moreland Ave N.E., Atlanta, GA 30307) for new, old, and offbeat records. This formerly gritty, quickly gentrifying neighborhood still retains some of its bohemian charm.
The Atlantic Station in midtown has so much going on, it has its own zip code. The area is a unique community with on-site apartments, stores, restaurants, and more. Window shop at popular chain stores, drop into their foodie-focused Night Market. Check out free movies or catch the Wellness Wednesdays free yoga class. Drop into restaurants for regular wine tastings and trivia nights at no additional cost.
Day 6. Low Cost Fun with Atlanta Arts and Museums
Grab your fill of big city culture. Art lovers head to Castleberry Hill for the free Art Stroll held every second Friday of the month. Atlanta’s most complete, surviving warehouse district, Castleberry Hill is the favorite location for “The Walking Dead” and other films. It’s also a trendy arts district going more upscale by the day with chic lofts, boutiques, galleries and cafes. Choose the No Mas Cantina for delicious guacamole and fish tacos.
If everyone has the energy, continue your pursuit of public art with street murals that Atlanta has become known for. Here’s a guide to the best murals in town.
For a more traditional arts experience, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art (404/881-1109; 1447 Peachtree Street, Atlanta, GA 30309; closed Sunday-Monday.) The museum was the first arts institution to feature the work of Georgia artists. Tickets are only $5. True, that’s not free but it is free for members and guests under age 6.
On the edge of the Fernbank Forest, the Fernbank Science Center (678/874-7102; 156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta, GA 30307) is free year-round. Explore the exhibit halls or, splurge and take the kids to see a planetarium show. Their theater in the round costs just $10 for adults and $5 for kids, students, and seniors to see nearly 10,000 stars. Or, head straight to the free Dr. Ralph L. Buice, Jr. Observatory housing one of the largest telescopes in the southeast — a 36-inch Cassegrain reflector and a 30-foot dome. Stargaze at the telescope free every Thursday and Friday from 9pm to 10pm, weather permitting.
If You Have More Money, Some Favorite ATL Splurges
We knew you’d have money leftover. If you think a family night out at the ball park is too expensive, look for $18 Coca Cola Wednesdays tickets to see the Atlanta Braves play at Truist Park. Real fans will want to see the Braves Museum, which features the train car the baseball players once traveled in, memorabilia, and photos.
Consider buying an Atlanta CityPASS if you’re here for a whole week. It’s a real value that promises 44% off top attractions. We like getting digital tickets in advance to help organize our list of the top Atlanta family attractions — those that charge a fee, of course.
For more information on Atlanta, Georgia, and what it offers by way of tourism, free events, and low-cost family options, visit Discover Atlanta.
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