The next stop on our USA road trip was Atlanta. It was the first big city we had seen in months, and it felt slightly overwhelming to be suddenly surrounded by skyscrapers. We decided to stay a little bit out of the city centre to keep costs low. However, we quickly realised it was a bit of a pain trying to get to the closest subway station. So I would recommend staying somewhere in the centre or on the doorstep of a subway station. Our hotel was clean and had a rooftop pool that we definitely took advantage of.
When it came to downtown (yes, that’s what Americans call the city centre), we realised that Atlanta is not a walking-friendly city. In places, the pavements would just disappear, and it was pretty difficult to cross roads without J-walking (crossing the road, not at a designated crossing which is illegal). Thankfully for our exhausted legs, Atlanta has a very efficient downtown tram system that runs regularly and is very affordable.
There’s no shortage of things to do in Atlanta! Whether you want to visit the CNN tower, take a tour of the coca-cola world or explore the Georgia Aquarium (one of the largest in the world), there is plenty to keep you busy. However, all of these attractions can be very expensive and set you back a lot of dollars. Even our trip to Lenox Square shopping mall ended up being expensive, although we had been limited to thrift store shopping until now, so we did go a little wild. While it was great to experience a massive American mall, we were looking for something a little more authentic and less commercially driven. Ultimately, we decided to save the rest of our dollars, avoid these tourist hotspots, and learn more about Atlanta’s history, particularly the life of one of its most important and famous residents, Martin Luther King Jr.
Atlanta has an entire district dedicated to the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. It’s located just outside of downtown Atlanta, an easy tram ride or 20-30 minute walk from the Olympic Park. There are lots to see here, so you’re going to want to start at the MLK visitors centre. We spent most of our time learning about his incredible and moving life in this free museum. I’m ashamed to say I only knew the basics from the school of the civil rights leader who dared to dream a dream. I wish I had known more sooner. It was a deeply moving museum highlighting the racist history of America and an uphill battle for fundamental human rights, culminating in his murder for trying to make the world a better place. The museum is accessible for all ages and focuses not only on teaching history and immortalising his life but on educating future generations on anti-racism and how far we still have to go to equality.
After visiting the museum, you are going to want to walk a little way along the street to visit number 501, better known as Martin Luther King Jr’s birth home. Unfortunately, due to over-tourism and efforts to preserve the site, it’s now only accessible by tour. These tours only run twice a day, so you might not be able to go inside. However, you can still visit the site, and if you go next door, the bookstore and museum shop will give you a real feel for the interior and what the house must be like.
The next stop walking towards downtown Atlanta is the beautiful and historic fire station at no 6; they stopped segregation in 1963. There is also some incredible graffiti art along the street full of empowering messages. Next, you will reach the Freedom Hall and the eternal flame if you continue down the road. We didn’t end up seeing all of the Freedom Hall as it is mostly focused on artwork from around the globe and is used for various paid exhibitions. The eternal flame outside symbolises the continued effort of Dr King’s dream and the vision for a world of quality for all humanity. The final stop in the Martin Luther King Jr. district is Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr King himself and his father were misters and where he first started preaching. It is still functional today, and because of this, we didn’t want to intrude by visiting this particular site.
Overall this was an emotional experience and far more valuable than visiting the coca-cola world or a large aquarium. MLK district needs to be visited, and this part of history needs to be shared and spread. We need to continue to educate generations, challenge norms, and make a change. The equalities that Dr King was striving for in his lifetime are still yet to be achieved today. It’s vital to preserve this historic district to understand the racial landscape of Atlanta and all of the USA and even western Europe.
After this busy day, if you have any energy left, I would recommend walking back downtown. On the way, stop off and grab some food at the municipal market. You could even take your food to go and continue your walk to the Olympic Park. Throughout the summer, the park hosts a variety of free events, so there’s almost always something going on.
This day was my highlight of Atlanta, and we spent most of the rest of our time soaking in the atmosphere and getting used to being back in a big bustling city. Atlanta has a lot to offer tourists. Just don’t forget to make time to take in the history too.