48 hours in: Atlanta
The home of the world's busiest airport is also the heart of the civil rights movement -- and much more besides, writes Harriet O'Brien.
Why go now?
The state capital of Georgia -- the city of Gone With The Wind and headquarters of Coca-Cola, CNN and many other US institutions -- has much to offer. It was the hub of Martin Luther King Jr's civil rights campaigning and, more recently, has become a city of commercial bustle.
Visit now to take in the southern sunshine and convivial welcome, and catch two major art shows at the city's High Museum of Art (1) on Leonardo da Vinci and the architect John Portman.
Fly non-stop from Dublin with Delta (1850 882031; delta.com). Atlanta airport is the busiest in the world and has a security policy of screening all incoming passengers from international flights. So, you and your hold luggage will be separately checked, regardless of the amount of security at boarding. This inevitably adds to the time it takes to get through this huge complex.
Downtown Atlanta is 10 miles north of the airport. The cheapest and fastest way in is the subway, known locally as Marta (001 404 848 5000; itsmarta.com). A single journey costs a flat $2 (€1.43). Taxis cost about $30 (€21.43) to the Downtown area.
Get your bearings
Atlanta's ever-expanding size is a reflection of its vibrancy. The large city centre is contained within the I-285 ring road, with the tall towers of the Downtown area at its heart.
Midtown, north of this commercial district, was once down-at-the-heel but has reshaped itself as a lively arts area. East of this neighbourhood, the residential district of Virginia Highland has a bohemian spirit and offers offbeat shopping and cafés.
North of Midtown, the Buckhead district is the latest area of spectacular urban renewal. Happily, for such an enormous city, the major sights are, for the most part, readily accessible via the Marta subway, which has two lines: north-south and west-east.
The Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau (2), located in the Downtown district at 65 Upper Alabama Street, is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 11am to 6pm, and on Sundays from noon to 4pm (001 404 521 6600; atlanta.net).
The Residence Inn Atlanta Downtown (3) at 134 Peachtree Street (001 404 522 0950; marriott.com) offers good value, with 160 generously sized rooms and kitchen facilities. Doubles from $129 (€92.16), with breakfast.
Those seeking respite from big, contemporary buildings could opt for The Shellmont Inn (4) in Midtown at 821 Piedmont Avenue (001 404 872 9290; shellmont.com). This gem of an early-1890s townhouse is now a boutique hotel furnished with antiques. It offers five rooms and a romantic one-bedroom cottage in the garden. Doubles cost from $175 (€125), with breakfast.
The Buckhead district (5) offers the finest hotels. The Intercontinental Buckhead at 3315 Peachtree Road (001 404 946 9000; intercontinental.com) is one of the more luxurious, with 442 stylish rooms, a spa and pool. Doubles from $179 (€128).
Two of the city's best malls are within walking distance of Buckhead subway. Lenox Square (10am-9pm daily; Sunday to 6pm) features the likes of Banana Republic and Lacoste. Phipps Plaza next to it (10am-9pm; Sundays noon-5.30pm) is smaller and more upmarket, with Versace, Gucci and Louis Vuitton.
For a different outlook take Marta to Midtown station (6) and board bus 45 to Virginia Highland. You'll find quirky shops and cafés along North Highland Avenue (7), including designer knitting shop Knitch at number 1044 and fashion boutique Mitzi & Romanos at 1038.
Lunch on the run
Head back towards Midtown along 10th Street to Flying Biscuit (8) on the corner with Piedmont Avenue (001 404 874 8887; flyingbiscuit.com). This cheerful little café has an epicurean all-day breakfast menu -- try the Southern Scramble at $7.99 (€5.70) for three scrambled eggs served with bacon, onions, cheese and spicy greens.
A walk in the park
Piedmont Park (open 6am-11pm) stretches north from 10th Street. Locals refer to this as the Central Park of Atlanta -- indeed, it was designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of the Manhattan park. It's a great place for people-watching and offers magnificent views. The park is also home to Atlanta's fabulous Botanical Garden (9), which is on the north-west edge (001 404 876 5859; atlantabotanicalgarden. org; open 9am-5pm daily, except Mondays; $15/€10.70).
The city's finest sight is the glorious complex of dazzling-white buildings known as the High Museum of Art (1) at 1280 Peachtree Street (001 404 733 4400; high.org). The original light-filled section was designed by Richard Meier in the early '80s.
In 2005, a major expansion by Renzo Piano was completed. The permanent collection traces the story of America's development through its art, from the 18th century. A large part of the complex is devoted to changing exhibitions: currently a major show of Leonardo da Vinci's drawings (until February 21), and a large display on the works of the Atlanta-based architect and artist John Portman (until April 18).
The museum is just steps from Arts Center station. It opens 10am-5pm daily, except Mondays; Thursdays until 8pm; Sundays from noon; entry is $18 (€12.85).
Make for Crescent Avenue in Midtown; Front Page News (10) at No 1104 (001 404 897 3500; frontpageatlanta.com) has live music which starts at about 9pm at weekends and on Wednesdays.
Dine with the locals
The hip Flip Burger Boutique (11) is slightly off the beaten track at 1587 Howell Mill Road (001 404 352 3547; flipburgerboutique. com), yet Atlanta's residents crowd in here every night. It is, essentially, a designer burger joint concocting everything from crab burgers at $14 (€10) to more conventional "butcher's cut" offerings at $7.50 (€5.35), along with creative milkshakes of liquidised pumpkin pie ($6/€4.28).
Sunday morning: go to church
Devote the morning to the poignant Sweet Auburn area. The name was coined by early activist John Wesley Dobbs (1882-1961) to evoke the rich African-American culture and spirit here. Catch Marta eastbound to King Memorial (12), cross to William Holmes Borders Drive and head north, looking west for great views of Atlanta's Downtown towers. Turn right by Liberty Baptist Church then left down Jackson Street.
Cross Edgewood Avenue and continue past the National Divine Spiritual Church to Auburn Avenue. Immediately in front of you is Ebenezer Baptist Church (13). Complete with soaring roof, it was built in 1999 and welcomes visitors to its Sunday services at 7.45am and 11am. You'll probably find your hand being warmly shaken many times by regular members of the congregation. You may not be in the very building where Martin Luther King Jr preached, but you'll be absorbing the vibrant spirit of his territory.
Take a hike
Explore the landmarks of the civil rights movement. Opposite as you leave the church is the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King served as co-pastor with his father in the '60s (not currently open to the public). This area is now officially the Martin Luther King National Park (001 404 331 5190; nps.gov/malu). Just east down Auburn Avenue is the absorbing Visitor Center (14), open daily 9am-5pm; free.
King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. His tomb is across Auburn Avenue from the Visitor Center. You can sign up at the Center for a free 30-minute tour of King's family home (15).
Turn left down Hogue Street, and left again at Irwin Street. Follow Jackson Street back to Auburn Avenue. Turn right and walk towards Downtown passing the handsome Wheat Street Baptist Church (16), built in the '20s, and the dramatic, grey-stone Big Bethel African Methodist Church (17) dating from the 1890s. The Apex Museum of Black History (18) is at No 135 (001 404 523 2739; apexmuseum.org); it opens 10am-5pm daily except Mondays; Sundays 1pm-5pm; $4 (€2.86).
Head a block south to Auburn Avenue. Any day apart from Sunday, you can visit the Auburn Curb Market (19) at 209 Edgewood Avenue (001 404 659 1665; sweetauburncurbmarket.com; 8am-6pm). Set in a large, 1823 market hall, this wonderful institution offers delis and cafés such as Tilapia Express, where you tuck into fried whiting and French fries for $5.99 (€4.28).
Return to Downtown along Edgewood Avenue, passing Woodruff Park (20), where chess players congregate (borrow a set from the Park's reading room). Turn left along Peachtree Street to Five Points station (21).
Out to brunch
Engine 11 (22) at 30 North Avenue (001 404 873 3473; engine11atl.com) is a '20s fire station. With wooden panelling and brickwork walls, it oozes atmosphere. For $9.49 (€6.78), choose between barbecue- glazed meatloaf or a Fireman's Axe Salad with chicken and bacon.
Take a ride
Hop aboard Marta to Civic Center and you can visit the World of Coca-Cola (23) at 121 Baker Street (001 404 676 5151; worldofcoca-cola.com) for a tour of the planet by soft drink. Opening hours are 10am-6pm daily; admission of $15 (€10.72) includes a bottle of the stuff to take away.
The icing on the cake
One more global icon: see television news in the making at CNN's global headquarters (24) in Downtown Atlanta at 190 Marietta Street (001 404 827 2300; cnn.com/tour). One-hour tours begin every 10 minutes daily 9am-5pm ($13/€9.29).