The next stop on our USA road trip was Atlanta. It was the first big city we had seen in months and 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. I would recommend staying somewhere in the centre or on the doorstep of a subway station. Although our hotel was clean and had a rooftop pool that we 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, in particular, 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 MLK visitors centre. We spent most of our time in this free museum learning about his incredible and moving life. I’m ashamed to say I only knew the basics from the school of the civil right 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 uphill battle for basic 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 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. 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 all along the street full of empowering messages. If you continue down the road you will reach the Freedom Hall and the eternal flame. 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 mankind. The final stop in the Martin Luther King Jr. district is Ebenezer Baptist church. This is the church that Dr King himself and his father were misters at 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. This is a place that needs to be visited and a history that needs to be spread. We need to continue to educated generations and to challenge norms and to make a change. Many of 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 not only to understand the racial landscape of Atlanta but that of all of the USA and even western Europe.
After this busy day if you have any energy left I would recommend walking back into downtown. This gives you the chance to 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, 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.