24 Hours in Atlanta: Historic (and Hip)

From an old mill that's become an arts community to a historic home that became a setting for the "Hunger Games" movie, follow our guide to experience a mix of Atlanta's history (and trendy destinations) in just one day.

Behind the cranes, the sky-reaching modern office buildings and the new homes, there's a history to Altanta, from the time of the Civil War (when Atlanta was a key railroad hub for the South) to the civil rights movement (as evidenced in a brand-new civil rights center). With just one day to explore the city, follow this guide to some of the city's historic stops.


Start your day out with a contemporary Southern breakfast at Astor Court, located in luxurious Buckhead hotel the St. Regis Atlanta. The charming tea room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner—there's even a power breakfast that is served in 20 minutes or less, perfect for business travelers on the run and visitors who want to make the most of their day. Wake your stomach with steel cut oats, or cinnamon French toast topped with fresh seasonal berries.

After breakfast, journey into Buckhead proper for a tour of the hauntingly beautiful Swan House. Built in 1928 for Edward and Emily Inman, the home is now operated as part of the Atlanta History Center. Though it has been restored, the home still contains many of the Inmans’ original furnishings, and tours are available. "Hunger Games" fans may recognize the site from the recent "Catching Fire" film and will appreciate the available Capitol Tour that highlights filming sites throughout the house and gardens.

Swan House, Atlanta
Recognizable as the capitol for the "Hunger Games" movies, Atlanta's Swan House offers tours of the rooms and grounds and is operated as part of the Atlanta History Center. (Courtesy Atlanta History Center)

After your tour of the Swan House, head into West Midtown for a stop at the Goat Farm Arts Center. Formerly the E. Van Winkle Machine & Gun Works, the 19th-century mill was converted in 2009 to a visual and performing arts complex. The site is comprised of performance and exhibition halls, a library, an on-site organic farm, an education center, and studios for artists and dancers. Like the stop before it, the Goat Farm also starred in "Catching Fire," as well as an episode of "The Walking Dead."


All that sightseeing probably worked up an appetite, so head to the famous Varsity drive-in for lunch. The world's biggest drive-in has been open since 1928 and serves two miles of hot dogs, 2,500 pounds of potatoes and 500 gallons of chili—all made from scratch—every day. The lines are always long, but service is snappy, so long as you "have your order in your mind and your money in your hand." 

After lunch, stop at the historic Oakland Cemetery, found just outside of the Old Fourth Ward. The cemetery is open till dusk daily, and there is no fee for entry or parking. A variety of tours includes self-guided tours, which cost $4 and feature more than 85 points of interest. Established in 1850, the cemetery has a long list of famous names, including Atlanta's first black mayor, Maynard Jackson; golfer Robert "Bobby" T. Jones, founder of Augusta National Golf Club; and Margaret Mitchell, author of "Gone With the Wind."

The drive from there to the Joel Chandler Harris House is more than worth it. Known as the Wren's Nest, this Queen-Anne-style home, built in 1870, was home to Joel Chandler Harris, editor of The Atlanta Constitution and author of "Uncle Remus Tales." There are regular tours and storytelling on the site, and the organization maintaining the property offers two writing programs for area youth, including a student-run literary journal.

The Wren's Nest, Joel Chandler Harris House
When a wren built a nest in their mailbox, the Harris family simply put up a new box, and the house earned its permanent nickname, Wren's Nest. (©Lain Shakespeare)


Wind down the day back in town with dinner and a tall glass of sweet iced tea at Mary Mac's Tea Room. In 1945, Mary McKenzie opened one of 16 tea rooms dotting the city. Today, only hers remains of those original 16. Though the restaurant has changed hands and grown considerably since its early days, the food and the atmosphere remain the same. Indulge in Southern classics like fried okra, macaroni and cheese, and irresistible peach cobbler a la mode.

From here, head out for nightlife. Buckhead, Midtown, Decatur, the Virginia-Highlands and East Atlanta all have active scenes, whether you're looking for dance clubs, live music, or just a quiet lounge or patio to while away the night.