The New 24-Hour Guide to Atlanta

Have a long layover in Atlanta? Venture beyond the airport with this hour-by-hour game plan until it’s time for wheels up again.

We'll never call Atlanta “the city that never sleeps” and not just because that title is already taken by another. Our bars close fairly early compared with the rest of the country and we’re not especially known for our 24-hour diners. The only true part of the city that never shuts down is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Still, believe it or not, there is plenty to keep you occupied at all hours of the day and night. You just have to know where to look. Here’s a glimpse into where the locals go after most lights go out. Ready for an all-nighter?

10 pm: Late-Night Delights 

No matter what time of day you arrive in Atlanta, there are a handful of eateries where you can indulge well into the night. This is the home of Waffle House, after all. Meanwhile, Cook Out may not be native to the city, but there are enough locations around town that stay open until 4 and 5 am. Depending on the time of night, you might be standing in line alongside local college students or the post-bar crowd. Fill up with a burger, sides of quesadillas and fries, and, of course, a milkshake for a cheap, late-night feast. 

The Plaza Theatre

12 am: Revelers Welcome

Every city needs a late-night movie theater and the Plaza Theatre in Poncey-Highland is Atlanta’s. First opened in 1939, it screens independent and classic films, including “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” A screening of cult classic is held every Friday night at midnight, put on by the fan group Lips Down on Dixie. Revelers dress up as their favorite characters and participate in various parts of the $15 show. The theater also hosts special screenings and premieres and has their own cocktail, the Plaza Punch. 

2 am: Sing Your Heart Out

Still buzzing from your performance at Rocky Horror, end the night at a nearby karaoke bar. Fam-Fam is set up in the Elevator Factory in Grant Park and stays open until 3 am. You can bring your own alcohol and reserve a room by texting their phone number. Don’t expect to just walk up and get a spot on weekends as reservations are recommended. Karaoke costs $10 per person and a minimum of six guests is required.

Flying solo? Head to 10 High under Dark Horse Tavern in Virginia-Highland for Metalsome Karaoke instead. With a live band for back-up, the brave can take the stage until 3 am most nights of the week. First-timers are free (duets are $20). Arrive early to claim your spot, or sing-a-long from the crowd.

6 am: Catch the Sunrise 

If you’re still out, or already up, catch the sunrise on the Jackson Street Bridge, which has the best views of Atlanta and technically never “closes.” You likely won’t be the only one there as it’s a popular spot for snapping Instagram shots. If that’s not enough, the Atlanta BeltLine opens at 6 am so you can start your morning off with a walk through the city’s paved rails to trails pathway. Admire the public art that is found on all corners of the Eastside Trail.

7 am: Fuel up for the Day

Open 24 hours in a bustling corner of Buckhead, R. Thomas Deluxe Grill is the best place for an early-bird breakfast, open since 1985. Speaking of birds, be sure to greet the parrots and other feathered friends that live outside the restaurant. Grab a seat in the colorful garden patio and order a vegetable quinoa bowl and fruit smoothie for a much-needed detox. Nearby, Arden’s Garden is another great option for a healthful kick-start to the day (try the Oops! or Complete Recovery). The Atlanta-based, family-owned juice company dates back to 1995 and now sells its juices in 13 stores as well as supermarkets, coffee and bagel shops, health clubs and more.

Atlanta Food Walks

9 am: Tour the Town

During civilized hours, there’s plenty to see around the city. But if you’re short on time, focus on the history and important neighborhoods. Start at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site to learn about the Atlanta native, then head to Center for Civil and Human Rights in Centennial Olympic Park, which documents both Atlanta’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and modern human rights struggles. From there, join Atlanta Food Walks’ Downtown Southern Food Walk, which weaves regional history and cuisine. It ends at Sweet Auburn Market, a formerly segregated market turned historic food hall.

3 pm: Fast-Paced Playtime

When you’re ready, head back to the area around the airport to finish your trip. The Delta Flight Museum documents the airline’s history from crop dusting planes to international company. And the Porsche Experience Center is home to the luxury car maker’s North American headquarters, complete with a museum, test track and restaurant overlooking the runways.

6 pm: Relax and Rejuvenate

There’s plenty to see and do within Hartsfield-Jackson from the art installations to shopping to the airport outposts of your favorite Atlanta eateries. Don’t miss the award-winning global cuisine and cocktails at One Flew South at Terminal E. Those with access to Delta Sky Club at Terminal E can indulge in a Deepak Chopra-designed treatment at Asanda Spa. Otherwise, check out Xpress Spa at Terminals A and C for massages, manicures and facials before you board. 

Caroline Eubanks
About the author
Caroline Eubanks is a freelance writer from Atlanta, Georgia, USA. She's written about her love of The South fo...