Atlanta may be about to host the US's biggest sporting event of the year in its Mercedes-Benz stadium, but there's much more to it than the Superbowl. In summer, Georgia's state capital comes alive with numerous festivals, for everything from design and architecture (ma-designishuman.com; 1 to 9 June) to beer (atlantasummerbeerfest.com; 16 June).
As the hometown of Martin Luther King Jnr, Atlanta is a must for history buffs, and getting to the heart of Sweet Auburn, the civil rights leader's old neighbourhood, is easy thanks to the streetcar (tram), which connects the area to downtown.
A wide range of airlines fly direct to Atlanta, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, KLM, Iberia, Finnair, American and Delta.
Downtown Atlanta is 10 miles north of the airport. The quickest and cheapest way to get into town is by using the Marta public transport system (itsmarta.com). Pick up a stored-value Breeze card, on which single train fares are $2.50. From the airport take the 10-minute shuttle to the Marta station, from where the train (Red or Gold line) will get you to central Five Points station (1) in around 20 minutes. The Marta system is also a great way to get around the city for various Superbowl events.
The streetcar operates a circular route in central Atlanta.
Get your bearings
Encircled by the I-285 motorway, Atlanta is undoubtedly a city of drivers. There are only four train lines, running roughly north to south and east to west, so coverage can be patchy, but if you're happy to walk a little or take the bus you can usually fill in the gaps. Five Points (1), where all the train lines converge, is downtown, in the skyscraper-lined commercial district where many of the city's tourist attractions are located.
To the north is Midtown, where you'll find universities and museums such as the High Museum of Art (2) at 1280 Peachtree Street NE (high.org). Further north still is Buckhead, an area of dual-carriageways, luxury hotels and high-end shopping malls.
The east of the city is home to a number of artsy neighbourhoods, from chi-chi Virginia-Highlands to hip Little Five Points and East Atlanta Village.
The main visitor centre (3) is at 65 Alabama Street SW (atlanta.net).
Aloft Atlanta Downtown (4) at 300 Spring Street (aloftatlantadowntown.com) has spacious, modern rooms, free wi-fi, a bar and a splash pool. Doubles from $224.
Loews Atlanta (5) at 1065 Peachtree Street (loewshotels.com), has doubles from $299, room only. Some rooms offer views over Piedmont Park, and there's a free car service within three miles of the hotel.
If proximity to headline attractions is your priority, check into the Omni Hotel at CNN Center (6), 190 Marietta Street NW (001 404 659 0000; omnihotels.com). In the heart of downtown, more than 1,000 rooms are spread between its two towers. Doubles from $259, room only.
Take a hike
Most of Atlanta's top attractions are squeezed into a relatively small area, connected by Centennial Olympic Park, built for the 1996 Games. Start at CNN Center (6) (cnn.com/tour) where you can take a tour of the news organisation's global headquarters and studio, and learn how programmes are put together.
Walk north through the park (maps and signposts will keep you on track), stopping at the World of Coca-Cola (7) (worldofcoca-cola.com). Its interactive exhibits, retro ads and – of course – samples will keep children entertained, but if you're not a fan of the fizzy brown stuff, head for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights (8) at the northern end of the park (civilandhuman rights.org). The striking contemporary building, which opened in 2014, offers a fascinating insight into the civil rights movement.
Lunch on the run
Head over to Little Five Points to fuel up. Cosy beer bar The Porter (9) at 1156 Euclid Avenue NE (theporterbeerbar.com) has an eclectic menu – think duck confit ruben sandwiches, kale caesar salad and huge hotdogs – and more than 400 brews with which to wash it down.
Little Five Points has a great selection of one-off shops. Vinyl-lovers should visit Criminal Records, next door to The Porter at No 1154-A (criminalatl.com). For vintage threads, try Rag-O-Rama at No 1111 (ragorama.com) or Clothing Warehouse (10) at 420 Moreland Avenue NE (theclothingwarehouse.com).
Dining with the locals
It's impossible to miss The Vortex, a few doors down from Clothing Warehouse, at No 438 (thevortexbarandgrill.com). Walk through the giant skull doorway for what are billed as "the best burgers in Atlanta", including the deliciously spicy Hell's Fury.
Poor Calvin's (11) at 510 Piedmont Avenue NE (poorcalvins.com) serves light, tasty Thai fusion. Order mains or pick a selection of "bites" – I loved the basil rolls and chicken coconut soup.
Sister Louisa's Church of the Living Room and Ping Pong Emporium (12) at 466 Edgewood Ave SE (sisterlouisaschurch.com) thankfully abbreviates to Church. Irreligious paintings and neon signs cover the walls, and on Wednesdays there's organ karaoke.
Out to brunch
Arrive early at popular West Egg Café (13) at 1100 Howell Mill Road (westeggcafe.com). The decor is all concrete floors and subway tiles, while the menu features southern specialities and the usual brunch items. For a mix of the two, try the fried green tomato BLT.
A walk in the park
Piedmont Park may be the city's best known, but for a modern take on green space, cross the street from Piedmont's south-east corner, by the Park Tavern (14), and join the BeltLine (downloadable maps at beltline.org). The repurposed railway track is Atlanta's equivalent to New York's Highline – though locals will tell you Georgia's capital had the idea first.
The BeltLine's East Trail takes you south through the city; it's still a little rough and ready in places, but between the wild grass and city views are some lovely little stop-off points, such as Paris on Ponce and Pop Marché (15) (parisonponce.com), a warehouse filled with quirky antiques and flea-market finds. In the autumn Art on the BeltLine (art.beltline.org) is due to return, with artworks lining the route.
From the southern end of the trail head west to the Martin Luther King National Historic Site (nps.gov/malu). Orientate yourself at the visitor centre (16) at 450 Auburn Avenue NE, then head to the civil rights leader's home. Tours of the house are free, but first-come-first-served, so if you don't get a ticket, explore the site's other landmarks, including King's tomb, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he and his father preached.
Take a view
The Jackson Street Bridge (17), between Highland Avenue NE and Cain Street NE, offers one of the best views in the city. Watch the sun set behind the skyscrapers as cars rush along the multi-lane highway below.
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