You don't need to be heir to the Coca-Cola fortune to enjoy everything Atlanta has to offer.

Georgia's state capital is full of things to see and do that don't cost a penny, from bucolic parks and cemeteries to the buzzy BeltLine, from street art to world-class museums, from funky neighborhoods to farmers markets, and historic sites spanning from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement.

Here are the best free things to do in Atlanta.

August 4, 2014: Exterior of the High Museum of Art on Peachtree Street in Midtown Atlanta..
On the second Sunday of each month, The High Museum offers free admission for all visitors © f11photo / Shutterstock

Admire at The High Museum

Atlanta's modern High Museum was the first to exhibit art from Paris' Louvre and is a destination known for its architecture as its world-class exhibits. The striking whitewashed multilevel building houses a permanent collection of eye-catching late-19th-century furniture, early American modern canvases from George Morris and Albert Gallatin, and postwar work from Mark Rothko. On the second Sunday of each month, the High offers free admission for all visitors.

Tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

The historic site commemorates the life, work and legacy of the Civil Rights leader. The site takes up several blocks. Stop by the excellent visitor center to get oriented with a map and brochure of area sites, a 20-minute film, New Time, New Voice, and exhibits that elucidate the context – the segregation, systemic oppression and racial violence that inspired and fueled King's work.

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Go for a walk at Historic Fourth Ward Park

Behind Ponce City Market, this below-ground-level 17-acre urban park was one of the BeltLine's first projects. The park features a storm-water retention pond that feeds the park's fountains and Splashpad, a playground and outdoor theater and a skate park partially funded by skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.

It also has an interesting history: the sight was once home to an amusement park, casino and ballpark and people believed Clear Creek, which runs under the park, had therapeutic qualities. But Sears, Roebuck and Co. buried it all when it built its massive brick headquarters in 1926 (now Ponce City Market).

Group of tombstones and sculpture on Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, USA
After touring the Oakland Cemetery, grab a bite nearby at the appropriately named Six Feet Under seafood restaurant © Getty Images / iStockphoto

Delve into Atlanta's past at Oakland Cemetery

In addition to holding the graves of author Margeret Mitchell, golf great Bobby Jones and Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's historic garden cemetery (dating to 1850) is one of the few graveyards in the world to boast a visitor center and museum shop. The Oakland Cemetery offers themed tours, a music festival called Tunes from the Tombs and other events. But you can also stroll around and admire the pretty mausoleums. 

Best time to visit Atlanta

Explore Martin Luther King Jr. Birthplace

Free, first-come, first-served guided tours of King's childhood home take about 30 minutes to complete and require same-day registration, which can be made at the visitor center at the National Historic Site – arrive early, as spots fill fast. The tours can depart anytime between 10am and 4pm, but you are free to visit the rest of the park at your leisure before your designated tour time.

Get funky at Little Five Points

Little Five Points has long been one of Atlanta's hippest, funkiest ' hoods, lined with quirky vintage stores, head shops, tattoo parlors, popular bars, comedy clubs, and music venues.

You can spend as much or as little as you want to here, but even if you're on a budget, you can spend hours strolling the side streets admiring the pretty historic houses and street art, people watching on the plaza, crate-digging at Criminal Records and getting caught up in neighborhood festivals like the Hallowe'en Parade.

Red-brick church building, Atlanta
The original Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King and his father Martin Luther King, Sr. pastored, is still an important part of religious and political life in Atlanta © Barry Wilner / Getty Images

Stop by First Ebenezer Baptist Church

Martin Luther King Jr., his father and grandfather were all pastors here, and King Jr's mother was the choir director. Sadly she was murdered here by a deranged gunman while she sat at the organ in 1974.

A multimillion-dollar restoration, completed in 2011, brought the church back to the 1960–68 period when King Jr served as co-pastor with his father. Today looped recordings of King's speeches play in the church building.

Top things to do in Atlanta 

Go for a bike ride at Piedmont Park

A glorious, rambling urban park and the setting of many cultural and music festivals, Piedmont Park has fantastic bike paths and a Saturday Green Market (from 9am to 1pm).

Admire Living Walls Atlanta

A project co-founded by Peruvian-American Monica Campana, Living Walls Atlanta aims to curate and produce public artworks that are free and accessible for locals and visitors alike.

Over the past 10 years, Living Walls has been behind over 150 public murals featured throughout the metropolitan area, some tied into community-building and public health efforts like the national #StartTalkingStopHIV campaign and collaborations with Adult Swim. You can peruse their website to learn what murals are currently on around the Atlanta metro area and about the artists who created them.

Visitors walk, run and cycle along the Atlanta Beltline recreational area in the Old Fourth Ward.
The BeltLine project has already had a significant impact on Atlanta – it's big enough to have its own police force – and it's still being developed and expanded © BluIz60 / Shutterstock

Work up a sweat on The Atlanta BeltLine

If you're an avid TV watcher, you've probably seen a glimpse of Atlanta's BeltLine even if you've never been to the city – Stranger Things, Walking Dead and the Hunger Games series have all filmed along this powerhouse greenway. 

The project, spawned from a 1999 master's thesis by then Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel, opened its first trail in 2008 and currently counts 12 miles among its active trails – Eastside Trail, Westside Trail, Northside Trail and Southwest Connector Spur Trail. Of most interest to tourists is the 3-mile Eastside Trail.

The Eastside Trail connects the hip urban neighborhood of Inman Park with Piedmont Park in Midtown, linking Atlanta Botanical Garden, Historic Fourth Ward Park, Freedom Park and the 19-mile Stone Mountain Trail along the way as well as neighborhoods such as Virginia-Highland, Midtown, Poncey-Highland, Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, Cabbagetown and Reynoldstown.

There are 17 access points along the route, which passes a wealth of potential pit stops: Ponce City Market, New Realm Brewing CoLadybird Grove & Mess Hall and King of Pops, among others.

The best ways to get around Atlanta 

Visit the David J. Sencer CDC Museum

This free museum tells the story of the Center for Disease Control and the many scientific discoveries made there. With 20,000 items in its archives and a rotating series of exhibits that cover everything from the history of the influenza virus to the impact of climate change on public health. 

Check out the Georgia State Capitol Building

The gold-domed capitol is Atlanta's political hub. Free self-guided tours give visitors a glance at state-level American politics.

The colorfully lit fountain at Centennial Olympic Park with a Ferris wheel in the background
Centennial Olympic Park features a fountain, water garden and the Georgia Aquarium © Marilyn Nieves / Getty Images

Play in the fountain at Centennial Olympic Park

Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park is the city's focal point for visitors. The park itself features a dancing Fountain of Rings water fountain, a Quilt of Remembrance in honor of the victims of the 1996 Olympic bombing and a water garden, among other small details. It also contains some of the city's seminal sights, including the Center for Civil & Human Rights, the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium.

The best parks in Atlanta 

Fill your belly at Dekalb Farmer's Market

Atlanta has become an international hub thanks to its busy airport, and one of the best ways to experience that diversity for yourself is to head to the Dekalb Farmer's Market – just look for the flags of 184 countries flying overhead. It's been part of Atlanta's fabric since 1977, and the staff represent 40 countries, speaking in 50 different languages and dialects.

What started out as relatively small operation has turned into a sprawling 140,000-sq-ft mall of food, with a bakery, fish market, juice bar, cheesemonger and an endless array of produce from every corner of the globe.

You may or may not be able to resist going home with, say, a whole jackfruit or a tempting pastry – but just taking it all in can be pleasure enough.

Best neighborhoods in Atlanta 

Get a history lesson at Kennesaw Mountain

General Sherman famously set fire to Atlanta's business district during the Civil War – a piece of history portrayed in technicolor in films like Gone With the Wind. Before he reached the city, however, Sherman had to face off against Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston at Kennesaw Mountain 25 miles northeast of Atlanta proper.

You can learn more about this historic battle at the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, where 17.3 miles of trails are punctuated by interpretive signage, cannons and other Civil War ephemera. Birdwatching is popular here, too, in addition to nature walking. There's a small $5 day pass fee per car entering the park, but on certain holidays you can enjoy Kennesaw Mountain for free.

The entrance to Krog Street Tunnel in Atlanta, Georgia.
The perennially popular Krog Street Tunnel will eventually be part of the BeltLine project © AppalachianViews / Getty Images

Marvel at the street art on The Krog Street Tunnel

For some of the best public art in Atlanta, head to this funny little underpass between the historic neighborhoods of Cabbagetown and Inman Park. It's been a magnet for graffiti since the 1960s and continues to be a place for Atlanta's denizens to express themselves. It's different every time you go, and it's easy to swing by on foot or by bicycle, though there's also parking nearby. Just head for 86 Krog Street Northeast and follow the scent of spraypaint wafting in the breeze.

Check out the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum

Located on a hilltop overlooking Downtown, this center features exhibits highlighting Jimmy Carter's presidency (1977–81), including a replica of the Oval Office and his Nobel Prize. Don't miss the tranquil Japanese garden and butterfly garden outback.

The 1.5-mile long, landscaped Freedom Park Trail leads from here to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site through Freedom Park. It costs $8 admission for adults, but teens and kids under 16 are free.

Look out for animals at Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve

Smack in the middle of the city (well, OK – out in Decatur, but you get the idea), you'll find this 28-acre nature preserve, home of beavers, foxes, box turtles, red-spotted newts, coyotes and veritable clouds of birds. It's a welcome slice of wilderness in the heart of an enormous urban area.

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This article was first published March 2021 and updated November 2021

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