1. Visit the National Parks on one of five free days – FREE!
America’s National Park System opens up its exhibits for free on five days in 2020. You can visit any of our country’s National Parks for free, including places in and around Atlanta, like the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park near Macon and the Freedom Riders National Monument in Anniston, Alabama. And, of course, the King National Historic Site is always free to visitors, but if you want to get a full sense of the area, then we highly recommend the King Historic District Tour (also rated by Conde Nast as one of the top ways to experience Atlanta).
2. Get inspired with Oprah
Oprah’s going on tour with Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus, her first national tour in five years. She’s picked just nine cities — and Atlanta is one of them — to inspire, celebrate, and motivate her legions of fans in their wellness and weight-loss journey. This sure to be sold-out event is certainly going to be one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2020, especially since she will be appearing alongside the amazing Dwayne Johnson. She describes the events as a “day-long party” to share lessons about her own wellness journey, as well as bring in speakers to discuss their wellness vision. Partnering with Weight Watchers Reimagined, this should be a home-run for fans of Oprah and those seeking to jump-start their 2020 goals.
3. Explore Atlanta’s historic cemeteries – FREE!
2020 is a great year to explore Atlanta’s historic Victorian cemeteries, as there has been a recent resurgence in interest and funding for these beautiful places. In the Victorian times, cemeteries were also public parks, meant to be a place for locals to gather, chat, picnic, and commune with the dead. Oakland (est. 1850) is Atlanta’s oldest public cemetery but other great choices are the Decatur City Cemetery (est. 1823), Westview Cemetery (est. 1884), and South-view Cemetery (est. 1886). All four are peaceful and beautiful places with walking trails, stunning mausoleums, and many important Atlanta leaders and citizens buried within their walls. And, for a unique perspective on Oakland Cemetery, join Atlanta Food Walks on their Grant Park Past & Future Food Walk, which includes tastes at nearby restaurants and a food-focused tour of Oakland.
4. Be amazed at the Atlanta Science Festival – FREE!
The Atlanta Science Festival is the city’s first festival focused entirely on celebrating science and getting kids and adults excited about learning. The month-long celebration includes escape labs, superhero science nights, exhibits at Fernbank and Georgia Tech, and book talks and meet and greets. The Festival culminates in a science expo with over a hundred interactive exhibits, demos, and science booths. Most events at this incredible science-celebration are completely free so check out their schedule and make sure you save some time in March to delve into the mysterious, magical world of science.
5. Eat the city with an experience or festival
Of course, you can eat at restaurants, but it’s so much more fun to explore lots and lots of different restaurants at one time. There are so many ways to do this. Try an Atlanta Food Walk which is an all-inclusive experience with tastings at many different restaurants including the history of the area in just 3 hours. Or, opt for a themed festival like the Atlanta Grilled Cheese Festival in April or the 10th annual Ice Cream Festival in July 2020. If you want it all and have a bigger budget, buy tickets to Taste of Atlanta or the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival which includes many classes, tasting tents, and other events.
6. Jump back in time!
The Georgia Renaissance Festival is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020 and is sure to have special events. There is something for everyone at RenFest with medieval-style playgrounds, petting zoos, jousting events, and adult-themed shows. Even if you hate cosplay and renaissance events, the food alone is worth a trip with enormous turkey legs, funnel cakes, fried everything, potatoes on a stick, roasted corn, and much more.
7. Explore rich African American history and culture
Atlanta has been America’s black mecca for over a century with significant impact from many African American figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. DuBois, John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, and many others. Delve into this history with many of Atlanta’s amazing tours and museums, including the King Historic District Tour, the Apex Museum, the King Center, the Atlanta History Center, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
8. Jam out at the epic Shaky Knees or Shaky Boots
Atlanta’s famous 3-day music festival, Shaky Knees, is definitely one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2019. Headliners include the Black Keys, Smashing Pumpkins, and the Strokes. But, there’s also plenty of other great bands performing including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Joan Jett, and StereoLab. If you prefer country over indie rock, then buy tickets to Shaky Boots, held the weekend after Shaky Knees. Brandy Carlisle and Dierks Bentley headline but there are other great musicians including Alison Krauss, Tanya Tucker, and Dwight Yoakam.
9. Get your history on at Hamilton
The award-winning Broadway show is back in Atlanta at the Fox Theatre. Since this is the second time it’s in the city, ticket sales haven’t been as intense as last time and it’s still possible to get somewhat reasonably-priced tickets to this amazing production. This is a must do for any history buff or Broadway lover and, to make it even more special, splurge on tickets to the Marquee Club where you can indulge in all-inclusive food and drinks. Even if you don’t purchase Marquee Club tickets, we always recommend pre-purchasing your parking through the Fox because it is usually significantly cheaper than purchasing parking at an open parking lot.
10. Go wild at Imagine Festival 2020
The Imagine Festival is an electronic dance and music festival, named one of the top 20 festivals by Fest300. In 2019, the festival immersed fans into a massive aquatic wonderland with sea creatures, mermaids, art installations, a huge wading pool, and multiple band stages. And, make sure you eat at the many delicious food vendors on site. Held at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, join almost 100,000 attendees either with day passes or camping on site.
11. Geek out at Atlanta’s numerous Cons
Move over LA, Atlanta has become home to some of the most important conventions in the country for movie, comics, and television fans. DragonCon brings in almost 80,000 guests each Labor Day weekend to Downtown Atlanta with incredible costumes, panels, and fun. Don’t miss the annual DragonCon parade, a fan favorite for locals and visitors. But DragonCon isn’t Atlanta’s only Con; there’s also Atlanta ComicCon in July; Anime Weekend Atlanta in October; and MomoCon in the spring. Plus, there are also niche Cons, focused on a specific show or theme. Check out 221BCon focused entirely on Sherlock Holmes who lived at 221B Baker Street, or Furry Weekend Atlanta which focuses on anthropomorphic fandom (or people who like to wear furry animal costumes). There really is a Con for everyone in Atlanta.
12. Talk politics at Manuel’s Tavern
2020 is a big political year with a Presidential election, a Senate election with long-time Senator Johnny Isakson retiring, and several Congressional seats up for grabs. So, if you want to deep dive into politics, head over to Manuel’s Tavern which is Atlanta’s most famous political bar. The former owner, Manuel Maloof, created the tavern specifically to focus on conversation, going so far as to ban live music or a jukebox. The bar is a required stop for Democratic candidates and Jimmy Carter announced his 1970 gubernatorial bid at Manuel’s. It is still the place in the city to talk politics so expect it to be packed in 2020. If you want to get a virtual view of Manuel’s, check out the website, Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern, which details all of the historical artifacts at the tavern.
13. Celebrate the Centennial of the 19th Amendment at the Atlanta History Center
2020 is the centennial celebration of the 19th amendment, ending decades of the women’s suffrage movement and granting women the right to vote. The Atlanta History Center is celebrating this monumental achievement with a temporary exhibit opening on January 31, 2020. The exhibit will document how women gained the right to vote and showcase important Atlanta suffragists, such as Emily Inman, owner of the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center.
14. Celebrate the NCAA Men’s Final Four (FREE!)
Don’t worry about winning your bracket this year. You’ll win by getting seats at the NCAA Men’s Final Four held in Atlanta at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Semifinals will be held on April 4th and the championship will be held on April 6th. The city has not hosted the Final Four since 2013. This will be the first time that the games will be held at the newly constructed Mercedes Benz Stadium.
If you don’t want to pay for the actual game tickets, Atlanta will be hosting numerous FREE basketball-themed events during that weekend.
15. Go beyond the Beltline – FREE!
The Beltline is Atlanta’s most famous walking path but there are so many other incredible walking locations in the city that are much, much less crowded. Try the Freedom Trail that connects the King Historic Site with the Carter Center and includes the beautiful Freedom Park. Or, opt for the beautiful Silver Comet Trail, the creepy dolls at Constitution Lakes Park, or the newly created South Peachtree Creek Trail.
16. Sway to unique music at the Atlanta Symphony
The Atlanta Symphony always has wonderful shows and 2020 looks to be no exception. You could sway to the sweet sounds of Tony Bennett backed up by the Atlanta Symphony. Or, enjoy Star Wars – Return of the Jedi with the entire soundtrack played by the orchestra. That’s in addition to Beethoven and Mozart concertos, the Symphony’s Music for the Young program, and much more.
17. Head back to the 1920s with Porgy and Bess
America’s most famous opera is Porgy and Bess, a love story set in Depression-era 1920s, filled with stunning jazz music and glorious vocals, including the iconic “Summertime”. Written by the famed composers George and Ira Gershwin, the original cast in the 1930s featured classically trained African American singers in an operatic folk tale set in the South. The opera was — and continues to be — controversial, raising questions about racism, prejudice, poverty, and the stereotyping of African American music. Some black performers like Harry Belafonte refused to play the role of Porgy, while others like Sydney Poitier grew famous from that role. The Atlanta Opera is sure to put on a great performance of this nearly 100-year-old opera.
18. Stop and smell the dragons at Atlanta’s gardens
The Atlanta Botanical Gardens is one of the most creative botanical gardens in the country. Explore giant-sized topiaries including dragons, peacocks, earth goddesses, and camels. It’s beautiful in all seasons, too. Sniff flowers in the spring and summer, jump in orange and red leaves in the fall, and be mesmerized by the beautiful garden lights in the winter.
While the Atlanta Botanical Gardens is our favorite, there are lots of other amazing places to visit Atlanta’s beautiful greenery. Piedmont Park and Stone Mountain also host flower festivals. Or, take a quick day trip and head to Lake Lanier Island or Callaway Gardens.
In late fall 2020, the Georgia Aquarium plans to open its largest expansion, a new shark gallery. Guests will gain a deeper appreciation of the important role that sharks play in the ocean. The saltwater gallery will feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows plus include interactive stations. Seeing the new shark gallery is absolutely going to be one of the best things to do in Atlanta in 2020. So, don’t miss this one.
20. Get into the holiday spirit with the Nutcracker at the Cobb Energy Center
After nearly 20 years performing the Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre, the Atlanta Ballet has moved to the Cobb Energy Center. Expect more shows but a different feel at the Energy Center, but the same beautiful ballet. The Energy Center is now the Atlanta Ballet’s preferred venue for performances.
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