Getting Around Atlanta
First-time visitors to Atlanta might find the city somewhat difficult to navigate, but the following tips should make it a bit easier to get around.
From the Airport
Car rental: All of the major rental car companies have a presence at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Several rental car companies have counters located near the airport's baggage claim areas, and buses will take travelers to individual parking lots to pickup their rented vehicles. Interstate 85 is easily accessible from the airport -- head north to get to the downtown area.
Atlanta drivers are known for their speed and their lack of patience, so be prepared to be aggressive behind the wheel. If you're going into the city between 7:30 and 9:30 am, expect traffic to move slowly. Expect the same if you try to drive back to the airport between 4 and 7 pm.
During baseball season, check the Atlanta Braves schedule so that you can plan accordingly to avoid traffic on Interstate 75/85 while passing Turner Field on game days.
Public transportation: The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) system's north-south railway line begins at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. For $1.75 per ride, you can use MARTA to get to downtown or to Buckhead, which is the last stop where tourists are most likely exit. Most downtown hotels are within walking distance from the Five Points and Peachtree Center Stations.
Atlanta LINK is another option, offering shuttle service to downtown (roundtrip $29), Midtown (roundtrip $33), or Buckhead (roundtrip $37).
Taxi: The taxi stand at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is located near the baggage claim areas in both the north and south terminals. Expect to pay flat fees to downtown ($30), Midtown ($32), or Buckhead ($38). Metered rates for destinations outside the business districts are $2.50 for the first 1/8 mile and 25 cents for each additional 1/8 mile.
Rush hour: Because all the main highways -- Interstate 75, Interstate 85, and Interstate 20 -- converge in downtown, the traffic almost always moves slowly. For about two miles through the heart of the city, Interstates 75 and 85 become one 12-lane monstrosity called "The Connector." The rush-hour slowdown starts at 7:30 am and lasts until after 9 am, with the largest backups generally occurring along the Connector, south of downtown.
From 4 to 6:30 pm, the same bottleneck occurs on the Connector heading north. High-occupancy lanes are available on all interstates through downtown to encourage ridesharing, but those lanes aren't widely used. The place to absolutely avoid in either morning or afternoon rush hour is the section where Interstate 285 and north Interstate 85 meet, an area appropriately called "Spaghetti Junction."
Rules of the road: Southern Hospitality takes a backseat with Atlanta drivers. The key to survival is getting access to a good map before hitting the road and committing directions to memory. Be aware that interstate lanes shift repeatedly and become exit-only lanes with no warning, so keep looking ahead for those yellow "exit-only lanes."
It's not unusual to see cars zooming by at 70 to 80 mph on the interstates. Speed limits also are often ignored on surface streets, which means you can expect some impatient glances or horn-blowing if you're lost or driving slowly.
A major sewer-upgrade project is under way, so many of the city's major arteries are undergoing construction. Peachtree Road, between 3rd and 14th streets, has construction restrictions through the end of 2006; the same goes for West Peachtree Street between North Avenue and 12th Street. The entire Virginia Highlands neighborhood is having its sewer mains replaced, and all the streets will undergo construction at one point or another through March 2007. To review construction schedule updates, check www.vahi.org/pdfs/WaterMain.pdf.
Public transportation, fares: The MARTA train service offers limited routes, but it can be convenient if you want to avoid traffic to get to major areas of interest, such as downtown and Lenox Square. For those not familiar with traveling via a city bus, Atlanta's MARTA buses are probably not the place to start--schedules can be confusing to read. The Buckhead area has its own free bus service, called BUC, and a trolley service is available on a more limited basis.
A new trolley service is in place in downtown Atlanta, connecting Centennial Park, the Aquarium, and Underground Atlanta for $1.50 per ride.
Taxis: Hailing cabs is generally not an option in Atlanta. While most of the larger hotels have cabstands, it's best to call ahead if you plan to get around by taxi. Some options for quick, courteous service are Atlanta Taxi Service (404-367-9762), Yellow Cab of Georgia (404-522-0200), or Buckhead Safety Cab Co. (404-233-1152). Metered rates for outside the business districts are $2.50 for the first 1/8 mile and 25 cents for each additional 1/8 mile.
On foot: The city is divided into many distinct regions, most of which are pedestrian-friendly. That said, you need to drive, find a cab, or use MARTA to get to many neighborhoods. Downtown is very accessible for pedestrians, as are the neighborhoods of Virginia Highlands, Little Five Points, Decatur, and Midtown.
By bike: Atlanta isn't bike-friendly -- although in theory, anyway, a bike path runs from Stone Mountain through to the west side of town. The Atlanta Bicycle Campaign is trying to create more awareness and encourage drivers to share the road with bicyclists. At present, however, biking on Atlanta's busy streets can be dangerous and extremely stressful.
Now that you know how to get around Atlanta, we'll tell you what to see and do. We'll start on the next page with special events and attractions.