The capital of Georgia has plenty of gems to entice the visitor, from upmarket shopping to museums and parks, with Southern-style hospitality thrown in

General William Tecumseh Sherman was determined to put an end to the South’s spirit with his March to the Sea campaign, which left just about everything from Atlanta to Savannah burnt to a crisp, effectively ending the Civil War. But Atlanta was the phoenix that rose from the ashes to become an ever-evolving cosmopolitan city, retaining its signature Southern hospitality and optimism.

Chic shopping

Women's boutique Ann Mashburn Nestled right in the heart of the Buckhead shopping district, Phipps Plaza is Atlanta’s most prestigious shopping mall, packed with upmarket brands. Shop for fine Swiss watches at Hublot, eclectic fashion lines at Jeffrey, cutting-edge womenswear at Anne Fontaine, and luxe men’s shoes and accessories at Mezlan. Ladies will love the personalised service at Tulipano, also in Buckhead, for the mix of Southern designers such as Leona, Hunter Dixon and Hyla Dewitt, as well as the more nationally recognised Halston Heritage, Diane von Furstenberg, Milly and Tibi. For dapper menswear, well-dressed locals, and visitors, flock to Sid Mashburn's eponymous store on Atlanta’s westside. The former J Crew designer was named one of the 10 Most Stylish Men in America by GQ magazine, and passes his style savvy on with a painstakingly selected mix of made-to-measure suits, casualwear and accessories, including pieces from his own line. 

 

Main attractions

The Georgia Aquarium The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest, housed completely indoors. The vast array of sea life comprises beluga whales, giant crabs, African penguins, whale sharks, otters, seals, manta rays, dolphins and more, in eight million gallons of water. Atlanta is also the birthplace of the world’s most beloved beverage, Coca-Cola, so it’s only natural that there’s a giant museum dedicated to the soft drink that sells 1.7 billion bottles a day. The World of Coca-Cola features more than 1,200 artefacts from the brand’s illustrious 100-plus-year history and has a tasting room of fizzy drinks from around the globe. 

 

High culture

The High art museum Atlanta is home to a gem of a museum, The High, or High Museum of Art. The stark white building in Midtown, designed by renowned architects Richard Meier and Renzo Piano, showcases impressive permanent collections of African, American and folk art, along with extensive collections of photography and sculpture. Atlanta’s largest museum also has an impressive display of decorative arts, including the entire 19th-century Virginia Carroll Crawford Collection. For a taste of some real Southern history, visit The Wren’s Nest, the Victorian home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of the Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit stories, the latter of which are performed regularly by African-American professional narrators in the home’s grand gardens. Through the storyteller’s skilled voices, the tale’s animals come alive to the delight of children and adults alike. Also for audiences of all ages, performance art at its best takes shape at the Tony Award-winning Alliance Theatre, which presents a steady year-round stream of shows. 

 

Park life

Atlanta Botanical Garden To enjoy Atlanta’s famously glorious weather, plan to spend some time meandering around Piedmont Park. The city’s 189-acre centrepiece and largest park was designed in part by the Olmsted Brothers, the design firm helmed by sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York’s Central Park. The bright green rolling hills, sparkling lake and paved paths are the ideal places to enjoy the city’s natural beauty and striking skyline. Rent a bike or rollerblades from Skate Escapes, just across Piedmont Road, and see the park at warp speed. Also in Midtown is the not-to-be-missed Atlanta Botanical Garden, which includes handsomely manicured lawns, an edible garden and an interactive canopy walk. Its indoor Fuqua Orchid Center is home to rare orchids from around the world, and the erudite staff members can tell you everything you want to know about America’s indigenous flora and fauna. The Atlanta BeltLine is a way to combine some good old-fashioned exercise and take in culture at the same time. The 22-mile loop encircles the city, following a trail of the original railway from which the city got its first name, Terminus, meaning ‘end of the line’. 

 

Great taste

A seafood gumbo dish at The Optimist Southern-style cooking is king here in the capital of the South, and Empire State South is one of the shining examples. A clear commitment to the local farmers who supply the ingredients and a dedicated back-to-basics style of cooking leave the menu peppered with home-made charcuterie, pickled vegetables and a rather delicious crispy pork belly. The Optimist is a surprise in the best possible way: it turns out world-class seafood in a landlocked city. Esquire magazine named it 2012’s Best New Restaurant, nationwide, so reservations are a must. Proudly standing directly in front of Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, Del Frisco’s Grille serves hand-cut prime steaks in grand style. 

 

Into the night

The Café & Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta With its speakeasy-style vibe and near-perfectly crafted cocktails, south Buckhead’s Holeman & Finch is dark and cosy. Test the barman’s knowledge of spirits and flavours and prepare to be delighted at the results. Venture over to the suburb of Decatur for live music at the intimate and legendary Eddie’s Attic. You might see an up-and-coming musician destined to become the next big thing. Finish the evening with a late-night snack at The Cafe & Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, where you can indulge in a particularly delicious hamburger topped with grilled Georgia Vidalia onions and locally made Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill cheese. 

 

Bliss out

The pool at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta The Forum, just across from the hotel and tucked under Lenox Mall, offers a day pass to push your fitness to the limits. Brave souls may wish to take on spinning or hardcore boot-camp classes, or choose from any number of machines to work out solo. As a well-earned treat for tired muscles, visit The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta. Treatments by the expert therapists will melt away stress, and the relaxation areas – offering a sauna, steam room and vitality pools – are a blissful way to spend a day. 

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