Your essential guide to Atlanta

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By Gray Chapman

Atlanta-based writer Gray Chapman writes about her city for titles including Nylon, Vice, and Atlanta Magazine.

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta is on Peachtree Road, Atlanta’s main thoroughfare. Buckhead Atlanta, a high-end development that’s home to some of the city’s finest shopping and dining, is a five-minute drive away. Grab a table, a bottle of rosé and a round of hors d’oeuvres outside at the nearby Le Bilboquet, a charming French café, ideal for alfresco people-watching.

Feed your mind

You’ll immediately spot Atlanta’s leading museum, the High, by its a distinctive enamel-covered curved white façade (designed by Richard Meier in 1983). Its permanent collection includes more than 15,000 American and international artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries, including a Rodin sculpture gifted to Atlanta by France in 1962, after a plane crash near Paris took the lives of many Atlantan arts patrons. Just up the street, you can take in fashion exhibitions at Savannah College of Art and Design’s Scad Fash, where the subjects of exhibitions have included Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera.

The High Museum of Art

The High Museum of Art has been Atlanta landmark since the early 1980s. Photo: Jonathan Hillyer

Shop like a local

Buckhead is Atlanta’s epicentre of couture: Phipps Plaza, Lenox Square and The Shops at Buckhead Atlanta are home to the stores of designers including Tom Ford, Dior and Hermès. For a taste of Southern-bred style, head to the Westside Provisions District, where you’ll find stores from notable Atlanta designers Sid Mashburn, Ann Mashburn, and Alabama-based, CFDA-winning Billy Reid. Off the colourful Ponce de Leon Avenue, the newly revamped Ponce City Market offers shops with local flavor, such as Atlanta women’s designer Abbey Glass and the artisans of Citizen Supply.

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Only in Atlanta...

The Atlanta History Center, just under a ten-minute drive from Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, offers 33 acres of Southern history right in the heart of the city. Costumed docents guide guests through the estate with tales of Atlanta throughout the centuries.”

Janice Dempsey, Chief Concierge, Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta

See some sights

Experience Atlanta from the unique vantage point of the Beltline, a former railway corridor whose paved Eastside Trail takes you through historic neighbourhoods and passes a multitude of dining and shopping destinations. Start at Irwin Street, then stroll around 2.5km north toward Paris on Ponce, a bohemian showroom of eclectic furniture and décor. You’ll eventually reach Piedmont Park, a sweeping stretch of greenery in Midtown, whose treasures include a ‘playscape’ designed by the artist and architect, Isamu Noguchi. The park leads into the Atlanta Botanical Garden, home to a canopy walk and the Fuqua Orchid Center, the largest collection of orchid species on display in the USA.

Toast your arrival

Kick off your evening at The Café & Bar and sample a Shades of Peach cocktail – a heady combination of rosé, aperol and peach liquor. Make time for a drink at Holeman and Finch too, a bar that helped bring craft cocktails to Atlanta and continues to set the standard. In Midtown, the bartenders at Hugh Acheson’s Empire State South incorporate regional flavours into the cocktails, and there’s a notable wine cellar, too.

Dine in style 

For a taste of ‘new South’ dining in a sophisticated atmosphere, The Café & Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta, offers modern American cooking with the highest quality local ingredients – the lobster salad is highly recommended. Another quintessential Atlanta fine-dining experience can be found on the Westside at Bacchanalia; it’s been consistently critically acclaimed since Cliff Harrison and Anne Quatrano opened it in 1993. Further afield in the Old Fourth Ward is the James Beard-nominated Staplehouse named Best New Restaurant in the USA by both Bon Appétit and GQ in 2016. Tables aren’t easy to come by, but diners often get lucky with bar seating.

Staplehouse

Staplehouse is a critics’ favourite, hailed as one of the best new restaurants in America.

Bacchanalia

The dining room at Bacchanalia, which serves up New American cooking.

The Café & Bar

The Café & Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Atlanta. Don’t miss the weekly Dim Sum Brunch.

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Time travel

Atlanta’s Castleberry Hill neighbourhood is now a smart gallery district, but in the 19th century the area was known as an enclave for charlatans or ‘snake oil salesman’, giving it the nickname ‘Snake Nation’, which you still hear today.

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And finally

For a taste of the ‘old South’, visit the Swan Coach House: enjoy an opulent afternoon tea experience in a classical mansion, which served as the set for a presidential palace in The Hunger Games.

Gallery

Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park

Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park and skyline. Photo: Hisham Ibrahim, Getty Images

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Commune with nature at Atlanta Botanical Garden. Photo: jedphoto, Adobe Stock

Woodruff Park

Woodruff Park is an oasis of calm in Atlanta's financial district. Photo: Hisham Ibrahim, Getty Images

Piedmont Park

Keeping fit in the city: joggers head for Piedmont Park. Photo: jedphoto, Adobe Stock