Top 12 Free Things to Do in Atlanta

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Atlanta is one of the top destinations in the American South, offering something for everyone. Beyond its role in history and civil rights, Atlanta boasts world-class attractions, arts and culture, sports teams, cuisine and nightlife. Fortunately, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy some of the best experiences this city has to offer.

ActivityDescription
Martin Luther King Jr. ParkTours of MLK Jr.’s life and the civil rights movement.
Jackson Street BridgeIconic city skyline views, especially at sunset.
Atlanta BeltlineOutdoor art and trails connecting neighborhoods.
Blue Heron Nature PreserveWildlife and nature trails in an urban forest.
Auburn AvenueAfrican American cultural and historical exploration.
Atlanta ContemporaryModern art exhibitions without an admission fee.
Botanical GardenFree access on Tuesday evenings, April to October.
Stone Mountain ParkTrails and natural landscapes around the iconic mountain.
CNN Studio TourBehind-the-scenes look at the newsroom and production.
Dad’s Garage TheaterFree and pay-what-you-can improv comedy shows.
Governor’s MansionGuided tours of the historic residence.
Free Fitness ClassesOutdoor activities including yoga and running groups.

There are many free things to see and do all over Atlanta that allow you to experience its vibrant culture, sample diverse cuisines, appreciate nature and the great outdoors, learn about history and so much more without spending a penny. Here are top recommendations for free things to do in Atlanta to help you plan an affordable trip.

Tour the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Name and Location: The Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park is located in downtown Atlanta, Georgia across from Centennial Olympic Park, encompassing sites associated with the Civil Rights leader like his birth home, church, and the memorial tomb where he was entombed.

History and Significance: Established in 1980 to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy, the park preserves important landmarks that figured prominently throughout his life as places where he lived, worshiped and worked, providing complete historical perspective on this visionary activist and indigenous son of Atlanta.

What to Expect: Guests can walk the Freedom Path connecting park sites to explore King’s birth home displaying artifacts, then tour Ebenezer Baptist Church where visitors learn about the role faith played in fueling social change efforts that altered history.

Visitor Information: The park is open daily year-round with free admission. Peak visitation occurs around MLK Day and King’s April birthday. Ranger-led tours and gift shop on site provide further enrichment.

No trip to Atlanta is complete without visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park. Located in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, this free attraction encompasses several buildings that were integral to MLK Jr.’s work and life.

Start at the Visitor Center to learn about the civil rights movement then tour his birth home, the church where he preached and his final resting place. Rangers also offer free guided tours if you want to dig deeper. It’s a reflective, inspiring and educational experience you won’t forget.

See the City Skyline from Jackson Street Bridge

Name and Location: The Jackson Street Bridge is located downtown traversing the gulch and railroad tracks connecting Fairlie Poplar and Castleberry Hill southeast of Mercedes Benz Stadium in central Atlanta.

History and Significance: Originally constructed in 1895, the Jackson Street Bridge stands out for its unique vantage overlooking the city skyline. Though other pedestrian crossings have joined it, this spans remains a popular spot for skyline viewing day or night as benchmarks like the Westin Peachtree Plaza rotate into view during the walk.

What to Expect: The open-air bridge provides stunning views northward towards Midtown’s office towers, making it a prime location for photos capturing Atlanta’s panorama of old and new architecture lining the horizon in one wide screen worthy shot. Don’t forget your camera!

Visitor Information: The bridge walkway is open to pedestrian traffic at all times. Stairs at both ends of bridge allow easy access from surrounding roads and parking areas located below in the gulch around Ted Turner Drive.

Get iconic views of Atlanta’s skyline without paying a cent at the Jackson Street Bridge in the Historic Fourth Ward Park. This pedestrian and cyclist green space connects Downtown to Midtown over a pond and wetlands, providing stellar vantage points of the city.

Position yourself on the bridge at sunset when the buildings and sky glow golden pink for superb photos. Pack a picnic to further soak in the ambience as you watch the city lights flicker on at dusk.

Explore The Atlanta Beltline

Name and Location: The Atlanta Beltline is a sustainable redevelopment project repurposing old rail corridors circling the city into multi-use trails passing through repurposed industrial spaces and connecting 45 diverse intown neighborhoods.

History and Significance: Started in 2005, Atlanta Beltline Inc.’s innovative vision takes abandoned rail spurs and weaves them into vibrant public pathways for walking, running and biking dotted by art installations, greenspaces and attractions that stitch districts together into an integrated emergent landscape highlighting the best of urban revitalization and design.

What to Expect: Miles of scenic trails link communities across town with options to hop on/hop off to eat at trendy eateries in converted warehouses, browse indie shops, visit breweries, enjoy art exhibits, outdoor concerts, festivals, parks and more.

Visitor Information: The trails are free to use and open 6am-11pm. Start experiencing the Atlanta Beltline by parking once and accessing different sections spread across intown Atlanta neighborhoods.

The Atlanta Beltline is one of the city’s coolest projects – it takes unused railroad corridors and transforms them into miles of trails and green space. Check out the Eastside Trail and West End Trail to walk, run, bike or rollerblade past colorful street art murals and small parks.

Keep going all the way to Piedmont Park then refuel with snacks from neighborhood restaurants and breweries that line the Beltline along the way. Admire the greenery and city views as you traverse this car-free oasis.

See Wildlife at Blue Heron Nature Preserve

Name and Location: Blue Heron Nature Preserve occupies over 40 acres of protected forest and wetlands habitat located in the heart of Buckhead along the Bobby Jones Golf Course near the Governor’s Mansion providing an urban wildlife sanctuary.

History and Significance: Preserved since 2007 by dedicated non-profit stewardship amid unrelenting regional development pressures in order to cultivate environmental awareness and foster adventures connecting residents with nature just beyond their backyards as native plants and creatures thrive under mindful nurturing.

What to Expect: A “wild pocket in the city”, the preserve’s immersive network of rustic dirt trails leads visitors over streams, around ponds, and into shady woodlands offering glimpses of beaver lodges, nesting migratory songbirds, turtles, frogs and other native wetland residents.

Visitor Information: Free guided tours run Saturdays year-round at 10am from the LEED nature center. Solo exploring is welcome Tuesday through Sunday, dawn til dusk. Paved perimeter path provides accessible options.

Escape into nature without leaving Atlanta proper at the Blue Heron Nature Preserve. Located just minutes from Buckhead, this 40-acre urban forest offers hiking trails past a lake, streams and wetlands where you can spot native plants and animals.

Deer, turtles, waterfowl and the preserve’s namesake blue herons are some standouts when strolling the loop trails spanning about two miles. Picnic tables are also available if you want to make an outdoor afternoon of it. Leashed dogs are welcome too.

Learn African American History on Auburn Avenue

Name and Location: Auburn Avenue in Atlanta was the early 20th century hub of African American commerce, society and civil rights activism throughout America’s period of painful segregation, located one block east of Peachtree Street downtown.

History and Significance: Despite oppression, Auburn Avenue became a thriving cultural nexus with universities, churches, businesses, entertainment venues that shaped black identity and affirmed dignity until desegregation enabled opportunities elsewhere across the city, leaving behind powerful landmarks testifying to the rich legacy forged here by boundless visionaries.

What to Expect: Walking tours wind visitors through the Historic District stopping at Sweet Auburn Curb Market, The King Center, original Atlanta Life Insurance Company headquarters and shotgun-style homes recalling this pinnacle of black self-determination now preserved for future generations.

Visitor Information: Visitor center at John Wesley Dobbs Plaza provides maps plus insider tips. Public street parking readily available to pedestrian explorers. Year-round access with minimal costs for guided tours.

Auburn Avenue in Sweet Auburn was the early center of African American life, business and culture in Atlanta. Today, it continues to be an impactful place to learn about the community’s history and leaders via historical landmarks and murals – all free to see.

Stop by The APEX Museum that spotlights how African American achievements positively impacted society or check out the outdoor murals and art highlighting impactful people and moments in time.

See Art at Atlanta Contemporary

Name and Location: Atlanta Contemporary is a leading contemporary art museum located off Peachtree Street housed within the former Atlanta Car Pavilion event space turned sleek modern exhibition venue.

History and Significance: Founded in 1973 by Atlanta artists championing experimental contemporary work, the museum continues pushing creative boundaries through intrepid programming and globally sourced avant-garde installations that stimulate dialogue around pressing contemporary issues.

What to Expect: Multi-sensory rotating exhibits feature mixed media, performance, moving image and sculptural works by acclaimed emerging artists interpreting the world around us. Event hours also encourage interdisciplinary creative collision engaging broader audiences.

Visitor Information: Located adjacent to Tula Bena Park. Open for explorations Thursday-Saturday with event programming sporadically scheduled. Admission ranges $5-10 per exhibit otherwise free entry.

Atlanta Contemporary presents an impressive rotation of modern and contemporary art without an admission fee. The gallery’s two industrial buildings display works across mediums from sculpture to video to paintings that encourage dialogue around pressing social issues.

Don’t miss experiencing one of their immersive installations that dominate entire rooms for a mesmerizing effect. Check their online calendar before going to ensure you don’t miss the opening night of bold new exhibitions.

Stroll Through Atlanta Botanical Garden

Name and Location: The Atlanta Botanical Garden, adjacent to Piedmont Park in Midtown, encompasses 30 acres of living plant displays located on land that first hosted formal gardens for the Prado restaurant until redevelopment by non-profit garden trustees over 45 years ago.

History and Significance: Opened in 1976, the gardens established unique collections like the Japanese garden sanctuary, interactive children’s area and rare, threatened plant studies alongside captivating works by renowned nature-inspired artists brought in through temporary installations.

What to Expect: Blooming trails wind visitors through the meticulous landscape dotted by fountains, streams and conservatories sheltering rare orchid species alongside rotating exhibitions like floating light sculpture displays integrated harmoniously amid the abundant flora.

Visitor Information: Regular hours run Tuesday-Sunday plus seasonal Mondays. Admission fees support operations and garden enhancements. Onsite dining, gift shop, classes and event rentals further engagement.

You can explore the stunning Atlanta Botanical Garden for free on Tuesday evenings from April to October. During the seasonal Cocktails in Garden event, music fills the open air as visitors unwind amid gorgeous floral displays, eye-catching sculptures and the Canopy Walk’s sky-high views.

Arrive before dusk to fully appreciate the roses, orchids and other vibrant blossoms before night falls. Grab an optional cocktail or bite from the onsite restaurant to complete your special evening.

See Wildlife at Stone Mountain Park

Name and Location: Stone Mountain Park, a 3,200 acre recreational area just east of Atlanta in Stone Mountain, GA, is centered around a geologic dome mountain and historic mountain village, enveloped by natural woodlands that provide habitat for native plants and animals.

History and Significance: Centered around the Stone Mountain granite monadnock that long attracted tourism for its imposing raw magnitude and sculpture carving, the park was conceived to formally open up recreational opportunities spanning its pristine wilderness while upholding conservation stewardship of the land’s integrity over ensuing decades.

What to Expect: Trails rambling over 5 miles amid native oak, hickory and pine forests afford glimpses of timid white-tailed deer, busy squirrels, croaking frogs, singing neotropical migrant birds using the refuge during seasonal passages and more shy residents finding refuge.

Visitor Information: All designated hiking paths offer hopeful wildlife watching year-round during open park hours. Park maps identify family friendly interpretive trailed top highlights. Dawn or dusk tend to be most active viewing periods.

Massive Stone Mountain provides free access to trails, lakes and lawn space year-round. Lace up your hiking boots to tackle the hike to the top where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views. Or take easier nature walks around the base and keep an eye out for local wildlife like birds, squirrels and deer.

Don’t miss seeing the world’s largest bas relief carving depicting Confederate leaders either. Just steer clear of the paid attractions within the park unless you want to pay for activities like treetop zip lines or cable cars.

Tour CNN Studio

Name and Location: The CNN Studio Tour is located at 190 Marietta St NW within the CNN Center building in downtown Atlanta, offering firsthand glimpses behind the scenes into global headquarters of the pioneering 24-hour cable news network.

History and Significance: CNN spearheaded 24/7 television news after founder Ted Turner launched the network in 1980. Now 40 years later, their Atlanta hub sustains always-on broadcast operations across 200 countries worldwide, necessitating a mind-boggling logistical infrastructure supporting fast-paced reporting constantly.

What to Expect: Guides lead small groups through busy working studios and state-of-the-art control rooms, explaining how technologies deliver breaking news so rapidly across all platforms from this global nerve center buzzing 24 hours a day with journalistic electricity.

Visitor Information: Studio tour tickets can be purchased online or on-site with multiple timeslots daily. Approximately 1 hour long; photography permitted. Arrive 10 minutes prior for timely entry. Museum and retail on premises.

Get an insider’s perspective into the world of 24-hour broadcast news channels at the CNN Studio. The 55-minute Behind the Scenes Tour gives you an exclusive glimpse of their Atlanta headquarters– everything from the newsrooms, studios and production facilities to their impressive history and anchor star power.

Time your visit to coincide with watching a live news broadcast taping too for the full newsroom energy and excitement. Book your free tickets early online as they fill up fast.

See a Show at Dad’s Garage Theater

Name and Location: Dad’s Garage is a professional comedy improv theater company hosting hilarious shows at their custom performance space inside an adapted warehouse near Edgewood Avenue over I-20 midtown, just east of Downtown.

History and Significance: Founded by a scrappy group of pioneering local improvisors in 1995, Dad’s Garage has fostered award-winning comedy talent on improv and scripted original comedy shows for over 25 years – establishing Atlanta’s creative clout amid the ongoing entertainment renaissance across the southeast.

What to Expect: Rotating team showcases like “Improvised Game of Thrones” or long-form improv structures create made-up movie/show satires invented on the spot using audience suggestion, promising side-splitting unscripted entertainment virtually every night on two intimate theater stages.

Visitor Information: Located in the Old 4th Ward. Shows appear weekly on seasonal calendars online. Ticket prices $12-$30. Validated deck parking steps away otherwise local street side. Food/drinks allowed inside theater.

Dad’s Garage puts on hilarious improv shows almost every night…and the tickets won’t set you back much, if anything at all. This intimate theater offers pay-what-you-can admission for popular shows on Mondays as well as free Lunch Time Shows select weekdays.

Seating fills up fast for these discounted improv comedy sets, so plan to arrive early. But that just leaves more time to peruse their eccentric gift shop stocked with eclectic goods beforehand too.

Tour the Governor’s Mansion

Name and Location: The Georgia Governor’s Mansion sits regally atop Pine Mountain overseeing 30 terraced acres on West Paces Ferry Road bordering the Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead, minutes from Lenox Square Mall.

History and Significance: Completed in 1967 for $1.3 million spent generating statewide jobs sourcing American furnishings and artisans, the 30-room Georgian Revival residence has welcomed foreign dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth alongside past Presidents and other high profile state visitors over decades of notable functions.

What to Expect: Weekly tours grant insider access room-by-room spotlighting ornate decor hand-selected deliberately complementing architecture alongside engrossing historical anecdotes outlining former distinguished guests hosted for diplomatic summits that shaped regional agendas.

Visitor Information: Reservations required for Wednesday or Thursday limited tours at 10:30am or 2:30pm only via Mansion website. Photo ID verification plus extensive security screening enforced upon arrival. Attire protocol maintained.

Get a peek into Georgia history and storied southern hospitality by touring the grand Greek Revival-style Governor’s Mansion. Free tours run Wednesdays and Fridays at 10am and 2pm without needing a reservation.

As you follow the 45-minute guided walk through, you’ll hear stories about the governors, their families and some of the mansion’s other memorable guests as you eye original architectural details, opulent furnishings and expansive grounds.

Catch Free Fitness Classes

Name and Location: Across metro Atlanta, many popular outdoor locales like pavilion spaces or area parks offer free group fitness classes open to residents seeking motivation through movement surrounded by nature and fresh air.

History and Significance: Various county and city recreation authorities have sustained welcoming opportunities for more than a decade to unite community over shared wellness goals, accessible without cost almost daily as rotating volunteer teachers guide beginners through cardio, strengthening, flexibility focused sessions mostly under an hour.

What to Expect: From yoga cultivating stillness held riverside at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area to heart-pumping Groov3 flights of stairs mastered via energetic dancing in Midtown, free workouts challenge bodies gracefully no matter skill level thanks to adaptable instruction pacing attendees accordingly.

Visitor Information: Online city sites like AtlantaTrails.com pinpoint session locations throughout counties which usually provide free close parking otherwise require short walks from nearby streetside spots without meters. Arrive early with water + mat.

Take advantage of Atlanta’s abundant outdoor fitness classes that won’t cost you a penny. Join group runs, yoga flows, pilates sessions, high intensity workouts and more happening daily for free across Atlanta parks and neighborhood squares.

Many are donation-based and welcome all skill levels. Pack up your yoga mat, get your heart rate up and meet some new active friends along the way – just don’t forget some water and a towel too.

Conclusion

Between world-famous attractions, an exploding food scene, history and culture around every corner, Atlanta offers an array of free and affordable things to do that fit just about any interest. Use this list as a launch point then keep exploring this dynamic Southern capital.

The free parks, trails, galleries and historical sites above are just the beginning of memorable experiences Atlanta has to offer without emptying your wallet. Have fun discovering the diversity of options first-hand!

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