How To Spend The Day At Atlanta History Center

What is there to do around Atlanta History Center? With so much to see, you might not know where to start. Here's the best way to spend a few hours... or the whole day.
  • The 1920s Swan House is open for tours at Atlanta History Center.
    The 1920s Swan House is open for tours at Atlanta History Center.

Make plans to visit the Atlanta History Center, an expansive 33-acre destination that sits in the heart of Buckhead and features the Southeast’s largest history museum, historic homes, a café and gift shop, acres of beautiful gardens and trails and plenty more. With so much to see and do at Atlanta History Center, you might not know where to start. So, here’s the best way to see Atlanta History Center, whether you spend a few hours or the whole day.

1. See the American Civil War Come to Life

Cyclorama Painting

The restored Battle of Atlanta cyclorama gets you up close with the soldiers on the battlefield.

The exhibit, "Turning Point: The American Civil War" is second to none. One of the nation's largest Civil War exhibits, it is chock-full of artifacts, photos, videos and dioramas. Also, Atlanta History Center recently constructed a building to house the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama. Even if you've seen it in it's old home, we promise that you'll hardly recognize it now. The 10,000 pound painting in the round, dating to the late 19th century, depicts the battle, which occurred on July 22, 1864. This could easily fill two hours, although cyclorama visits are restricted to 30 minutes. 

2. Tour Two Historic Homes

Atlanta History Center is home to two historic homes, both open for tours. Stroll over to the the Smith Family Farm, where you can tour the inside and outside of a 19th century Georgia farmhouse as well as its blacksmith shop, dairy, smokehouse, corn crib, chicken coop and barn. And just a few steps away is the Swan House, built in 1928, and once the home of prominent Atlantans Edward and Emily Inman. Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour at each house.

3. Climb Aboard the Texas Locomotive 

Climb up into the cab of the mighty (and beautifully restored) Texas locomotive and feel the power. The engine was built in 1856 for the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which had established its terminus in 1837 at the site that became Atlanta. Thus, the locomotive is an important link to the city’s origins as a transportation hub. Touring the locomotive, the artifacts and points of history nearby, you could easily spend half an hour.  

4. Explore Beautiful Gardens

Cyclorama Painting

While away the day strolling among the gardens at Atlanta History Center. (📷 Atlanta History Center)

If you didn't already know that the Atlanta History Center sits in one of Atlanta's busiest neighborhoods, you might not believe it as you explore its 33 acres of gardens, woodlands and trails. There's the Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden (yes, it's in a quarry), the gardens at Smith Family Farms and the Swan House, a rhododendron garden, an Asian garden, and the Swan Woods and Wood family cabin. As with any walk, you can rush it and take in the sights quickly or you can stroll leisurely and drink in the beauty surrounding you. Depending on your pleasure, you could visit the gardens for anywhere from half an hour to an hour or more.

5. See Fascinating Exhibits.

You could zip through any of these or linger as long as you like.

  • Any Great Change: The Centennial of the 19th Amendment, open through Jan. 31, 2021
  • Gatherround: Stories of Atlanta 
  • Fair Play: The Bobby Jones Story 
  • Shaping Traditions: Folk Arts in a Changing South
  • Native Lands: Indians and Georgia
  • Mandarin Shuttze: A Chinese Export Life

6. Grab Lunch Right on Site

When you need a break, you're in luck because the popular Atlanta restaurant, Souper Jenny, is just inside the front door. Hop in line and order a salad, some soup or whatever is on special the day you are there. If you need caffeine, BRASH coffee is just inside also. Lunch can be quick here, but it doesn't have to be.  

7. Take Home a Souvenir

Cyclorama Painting

(📷 Scott White)

Allow plenty of time to browse through the gift shop because it's full of books, Atlanta-centric merchandise, T-shirts, coffee mugs, pecan butter and a whole lot more. How long you browse, probably depends on where you rank on the shopaholic scale.

8. Meet An Author 

Check the schedule the day you are there because Atlanta History Center runs an active program of author events. Who knows, you might be in town when one of your favorite writers is on the program. These events are typically in the evening, and if you plan to go, count on being there for a couple of hours. 

9. Visit the Margaret Mitchell House 

The famous house where Margaret Mitchell wrote "Gone With the Wind" is part of the Atlanta History Center, though it is not on the grounds with the rest of the attractions mentioned above but several blocks away in Midtown. Take a tour of the apartment Peggy Mitchell called, "The Dump." An hour ought to satisfy you here.  

All the sights at Atlanta History Center campus are covered under one admission price. If you go to an author event, there will be a separate fee for that; and the same applies to the Margaret Mitchell House. 

In addition to Souper Jenny, there are a number of Buckhead restaurants near Atlanta History Center. And plenty more things to do in Buckhead. If you love to shop, Buckhead is a mecca. 

Journalist Carol Carter writes and edits for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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