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Atlanta Beginner’s Guide

Whether you’ve already slated your move to Atlanta, or are just considering this city as your new home, you’re likely going to be doing a lot of research. Every city has nuances, history, quirks, and jargon that can be confusing for newcomers, and Atlanta is no different. We’ve taken the liberty of providing a few basics here. Check it out, and you’ll be feeling like a local in no time.

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The AirportClimate | Dining & Entertainment | Cost of Living | Geography | LGBTQ

Outdoor Recreation | Population | Public Transportation | Traffic | Urban Renewal | Glossary


There’s a saying: when you die in the South, you’re going to have to go through ATL. With more than two million travelers passing through this city-owned airport every day (it’s the world’s busiest), you or someone you know has been here. Still, Atlantans who frequent this hub tend to remark that security checkpoint times are acceptable, delays are uncommon, and with the recent addition of a massive international terminal, getting to or from the city is streamlined and convenient. The fact that the MARTA train terminates here on its south end is also a plus.


Technically, Atlanta is a “humid subtropical climate,” which means there are four distinct seasons throughout the year. Summers, as you may know, are hot, sometimes reaching above 100 degrees; winters are pleasant, but it can get cold—there are around 48 days per year with freezing temperatures. Spring and Autumn are favorites, with mild temperatures and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy a pretty day.

 Dining & Entertainment

Pro sports. World-class concerts. Trendy music bars. A restaurant scene that stays on the cutting edge. Art galleries. Sprawling festivals. Swank cocktail parties on rooftops, and late nights in underground nightclubs. Movie theaters, speakeasies, brewery tours, picnics overlooking the skyline, fencing lessons, public gardens, Symphony and opera, performed as professionally as an impromptu gig at a blues bar. Authentic international cuisine served in a rundown shack, that’s as unforgettable as locally grown, farm-to-fork fare prepared by a renowned chef. Enough farmers markets and artisanal shops to hold a thousand memorable backyard parties. One hates to speak in superlatives, but there’s literally something for everyone in Atlanta.

Cost of Living

Newcomers to Atlanta are usually surprised by how far a dollar goes, especially when compared to cities like New York, San Francisco, or Chicago. Your cost of living may vary, of course, depending on neighborhood and lifestyle, but overall, most goods (including Atlanta homes for sale) and services can be had for 25%-30% less than in New York City.


Atlanta is situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, at an elevation of just over 1,000 feet. The fact that Atlanta is an inland city (the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico are each about a five-hour drive) has provided ample room for suburban spread over the decades, but rural areas are still very common within minutes’ drive from the city center. Meanwhile, inside the city, parks, green spaces, and an abundance of trees are common fixtures of most neighborhoods—those who fly in or out of ATL tend to take note of the view, and remark about how green even the most populated areas of town are.


Atlanta isn’t just the “Capital of the South;” it’s also ground zero for the New South Movement, where the stereotypes of the past are shed in favor of progressivism and acceptance (the hospitality for which this region is know, however, has remained). This is apparent, especially, for Atlanta’s LGBTQ community. A number of establishments, popular advocacy groups, and festivals celebrate orientations of all varieties, but honestly, Atlanta has simply become a city in which people are embraced, and where varying lifestyles are regarded as being the building blocks of strong communities.

 Outdoor Recreation

Aside from the slew of local professional sports teams, Atlantans tend to be active. The running scene is absolutely huge, and the city has nearly every recreational sport available, whether it’s governed by a decades-old organization (the Atlanta Lawn and Tennis Association is the largest recreational tennis organization in the world), or a group of friends at the local pub (Monday night intramural kickball in Piedmont Park, anyone?). The Chattahoochee River runs through the city, too (complete with some lovely, remarkably remote hiking trails), and several lakes, popular with watersports enthusiasts, are located within an hour-and-a-half from Midtown Atlanta.


Locals marvel that, in the early ’80s, the population of the whole Atlanta region was only about 1 million people. Today, it’s nearly 5.5 million, and still growing. While life-long locals (Atlanta born-and-raised) are not uncommon, they’re certainly outnumbered by those who have flocked to our city from across the world over the last few decades. The result is a global population in a cosmopolitan setting. Keep in mind, this large population applies to the entire Atlanta MSA—the population of the City of Atlanta itself lies just short of 500,000 people.

 Public Transportation

The public transportation authority in Atlanta is called MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rail and Transit Authority). The train line served by MARTA is efficient, but its service destinations are somewhat limited to the major arteries within the Perimeter. The bus system, regrettably, is known for its inefficiency. The major taxi companies, too, are notoriously unreliable (part of the reason Uber got so popular in Atlanta). In the end, most Atlantans own cars, but bikes are an increasingly popular option as well.


You'll hear it more than once from people who are familiar with the city: Atlanta is a wonderful place—except for the traffic. The peak hours on the interstates and major surface streets are weekdays, during the morning and late afternoons, though it’s not uncommon for the cars to be backed up for miles due to some fender bender. Living close to work can save hours each week, as can taking advantage of MARTA’s train system (living within walking distance of a MARTA station is certainly an advantage).

 Urban Renewal

It’s no secret that suburban sprawl has been a large part of the Atlanta area’s development over the last 40 years. It’s also no secret, however, that the repurposing and reinvention of the American city has entered a Renaissance—Atlanta is certainly no exception. Intown neighborhoods that, only a decade ago, would not have received a second glance, have been given new life in recent years: derelict factories have been transformed, en-masse, into trendy urban lofts; forgotten neighborhoods have been lovingly restored to their original charm, and long-vacant warehouses have been turned into centers of dining and commerce. The result is the next generation of living, in a city with a lot to offer.

 Atlanta Glossary

20: Or, I-20. This interstate runs east (Birmingham) to west (Augusta), and passes through the center of Downtown Atlanta.

75: Or, I-75. This interstate runs from northwest (Chattanooga) to southeast (Orlando), passing through the center of Atlanta, where it briefly joins with I-85.

85: Or, I-85. This interstate runs from southwest (Montgomery) to northeast (Charlotte), passing through the center of Atlanta, where it briefly joins with I-75.

285: See The Perimeter.

ATL: Or, “The A-T-L” is a casual, affectionate term the locals use loosely. It’s also the airport code for Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

Atlantan: The demonym for someone from Atlanta.

The Beltline: A disused portion of train tracks that is being slowly converted into a 22-mile-long pedestrian thoroughfare. The completed 2.2-mile Eastside Trail connects several Atlanta neighborhoods and includes access to the Ponce Corridor.

The Capitol: Atlanta is the capital of Georgia; the Capitol is the legislative center. This building is also referred to as “The Gold Dome,” for its distinctive rotunda.

The Connector: In the middle of Atlanta, Interstates I-75 and I-85 merge for a few miles before splitting again.

Georgia Tech: The Georgia Institute of Technology, which has its main campus in West Midtown.

Hartsfield: a.k.a. The Airport, ATL, Hartsfield-Jackson.

Hotlanta: Don’t call it that. Somebody did once, and it stuck for a while, but nobody actually calls it that.

ITP: “Inside the Perimeter.” As it sounds, this describes anywhere inside the circular I-285 Interstate that surrounds Atlanta.

OTP: “Outside the Perimeter.” Anywhere outside of the I-285 Perimeter, but still within the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Peachtree: The state tree of Georgia, but also a name that’s lent itself to more than 70 streets in the city. The one people are referring to, however, is Peachtree Street, which runs from Five Points in Downtown, north through Midtown, and finally through Buckhead (where the name changes to Peachtree Road). It’s a busy, but very centralized street, so prepare for traffic.

The Perimeter: The circular, eight- to 12-lane, 60-mile stretch of I-285 that completely surrounds Atlanta and its nearby neighborhoods and towns.

Piedmont: A name you’ll hear a lot, Piedmont is the name of Atlanta’s largest park; it’s also the name of a popular surface street, Piedmont Avenue, which leads from Midtown north, through Buckhead.

The Ponce Corridor: Ponce de Leon Avenue, or simply “Ponce,” is a surface street that runs westward from I-285, through the City of Decatur, and finally terminating in the center of Midtown. It passes through some of Intown Atlanta’s most popular neighborhoods, making it one of the most traveled surface streets in the city (traffic and all).

Spaghetti Junction: Where I-285 and I-85 meet, northeast of the city. When viewed by satellite, the mix of looping roads looks like a wad of spaghetti (during rush hour, it’s every bit as harried as it sounds).

WABE: Located at 90.1 on the radio dial, this NPR affiliate is an excellent resource for local news, and has become a savior of sorts for the long hours ATL residents often spend in traffic.

Major Neighborhoods — A Quick Glance

Atlanta has been called “a city of millions, a thousand people at a time.” In "Intown Atlanta", a turn down a street can yield yet another new neighborhood, complete with its very own history, traditions, annual festivals, laid-back eateries, and green spaces. While we’re sure you’ll find the neighborhood that’s perfect for you, there are a few main parts of the city to know about off the bat.

Buckhead: An affluent neighborhood, popular for shopping and dining, located just a few miles north of the city center.

Decatur: A city in-and-of itself, located about 6 miles east of Atlanta.

Downtown: Reurbanization has recently taken root in this, the heart of Atlanta. It’s the center of finance and government, but it’s also where the spirit of Atlanta—from the Civil War to the Olympics—lives on.

Midtown: The cultural center of Atlanta, Midtown boasts museums, theaters, and an excellent nightlife, backed up by a variety of dining options

A Beginners Map to Atlanta