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Destination Guide

  Atlanta
 
 
Visitors to Atlanta expecting a sleepy Confederate capital with Old South charm may be in for a bit of a surprise. For while Atlanta has held onto much of the charm and character of her past, she has also grown into her new role as a modern, cosmopolitan city. Whether you're looking for high culture, top-notch sporting events, or world-class music, Atlanta is known for putting on a great show.


Sports

Few professional teams have dominated their sport as totally as baseball's Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. Riding a string of consecutive division titles that spanned most of the decade, the Braves appeared in five World Series, winning it all in 1995. Their home is Turner Field, built as a multi-purpose stadium for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. It is one of Major League Baseball's most modern and entertaining facilities. With interactive games, museums, and diverse restaurants, "The Ted" is almost as much an amusement park as sports stadium. There's no excuse for even a short-time visitor not to catch the most exciting game in town, as there are always a good number of standing room tickets at the unheard-of price of $1.

Football took center stage in 1998, as the National Football League's Atlanta Falcons won the NFC Championship and represented their conference in the 1999 Super Bowl. Home games are played at the brand new, state-of-the-art Georgia Dome. Located downtown, the Dome was selected as the site for both the 2000 Super Bowl and the 2001 NCAA Final Four college men's basketball championship.

Just across from the Dome, you'll find Phillips Arena, built in 1999 as the new home of the Atlanta Hawks. Perennial contenders for the basketball playoffs, the Hawks are headed by legendary shot-blocking menace Dikembe Mutombo, and, until his recent retirement, were coached by future Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens, the winningest coach in NBA history.

Sharing this exciting new arena with the Hawks is the newest franchise of the National Hockey League, the Atlanta Thrashers. Despite struggling through their inaugural 1999 season, the speed and cold steel of Thrasher games is quickly transforming Atlanta into a hockey town.

For exciting college action, step over to the Georgia Tech campus to watch their athletes compete in over two dozen varsity sports. George O'Leary and Bobby Cremins have built Tech's football and basketball programs into annual contenders for their respective Atlantic Coast Conference crowns. The football team boasts several National Championships, the latest coming in 1991, and recently graduated Heisman Trophy finalist and dramatic playmaker Joe Hamilton, as well as Atlanta's own home-grown favorite linebacker Keith Brookings, now starring across town for the Falcons.


Parks

Visitors to Atlanta rarely fail to notice the pervasive green of the city, particularly during the spring, summer, and fall. Even through the manic expansion of the last two decades, city planners have gone to great lengths to preserve the natural beauty so resplendent in Atlanta's trees, and nowhere is this more true than in the city's many parks and recreation areas.

Acquired by the city in the 1890s, the land that is now Piedmont Park once played host to state fairs and international exhibitions, and today stands as the crowning gem of Atlanta's parks system. With over 180 acres of lakes, playing fields, tennis courts and bike paths, the perfect Midtown location at 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue makes this beautiful setting one of the nation's most accessible and enjoyable urban parks. Piedmont still hosts its share of spectacular events, including concerts, arts and crafts shows, and the annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival, which attracts a wide range of artists and performers.

Just a few miles to the west sits Centennial Olympic Park, the newest addition to Atlanta's park scene. Designed as a gathering place for the 1996 Olympics, it was re-vamped and re-opened in 1998. It now hosts festivals and classical music concerts, as well as droves of lunch-hour sun-seekers. Don't miss the spectacular fountain at the park's center, which shoots water in five concentric rings to represent the spirit of the Olympic games. This is also a good place to start a tour of the city, as the Visitors' Center houses a wealth of information on local tours and activities.

A bit more bucolic and relaxed is luxurious Chastain Park, a few miles farther north, just to the west of the center of the Buckhead neighborhood. Enjoy the leisurely two-and-a-half-mile walking trail, or bring a picnic for a summer concert at the outdoor amphitheater.

For the lover of history or natural wonders, take a short drive east of the city to Stone Mountain State Park. About a 20-minute trip, this 3,000-acre expanse of forests and lakes centers around the park's namesake, a chunk of solid granite that rises 1,683 feet above the easy-rolling foothills. One of the top-10 paid attractions in the United States, the face of Stone Mountain is adorned with the world's largest bas-relief sculpture, a carving of three of the South's Civil War heros, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. Take a gondola ride or hike to the top of this dome-shaped natural wonder for a commanding view of the hills of Georgia, and take in a one-of-a-kind perspective of Atlanta in the distance.


Museums

The diversity of Atlanta's people, business, and interests is well represented in her impressive array of museums. Whatever direction your taste for knowledge and enlightenment may run, you're sure to find something to nurture your curiosity. The baseball displays and museum at Turner Field are some of the finest outside of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, tours of the CNN Center offer a comprehensive view of the world of broadcasting, and those with a mind for history will certainly enjoy the Civil War exhibits at Stone Mountain State Park. Take some time to explore Atlanta's museums, and don't worry: the phenomenal weather will still be outside when you're through.

Learn the history behind the planet's most famous soft drink at the World of Coca-Cola Museum at 55 Martin Luther King Drive. Located downtown at Underground Atlanta, the museum tells the story of this homegrown favorite, and features an old-time soda fountain, exhibits, and photographs of Coke's growth through the years, as well as a gift shop that boasts more cola-themed products than probably should exist. The most popular stop on the tour is the final one, a large cafeteria where you can sample the many Coca-Cola blends as they are marketed throughout the world.

If all that caffeine puts you in the mood to get outdoors, walk to Midtown and stop by the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Located in the northwest corner of Piedmont Park, this in-town oasis houses floral specimens from the four corners of the globe, several gardens and woods, and a brand-new, family-friendly children's garden. Tours are available for a small fee. If your green thumb is in need of a little help, don't miss the garden shop for handy hints and a few souvenirs you can really use.

Flora is fine, but it can't roar like fauna, which can be found in abundance at Zoo Atlanta, located at 800 Cherokee within the grounds of beautiful Grant Park. Local legend tells that the zoo was founded in 1889 when a visiting circus owner was forced to sell off some animals to pay his debts. The zoo has come a long way in the last 100 years, and now maintains a wide range of specimens in meticulously recreated natural habitats, as well as a full-scale children's area complete with a petting zoo and train ride. Among the zoo's favorites are the gorilla habitat, the nationally-acclaimed Reptile House, and the newly-arrived pandas.

The story of the South and Georgia takes center stage at the Atlanta History Museum at the Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead. In addition to interactive displays, videos, and a complete rundown of regional history from Native American origins to modern day expansion, the museum also provides a thorough background of Atlanta's most impressive architecture and residential treasures.

Of course, no event played a more prominent role in the history and growth of Atlanta than the Civil War. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was perhaps the South's most vital, albeit ultimately fruitless, victory in the fighting for Atlanta in the Summer of 1864, and this slice of history is handsomely immortalized at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in nearby Kennesaw. Surrounded by almost 3,000 acres of rolling hills and forests, the Visitors' Center and museum tells the story of the struggle against Sherman's advancing Union forces, and recreates the scene of some of the most bloody fighting of our nation's most tragic conflict.

While you're up in Kennesaw, travel a few miles down the road to the site of one of the war's most legendary events. The Kennesaw Civil War Museum sits on the spot where the Great Locomotive Chase began in 1862. A troop of daring Union spies led Confederate pursuers on a chase through the hills of Georgia, destroying track and supplies on their way before being overtaken and executed. The locomotive engine The General, their doomed means of escape, is housed on the grounds, still in full functioning condition, along with other noteworthy war memorabilia.

Lovers of high culture will discover a world of spiraling wonder at the High Museum of Art at 1280 Peachtree Street in Midtown. This architectural marvel is home to over 10,000 works, including many significant 19th and 20th Century American paintings, along with solid collections of the French impressionists and German expressionists. The High also boasts the most comprehensive collections of African art, regional folk art, and photography in the Southeast. Always included on the itinerary of important traveling collections, the High has recently hosted the works of such notables as Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell.

For all-out wonder and fascination, few attractions can hold a candle to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Just off Ponce de Leon Avenue at 767 Clifton Road, this unconventional building houses a world of discovery for people of all ages. An interactive "Spectrum of the Senses" display offers kids and parents the chance to "get in touch" with their bodies and the world that surrounds them, while the "Walk Through Time in Georgia" exhibit takes visitors step-by-step through the natural history that led up to present day Atlanta. Call ahead for tickets to the I-MAX theater, a five-story screen that brings the natural world to life, and, in many cases, larger-than-life.


History

The legacy of Atlanta's past is given its due not only in her museums, but also in the many historical sites, districts, and exhibits throughout the city. The most comprehensive coverage of the topic can be found at the Atlanta History Center, just down West Paces Ferry Road from the Governor's Mansion in Buckhead. In addition to its excellent museum, the history center maintains an expansive property of gardens and trails, complete with an authentic working plantation from antebellum days, meticulously removed from its original location and moved piece-by-piece to the center grounds. The Swan Coach House restaurant is also on site for fine dining or to fuel you up for another history lesson.

For more on Atlanta's role in the Civil War, pay a visit to the Cyclorama at 880 Cherokee Avenue in Grant Park. The Cyclorama is a 365-degree mural that depicts the Battle of Atlanta, and at 42 feet high stands as the world's largest painting. The accompanying museum contains relics and artifacts from the era, as well as the locomotive engine the Texas, which was used in pursuit of fleeing Union spies during the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862.

And of course, no view of Atlanta and Civil War history would be complete without a glance at it through the eyes of Margaret Mitchell. At the corner of Tenth and Peachtree in Midtown stands the house where she lived for seven years and wrote most of the legendary epic "Gone With the Wind." Recently restored and now open as the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum, the structure was not quite to Mitchell's liking when she occupied one of its small apartments with her husband, as they habitually referred to it as "the Dump."

A bit more of the history of contemporary Atlanta can be found at the Jimmy Carter Center just East of downtown. Celebrating one of Georgia's favorite sons, the Carter Presidential Museum and Library occupies a 30-acre compound of gardens and pools, and commands an impressive view of the city to the west. It was from this hilltop in 1864 that General William T. Sherman observed the Battle of Atlanta. Over 27 million pages of documents are archived within the library, and the museum features a model of Carter's Oval Office and an interactive display that allows visitors to ask questions of the president.

Just down the road, another of Atlanta's favorite sons is honored and remembered at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. This area occupies several city blocks in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood just Southeast of downtown, and incorporates King's boyhood home as well as the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, the longtime headquarters of King's civil rights crusade. Visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change at 449 Auburn Avenue, where rests the crypt of the fallen leader, a reflecting pool that is a favorite gathering place for locals and tourists, and a large museum honoring the legacy and history of this great man. The Visitors' Center at 450 Auburn across the street is a great place to start your tour of this important historic district, and will give you a good overview of what not to miss during your visit.

Perhaps the most fascinating opportunity for a glance into Atlanta's past is one that is frequently overlooked. The old Oakland Cemetery at 248 Oakland Avenue houses a veritable Who's Who of Atlanta history, literature, politics and society. Dating back to 1850, the graveyard contains the remains of soldiers from both sides of the Civil War, including over 2,500 Confederate troops and five Confederate generals, as well as such notable Atlantans as author Margaret Mitchell and PGA legend Bobby Jones. Enter through the main gate at Oakland Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive, and inquire about guided tours, or just bring a picnic lunch, as long as you're not afraid of ghosts.


Theater

Atlanta's premier venue for stage events is also one of her most beloved and storied landmarks. The Fabulous Fox Theater was built as in 1916 at the corner of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon, as a temple for the Shriners fraternal organization. The Moorish-cum-Egyptian design was a marvel of local architecture, and in 1927 was sold for use as a theater. Various owners of the Fox experienced on-again off-again profitability over the years, with intermittent bankruptcies offset by such highlights as the world premiere of "Gone With the Wind" in 1939.

Defunct once again, the building was slated for demolition in 1978, but was spared the wrecking ball by concerned citizens, who raised nearly $2 million dollars to preserve and restore the building. Today, the Fabulous Fox plays host to myriad social and cultural events, including rock concerts, Broadway musicals, opera, ballet, and regular performances by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

A few blocks down Peachtree at the corner of 15th Street, the Woodruff Performing Arts Center is the home turf of the Alliance Theatre Company, which puts on numerous performances each season. In addition to plays and musicals, the Woodruff also sponsors a full schedule of ballet and children's shows from its stunning facility adjacent to the High Museum of Art.

Numerous other private companies compete to produce a crowded theater schedule each year in Atlanta. Most shows are put on at various venues in Midtown and downtown such as the Shakespeare Tavern, Seven Stages Theatre, and the Neighborhood Playhouse. The Theatre in the Square company in nearby Marietta also maintains a regular schedule of performances up in Cobb County.


Music

Music lovers will feel at home in Atlanta, which has become a regular tour stop for most major musical acts. Big names such as Pearl Jam, the Rolling Stones, and U2 fill the seats at the larger venues, while a full slate of local talent and classical musicians round out the music scene in numerous smaller facilities. For the ultimate Atlanta music experience, be sure to investigate some of the out-of-the-way theaters and small clubs to catch a taste of regional music in an intimate setting.

For top-notch classical entertainment, nothing beats the summer classics series at Chastain Park Amphitheatre. Located at 449 Stella Drive in Buckhead, this 6,000-seat pavilion plays host to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from June through August, as some of the biggest names in show business perform to the accompaniment of the ASO. While reserved seating can be hard to come by, the best seats in the house are on the lawn. Pack some wine and a nice picnic dinner and listen to your favorite performers under the warm summer stars.

If you like your music a bit louder, head down I-85 to the Coca-Cola Lakewood Amphitheatre. Just a few miles South of downtown, this outdoor venue features 7,000 covered seats and an expansive, sloping lawn to accommodate up to 12,000 more people. Recent bookings at Lakewood have included such powerhouses as the Dave Matthews Band and the Lilith Fair.

When part-time Atlanta resident Elton John christened the Phillips Arena in 1999, he opened the door for still more world-class entertainment on the Atlanta music scene. Also the home of the Atlanta Hawks and Thrashers, Phillips showcased the talents of such hard hitters as U2 and Ricky Martin in its inaugural season.

Tops among smaller venues is Blind Willie's, a tiny dive of a place on North Highland Avenue in the Virginia-Highland neighborhood. The small bar and limited seating provide an intimate setting for some of the best local talent and legendary stars working in blues today.

A few blocks away in Midtown, the Cotton Club plays to a somewhat rowdier bunch. On any given night, the busy dance floor is crowded with hard rock and alternative fans, and provides a great atmosphere for getting to know the best in up-and-coming bands. Since a good number of relatively big names play the Cotton Club on a regular basis, it's a good idea to call Ticketmaster well in advance, or stop by the box office on Peachtree Street.

The Masquerade is perhaps the most far-out of Atlanta's alternative music clubs, harbored in a somewhat shady neighborhood just east of downtown at 695 North Avenue near City Hall East. Housed in an old factory, this no-nonsense venue is the prime spot to catch loud bands in an atmosphere of reckless abandon. There are separate bars and billiard rooms, but the main action goes on upstairs, where mostly smaller bands hold court, but larger names such as Everclear and the Specials have had their day as well.

For true variety, head over to the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points. This elaborate theater was built in the 1930s as a neighborhood movie house, but now is the scene for a little bit of everything under the musical sun. A night of hard-charging rock is often followed by a mellow evening of folk music, which might in turn be followed up with a CD-release party by a local jazz artist. Whatever's on the menu for the evening, this is a great place to get up close and personal with a broad range of local music.

Harmony and soft strings are the keys to what makes Eddie's Attic tick. A 15-minute trip from downtown, you'll find this oasis of mellow tunes across from the old County Courthouse in Decatur. Names small and large come to ply their trade at Eddie's, including occasional appearances by homegrown favorites the Indigo Girls. Come early for a good seat, but don't come to socialize: talking during performances is strictly forbidden.

All around town, a great variety of small venues and music-minded clubs make Atlanta a music-lover's paradise. Check out the Roxy in Buckhead for occasional rock concerts, as well as Friday night boxing. A former Baptist church, the Tabernacle downtown is the frequent site of special events and music for all appetites. Clubs such as Johnny's Hideaway and Otto's play to the diversity of multiple tastes, offering separate rooms for separate styles, and many special bookings.