In many ways, Georgia represents the best of the modern South.
The Peach State has all the ingredients of an ideal travel destination. Its history is rich and complex, but there is also a progressive energy and a palpable excitement throughout Georgia’s cities and towns.
Atlanta is the thriving metropolitan heart of the region and has a long list of world-class attractions for visitors to explore. And Savannah is a jewel of the Atlantic coast, featuring picturesque historic homes, squares and gardens.
Although Atlanta and Savannah are popular tourist destinations, groups visiting Georgia should also make time to discover some of the one-of-a-kind activities awaiting in other places around the state. The small town of LaGrange offers opportunities of “biblical” proportions, and Macon is staking its claim as a must-see city for music lovers.
Your group could easily spend a whole week in Atlanta and the surrounding area exploring the arts, culture, history, sports and culinary standouts that make Atlanta the undisputed capital of the American South. But if your time is limited, focus on the must-see attractions around Centennial Olympic Park in the heart of the city.
Opened in 2005 as the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium gives visitors an immersive look into the oceans of the planet and the creatures that inhabit them. Groups can take free time to wander through the exhibit areas and theaters, or plan a memorable behind-the-scenes experience. The aquarium has a number of such encounters, which can include swimming with belugas or whale sharks in full deep-sea diving equipment.
Groups will also find plenty of hands-on experiences at World of Coca-Cola. America’s most famous soft drink was created in Atlanta, and this museum showcases the beverage’s impressive history and memorabilia. It sits just across Pemberton Plaza from the aquarium.
Visitors to the museum will find galleries that describe the origins and developments of Coca-Cola, as well as displays of pieces of branded merchandise that have become collectors items. Highlights include a 4-D theater, a pop-culture art gallery and another theater that shows a running loop of every television commercial the company has ever made. The museum also features a prominent vault that is said to hold the legendary secret Coca-Cola formula.
Many visitors enjoy a chance to taste a variety of international beverages at the museum. The tour concludes in a sampling area, where visitors can taste the flavors of Coke from all over the world.
CNN, another popular American brand, got its start in Atlanta as well. The company continues to operate its international news broadcast network from the CNN Center near Centennial Olympic Park and offers behind-the-scenes tours to groups that make reservations before their visits.
Guides take groups through the facility to see various studios and learn about how live news programs are produced. Along the way, they learn how CNN was established and go through some interactive exhibition areas where participants can try some of the high-tech equipment used in professional broadcasting.
You may not have heard much about LaGrange, a smaller town southwest of Atlanta near the Alabama border. But if you take a group to visit some of its signature attractions while in Georgia, LaGrange may end up being the talk of the tour.
The crown jewel of LaGrange is Hills and Dales Estate, a 35-acre property that preserves the beautiful terraced gardens and historic home of the famous Callaway family. Inspired by the architecture of Italian villas, the 130,000-square-foot home at the estate features 30 rooms. It was completed in 1916 and is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Today, Hills and Dales is operated by the Callaway Foundation and serves exclusively as a tour home. Visitors can see all three levels of the house, which are outfitted with the same furnishings and decor that the Callaway family used there, and hear stories about the prominent family’s role in the local community.
After touring the house, groups can spend some time meandering the four acres of terraced boxwood gardens that surround it. The gardens predate the house by some 75 years and are considered among the best-preserved 19th-century gardens in the country.
More surprising experiences await in LaGrange at the Biblical History Center. Founded by an archaeologist, this museum is dedicating to teaching visitors about the lands of the Bible and the ancient world. It features more than 250 artifacts from Israel and is the largest collection of Israeli antiquities in the United States.
The real strength of the museum, however, lies in its interpretive programs. A large outdoor area features re-creations of many of the buildings, houses, tools and other items that would have been common in Israel during biblical times, and guides use the area to illustrate stories from Scripture with details that bring the accounts to life.
Groups that visit the center can also arrange to have a special “Last Supper” experience, a meal that consists of foods typically served in Israel, and hear a fascinating presentation about the cultural history of the Last Supper.