Most people’s knowledge of the Atlanta is based solely on the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (or LaToya Jackson Intergalactic Spaceport). Many travelers pass through on their way elsewhere, but not all get to see beyond it. While I’ve never had my own long layover in Atlanta since it’s my home airport, I have spent hours at airports like Singapore and Frankfurt. So I’m taking this knowledge to prepare you for a layover in Atlanta, whether you leave the confines of the terminals or not. If you’re traveling internationally, be sure to check if you can exit the airport without a visa before you leave the airport.
Inside the Airport
While the Atlanta airport may be huge, so you may not make a 30-minute connection between terminals, this is great for travelers with layovers. It’s easy to get around because all terminals are in a straight line with spokes on each side. You can walk or take the SkyTrain between.
The airport has undergone many renovations in the last decade, especially the Maynard Jackson Jr. International Terminal. Here you’ll find a number of dining outlets that represent the city for those who won’t get to explore on their own such as The Varsity and Sweet Auburn Curb Market. There’s also fine dining options like One Flew South, which is regularly listed as one of the top restaurants in Atlanta, despite its location. Pick up travel essentials at the shopping outlets at Kiehl’s and The Body Shop as well as duty-free shops.
Elsewhere in the airport, you’ll find free WiFi, a hard to find amenity among airports, and dozens of great restaurants. Jay-Z has an outpost of his 40 / 40 Club here and Grindhouse Killer Burgers has a location in Terminal D. Grab a local craft beer from Three Taverns pubs in Terminals A and B. I also love the baked goods from Piece of Cake and cold brew coffee from the Food Networks Kitchen.
Most major airlines have clubs here for around $50 per day, including American and Delta. There’s also The Club at ATL, a general use lounge that offers entry for lounge pass holders for other airlines. Admission to The Club is only $35, making it a great place to relax in between flights.
You can also get a quick nap in at the Minute Suites in Terminal B, which feature television and Internet and start at $38 per hour.
Near the Airport
If you have more than six hours to kill, I recommend getting outside of the airport. If possible, check your bags directly to your destination so you don’t have to store them, as there’s no baggage storage in Atlanta.
Grab a taxi, Lyft or Uber to nearby neighborhoods like Hapeville, a nearby community that has a historic downtown and Drip Coffee Shop, a hip coffee shop where you can fuel up before you head back to the airport.
There are also nearby tourist attractions like the Delta Flight Museum, located right next to the airport. Housed in a historic hangar, the museum chronicles the airline’s history as well as the smaller airlines that have been acquired over the years. Admire the uniforms collected over the last few decades and go inside a Boeing 767 that employees purchased for the airline. Also in Hapeville is the Porsche Cars North America, the new headquarters for North America, which has a driving track and exhibits on the company.
In the City
Beyond six hours, I recommend getting outside of the airport and into the city. The airport is one of the easiest places to access by public transportation. Hop on MARTA or Super Shuttle and you’re in the city in less than 30 minutes. The train runs directly from the domestic terminal baggage claim to the city and costs $2.50 each way.
If you’re just spending the afternoon downtown, I recommend checking out some of the major tourist attractions that are easily accessible by train, including the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola and the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Wander over the Castleberry Hill to check out street art or go on one of the popular Atlanta Movie Tours.
You can also transfer from MARTA to the Atlanta Streetcar, which runs to the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, where Martin Luther King Jr. grew up. Have lunch at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market or learn about the city’s food culture with a tour from Atlanta Food Walks.
If you’re staying the night, I recommend one of the downtown hotels that is close to the MARTA stations like the Omni Hotel at CNN Center or The Westin Peachtree Plaza. AirBnB is another great option for a quick stay.