The 24-Hour Guide to Atlanta
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of Where Atlanta.
Atlanta may not be known as the “City That Never Sleeps” (we’re in the sleepy South, after all), but that doesn’t mean sleepless travelers are stuck twiddling their thumbs. These 24-hour stops keep insomniacs occupied with everything from round-the-clock spas to always-open donut shops and, of course, a slew of classic day-and-night diners. Load up on caffeine, then follow our 24-hour itinerary to explore a version of Atlanta usually reserved for night owls.
Midnight: Late-Night Munching at Waffle House
You’ve just landed in the world’s busiest passenger airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It’s late and you’re tired, maybe because you flew across the world or maybe because it’s just been one of those weeks. And to top it off, you’re starving. Good thing you just stepped foot in the birthplace of Waffle House, America’s legendary 24-hour diner.
Waffle House is so famous in Atlanta that a local theater company, Horizon Theatre, commissioned a satirical and riotous play—aptly titled “The Waffle Palace”—as an ode to the wacky characters that stroll through this breakfast mecca in the otherwise still hours of the night.
Visit this iconic stop for a late-night omelet, loaded sandwich or T-bone steak dinner with a side of hash browns “smothered,” “covered” and “topped.” You’ll never have trouble finding a Waffle House nearby—seven locations surround the airport alone.
2 am: Overnight Serenity at Jeju Sauna
After a visit to Waffle House, your belly is full and it’s safe to say you now have a few good stories to share with people back home. It’s time for relaxation and rejuvenation at Jeju Sauna. This 24-hour Korean spa is well worth the 40-minute trek from the airport. Tip: Hop on MARTA, Atlanta’s rail transit, from the airport and take the Gold line north to the last station, Doraville. Then, use a taxi service for the 15-minute ride from Doraville Station to Jeju Sauna.
Each themed sauna is covered in materials that elicit specific health benefits. For instance, the gold and silver sauna serves to stabilize the central nervous system while the charcoal sauna helps to increase blood circulation and remove built-up toxins.
A menu of Korean spa services is also offered, including hip baths for women ($30), full-body massages ($100), foot reflexology ($60) and more.
6 am: Early-Bird Breakfast at Metro Cafe Diner
We’re guessing you worked up an appetite while ridding yourself of all those toxins. If so, then we’ve got the perfect next stop: Metro Cafe Diner in Stone Mountain. This 24-hour diner is quite the contrast from your first itinerary stop. Inside, you’ll find retro-inspired decor replete with chrome finishes, neon lights and red pleather booths.
Everything on the vast and indulgent menu is made from scratch and covers a gamut of culinary influences. Pick from Greek platters, tuna melts, chicken parmigiana, Cuban sandwiches and, of course, all-day breakfast. Don’t bypass the cakes and pies, which are prominently displayed at the entrance in all of their mouthwatering glory.
7:30 am: Hilltop Hike at Stone Mountain
There’s a reason we recommended Metro Cafe Diner’s Stone Mountain location for your early-bird breakfast, and that’s so you could be nearer to Stone Mountain Park, where you’ll embark on a scenic sunrise hike.
Known officially as a granite monadnock, or an isolated rock hill, Stone Mountain is almost two hours away from the North Georgia mountains, which makes its appearance on the horizon somewhat unusual. The granite dome and surrounding natural area are complemented by the family-friendly theme park but you’ll be there a couple hours before the park’s attractions open at 10 am.
Pay the $10 parking fee to park in the Confederate Hall lot. Then, begin your one-mile journey to the peak by following the walk-up trail marked by a yellow line.
Once you reach the summit, you can pat yourself on the back for climbing 1,686 feet above sea level. Better yet, reward your hard work with the breathtaking views of Atlanta’s glimmering downtown skyline and the North Georgia Mountains. In clear weather, you can see up to 60 miles away!
9 am-6 pm: Sweets, Sights and Sauce
There’s plenty to do during your daylight hours, so we’ll keep our suggestions snappy. After hiking two miles, what better treat than a freshly baked donut and piping-hot cup of coffee? That’s why we suggest making a stop at Sublime Doughnuts (open 24 hours, in case you get a midnight craving).
Once you’ve refueled, make a beeline for Downtown Atlanta, where you’ll hop on the 10:30 am Peachtree Trolley Tour. This 90-minute tour whisks you aboard a climate-controlled trolley to see Centennial Olympic Park, Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, Underground Atlanta, Oakland Cemetery and The Fox Theatre, while a real-deal Southern docent recounts the city’s riveting history. Tickets range from $15-$30.
Your trolley tour will start and end at the corner of Marietta and Baker Streets, which lands you steps away from one of our favorite barbecue joints: Twin Smokers BBQ. Order your meal at the counter, where you can pick from chicken, sausage, pulled pork, brisket and pork ribs accompanied by one of the many classic Southern sides, like mac n’ cheese, collards, coleslaw and more. Each meal starts with homemade pork rinds (warning: they’re addictive). Cap things off with the dangerously delicious “Double Trouble Milkshake” with High Road vanilla ice cream and Bulleit bourbon.
A brisk walk through Centennial Olympic Park will hit the spot after such a saucy lunch. Stroll down Baker Street to reach your next destination, one of the largest aquariums in the world. It’s easy to spend a day observing and learning about the thousands of aquatic species within Georgia Aquarium’s 10 million gallons. For the purposes of this itinerary, we recommend giving yourself until the aquarium closes at 5 pm to enjoy everything this world-famous attraction has to offer. Tickets range from $33-$39.
Once you’ve reveled in the beauty of our ocean’s ecosystems, it’s time to “just keep swimming” to the next stop(s) on your itinerary. You didn’t think we forgot about retail therapy, did you? No trip to Atlanta would be complete without a visit to the shopping mecca that is Buckhead. Within just a mile of one another sit luxurious Phipps Plaza, mid-priced Lenox Square Mall and the haute Shops Buckhead Atlanta. Each destination offers an array of dining options—from Shake Shack to True Food Kitchen. (Tip: Opt for a light snack while you shop so you don’t spoil your dinner!)
9 pm: Persian Decadence at Divan
Speaking of dinner, we have a special treat in store for the final stop on this marathon itinerary. Located smack dab in the middle of Lenox Square and The Shops Buckhead Atlanta is Divan, a hidden culinary gem that serves up a feast for the senses. With a kitchen that closes at 1 am and hookah service on its second level, this chic restaurant was made for late-night indulgence.
The menu is a roll-call of decadent Persian and Mediterranean dishes prepared to perfection. You can’t go wrong with the crispy yet tender duck leg confit or the exceptional spice roasted double-cut lamb rib chops (which come with a side of to-die-for spiced potatoes). Hookah is offered in a variety of flavors, so pick according to your preference, then sit back, take a deep breath and relax.
Midnight: Cat Nap at the Airport
After 24 hours of feasting, relaxing, sightseeing and shopping, we’d be crazy to add anything else to your itinerary—unless the stop we’re adding is a nap at the airport. Just as the name suggests, Minute Suites are small rooms made for napping. If you have time to spare before your flight, you can rent one of these pods for $42 for the first hour and $10.50 for each 15-minute increment within the first two hours of your stay.
Each suite comes equipped with a daybed sofa, HDTV, pillows, blankets and a sound-masking system. Access to the airport’s free WiFi means this is also a great space for catching up on work or a new season of your favorite show. Atlanta’s Minute Suites are located after security in Concourse B at Gate B16.