The tagline “a city in a forest” is pretty spot on for Atlanta. Its residential neighborhoods are shrouded in tree canopy, so getting in touch with nature is often as simple as walking outside and looking up. Though the summers are certainly hot and sticky, even into the evening hours, the rest of the year isn’t. So that leaves plenty of time to get outdoors for a festival, Beltline stroll, jog, or bike ride in cooler temps — although, truth be told, Atlantans do all that in the summer heat, too. Atlanta’s green spaces are most irresistible in early spring when the dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom.
Piedmont Park — When you see a photo of Atlanta, it’s often a photo of this park, whose foliage is a lovely contrast against the backdrop of the sleek Midtown skyline. Perpetually packed with joggers, picnickers, Frisbee enthusiasts, and dog lovers, Piedmont is by far the most popular and well-kept green space in the city. The paved walking path that meanders through its grounds is a good way to explore the spoils: a small lake with overlooking gazebo, open meadow, swimming pool, two dogs parks for both large and small canines, covered picnic areas, running track, kickball fields, and plenty of grassy hills shaded by aged oaks.
For small children, there are two playgrounds, one designed by sculptor Isamu Noguchi that doubles as a work of art. From March to November, the park hosts a Saturday morning Green Market where you can buy fresh fruits, veggies, and other treats for an afternoon picnic or to stock your Airbnb’s pantry. Festivals large and small are a common occurrence in spring, summer, and fall. While the park is open to the public from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, it’s best during daylight hours.
Atlanta Beltline — In a city riddled with traffic, this rails-to-trails greenway that will eventually allow folks to bike, walk, or run a circle around Atlanta has been a most welcome addition. Right now only a few disparate sections are completed, and they’re great for both outdoor time and people-watching. The most lively section is the Beltline Eastside Trail in the Old Fourth Ward/Inman Park/Midtown area, which is packed on weekends and weeknights with pedestrians who use it for jogging, skateboarding, and cycling, or simply to stroll from one Beltline-adjacent brunch spot, brewery, or coffee shop to the next.
The Beltline Northside Trail, which meanders through residential Collier Hills, is a bit more peaceful and tree-centric, with access to quiet Tanyard Creek Park, Bobby Jones Golf Course, and an area dubbed Cathedral Woods. Beltline is open to the public from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, but it’s best during daylight hours.
Atlanta Botanical Garden — Situated at the edge of Piedmont Park, the Atlanta Botanical Garden has 30 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens — rose, orchid, tropical, edible, etc. — to explore year-round. No matter the season, there’s always an art exhibition, special event, or class to check out. For example, during the winter, the garden puts on an impressive holiday lights display. During the summer, it has hosted concert series and cocktail hours.
One of the garden’s most lovely features is its Kendeda Canopy Walk, an elongated suspension bridge elevated 40 feet above the ground that leads guests through a small wood of oaks, hickories, and tulip poplars. After you explore the gardens, have lunch or dinner at its mid-century modern Longleaf Restaurant, which has a wall of windows overlooking the flowers and foliage. Daytime admission to the garden is $23.95 for adults, $20.95 for children ages three to 12, and free for children under three.
Historic Fourth Ward Park — From spring through fall, local popsicle slinger King of Pops hosts a free Tuesday evening yoga session on Historic Fourth Ward Park’s green. And hundreds of people show up. It’s quite a sight to behold at sunset with the downtown skyline as a backdrop. The park also has a skate park packed with kids and adults on boards and a stormwater runoff pond with waterfall and fountain that’s both functional and beautiful. Kids can cool off in the splash pad fountain near the playground. The park is adjacent to the Beltline Eastside Trail, but it also has parking if you’re coming by car. The park is open to the public from 6:00 AM to 11:00 PM, but it’s best during daylight hours.
Oakland Cemetery — Yep, it’s a cemetery, but its verdant gardens and hilltop views of the downtown skyline make for a lovely green space. Also, Oakland Cemetery’s ever-changing events and tours are more fun than you might imagine for a historic graveyard: music festivals, illuminated art exhibitions, flashlight tours. Most popular are the spooky after-dark Halloween tours in the month of October. After you’ve toured the gravesites — don’t forget Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell’s — head across the street for pancakes at Ria’s Bluebird or a shrimp basket at Six Feet Under Pub & Fish House. There’s no fee to enter the cemetery, but tours and events require ticket purchase.
Centennial Olympic Park — Created for the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, this 22-acre urban park in downtown Atlanta offers and outdoor respite for tourists visiting the nearby Georgia Aquarium, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the World of Coca-Cola museum, or the College Football Hall of Fame. On hot summer days, kids dance around in the music-accompanied Fountain of Rings. And there are plenty of flat, grassy spaces for a lazy picnic. A few major events are hosted at the park, as well, including spring music festival Sweetwater 420 Fest and a Fourth of July fireworks display. The park is open to the public from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM, but it’s best during daylight hours.