When talking family travel, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Everyone’s hotel, food and sightseeing budget is different. Something we all have in common? Our love of free activities! If you’re planning a visit to Atlanta, take a look at the best free things to do in Atlanta with kids.
1. Centennial Olympic Park
Built in 1996 when the Summer Olympics came to Atlanta, locals and visitors alike love to play at the beautiful Centennial Olympic Park that’s wreathed in Atlanta-excitement like the Georgia Aquarium, where everyone gets in free on their birthday.
Centennial Park itself is 22-acres of green space, waterfalls, and two fantastic climbing parks. But the biggest draw for kids is the interactive Fountain of Rings that’s synchronized to music and light. The rings play songs like Circle of Life, Twist & Shout, and more four times a day, 365 days a year, at 12:30, 3:30, 6:30, and 9 p.m.
2. CNN Center
Sitting an easy four-minute walk from the Fountain of Rings is the impressive—for its cavernous size alone—world headquarters of CNN. While the channel charges for their studio tour, it’s free to walk into CNN and take a good look at the Hummer that’s on display. This bad boy was one of two used by CNN reporters during the Iraq war in 2003.
Inside the huge center, you’ll find a massive food court (a great place to fuel up the kids inexpensively), a gazillion screens broadcasting CNN, photo opportunities, and time to snoop through the toy and souvenir shops.
3. The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Site
This emotional site features the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father gave sermons, King’s childhood home, and a museum that details King’s life through exhibits and shows. You’ll also see the eternal flame and reflection pool at Dr. King & Coretta Scott Kings’ final resting place.
4. High Museum of Art
The High Museum—locals call it The High—is famous in Atlanta for giving free admission on the second Sunday of every month from noon to 5 p.m., with special activities for families starting at 1 p.m. and going until 4 p.m. (Arrive early to beat the crowd.)
A visit to The High features selections from the permanent collection—numbering more than 17,000 pieces—and temporary exhibitions like I See a Story: The Art of Eric Carle; Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a Classic; and The Pursuit of Everything: Maira Kalman’s Books for Children. Kids love the interactive Greene Family Learning Gallery that gives them the chance to participate in art-making activities (best for ages 8 and under).
5. Governor’s Mansion
The Governor’s Mansion, built in 1967, is a 24,000-square-foot residence sitting on 18-acres that’s been home to nine Georgia governors, including Jimmy Carter and Zell Miller. The self-guided tours allow guests to visit the mansion rooms at their own pace and listen to the docent in each room explain the history of the space. The three-floor, 30-room mansion gives the free hybrid tour every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Check the website for closures ahead of your visit.
6. Piedmont Park
This 200-acre park sitting in the heart of Atlanta has two incredible playgrounds canopied by vintage trees, an impressive swimming pool with a beach-entrance (free Monday to Friday, 3 to 5 p.m.), and a splash pad that’s as fun as it is beautiful.
The park brims in wide walking paths, a lake, and complimentary outdoor concerts—such as the outdoor music provided by the Atlanta Symphony in early summer each year—and festivals like the hugely popular annual Ice Cream Festival in July. The park also gives free tours including history, bird and self-guided tours.
7. Historic Oakland Cemetery
We hear you wondering, “A cemetery? On vacation? Sounds creepy.” But it’s totally not. Founded in 1850, the 48-acre Oakland Cemetery sits in the heart of Atlanta and is home to more than 70,000 residents. Atlanta mayors, Georgia governors, more than 6,900 Confederate soldiers, wealthy, poor, African-American and white, tycoons and unmarked graves—all have been welcomed into this lush, absolutely gorgeous cemetery.
The famous residents include Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, Bobby Jones (famous golfer), and Maynard Jackson, the first African-American mayor of Atlanta. Expect to see elaborate mausoleums, sculptures, vintage oak and magnolia trees canopying the cemetery, and breathtaking gardens. While the self-guided map costs $5, the cemetery’s app is just $1.99 and walking on your own and soaking up the history is entirely free.
8. Atlanta Monetary Museum
Traveling parents love slipping memorable learning into a vacation and if the tour is also free? We’re down! Don’t miss this highly recommended visit to the Atlanta Monetary Museum that teaches what the Federal Reserve does for our economy. The self-guided tour takes under two hours and kids can see a gold bar, watch interesting videos on the history of money (more interesting than it sounds), see robots take money out of the vault, marvel at vintage coins, interact with educational exhibits, and even take home thousands of dollars as a souvenir (shredded, but still cool!).
9. Georgia State Capitol
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and modeled after the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Georgia State Capitol was built after the Civil War to symbolize the powerful emergence of “the New South.” Enjoy the beautiful grounds before heading up to the fourth floor, where you’ll find exhibits and artifacts on the State of Georgia. Parking is almost non-existent and the parking they have is costly, so consider taking an Uber or Lyft to see the Capitol.
10. Dunwoody Nature Center
The beautiful town of Dunwoody sits about 20 minutes from downtown Atlanta and is kid-nirvana with elaborate playgrounds, a creek to explore, hammocks to snooze in, hives with bees at work to watch, a teepee to duck into, a night hike (best with a flashlight), trees with swings, nature hikes on 5 miles of trails and a donated piano just waiting to be played (behind the main building).
11. Atlanta BeltLine Trail
Originally a master’s thesis by Ryan Gravel, a Georgia Tech student, the Atlanta BeltLine’s former life was as a long ago railway corridor that ran around Atlanta, kind of like a belt… get it? Thanks to Ryan, the powers-that-be decided to up level the Beltline with his brilliance to create miles of stunning walking, jogging, hiking, biking, and you-get-the-gist pathways hemmed by cool restaurants, many art installations, markets, and playgrounds. The most loved part of the BeltLine is the Eastside Trail, which you can enter at Piedmont Park and then walk to Irwin Street/Krog Street Market. Heads up: weekends get busy with happy feet.
12. Stone Mountain
Loaded in attractions and entertainment, it’s not challenging to spend a pretty penny at Stone Mountain, But for those in-the-know, the beautiful park also has free kids’ activities including two playgrounds with nice bathrooms, 15 miles of hiking trails, a mill called Gristmill that has water play every kid loves in the form of a charming creek (great picnic spot too), an old scenic covered bridge with a pedestrian walkway, a once-active quarry with exhibits that show kids the process of stone cutting, and hiking the mile up to the top of Stone Mountain to see the amazing view stretching 60-miles on a clear day (keep in mind: parts are steep, but do-able for kids). Bring water. There is a parking fee.
13. Movies by Moonlight
Free outdoor movies are part of every Georgia summer, and a perfect free thing to do in Atlanta with kids. If you’re visiting downtown Atlanta, take in free Flicks at the Tech Summer Movie Series at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium. At the stadium, you’ll sit in the stands so no need to rustle up blankets and pillows. Admission and parking are free, although you’re not allowed to bring in snacks. Gates open at 7 p.m. and parking is free at Peters Parking Deck.
Want to see a free outdoor movie in a town just outside Atlanta? Check out these upscale community movie nights: Movies in the Park in Alpharetta, Movies on the Town at Brookhaven, Movies by Moonlight in Sandy Springs, Movie Night at Candler Park, movies at Center Hill Park in Bankhead (note: not Buckhead) and Flicks on the Bricks in super quaint Duluth.
14. David J. Sencer CDC Museum in association with the Smithsonian Institution
Did you know that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is headquartered in Atlanta? And that they offer a tour and a museum visit to see all that the CDC does to keep us safe from diseases like Ebola, a flu pandemic, anthrax and more? Ideal for older kids and teens who are interested in science, this fascinating museum is small, but you and the kids can easily spend two hours watching shows on the complex history of the CDC. Give the kids time to go on the CDC scavenger hunt, play scientist, and observe a replica of an iron lung. Admission and parking are free. The CDC is a federal building requiring a safety check; bring ID.
15. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
General Sherman advanced on the Confederates in June 1964 on Kennesaw Mountain (a 28-minute drive from Atlanta), resulting in the deaths of 5,300 soldiers and a victory for the Confederates. Just five months later, Sherman would order Atlanta’s supplies be burned and begin—with 60,000 men—his March to the Sea.
The Kennesaw Mountain National Battle Field Park offers almost 3,000 acres that preserve the Civil War battleground. Families can drive to the top of Kennesaw (weekdays) or take a shuttle bus (weekends with a small fee) to see the breathtaking vistas, view the 35-minute park film that details the mountain’s story, take a free self-guided tour of the museum, and hike up one of over 22 miles of interpretive trails. Begin your journey at the Battlefield’s Visitor Center for this free thing to do in Atlanta with kids.
16. Little Nancy Creek Park in North Buckhead
Sitting about 18 minutes out of downtown and tucked in a beautiful Buckhead neighborhood is a small park with an elaborate climbing structure, a small shallow creek, walking bridges, shade (thanks to the trees), a walking path, and green spaces. As you drive to the park, enjoy the view of one of 40 stunning Buckhead neighborhoods as you venture through this free thing to do in Atlanta with kids.
17. BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Prepare to be stunned with this free thing to do in Atlanta with kids. Yes, this visit is a 29-minute drive from downtown Atlanta to the Lilburn suburb. Yes, admission—including the audio tour—is entirely free. And, yes, this five-star visit is absolutely worth your time. Put it this way: a visit to the Taj Mahal in India might rock except for that little thing called a 23-hour plane ride (and a gazillion dollars to pay for the flight.) How about instead visiting a true marvel of a Hindu temple (called a mandir) that’s beauty—we’ll just say it—rivals the Taj. The mandir is open daily and welcomes visitors of all faiths.
Wendy Irvine is a travel writer who lives in Atlanta with her family and pens the blog, JellyfishinJuly.com.