Prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics, this blighted part of town was a place you’d avoid, somewhere you’d never walk at night. But when Atlanta won the bid for the games, a $75 million fundraising effort went into overdrive to create a public space that warranted the honor. Today, the park is a favorite gathering spot for everything from picnics and parties to concerts and cooling off.
Start your tour at the (1) visitor center, off International Boulevard on the southwest corner of the park, where there’s a cafe souvenir shop and informative displays about the park’s history. Almost 500,000 engraved commemorative bricks—which supporters bought for $35 each to help fund the park—pave the walkways.
Walk out the doors and you can’t miss the (2) Fountain of Rings, named for the Olympic rings etched into its floor. Run through the fountain to escape the heat of summer or just sit for a moment and watch the 251 jets shoot water into the air. Shows, with synchronized music and lights, take place four times daily.
Head over to (3) Centennial Plaza, where 23 flags represent countries that have hosted the Olympic Games and 48 willow oaks commemorate past and future hosts. The eight Hermes Towers that encircle the plaza are reproductions of ancient Greek columns. It was on the far side of the plaza during the 1996 Olympics that a bomb, set by Eric Robert Rudolf, exploded, killing one person and injuring more than 100 others.
Past the Reflection Pool, follow the Garden Walk, which meanders past the (4) Water Gardens, a series of rocks and waterfalls. The path also passes the (5) Quilt Plazas, five 60-by-60-foot (18.2-by-18.2-meter) square monuments that celebrate various parts of the Olympics—the Quilt of Olympic Spirit, Quilt of Dreams, Quilt of Remembrance (for the bombing victims), Quilt of Origins, and Quilt of Nations.
Keep following the trail to the (6) Children’s Garden and Playground, with benches where you can rest while the kids burn energy. Nearby is the (7) Paralympic Legacy, a metal sculpture surrounded by granite pillars inscribed with the names of the 3,310 paralympic athletes who participated in the games.
The (8) Great Lawn in the center of the park is a favorite place for a pick-up game of Frisbee or a picnic lunch for CNN employees. Follow the path alongside it back toward the visitor center. En route you’ll pass the (9) Androgyne Planet, an abstract sculpture representing the continuity of the Olympic Games, and the (10) “Gateway of Dreams” sculpture, which gives a nod to the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin.
Head back to the visitor center for a snack or a beverage and relax beside the fountain.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.