Q: What’s the best part about living in Atlanta? A: Delta Air Lines.

Or so the joke goes among peripatetic Atlantans. It refers to the ease with which they can get out of town on nonstop flights to just about anywhere since they live in the hometown of Delta, the world’s second largest airline after Chicago-based United Airlines. Getting out of town got even easier (and cheaper) when Southwest Airlines took over AirTran’s main hub at ATL earlier this year.

Jokes aside, normally self-aggrandizing Atlanta was hit particularly hard by the late, great recession, especially in its once high-flying commercial real estate sector. A painful reminder sits in the heart of Buckhead, the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood and entertainment district. There you will find an eight-acre swath of rusting steel and concrete foundation work surrounded by a chain-link fence. Boosters had hoped it would become the  region’s ultra-high-end shopping mecca but funding dried up in 2008 and the project was put on indefinite hold.

Talk of new investors and resuscitation of the project are heating up once again. So Buckhead, and indeed the entire Atlanta region, will surely rise again, just as it did after the Civil War. As Scarlett O’Hara proclaimed in Gone with the Wind, “After all… tomorrow is another day.”

Hotel: Elegant or edgy?

While Buckhead hotel newcomers such as the Mansion or the St Regis have tried, they have not been able to wrestle away the crown of the 224-room Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta, which sets the standard for five-star hotels in this city. It is conveniently located in leafy, trendy Midtown (Buckhead lies to the north; the central business district to the south). Like many US cities, Atlanta is very automobile-reliant, but the Four Seasons is uniquely located within walking distance of the Woodruff Arts Center, a MARTA (rapid rail) station, Piedmont Park and many of the city’s most au courant cafes and restaurants.

The 21-story boutique Renaissance Atlanta Midtown Hotel (nee Hotel Palomar) opened two years ago on the western edge of Midtown near the Georgia Institute of Technology (aka Georgia Tech) and immediately caught on among business travellers who like clean, modern décor, moderate rates (around $150 per night), panoramic city views and service delivered with friendly southern style. The hotel is just two blocks from MARTA’s Midtown station (a 20-minute ride from the airport) and access to I-75/85, Atlanta’s main north/south freeway, is just down the street. Nearby, the recently revamped Artmore Hotel is also drawing in the hip set with comfortably modern design, budget-friendly rates, and its popular “Studio Lounge” and outdoor courtyard.  

Expense account
If you would like to impress a client, enjoy some local flavour, and dine on Atlanta’s cutting edge, make a reservation at JCT Kitchen in the pioneering Westside Urban Market near downtown and Midtown. The popular three-year-old restaurant offers refined versions of southern favourites such as shrimp and grits or chicken and dumplings — which, for example, is really red wine braised chicken (coq au vin) with potato gnocchi sautéed in brown butter. It is all served up in a large casually sophisticated space full of natural light and colours. The super hot Empire State South takes a modern approach to creating authentic Southern dishes with fresh local ingredients paired with outstanding wines. Tip: While it is a great choice for dinner, you will impress your colleagues by scheduling your power breakfast here. 

Do not do this!
Do not call it “Hotlanta”. Polite locals may smile when a visitor uses this sobriquet (especially in the summer). But you can bet they are cringing on the inside. Also, it is important to know that while Georgia is officially the “Peach State”, Atlanta has little to do with the fruit. As a matter of fact, the well-known moniker for several Atlanta streets, “Peachtree”, actually evolved from the words “pitch tree” referring to the many sap-producing pine trees native to the area. 

Go local
When you have finished lunch at JCT Kitchen, duck into the bespoke sartorial splendour of Sid and Ann Mashburn’s clothing stores (Sid’s for men, Ann’s for women, both located upstairs in the same building). Recently named one of “the 10 most stylish men in America” by GQ magazine, Sid describes his style as “an amalgam of European, preppy and Southern”. Ann’s store opened in 2010 to offer a “feminine counterpoint” to her spouse’s sense of style.  

Off the clock
After a day in the air-conditioned confines of Atlanta’s office towers, hotels or convention centres, take a walk, hike or jog along the miles of paved paths in Piedmont Park, on the northeastern edge of the downtown area. In recent years, a massive improvement project overseen by the citizen-led Piedmont Park Conservancy has transformed the 189-acre park into a true urban oasis. It is also home to the gorgeous and enormously popular Atlanta Botanical Garden.


Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel and grew up in Atlanta.