With its rich history and culture, Atlanta truly is the heart of the South. It is characterized by a sprawling mass of urban environments that melt into friendly suburbs and is known for its bustling lifestyle. But a few of Atlanta’s best qualities are kept hidden from the casual eye.

Get off the beaten path and examine the city from a different perspective! Just about every neighborhood has a hidden gem worth checking out. Having worked in the city for some time, we wanted to share 11 of our favorite “best-kept secrets” that you should definitely experience for yourself!

1. Shopping – The Dekalb Farmers Market

Shoppers inside the Dekalb Farmers Market

This vast, sprawling grocery supercenter is one of Atlanta’s most baffling attractions – even though many natives to this city have never visited or even heard of the place. Eye-popping sights and captivating aromas announce their presence the moment you step inside. With its ubiquitous selection of international delicacies, organic produce, fresh meat and fish, the Delkab farmer’s market is a must-see attraction. There is a section dedicated to delicacies from just about every country around the world so you can have virtually everything you need from this gem of a market. The aisles are small can get cramped so you should try picking a less busy time for your visit.

The common items sold at this market are good buys but not worth the trip if you live far. It is the specialty foods and produce that you can’t find elsewhere that is the main draw. For instance, you can find dragon fruit, taro root, and durian all under one roof. They also have dried fruits and nuts, teas, matcha powder, sauces as well as a variety of jams, nut butter and preserves. If you would rather dine in, there are several self-serve cafeterias for that too. We love it here!

2. Night life – The Fernbank IMAX Theatre

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If museums are up your alley, you can never go wrong at Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Dedicated to showcasing science, dinosaurs, and natural history, Fernbank is one of the most popular museums in Atlanta. It is always home to crowds of people, both old and young. However, the institution has a well-kept secret: Fernbank’s “Martinis & IMAX” night. It is a truly unique experience. The museum opens its full bar and hosts live music performances while giving guests a chance to see a newly released flick on the big 72-foot screen.

Guests will enjoy special cocktail menus, small plates, and be able to dance to live music. This increasingly popular event – the very first and only one of its kind in Atlanta – is held every Friday (excluding holiday weekends) from 7pm to 11pm. The live performance begins at 7:30pm. What’s more, they will be hosting the annual “Martinis & IMAX” this Friday, October 28th; a ghoulish delight just for adults!

3. Japanese Garden – The Zen Garden at the Grand Hyatt

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In the midst of the busy intersection of Piedmont and Peachtree is an oasis of calm: The Grand Hyatt Atlanta’s Japanese Zen garden. Here you can take a break from your hectic day to meditate, commune with nature or read a book. The garden’s design includes principles and features of classic Japanese gardening. This includes the main gate, bridge, open tea house (Azumaya), a bamboo fence in the traditional Japanese carpentry style, dry landscape (Karesansui), a well-type basin (Kakeni) and a variety of rock arrangements.

The water running through the garden from east to west symbolizes Luck and Prosperity. Based on the compatibility with this distinctly Japanese design, some local Atlanta plants and rocks were also incorporated. Technically, you are supposed to be a guest at the Grand Hyatt Atlanta Hotel to Zen out, but sipping sake at the hotel’s bar should get you enough karma credit to stroll through the garden.

4. Hiking trail – The East Palisades Trail

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Hiking alongside Atlanta’s most famous river is a must, but to do so while taking the less beaten track can be highly rewarding. The East Palisades Trail follows the Chattahoochee River’s palisades section, one of the most scenic in metro Atlanta. Popular among kayakers for its class 1 and 2 whitewater rapids, the palisades are marked by visually striking, sharply angular rock slabs that punctuate the Chattahoochee’s flow.

There are two parks in the Palisades section of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, but the East Palisades Trail highlights the river’s lesser frequented eastern banks, exploring mill ruins, high-elevation overlooks and a bamboo forest along a network of running and hiking trails. Starting at the Indian trailhead, the trail mostly follows the wide-flowing river upstream. It leads to a tall bluff overlooking the river and views from this platform are simply outstanding, stretching upstream across the angular shoals of the Palisades.

5. Antique Shops – The Chamblee Antique Row

Journey through time as you stroll the stalls and enjoy the small-town atmosphere in the historic Old Chamblee. Chamblee’s Antique Row is actually a charming collection of resale shops and antique stores appealing to both world-wide travelers and local Atlanta residents. Antiques, consignments, thrifting and eateries abound. Antique Row’s cluster of antique emporiums retail shops and dining cafes are always a unique experience with their array of offerings.

Tour through the Antique Factory and take in over 8,000 square feet of furniture, beautifully bizarre trinkets, and everything in between. The Antique Factory also rents props to movie sets; its sofas featured prominently in The Hunger Games and Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.

Another shop you should check out in the district is Global Gems and Jewelry, which has been open for over 20 years. It specializes in buying and selling jewelry, gold, silver, diamonds, gemstones, antique coins and more. Rust n’ Dust is crammed with boxes, glass cases and shelves – with virtually every collectible you could imagine, from vintage cameras and medical paraphernalia (including human skulls) to antique appliances.

Chamblee Antique Row is a good place to spend the day with friends and family while watching the trains go by in the city.

6. Exotic Dining – The Havana Restaurant

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Exploring new places can be very tiring. Luckily, there are plenty of great sit-down eateries in Atlanta. However, few are as memorable (and as little known) as the Havana Restaurant, located at Buford Highway and Clairmont Road in the North Druid Hills neighborhood.

This the first restaurant to offer an all-Cuban menu in Atlanta. The most popular item on the menu? What else but the world famous Cuban sandwich! Also popular are the maduros (ripe plantains) empanadas (fried turnovers), the tostones (green plantains) and yucca frita (yucca fries) which also double as incredible side items. Apart from the Cuban cuisine, friendly staff are also on hand to prepare and serve many Latin American beverages. They also have a good selection of wine by the glass. The ambience is laid back and casually elegant. Good for a date, or just a few friends looking for some memorable eats.

7. Chef’s Table – Local Three Kitchen and Bar

Tucked away beneath a Tuscan Villa inspired office building just off Northside Parkway, the Local Three Kitchen and Bar is the brainchild of three Atlanta locals who wanted to bring their passion for food, and bourbon to the masses. The Local Three’s stainless steel kitchen is nearly as big as it dining room, and diners sit in a prep area overlooking a brigade of chefs busy preparing their signature eight-course tasting menu. They are not content to have what everyone else is serving, Local Three has a jaw dropping selection of bourbon, with knowledgeable staff to guide you through the wonderland of Southern elixir.

They have everything needed to prepare every meal from scratch, including a butchery. The talented hands in the kitchen sometimes take apart whole hogs with care to bring porky goodness right to your plate. If pork isn’t your thing, these guys will whip up a trout dish so incredible that you will be guarding your plate from fellow diners. You will never regret putting yourself in their hands.

8. Wine Cellar – The Aria

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For wine lovers, this cellar table is an intimate space to spend the evening sandwiched between bottles in Aria’s wine cellar. To get here, you have to go through a kitchen, down a flight of creaky stairs and a dark, narrow tunnel. A corner booth at the cellar comfortably fits one or two couples and is the most intimate seat from which anyone can experience Aria’s signature offerings, such as herb crusted snapper and New York strip with black garlic.

Aria is probably one of the most romantic tables in the city – with perfect lighting and numerous candles. It may be a little humid – this is expected of all wine cellars – which enhances the authenticity of the experience. The food is simply out of this world; everything is flavored perfectly; you will find it hard to identify what seasoning the chef used because they ensure that everything blends harmoniously. The presentation is also as beautiful as the food is tasteful. The texture of individual dishes is noteworthy as the chefs seem put as much though into this dynamic as they do to seasoning and presentation.

9. Vegan Eatery: Tassili’s Raw Reality

Atlanta doesn’t have many raw and vegan eateries to boast of, making this West End spot worth a visit. If you are looking for a quiet spot to enjoy the best kale in Atlanta, then Tassili’s Raw Reality spicy or mild kale will give you a delightful experience. Unlike traditional restaurants, they have a unique variety of nutritious and delicious raw vegan foods.

Apart from kale, you’ll also get to sample Moroccan couscous, a hearty, vibrant blend of couscous, black olives and spices that bring the Casa Blanca street market right into your taste buds. Edamame medley, spicy naked tacos, angelic tomatoes, mushroom steak, and eggplant pizza among others. The portions are filling, the prices great and the staff is friendly.

This could be a great experience if you are not in a large group as each individual dish takes time to be prepared. You simply order at the counter and wait for your food to be prepared. You can sit down to eat, or take your food home. The atmosphere is warm and loving, the food healthy and nutrition top of the range. It is almost indescribable.

10. Decatur – La Brasas

There aren’t enough Peruvian style restaurants in Atlanta, but having just one that’s as good as La Brasas more than makes up for it! For eight years, La Brasas operated as a takeaway restaurant operated in a small brick building on Howard Street, now home to the Doggy Dogg hot dogs before moving to the former Burnt Fork BBQ space that allows plenty of room for table service and a full bar, as well as a separate to-go counter, in a setting that conjures a world of casual mom-and pop places. The living room’s designs feel like an afterthought – like the owners tossed up a few stripped blankets and llamas-on-canvas then called it a day.

They retained the longtime fans’ favorite menu item – Peruvian ale-marinated, herbed and spiced chicken cooked on a hardwood charcoal-fired rotisserie. If that doesn’t have your mouth watering, please check your pulse. Other popular menu items include hand-cut sweet chips, hand-cut fries, grilled asparagus that’s native to Peru and quinoa salad. All the meat products at this yummy roast house are from grass-fed beef. There is a bar to quench your thirst for Peruvian drinks with Pisco Sours, the national liquor or Peru being the premier drink.

Everything about the place, from the food to the service to the décor feels welcoming, but in a matter of fact way. If you feel like something warm and flavorful, nostalgic Peruvian food is what you need, and this is the place to get some.

11. Night Club – The Chapter Room

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This is a hidden bar beneath Taco Mac. You walk past the restaurant headed down the hill with the bank on your right. There is a pathway on your left just before you reach the next landing. Go through the door on your left then press the red button to attract staff attention. They will come for you. This place has a great ambience especially if you want to impress someone on a first date. The drinks are good with a collection of rare beers and the waitresses are always on top if things. Technically, you need a “Brewerversity Membership” to be allowed in but it is free to sign up.