Coming into this year, I had an exciting plan to write a travel blog both for Georgia Tech fans traveling to away games and for fans of opposing teams coming to Atlanta to see the sights. Unfortunately, COVID made a comeback and has made the prospect of traveling across the country significantly more difficult. I don’t expect that to stop die-hard football fans, but I will recommend that if you are a Northern Illinois fan coming down for the game that you make sure to take the necessary precautions for traveling.
While there is no current travel restriction going to or from the state of Georgia, there is a minor one for Illinois at the time of writing this article. There doesn’t appear to be any hard prevention on travel, but it is recommended that you quarantine and receive a negative test upon travel to and from the state. As much as we all want to get outside and watch some good football games, please keep in mind the safety of yourself and others while you travel. Wear a mask, maintain your distance, wash your hands… all the stuff the CDC recommends. Got it? Good. With that out of the way lets talk about traveling to Atlanta.
Travel How To: Getting from Northern Illinois to Atlanta
For those unfamiliar, and I was definitely one of those before I googled it, Northern Illinois’ campus is located in Dekalb, Illinois. I have never been there personally, but pictures make the campus look beautiful. Unfortunately, Dekalb is about a 12-hour drive without stopping from midtown Atlanta (which might be why I’ve never been there) either mainly taking I-65 or I-24 for the majority of the trip. If you decide to take this road trip, I would recommend taking I-24 as it appears to have less tolls and takes roughly the same amount of time, although I-24 does seem to have major construction on the state border from Illinois to Kentucky which you should watch out for.
If you are not inclined to drive 12 hours, it may be a good idea to take a flight. Flights seem to be (relatively) cheap at around $100 and should only take about 2 hours from lift off to arrival. Keep in mind you will lose 1 hour when coming from Central Time to Eastern, so this is actually 3 hours. I could only find flights from Chicago O’Hare, even though Dekalb has a municipal airport, so this will entail some driving, and you will either need to rent a car or use Lyft or Uber to travel around Atlanta for your stay. Uber from the airport to Midtown will run you about $35. If you set up a hotel in Midtown, you should be able to walk for the rest of your stay. Lyft typically runs about $5 cheaper than Uber.
Honestly, renting a car is probably not the best idea unless you just get a great deal. There is not much parking in Atlanta and roads will get shut down on game day making driving more confusing. In general, it is worth it to avoid the headache and pay slightly more for Uber than trying to figure out which Peachtree Street is the right one in Atlanta.
Marta is also an option if you are planning to stay purely in Midtown. There is a Marta station at the airport which runs into midtown where there are 2 stops near campus. Be sure to read the map properly for which exit to take so you won’t have to walk extra blocks to your hotel. If you take Marta, try to travel lighter as well so you won’t have to carry large bags with you when exiting the station.
Places to Stay
This is where your trip may end up costing you. Hotels in Atlanta tend to be a bit expensive, especially around game day. In this case, the Georgia Tech vs. NIU game probably won’t raise costs, but the Bama vs. Miami game down the road (Ed. Note: and DragonCon!) may impact things. Most hotels near Georgia Tech Campus will run you $100 to $150 per night. Airbnb won’t help much; most renters have raised their prices because of the game day weekend, so unless you look in areas outside of Midtown, you’re going to struggle finding affordable places to stay.
Since affordability is out the window, I would recommend either staying at the Hampton Inn near campus or the Crowne Plaza for ease of access. Both are within walking distance of the stadium and allow access to many of the Midtown restaurants worth visiting. They are a slightly longer hike to places like Olympic Park and the Aquarium but are still in the area.
Things to See in Atlanta
There are so many things to see and do in Atlanta, it can be overwhelming. I think we’re going to have a few of these, so for this week I’ll just highlight the big items for sightseeing.
The Georgia Aquarium is down the street about 15 minutes walking from the Georgia Tech campus. It’s currently the third largest aquarium in the world, and the largest one in the United States. Go see some whale sharks and beluga whales, and have fun watching the otters.
In the same vicinity is the College Football Hall of Fame, a must visit for any college football fan. It has many interactive experiences to enjoy and large displays which make it a fun time for kids and adults alike.
There is also the World of Coke Museum, which records the history of Coca-Cola and has displays allowing you to drink coke products from around the world. These products can range from delicious to disgusting.
Finally, there is the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. This might seem like a downer, but in my experience, I learned quite a bit about the history and fight for civil rights in the country. It’s a surprisingly good time.
If you have kids, the Center for Puppetry Arts is further into Midtown, as is the Children’s Museum of Atlanta. There is also a new LEGO experience which I do not have experience with but has garnered rave reviews since its opening.
If you like Civil War history, check out the Cyclorama near the Atlanta Zoo, which is a giant painting of the battle of Atlanta which covers 360° of the battle.
For more nature-oriented people, check out Piedmont Park and the Atlanta Botanical Garden which is about a 20 minute walk from campus.
Food in the Area
Again there is too much food in Atlanta to list it all in this article.
For traditional gameday food, check out The Varsity, which is across the interstate from campus. It’s pretty much always busy, but it is the traditional place to grab lunch on gameday.
There is also an excellent burger bar called the Vortex which you need to check out if you are a fan of good burgers. The original Vortex is in Little 5 Points, which you will need to drive to, but there is a Vortex branch only a short walk from campus.
For more southern-oriented food, try Mary Mac’s down Ponce de Leon for some southern fried cooking. On the opposite spectrum, Fado Irish Pub can give you a more traditional Irish breakfast, if you are looking for a different taste.
Honestly, just within walking distance of the campus there are too many unique food places to find. Just take a walk and pick something out, you’re almost sure to enjoy it.
Most of the tailgating can be found near the stadium. Fraternities will celebrate up and down Techwood Drive. Families tend to congregate on Fifth Street Plaza. Many games and festivities will be set up near Peters Parking Deck. Most of the roads shut down on campus during gameday, but if you walk further into the campus, you will likely see students and alumni partaking in festivities on Tech Green near the student center.
Once the tailgating is over opposing fans will generally enter near the corner of North Avenue and Techwood Drive (I don’t remember the exact gate number, apologies). Generally this is where the opposing fans are seated in the corner of the stadium along the opposing team’s sideline. At that point sit back and hopefully enjoy a good game of football.
I hope you enjoy your trip to Atlanta and have a positive experience on the Georgia Tech Campus. I’ll apologize in advance to all the fans of the Huskies for when we beat y’all. Nothing personal, just business.