The flame at Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park
Maria Smith

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

6 Can't-Miss Spots at Martin Luther King, Jr. Historical Park

No trip to this world-famous Atlanta landmark would be complete without visiting these notable spots.

One of the best places to learn about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is at the national park in Atlanta named in his honor. There is so much to do here for the whole family! The 35-acre site is home to The King Center, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home, outdoor monuments, and even a playground and recreation areas. Formerly a National Historic Site, in 2018, it was given the designation of a National Historical Park.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith
Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith

While you could spend hours exploring this impressive area in the Sweet Auburn Historic District in downtown Atlanta, there are some things you definitely should not miss. Check out the top six parts of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park that are "must-sees" for visitors of all ages.

6 Must-See Parts of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park

View the Children of Courage exhibit

Children of Courage Exhibit at The King Center in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith
Children of Courage Exhibit at The King Center in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith

Whether you have kids or not, take time to view the Children of Courage exhibit in The King Center Visitor Center. It is a wonderful way to bring history to life and to remind ourselves that change often started because of the actions of children and students. This exhibit, located in the open vestibule of the Visitor Center contains hands-on and informational exhibits to tell the story about how children participated in the civil rights movement.

See the beauty at the "I Have A Dream" International World Peace Rose Garden

World Peace Rose Garden at The King Center Visitor Center in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith
World Peace Rose Garden at The King Center Visitor Center in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith

Located in front of the King Center Visitor Center and bordering the Peace Plaza, there is a breathtaking garden, especially if you visit during the late spring or summer when all the bushes are in bloom. The International World Peace Rose Garden is not just a pretty place for a photo, though. It is a strategic garden, meant to showcase the importance and value of striving for the ideal of peace. Using the official flower of the United States, the rose, the starburst design of the 185 roses is an artistic interpretation of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you are facing the rose garden, you will be able to see the gravesites of both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. It is a peaceful, beautiful place.

Tour the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home

Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home brochure. Photo by Maria Smith
Martin Luther King, Jr. Birth Home brochure. Photo by Maria Smith

One of the coolest parts of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park is the well-preserved Martin Luther King Jr. Birth Home. It is the place where he spent the first 12 years of his life. The free, 30-minute tour is the only ranger-led tour of the park. However, it is difficult to get tickets for this tour. Only 15 people are allowed on each tour and they only run between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily. There is no advanced registration. Tours are filled on a first-come-first-served basis, and they fill up quickly.

Located in Atlanta's historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Birth Home gives a glimpse into the iconic civil rights leader's upbringing. - ©2015, Kevin Rose/AtlantaPhotos.com
Located in Atlanta's historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Birth Home gives a glimpse into the iconic civil

If you can snag a spot on one of the Birth Home tours, count yourself lucky! You will be intrigued by the period pieces in the home, like the upright piano. And even the most cynical of people, will feel a sense of awe walking up the same steps Dr. King walked up, standing on the same porch he played on, even seeing the upstairs bedroom where Dr. King was born. It’s like being a part of history!

Walk through Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

Inside Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith
Inside Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith

With all there is to see at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park, you may think skipping Ebenezer Baptist Church might make sense. However, you shouldn’t! The Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church is filled with history, reverence, and meaning. It is the place where Dr. King's father was a pastor. It's where Dr. King was baptized and was later co-pastor. It was also the place which hosted the funeral of Dr. King. One of the greatest American men to ever live spent much of his 39 years in and around this church. It should not be skipped!

Stained glass windows at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith
Stained glass windows at Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Photo by Maria Smith

There has been tremendous restoration work done on the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church over the last 30 years. It has been restored to resemble the way it looked during Dr. King's tenure, 1960-1968. Walk upstairs to the sanctuary to appreciate the careful preservation of the original stained-glass windows. You’ll be greeted with the surround-sound voice of Dr. King giving one of his Sunday sermons. Sit awhile and take it all in. The African American church was the backbone of the civil rights movement, so it is logical that this church carried, and still carries today, historic significance within the civil rights struggle. Go and see it for yourself!

View the Courage to Lead featured exhibit

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. funeral cart. Photo by Maria Smith
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. funeral cart. Photo by Maria Smith

This is one of the most popular areas at the King National Historical Park. Found inside the Visitor Center, the Courage to Lead exhibit informs visitors about the parallel paths of Dr. King and the civil rights movement. What led up to his stature as leader of this movement? What was his short public life really like? What was going on in the world that kept Dr. King and the desperation for equal rights on a collision path? This exhibit can answer all of those questions and more! Be sure to spend some quiet reflection time at the wagon that once was led by a mule, carrying the body of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Pay your respects at the graves of Dr. and Mrs. King

Gravesite of Dr. and Mrs. King. Photo by Maria Smith
Gravesite of Dr. and Mrs. King. Photo by Maria Smith

Visit the final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. Directly behind the tomb is the eternal flame, which symbolizes the continuing effort to realize Dr. King's ideals. This is a great spot for reflection and prayer (if either of those are your things).

Published: October 2019
Written by: Maria Smith