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Most Atlantans wouldn't dream of depending exclusively on public transportation to get around, and after a few days in town you may agree. As a visitor, however, your chances of getting by without a car are somewhat better. Many of the major tourist spots are easily accessible via the MARTA rail system, but some, especially those in more suburban areas, are not.
Atlanta is incredibly spread out, and MARTA basically makes an "X" through the center of the core of the metro area, with one leg running north/south (with a spur to the northeast), and the other running east/west. For most visitors, the North/South and Northeast/South lines will be the ones you'll use, as they cover the airport, Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead, Perimeter Center, and the Brookhaven area. For other destinations, while you can transfer to one of MARTA's many buses, the routes are complicated for the uninitiated. MARTA is a great option for getting to and from the airport, though. Downtown Decatur, on the eastern side of the East/West line, is a wonderful place to eat and drink and its MARTA station is right in the heart of a charming town square. MARTA offers a "Visitor Pass" that is good for multiple days. MARTA's web site offers quick reference guides to the closest stations and relevant bus lines for popular tourist destinations and major hotels.
Cobb and Gwinnett counties operate their own transit systems (all bus-only) that are separate from MARTA but that have transfer arrangements with it. These tend to operate with schedules and routes catering to commuters from those areas, rather than tourists.
Renting a car is practically required for some destinations (e.g., White Water Park and Gwinnett Arena) and it can make a huge difference in finding the charm of Atlanta's many neighborhoods. But get ready to get lost, and be prepared for plenty of company on the roads -- Atlanta's traffic congestion is notorious. There's no logical grid system or simple numbering of streets, and streets have a disconcerting habit of changing names arbitrarily at times. Use GPS or get a good visitor map and depend on southern hospitality and long-winded directions. Yes, there are dozens of streets named Peachtree, but you know when you're on the main drag. It runs through the heart of the city. It's crowded. It's slow. But it does allow you to see some great parts of the city from Downtown to Buckhead.
Cabs are easy to find at the airport, but generally aren't plentiful enough to be hailed on the streets. On busy nights, they might be available in the more crowded parts of town, but it's a good idea to keep the number of a recommended taxi company and have them dispatched. Uber is very popular often easier than a taxi. Zipcar has come to Atlanta, a service offering rentals by the hour with no minimum if that suits your needs, but it's rarely less expesive than Uber or a rental car.
Walking is easy enough in Atlanta, but some parts of town are more pedestrian friendly than others (Decatur, Midtown, Downtown, Buckhead) with plenty of signals and crosswalks. Don't plan on cars giving pedestrians the right-of-way. Atlantans love their cars, for sure, and so few drivers ever walk that they don't watch for people like in other "walking" cities. The great irony is that the places in town that are among the best for strolling and site-seeing (like Virginia-Highlands) require a car to get there. There are so many great little 'pockets' to be discovered that aren't within walking distance from most hotels, or from one to the other. Don't expect to be able to walk from downtown into nice little shopping districts, there are just too many blocks to cover on foot.