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Whether you are looking to splurge or unwind, Atlantic City will provide you with what you need.

Famous for its boardwalk, casinos, sandy beaches, shopping centers, spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and as the inspiration for the game of Monopoly, there's lots to appeal to all visitors in Atlantic City.

 
 
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All About Visiting Atlantic City, NJ

The East Coast's alternative to Las Vegas
 


A night view of some of Atlantic City's casinos, as seen from the water.

Part one of a series on Atlantic City, NJ, see also

1.  All about visiting Atlantic City, NJ
2.  Where to stay in Atlantic City
3.  Where to eat and drink in Atlantic City

4What to see and do in and around Atlantic City

 

 

Atlantic City, the East Coast's gambling alternative to Las Vegas, is located on Absecon Island on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, is easily reached by car, bus, rail or plane.

Whether you are wanting to hit the casinos, go shopping or just lounge on the beach, and whether you stay for just one night or several, you are sure to enjoy your time in this vibrant city and its environs.

Why Visit Atlantic City

Once known affectionately as "America's Playground", Atlantic City still has much to offer the visitor. While it may not offer the vast array of casinos to be found in Las Vegas, there is more to Atlantic City than just gambling. Indeed, it is possible to fill several days without once entering a casino.

The biggest attractions aside from the casinos are the beach and historic boardwalk. If fun in the sun is your thing, get yourself a beach chair and soak up the rays - cooling off as necessary with a dip in the Atlantic Ocean. Alternatively, you can easily while away the better part of a day strolling the boardwalk, people watching, checking out the buskers, perhaps indulging yourself at some of the many sideshow attractions that are to be found or amusing yourself in some of the countless tacky souvenir stores.

If sightseeing is your thing you will find a wide array of activities. Everything from organized walking or bus tours to sightseeing cruises and even helicopter rides are available.

If you would prefer to ignore the sights and just indulge yourself the options are wide ranging. The eating and drinking choices are many and varied and if shopping is your preferred past-time, there are lots of good shops too, including both a wide array of high end stores where you can quickly spend all your casino winnings as well as many outlet stores.

For the night owls there is plenty of entertainment on offer. All the casinos, of course, are open 24 hours, as are several other bars and restaurants. Top national and international performers appear regularly at casinos and there is no shortage of other nightlife attractions scattered around the city.

Should you tire of the city itself, there are numerous attractions nearby that present opportunities for a day trip.

The best time of year to visit may depend on what you want to do. Obviously during the summer, which is warm and humid, is when the most people are here and is the best time to take advantage of the beach. Spring and fall are both somewhat erratic but generally pleasant and while the winters are generally cold (with temperatures dropping to 10F/-12C for ten days a year), you can take advantage of the off-season rates. Similarly, a midweek visit is likely to cost you far less than a weekend, particularly during the summer.

A Quick Overview of Atlantic City

Beginnings

Founded in 1854, the same year that train service began from Philadelpia, Atlantic City has always been a resort town. Located in South Jersey, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, between marshlands and islands, Atlantic City became prime real estate for developers and quickly became a popular beach resort due to its proximity to Philadelphia, earning it the nickname "The Lungs of Philadelphia".

The first boardwalk was built along a section of the beach in 1870 in order to help hotel owners keep sand out of their lobbies. The idea took off and the boardwalk was expanded and modified numerous times in the following years. Prior to the 1944 hurricane, which destroyed a significant number of the city's structures, the boardwalk had grown to become about 7 miles long, stretching from Atlantic City through Ventnor and Margate all the way to Longport.

Today, the boardwalk is 4.12 miles long and 60 feet wide and is reinforced with concrete and steel. If you add to this the Ventnor boardwalk as well - the boardwalk no longer extends to Margate or beyond - it becomes the world's longest boardwalk at approximately 5.75 miles.

Ocean Pier, the world's first oceanside amusement pier was built off the boardwalk in 1882. Among the other famous piers are the Steel Pier (1898), once billed as the "Showplace of the Nation" and now used as an amusement pier; the Million Dollar Pier (1906), which now plays host to the Pier Shops at Caesars; and the Garden Pier, which once housed a movie theater and now houses the Atlantic City Historical Society and an Arts Center. Other piers that no longer survive include the Steeplechase Pier and the Heinz Pier, famous for its Pickle Pins until it was destroyed in the 1944 hurricane.

The Building Boom

In the early part of the 20th Century Atlantic City experienced a radical building boom as many of the modest boarding houses to be found along the boardwalk were replaced with large, grand hotels. Two of the most distinctive of these were the Marlborough-Blenheim Hotel and the Traymore Hotel.

In 1903 Josiah White III built the Queen Anne style Marlborough House near Ohio Ave and the Boardwalk. The large hotel was such a success that, in 1905-1906, he decided to expand onto an adjoining parcel of land. In an attempt to make his new hotel a conversation piece he hired the architectural firm of Price and McLanahan, who decided to utilize the still-new building material of reinforced concrete. The new hotel's Spanish and Moorish themes, along with its signature dome and chimneys, represented a break from other hotels that had a classically designed influence. White named this new hotel the Blenheim and later merged the two hotels into the Marborough-Blenheim. Bally's Atlantic City was later built close to this location.

The Traymore Hotel was located at the corner of Illinois Ave and the boardwalk. What had started off as a small boarding house in 1879 went through a number of uncoordinated expansions until 1914 when the hotel's owner, taking inspiration from the success of the Marlborough-Blenheim, hired Price and McLanahan to build an even bigger hotel. Rising 16 stories high, the tan brick and gold capped hotel made use of ocean-facing rooms by extending its wings farther from the main portion of the hotel and would become one of the city's best known landmarks.

A number of other large hotels were then constructed along the boardwalk. Among the better known of these were the Brighton, Chelsea, Shelburne, Ambassador, Ritz Carlton, Mayflower, Madison House and the Breakers. In the 1920s the Quaker-owned Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel became the city's largest hotel with almost 1,000 rooms. By 1930, the Claridge, the city's last hotel to be built before the casinos, had opened its doors. At 24 stories, it became known as the "Skyscraper By The Sea."

In its heyday during the first half of the 20th century so much happened in Atlantic City: Presidents came to speak, magicians dazzled audiences, amusement piers came and went and came again and countless other pieces of history were made. Atlantic City had razzle-dazzle, craziness, in-your-face showiness, corporate enterprise, and everything in between. It was truly deserving of its title as America's Playground.

The Decline of Atlantic City

In the mid to late 20th Century, however, Atlantic City fell victim to the poverty, crime and disinvestment by the middle class that plagued many of the older east coast cities. While a number of factors contributed to the demise of Atlantic City as a resort destination the most significant was the rise of air travel, which made more glamorous beach resorts in the Caribbean and elsewhere easily accessible.

By the late 1960s the few remaining tourists were typically poor, elderly or both. Many of the resort's great hotels, which had been suffering from embarrassing vacancy rates, were either closed or converted to cheap apartments or nursing home facilities. Most would be demolished in the 1970s and 1980s. Of all the pre-casino resorts that bordered the boardwalk, only the Claridge, the Dennis (now part of Bally's Park Place), the Ritz Carlton and the Haddon Hall (now Resorts) survive to this day. The steel frame of the old Ambassador Hotel was used for the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, although its distinctive brick facade was replaced. For a great portrayal of Atlantic City at the dawn of the casino era we can heartily recommend Louis Malle's 1981 film, Atlantic City.

The Rebirth of Atlantic City

In 1976, in an effort to revitalize the city, New Jersey voters approved casino gambling for Atlantic City. The Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel was converted into the Resorts International, which became the first legal casino in the eastern United States when it opened on May 26, 1978. More casinos were soon added along the boardwalk and later in the marina district and today there are currently a total of 11 casinos operating. Since 1976 tourism has skyrocketed from having become virtually nonexistent to over 30 million visitors a year.

Getting to and from Atlantic City

Atlantic City, located towards the southern end of the Jersey shore, is easy to get to by car, bus, rail or air. It is just 60 miles to Philadelphia, while New York City is 120 miles away.

By car

If you are driving by car, you can approach from the north, south or west. If you are arriving in the early evening on a summer weekend the traffic can become congested as you near Atlantic City. Most other times, however, traffic flows freely.

From the north, major interstate highways connect with the Garden State Parkway South, to the Atlantic City Expressway.

From the south, I95 to Delaware Memorial Bridge to Route 40 to Route 322. Or, via Lewes, Delaware, take the Cape May-Lewes Ferry to the Garden State Parkway North to the Atlantic City Expressway.

From the west, via Philadelphia, Walt Whitman Bridge to North South Freeway to Atlantic City Expressway.

If not taking a car with you

If you do not want to take a car with you, there are any number of alternatives you can consider.

By Rail

New Jersey Transit's Atlantic City rail line runs from Philadelphia and numerous smaller South New Jersey smaller communities to the Atlantic City Rail Terminal at the Convention Center.

On February 6 2009 an express service (ACES) between New York's Penn Station and the Atlantic City Rail Terminal, with a stop at Newark's Penn Station, began a trial run.

Free casino shuttle service is available from the Rail Terminal to all casinos.

By Bus

Frequent coach service is available from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and most New Jersey communities. While most buses start or end their journey at the Atlantic City Bus Terminal they usually also make a stop at one or more casinos to pick up or drop off passengers.

Most buses originating in the nearby major urban centers offer casino credits to all passengers who get off at the casino stops. Typically this credit is close to the cost of the round trip fare, making your travel costs practically zero.

Among the major carriers offering service to Atlantic City are Academy Bus, New Jersey Transit and Greyhound.

Flying to Atlantic City

Atlantic City has its own international airport just nine miles to the northwest of the downtown area, from which shuttle, taxi and rental car service is available.

The airport's city code is ACY, and it has scheduled service with a number of the smaller regional US airlines. Due to the relative lack of major carrier flights, many visitors choose to fly into Philadelphia (60 minutes drive away), or even Newark, where a far greater range of carriers are available. If you do choose to fly into Philadelphia it is probably best to rent a car at the airport as otherwise you will need to make your way into the city center in order to connect with transportation to Atlantic City.

Traveling around Atlantic City

One of the things we like most about Atlantic City is that the city is compact, with most attractions being located on or close to the boardwalk, and you can easily walk from almost any point of interest to anywhere else.  On top of this, the town is completely flat and it is easy to find your way around.

Indeed, unless you are planning on visiting some of the out of town attractions, you will likely find that your car stays in your hotel car park for the duration of your visit.

If you do drive around the city, traffic is usually light to moderate, and parking is relatively easy to find - either on street metered parking or in parking buildings, with the casinos in particular offering plenty of parking, although all charge $5 or $10 to park, even if you are gambling at the casino.

If you do not want to walk or drive around the city there are plenty of taxis available as well as bus service provided by New Jersey transit and four jitney bus routes that link the all the casinos via Pacific Ave.

For a change of pace you may like to hire one of the many rolling chairs that have patrolled the length of the boardwalk since 1884. As the name suggests, these are essentially chairs on wheels - they seat two people comfortably - that are pushed along the boardwalk by their operator. They have a roof over them to shield you from the sun and in the colder months the seats are enclosed in clear plastic to protect you from the elements. There are hundreds of these rolling chairs available on the boardwalk, although, with rates starting around $5 for up to five blocks, this can prove to be an expensive way to travel.

How Long to Stay in Atlantic City

Most people who live nearby - for example, in Philadelphia or elsewhere in New Jersey - will typically visit for somewhere between a single day and a long weekend.

That's not to say you can't readily spend more time in Atlantic City, but people who live nearby, especially those whose visit is motivated by the desire to gamble, usually visit Atlantic City on a regular basis, and so don't feel the need to see and do everything in a single visit. That is, if they even have any interest in activities outside a casino.

How long should you stay in Atlantic City?  The answer to this question will probably depend on how much time and what sort of budget you are working with, how far you have to travel to get there and the purpose of your visit.

If your visit is solely for the purpose of gambling in a casino and you are not coming from too far away then it is possible to make a day trip out of it. On occasions this writer has driven down from New York in the evening, gambled through the night and driven back after an early morning breakfast.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you are looking to soak up all that Atlantic City has to offer - a day or two at the beach, shopping, sightseeing, nightlife, etc - you can easily fill up a week's stay.

We recommend you spend at least two nights in this fun city - this would give you one full day, plus time on the day you arrive and the day you depart, along with two nights that could be split between the casinos and the other nightlife available.  A three night stay would give you two full days, so you could perhaps spend one day at the beach and another day visiting some of the other attractions around the city or nearby.

It is uncommon to find people staying four or more nights, but if you have plenty of time and don't expect to be back in the foreseeable future, why not stay an extra night or two so you can indulge yourself and take advantage of more of what Atlantic City has to offer. This may not be an option for the middle of winter, but in the summer time you are unlikely to be disappointed that you stayed a little longer.

Read more in Parts 2, 3 and 4

Part one of a series on Atlantic City, NJ, see also

1.  All about visiting Atlantic City, NJ
2.  Where to stay in Atlantic City
3.  Where to eat and drink in Atlantic City

4What to see and do in and around Atlantic City

 

If so, please donate to keep the website free and fund the addition of more articles like this. Any help is most appreciated - simply click below to securely send a contribution through a credit card and Paypal.

 

Originally published 26 June 2009, last update 08 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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