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
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
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
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
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:
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
one of a series on Atlantic City, NJ, see
1. All about visiting Atlantic
2. Where to
stay in Atlantic City
Where to eat
and drink in Atlantic City
What to see and do
in and around Atlantic City
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26 June 2009, last update
21 Jul 2020
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