Home to the University of Georgia, Athens is a quaint college town in northeastern Georgia. With its artsy venues, impressive botanical gardens, and picturesque walking trails, this eclectic town is one of the must-visit destinations while exploring the state of Georgia. Whether you wish to explore the Victorian-era downtown area, join millennial bar-hoppers and enjoy the town’s diverse nightlife, or admire the beauty of historical architecture, Athens offers something for every traveler. To help you make the most out of your stay in this university town, we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Athens, GA.
1. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia
With over 300 acres of trees, blooms, and shrubs, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a heritage garden with 5 miles of hiking trails and broad pathways. Unlike the more famous Atlanta Botanical Garden which is usually overcrowded with tourists, this place offers fewer crowds and free entrance. Make sure to check out the tropical conservatory, as well as the medical garden where you will find many specimens of plants. There are also native and shade gardens that are home to wildflowers and azaleas. If you wish to learn more about gardening, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia offers many educational programs.
2. Georgia Museum of Art
Art lovers should not miss the Georgia Museum of art while staying in Athens. Located on university campus grounds, this extraordinary museum offers a world-class art experience with its award-winning programming, publications, and exhibitions. Expect to see a permanent collection of nearly 13,000 works of art, as well as dozens of rotating exhibitions and a beautiful sculpture garden. Keep in mind that educational group tours of the Georgia Museum of Art are only available upon request.
3. Downtown Athens
Whether you wish to get your shopping fix with a visit to clothing stores, jewelry shops, and independent boutiques or you want to enjoy both local Southern cuisine and international fare at many of the city’s wonderful restaurants and bars, a visit to downtown Athens, GA promises to be a memorable experience. Experience the hipster vibe at the Little Kings Shuffle Club or visit one of the many art galleries and studios in downtown Athens. If you wish to go out in the evening, I recommend paying a visit to the popular bars that can be found on Clayton and Washington Street.
4. Bear Hollow Zoo
Located in Memorial Park, Bear Hollow Zoo is not your average zoo. It is home to animals with physical health problems that have been rescued and are unable to survive alone in the wild. This amazing zoo also provides these animals with excellent veterinary care, housing, and food. Expect to see everything from a bobcat, river otter and a bald eagle to owls, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer. The entrance to the Bear Hollow Zoo is free of charge.
5. Sandy Creek Nature Center
Visitors who wish to experience nature should look no further than the Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA. With dozens of wetlands with hiking trails, a planetarium, and an extraordinary visitors center, the Sandy Creek Nature Center is home to animals such as turtles, frogs, and reptiles. It offers a vast array of educational programs ranging from a guided trail walk to fishing.
6. Tree That Owns Itself
Looking for weird things to do in Athens, GA? Visit the Tree That Owns Itself, one of the quirkier attractions in the city and a must-visit landmark for visitors who are into historical oddities. According to the legend, this special tree was beloved by Colonel William H. Jackson, a professor at the University of Georgia. The tree sits on the land that was once owned by the professor. Nowadays, Tree That Owns Itself is one of the most popular spots in Athens and a great place to snap a couple of cool photos.
7. Sandy Creek Park
Welcome to Sandy Creep Park, a 782-acre outdoor recreation area that is home to a 260-acre Lake Chapman, 20 miles of foot trails, boating activities, and hardwood forests. It is an ideal place to get away from the busy downtown area and enjoy some peace and quiet with friends and family over the weekends. Sandy Creek Park offers many recreational activities ranging from sports like basketballs and tennis to horseback riding, camping, and hiking. During the summer season, canoe and kayak rentals are available for about $5 per hour.
8. Lyndon House Arts Center
There are many interesting things to do in Athens GA and a visit to the Lyndon House Arts Center is an adventure for the entire family. This non-profit organization features several exhibits of both local and national art. However, the biggest attractions here are the amazing workshops suitable for both adults and children. For example, adults can attend workshops like pottery, drawing, and printmaking, while the little ones can enjoy classes that mostly focus on art media.
9. Double Barrel Cannon
Created during the Civil War, the Double Barrel Cannon is located right in front of the city hall and was meant to fire two balls towards the enemies. However, it was never used, as the chains would always break making the balls impossible to control. Today, this historical oddity is one of the most famous landmarks in Athens and a must-visit attraction for every history buff visiting the city, although it never saw military use.
10. Big Dogs on the River
If you wish to go kayaking while staying in Athens, visit the Big Dogs on the River. This kayaking service offers both single and tandem kayak rentals, as well as a short ride to the Middle Oconee River where the kayaks are located. Luckily, the 3.5 miles long Middle Oconee River is easy for paddling and the whole kayaking experience lasts for about 3 hours. Once you get back to Big Dogs, you can enjoy on-site facilities like picnic tables, grills, and a horseshoe pitch.
11. Birchmore Trail
For those who don’t know, Fred Birchmore is a local legend here in Athens. This aviator, community leader, and a college professor managed to cycle around the world and build the Great Wall of Athens. The local authorities decided to name a trail after him. Welcome to the Birchmore Trail, a mile-long pathway that is open to foot traffic only and passes through picturesque bridges and ravines. It is one of the most popular trailheads in Athens.
12. The Georgia Theatre
Originally built in the late 19th century, the Georgia Theatre in Athens used to serve as a Masonic Temple and a local YMCA. Unfortunately, the building was devastated in a fire back in 2009 and its future was uncertain, to say the least. Luckily, local authorities decided to restore the building and turn it into a music venue. Nowadays, the Georgia Theatre hosts live music shows and you can see both up-and-coming local artists and world-famous acts perform. At the top of the theatre, there is a nice restaurant that serves the most delicious pimento cheese ever.
13. T.R.R. Cobb House
A local author, politician, lawyer, and officer in the American Civil War, Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb is one of the most famous people from Athens. His house which was built in the 19th century is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and a must-visit destination while exploring Athens. If you wish to learn more about American history, this beautiful property is open to the public and offers guided tours.
14. Sanford Stadium
Football fans visiting Athens should definitely check out the famous Sanford Stadium which is home to the popular Georgia Bulldogs football team. With a capacity of over 92,000 seats, this amazing stadium hosted many soccer games during the Summer Olympic Games back in 1996. Apart from being home to a popular team in college football, the stadium also organizes large concerts. For instance, the famous country artist Luke Bryan performed here. For sports fans, seeing a game at Sanford Stadium is definitely a top thing to do in Athens, GA.