16 Actually Cool Things to Do in Athens, Georgia
From history tours to local breweries, there’s so much to do in Athens.
Thanks to the University of Georgia football team’s performance in the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship, Atlanta is no longer the only championship-winning city worth visiting in Georgia. Athens is only about an hour and a half north west of Atlanta, and although it is highly regarded as the home of the Dawgs, it’s so much more than an awesome college town. Athens is actually one of Georgia’s most predominant cultural hubs outside of Atlanta, as it boasts iconic historical establishments like the Morton Theatre (one of the first, and still operational, vaudeville theaters in the United States), plenty of great bars, and an array of phenomenal eateries. Add in art institutions, gorgeous outdoor recreation areas, and a rich music scene, and there’s undoubtedly something for everyone to enjoy, so regardless of why you’ve got your eyes on Athens, check out these 16 actually cool things to do once you get there.
Athens isn’t just a famous college town where you can expect to party and hit up bars—it’s also a place where you can enjoy some much-needed fresh air. In addition to recreation areas like Sandy Creek Park and the North Oconee River Greenway, the Firefly Trail really stands out as a great place to go walking, running, and—if you’re up for it—biking. A rail-trail that’s still in the process of expanding, the Firefly Trail first opened in 2017 as a 14'-wide, concrete trail along the historic Georgia Railroad. When it’s finished, it will stretch on for 39 miles, but as of right now, there’s still plenty of trail ready for you to get some good cycling in the next time you visit Athens.
Embark on an eccentric history tour
If you’ve never visited Athens before, then it’s only right that you get acquainted with its history, which dates back all the way to 1806. Considering that it’s been around for 220+ years, there’s a lot of quirky monuments and interesting places to explore, from the faulty Athens Double-Barreled Cannon from the Civil War era, the tree that (somehow?) owns itself, the breathtaking Taylor-Grady House, and so much more. If you’re only interested in a select few historical highlights, you can definitely embark on a self-guided tour as an excuse to explore the city, but if you want a more thorough understanding of Athens, check out the Historic Athens Welcome Center for fun experiences like the Historic Athens Heritage Shuttle Tour.
Dig through the crates at one of Athens’ many record stores
As a city that boasts a plethora of historical monuments and one hell of a music scene, it’s only fitting that Athens is the home of several physical music stores. Hunt down both obscure and mainstream finds for your record collection at locally owned shops like Wuxtry Records, The Record Booth, Low Yo Yo Stuff Records, and more.
Sandy Creek Park
Another great way to appreciate Athens’ beautiful outdoors is to spend the day on Lake Chapman. Accessible via Sandy Creek Park, Lake Chapman offers plenty of lakefront activities, from fishing and picnicking to boating. If you want to bring your boat out, that’s fine as long as it’s an electric or non-motorized watercraft, and there are also canoes and kayaks available to rent for $8/hour on the weekends from Memorial Day weekend to Memorial Day weekend.
If the Dawgs are playing, put on your red-and-black finest and head to one of the many, many bars downtown to watch Coach Smart jump up and down on the sidelines. If you're lucky enough to actually have tickets, make sure you get to the stadium early to beat the rush of stumbling college students yelling “Go Dawgs!” at every possible moment.
Bar hop to your heart’s content
Did I mention Athens has a ton of bars? Because it does. More than any one person should reasonably have access to. Aside from huge football game nights, they typically don’t have covers, so you can spend your money on what really matters. Highlights include Bar South, Flanagan’s, and Silver Dollar, As I've said before, Athens is a college town, so on weekends expect to be surrounded by students, and sometimes their parents?
Tour the local breweries
As you might expect from a city with multiple blocks dedicated almost exclusively to bars, Athens also has incredible breweries. Creature Comforts and Terrapin are centrally located , while the Southern Brewing Company is more northeast, and Akademia is closer to Bogart. Take a tour of one -- or all of them.
Some may think it’s just a glorified concert hall, but the Georgia Theatre has hosted national stars like Wu-Tang Clan, Tyler, the Creator, The xx, and Drivin N Cryin. Decked with a stunning Broadway-inspired sign out front, the Georgia Theatre is a stunning venue that's definitely worth the price of admission (get your tickets in advance!). And if amazing music isn’t enough to win you over, there’s also a rooftop bar that serves up legitimely delicious snacks like BBQ sandwiches, bánh mì, and pretzel bites.
Celebrate Taco Tuesday
It’s Tuesday. You just got off of work or out of class. You don’t have anything to do. So make use of your time and inhale some tacos and margs at one of Athens’ many Mexican restaurants, like Agua Linda, La Fiesta, Tlaloc, or Taqueria La Parrilla.
Bishop Park and Creature Comforts
If you’re looking for a place where you can shop sustainably in a delightful communal setting, check out the Athens Farmers’ Market. It’s open from March 5 through December 17 on Saturdays at Bishop Park, and from April 6 to November 23, the Athens Farmers’ Market will also be open at Creature Comforts Brewing. Vendors this season include Sundance Farm, R&R Secret Farm, Eno’s Baked, and Grands Designs, among many others.
University of Georgia
Although not as grand as the Atlanta Botanical Garden, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia still has plenty to offer -- like lighter crowds and free admission. Definitely force your friends to take pictures of you staring intensely into the camera with a field daffodils and peonies in the background. But there are other ways to spend your time here. See what events are coming up at the garden here.
Athens has a vast food scene. USA Today even named it one of the South’s most underrated food destinations in 2017. Skip the chains and hit up some of the locally owned favorites instead: classics include The Grill (go here for a retro diner experience, but expect a wait on the weekends), Last Resort Grill (yes, grills seem to be a trend), Clocked (get the Bayou Burger and thank us later) and Cali-N-Tito’s. In town for a special occasion and don’t feel like waiting an hour for a table at Last Resort? Try the crawfish etouffee at George’s Lowcountry Table, shrimp and grits at South Kitchen + Bar or chow on some Mediterranean-inspired dishes at The National.
University of Georgia
Thanks to the Georgia Museum of Art, even art aficionados have something to look forward to when visiting Athens. Yes, it’s on UGA’s campus (I’m sorry), but it’s in East Campus where you’ll really only see athletes, hyper middle schoolers on field trips, and the weary souls who have to trek from there to central campus where most classes are held. Plus, admission is free. Check out current and upcoming exhibits here.
Morton Theatre is a must-have on any Athens to-do list because it’s one of the first and still active vaudeville theatres built, owned, and operated by an African-American in the United States. During its prime, its stage was graced by musical acts like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bessie Smith. Today it serves as not only a historical landmark, but also a venue for concerts, dance performances, and other community events. Check out the events calendar to see who will be performing while you’re in town.
Some of the fun stuff to do in Athens is related to UGA and well, this is one of those things. Riding or walking around town you may start to notice bulldog statues painted with different colors and designs. Each one is made of fiberglass and identical in height. These pups were first installed by the Athens-Oconee Junior Women's Club in 2003 and have been sites of many selfies since. Now it’s your turn to find them all 30 of them, like Pokémon. You won’t win a prize or anything, but you will gain the satisfaction of seeing some pretty darn cool pieces of art.
Bear Hollow Zoo
Bear Hollow isn’t your typical zoo. Many animals housed there are classified as non-releasable, meaning they have encountered physical or behavioral challenges and would be unable to survive by themselves in the wild. Some of the animals you’ll see include American Black Bears, bobcats, a Bald Eagle, and some pretty intense-looking owls. Just don’t stare too hard.