Known as the home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, Athens, Georgia is much more than a college town. A little more than an hour outside Atlanta, this laid-back city is a short-drive destination that is long on diversion. From the Antebellum architecture, boutiques and galleries to the up-and-coming food scene, it’s one of the best Atlanta day trips for Southern hospitality away from the big city. Take a look at our guide to Athens for the city’s top spots.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Athens is the Georgia Theatre, an 1889 building rebuilt after a fire in 2009. The venue has hosted the likes of Athens-native band R.E.M. and The Police, and continues to rock with concerts and special events most nights of the week. Another must-visit attraction is The State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which offers acres of native and international blooming plants and five miles of trails.
Each year, Athens’s streets come alive for special events. From AthFest (a multi-day music and arts festival) to The Twilight Criterium (a weekend of bicycle races, activities for kids, live music and beer gardens) there is always something going on. To witness a real scene, visit during a University of Georgia football game in the autumn and see the town explode in a sea of red-and-black clad students and alumni.
If you’re looking for good food, you’ve come to the right place. Athens is awash in memorable meals from early mornings to late nights. Start your day off with breakfast at Mama’s Boy or Ike & Jane Café and Bakery, where the 20 or so daily house-made doughnuts come with a variety of toppings. For dinner, head to one of Chef Hugh Acheson’s restaurants: Five & Ten or The National. Both are great for date nights, as are The Branded Butcher (local and organic produce, pasture-raised meats and delicious charcuterie) and The Last Resort, an eatery combining a bohemian ambiance with contemporary Southern cooking. For a selection of vegetarian specialties that even meat eaters love, grab a table at The Grit.
If drinking (with a side of food) is more your speed, there are establishments serving craft brews and hand crafted cocktails with tasty bites at every turn. Enjoy a beer or single malt scotch alongside live folk music at The Globe, an Irish-style pub opened in 1989. Trappeze Pub offers a top-notch beer list and high-calibre menu with items such as vegan Panang curry and imported cheese plates. For a pint and a football game, head to The Royal Peasant in Athens’s Five Points.
This town’s love affair with beer is best understood at the award-winning Terrapin Beer Company, where you can take a tour of the brewery and enjoy tastings and live music from the outdoor stage. Creature Comforts Brewing Company is a newer beer-making operation to hit the scene. Housed in a 13,000-square-foot historic building in downtown, it also invites beer aficionados for tours and sample suds.
Once you’ve had your fill of food and drink, walk it off by bouncing between Athens’s shops and galleries. Locally owned Alta Moda sells women’s clothes and accessories in restored Victorian home steps from the antebellum residences on sorority and fraternity row. Stop into Andrees Essential Soaps Inc. for all-natural cosmetics or head downtown to peruse the trendy apparel in Cheeky Peach or Native America Gallery‘s collection of pottery, handcrafted jewellery and gifts. For menswear, look no further than the preppy styling of Onward Reserve, and for custom leather goods, Masada Leather is the place to go.
After a day spent exploring this convivial Southern town, you’ll truly understand its draw. For local Atlantans and visitors from across the globe, it’s one of the top Atlanta day trips for those looking for a brief escape from the urban sprawl.
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Atlanta from London Heathrow, giving you the perfect excuse to put our guide to Athens to good use.
Have you been to any of the places in our guide to Athens? What are your favourite Atlanta day trips? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Giannina Smith Bedford