Athens, Georgia, may be best known as the home of the University of Georgia and for being one of the best college towns in the country, but there’s much more to Athens than its higher education opportunities. While there’s plenty to do on the University of Georgia’s campus – from art museums to football games – there’s even more beyond the campus lines.
When you visit Athens, you’re stepping foot in a town with historical landmarks that are truly one-of-a-kind, a food scene that can’t be beat, and nightlife you’re not going to want to miss. This city may not be Georgia’s biggest, but it’s packed with activities that will make you never want to leave.
Planning a trip to Athens? We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Athens, GA, from seeing shows in historic theaters to cheering on the local athletes. Add these activities and attractions to your Athens bucket list, and you’re bound to have an incredible time in the Classic City!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Athens, GA
1. Attend a Show at the Classic Center
Wondering what to do in Athens during an evening out? Check out what’s happening at the Classic Center, which is always hosting amazing events for the Athens community.
More than a theater, the Classic Center is a gathering place designed to bring people together, whether it be over music, sports, or something else truly unique. Located in downtown Athens, the Classic Center is part performing arts theater, part exhibit hall, and part arena.
The Akins Ford Arena, located inside the Classic Center, is the home of the University of Georgia’s Ice Dawgs hockey team, and come winter, you can get out on the ice yourself when the Classic Center hosts Athens on Ice, its public ice skating rink. Meanwhile, over at the theater, you’ll find everything from Broadway shows to comedians to beloved musicians.
As a gathering place for Athens, you’ll also discover that the Classic Center hosts many of Athens’ best events throughout the year, like their annual Celebration of the Arts, which brings together live music, incredible performances, and gourmet cuisine. Or you can immerse yourself in Athens’ food and drink scene at their Athens Wine Weekend or Athens Beer Fest!
2. Cheer on the Georgia Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium
Athens is a college town, and its residents take great pride in supporting their student-athletes, which is why one of the most fun things to do in Athens, GA, is to live like a local by cheering on the Georgia Bulldogs, the University of Georgia’s football team.
Sanford Stadium, which the Georgia Bulldogs call home, has long been considered one of the best arenas in college football, and the fans are a big part of why. Average home attendance has ranked among the top 10 in the country for the past two decades.
When you attend a game here, you’ll feel the electricity right away. Before the end of the night, you’re bound to and will be proud to call yourself a Georgia Bulldogs fan!
Oh, and you’ll also fall in love with the mascot, Boom, known as Uga XI. This sweet English Bulldog is one of the few live mascots for a college football team. The Georgia Bulldogs’ live mascot is a tradition that dates back to 1956, with the pup taking on the name Uga, a play on the University of Georgia’s abbreviation. Uga is always a highlight of Georgia Bulldogs games.
3. Paddle Around the Broad River
Athens is filled with natural beauty, and one of the best ways to see it is by spending time floating down the Broad River. The Broad is one of Georgia’s last free-flowing rivers. With mild rapids, it makes for a perfect place to kayak.
Stop by Broad River Outpost for a perfect day out on the water. This outpost has everything you need, whether you’re a beginner or a more experienced kayaker.
Up for a challenge? Rent a solo kayak to take on the whitewater section of the river, where you’ll see cascading rocks, a waterslide, a waterfall, and rock gardens along your bumpy journey.
Rather just have a relaxing ride? Broad River Outpost offers a free shuttle to get you upstream to the section of the river that provides more of a scenic float for some Athens sightseeing. There’s only one easily-avoidable rapid along this stretch of river. Instead, you’ll gently float along the water, taking in the scenic views and looking for the river’s natural inhabitants, like turtles and otters.
Want to do both but don’t think you could do it all in one day? Broad River Outpost offers campsites that are free to use for their paddling guests. Come to do a scenic float one day, then camp out and wake up the next morning to try the whitewater rapids.
4. Explore Sandy Creek Nature Center
Spending a day at the Sandy Creek Nature Center is one of the best things to do in Athens, GA, especially if you’re a nature lover or are traveling with children. This nature preserve, which is free to visit, covers 225 acres of woodlands and wetlands, with 12 trails covering four miles for guests to explore. These trails offer a look at the creatures who call this area home, as well as a look at Athens’ past as you walk past historical landmarks like the ruins of the Georgia Brick Company.
But perhaps what makes the Sandy Creek Nature Center so special is that you’re not left on your own to explore. To really understand what you’re seeing and learn more about the animals and their habitats, the nature preserve provides binoculars, identifiers, and educational trail packs, which you can check out for free at the Education & Visitor Center.
While you’re in the Education & Visitor Center, you can learn much more about the biomes around you. Stop by the Exhibit Hall, where you’ll find the Interactive Learning Centers, which explore the connections between people and nature in coastal, wetland, urban, agricultural, and woodland environments.
Throughout the exhibit hall, you’ll see marine aquariums, freshwater ponds, a planetarium, and a litany of live animals and interactive elements to really immerse yourself in the Exhibit Hall’s lessons. Outside, you’ll discover even more fun for little ones with the Nature Playscape, a playground designed with nature at its core.
5. Enjoy a Concert at the Georgia Theatre
Want to discover Athens’ music scene? Head to the Georgia Theatre for an evening out. Seeing a show at the Georgia Theatre is one of the coolest things to do in Athens and a can’t-miss experience.
This standing-room-only venue has been a part of downtown Athens since 1935 when it initially opened as the Elite Theatre. Today, the marquee is a part of Georgia’s history, lighting up the night and welcoming guests to see both local up-and-comers and well-known international acts. Though the theater was greatly devastated by a fire in 2009, Athens just couldn’t let this treasure go, so it was rebuilt and opened in 2011.
As you approach the venue, you’ll first pass by the Athens Music Walk of Fame. Inside, you can head on in to see your show, or you can venture up to the rooftop, where you’ll find a bar with stunning views of the downtown area. Grab a drink or a cup of coffee and enjoy the panorama. Performers often also grace the rooftop stage, giving you a show with your drinks.
6. Immerse Yourself in the Beauty of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia
Sitting atop 313 beautiful acres, visiting the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is one of the best Athens activities. Operated by the University of Georgia, this garden, which is free to visit, is just a short drive from downtown Athens. With numerous collections to explore, there’s always something to do and see in this botanical garden.
Over in the conservatory, you’ll discover unique plants that you can only see in equatorial climates. You’ll also see and learn about herbs and how they have affected cultures throughout time.
There are five miles of nature trails to explore, where you’ll see plants native to the region. You’ll also spy native plants in the Dunson Native Flora Garden, the oldest garden here, which is home to over 300 species native to the southeastern US.
Other gardens include the Shade Garden, which is divided into sections and named for each of the Garden Club of Georgia Districts; the International Garden, with plants from around the world; and the Heritage Garden, featuring heirloom flowers with cultural significance to Georgia. Little ones will love the Alice H. Richards Children’s Garden, which offers interactive elements like garden plots with edible plants, a treehouse, a fossil wall, and a granite map of Georgia.
7. Check Out the Exhibits at the Georgia Museum of Art
At the University of Georgia, you’ll find the Georgia Museum of Art, the official state art museum and one of the must-do things to do in Athens. It’s a museum that focuses on showcasing the works of the past, present, and future of art.
The museum houses a permanent collection of more than 10,000 works of art, but you’ll also find several temporary exhibits here throughout the year, such as rotating exhibitions of work by women sculptors in the Jane and Harry Willson Sculpture Garden. Inside the Georgia Museum of Art, you’ll discover Renaissance and Baroque art, art collected throughout American history, showcases of African-American artwork, and much more.
As the museum initially began with a donation of 100 American paintings, American artwork remains at the heart of the Georgia Museum of Art. In addition to painting and sculpture, you’ll also discover unique artifacts collected throughout time, from hand-carved furniture to silver servingware.
8. Take in the Vaudeville Scene at the Morton Theatre
Seeing a show at the famous Morton Theatre belongs on your Athens bucket list. Located in downtown Athens, this historic theater was one of the first and the oldest surviving vaudeville theaters in the US to be built, owned, and operated by an African-American man. Monroe “Pink” Morton created the theater, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1910.
Throughout its history, it’s been more than a theater. It’s been a gathering place for the African-American community in Athens, having also housed many of Athens’ Black doctors, dentists, pharmacists, and other professionals. Today, it continues to be a place for the Athens community to gather, with the theater hosting numerous events of all kinds throughout the year.
From Broadway musicals to unique acts from local performers, the theater plays shows of all different types. Stop in to step inside a piece of history and then stick around to see acts you won’t see anywhere else!
9. Find the Dawg Sculptures
If you’ve seen a Georgia Bulldogs game, you’ve likely already seen Uga, the team’s live English Bulldog mascot. But did you know that there are more bulldogs hanging out around the city? Searching for these statues is easily one of the most unique things to do in Athens, GA!
Dating back to 2003, these statues were originally a public art display called “We Let the Dawgs Out,” the brainchild of the Athens-Oconee Junior Women’s Club. Painted by local artists, the original three dozen pups showed off the many different sides of Athens.
The project ended in 2010, with the statues being auctioned off to support AIDS Athens. But many of the original figures, as well as some new additions, can still be found around the city.
Standing proud at four feet tall, these fiberglass statues all have their own unique personality. Snap a selfie with the sharply-dressed Archie or swing by to visit Dorothy, decorated to look like a service dog. Uga may be the Georgia Bulldogs’ mascot, but these dawgs are Athens’ unofficial mascot.
10. See the Unique Creatures of Bear Hollow Zoo
Located within Memorial Park, Bear Hollow Zoo is more than a zoo. It’s a place for animals with nowhere else to go. This Athens attraction, which is free to visit, is home to creatures who are considered non-releaseable. These critters are facing either physical or behavioral challenges that make them no longer fit to live in the wild.
Instead, Bear Hollow Zoo has taken them in to protect and rehabilitate them. These animals and their keepers teach visitors about just what these creatures are and how we can do our best to protect and preserve them and their natural habitats.
Watch the river otters play, marvel at the strength and majesty of the black bears, check out the slithery snakes in the Reptile House, and much more. To take in more natural beauty of Memorial Park, explore the Birchmore Trail and Lake Walkway Loop after you leave the zoo.
11. Step Back in Time at the Georgia Museum of Natural History
Found on the University of Georgia’s campus, the Georgia Museum of Natural History may not be the largest natural history museum around. But it is still one of the most unique things to do in Athens and is well worth a stop if you’re nearby. It’s also free to visit!
Though relatively small, the museum has an impressive number of artifacts, with 11 distinct collections covering anthropology, arthropods, botany, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, invertebrates, mammalogy, mycology, ornithology, and zooarchaeology. You can explore these collections through the museum’s exhibits.
While children are invited to explore, it’s important to note that this museum isn’t particularly child-friendly, and you won’t find interactive exhibits that frequently entertain young children at other museums. While children under five are invited to visit, the museum is recommended for children older than five.
12. Sign Up for a Workshop at the Lyndon House Arts Center
The Lyndon House Arts Center is much more than an art museum. It’s a place filled with art, history, and education, and spending time here is one of the top Athens activities.
Located in downtown Athens, the arts center began with the historic Ware-Lyndon House, which functions today as a museum that tells the history of those who once inhabited the home. While the Ware-Lyndon House, which is found on the National Register of Historic Places, remains the centerpiece of the Lyndon Arts Center, a 33,000-square-foot addition was built upon the home, which serves as a place to celebrate and partake in art.
The Lyndon House Arts Center, which offers free admission, showcases unique artwork throughout its galleries. You can dive deeper into the stories behind these works of art with the arts center’s Artists Talk. Want to learn to create art yourself? You can learn to master different techniques with the arts center’s many workshops, classes, and clubs!
13. Stop by the Tree That Owns Itself
Love historical oddities? Be sure you stop by the Tree That Owns Itself, one of the strangest and coolest Athens attractions.
How exactly could a tree own itself? You’ll have to ask Colonel William H. Jackson. The story, which was first printed in a local newspaper in 1890, goes that Jackson was so fond of the tree that he deeded the tree possession of itself, as well as all the land within eight feet of its trunk.
This beautiful white oak sits on the corner of Dearing and Finley Streets in downtown Athens. But the original tree, which was estimated to be around 400 years old, no longer exists, as it fell over during a wind storm in 1942.
Not wanting the story to end with the tree, the Junior Ladies Garden Club gathered acorns from the site and began growing another generation of the Tree That Owns Itself. Four years later, the club planted a sapling grown from the original tree, which now sits in the same spot its parent once lived.
14. Kayak Down the Oconee River
Kayaking down the Middle Oconee River is one of the most fun things to do in Athens, and the best way to do it is with Big Dogs on the River. Whether you’re new to kayaking or an experienced paddler, this kayak rental company makes it easy by providing you with everything you need, including equipment and transportation, to spend a day out on the river.
Big Dogs on the River is located along the Middle Oconee River, which is a mostly easygoing stream, providing a relaxing day out on the water. From their location, they’ll take you for just a 15-minute shuttle ride upstream, where you’ll float back down the river toward the Big Dogs’ facilities at your own leisure.
Back at Big Dogs, you can spend the afternoon hanging out at their Cabana. Play horseshoes or volleyball, listen to live music, or have a picnic. A day with Big Dogs is a day filled with fun and adventure.
15. Build Your Own Food Tour
Athens may be a college town, but it’s also a perfect place for foodies. But as a smaller city than Georgia’s major cities, like Atlanta, it’s harder to find designated food tours. But that just means you’ll have to spend some time building your own itinerary. And trust us – it’s worth doing some research!
From barbecue to brunch to burgers, the food scene here can’t be beat. Stop by Mama’s Boy for a massive cinnamon bun and brunch favorites. Hungry for more? Grab a fish taco from local favorite Cali N Tito’s.
Or get a little crazy and try the peanut butter and bacon burger from Clocked. And if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you cannot miss the bean-to-bar chocolate bars over at Condor Chocolates. From Thai to Jamaican, vegetarian bites to barbecue pork, anything you’re craving can be found in Athens.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Athens, Georgia. What are your favorite things to do in Athens, GA? Let us know in the comments!
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