Guide to Athens
Explore this eclectic college town's many attractions, places to stay, great restaurants and events throughout the year.
Nicknamed the Classic City, the college town of Athens is best known as the home to the University of Georgia, which was established in 1875. It's also home to a thriving music industry that gave birth to big names like R.E.M. and the B-52s, both of which reference Athens in their music. Today, there's a thriving downtown with locally owned restaurants and shops as well as restored Victorian homes.
Things to Do
There’s plenty to do in Athens, even if you aren’t attending college football games.
The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a more than 300-acre site with numerous display gardens. There are five miles of nature trails where you can spot birds and other wildlife.
On the University of Georgia campus, the Georgia Museum of Art has a world-class collection that serves as the state’s official art museum. The permanent collection has more than 9,000 pieces by Georgians like Lamar Dodd and Howard Finster, along with international artists and student works. Admission is free with a suggested donation.
The UGA Special Collections Libraries are another resource of the campus, which holds items related to the history and culture of the state. It’s open for tours and includes a rare book and manuscript library and the Peabody Awards collection.
There are a number of historic homes in Athens, including the Ware-Lyndon Historic House. The Italianate design is one of the few seen on Antebellum homes. This National Register of Historic Places-listed house is also a museum and home to the Lyndon House Arts Center.
Live music is what really makes Athens shine. The most well-known venue is the Georgia Theatre, was built in 1935 and survived a devastating fire. It has hosted such acts as John Mayer, Zac Brown Band, and Sister Hazel, along with hosting live recordings. There’s even a rooftop bar! The 40 Watt Club is another favorite, hosting up-and-coming acts nearly every night of the week to crowds 18 and older.
Take advantage of the Classic City’s craft breweries. Terrapin Beer Company was the area’s first, winning awards for its beers since opening in 2002. Set in a former textile factory, the brewery hosts tastings, tours, live music and socializing on the lawn. Creature Comforts Brewing Co. transformed a 1940s tire warehouse in 2014 and went on to gain popularity for its flagship beer, Tropicalia. The newest on the block is Southern Brewing Co., which opened in 2015 and serves IPAs, porters, and a selection of beers you can only get onsite.
Set in Memorial Park, Bear Hollow Zoo is home to more than 120 species, including rescued animals that can’t be reintroduced into the wild. There are three black bears, bobcats, deer, owls and a bald eagle. The zoo is free and open daily.
Places to Stay
Spend the night or the weekend in one of Athens’ best hotels, which are located either downtown or near the highway.
Originally a foundry, the Graduate Athens is an outpost of the boutique hotel chain. The stylish space has an in-house spa, coffee shop, music venue and decor inspired by its college town surroundings.
Hyatt Place Athens Downtown is connected to the convention center and has nearly 200 rooms, including two suites. There’s also a bar and restaurant with free breakfast for members, free WiFi and a fitness center.
The Hilton Garden Inn Athens Downtown has ideal amenities for its 185 rooms, including free WiFi, in-room microwaves and refrigerators, and an onsite fitness center. There’s a full-service restaurant, where breakfast is served, and a quick-service store.
Inspired by the covered bridges found in the area, the Hotel Indigo Athens Downtown is a LEED-certified eco-chic boutique hotel with its own art gallery. The lobby coffee shop carries local Jittery Joe’s coffee, and the in-house restaurant is open all day.
The Holiday Inn Athens University Area is located within walking distance of the UGA campus with an onsite restaurant, fitness center and indoor pool, while the Holiday Inn Express Athens University Area offers free daily breakfast, free WiFi, a fitness center and an outdoor pool.
Also located a short walk from campus, the Courtyard by Marriott Athens Downtown features an onsite bar and restaurant, a fitness center, laundry facilities and an outdoor pool. The nearby Best Western Athens offers fresh-baked cookies daily, free breakfast and an outdoor pool.
Set in neighboring Watkinsville, the Springhill Suites Athens West has free WiFi, relaxing pool and fitness center. And the Homewood Suites (opening late 2018) is a short walk from the Classic Center and downtown Athens. Suites come with free WiFi and full kitchens, and guests have access to free breakfast and evening social daily.
Where to Eat
Athens is also a foodie city, helmed by celebrity chef Hugh Acheson.
James Beard Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson’s Five and Ten is one of the best restaurants in town and first opened in 2000. Now located in the historic Hawthorne House, the menu features seasonal Southern favorites for dinner and weekend brunch.
Owned by Hugh Acheson’s restaurant group, The National is a casual neighborhood eatery inspired by the flavors and wine of the Mediterranean. They work with local farmers for seasonal ingredients.
Home.made offers upscale Southern food for lunch and dinner. Menu highlights include Sunday brunch, Springer Mountain chicken thighs and tomato pie.
For Cuban and Latin dishes, visit funky Cali-N-Tito’s, which has outdoor dining that is pet-friendly and a menu that includes fish tacos, Peruvian pork and Cuban sandwiches. They have locations in Five Points and on the East Side.
Burger lovers can’t miss Clocked, a downtown diner serving funky burgers as well as cheese fries, milkshakes, salads, sandwiches, and vegan and gluten-free options. They use USDA-certified ingredients.
Locals love Heirloom Cafe and Fresh Market for the fresh and seasonal dishes at this farm-to-table cafe. The menu appeals to vegans and carnivores alike, incorporating sustainably produced ingredients.
Last Resort Grill is set in a former music venue and has artwork on every wall. It is open for lunch, dinner and brunch, with menu items like fried green tomatoes, crab cakes and cornbread crusted trout.
Fuel up for the day at Mama’s Boy, a modern diner located on the Athens Greenway. Open for breakfast, lunch and brunch, don’t miss the French toast, breakfast hash and biscuits, paired with a hot cup of coffee.
Located in its namesake neighborhood, Pulaski Heights Barbecue is a casual BYOB eatery with pulled pork, brisket, ribs and smoked chicken with sides like squash casserole and collard greens. They also have old school bottled sodas.
Seabear Oyster Bar is a swanky hangout popular for its happy hour. In addition to oysters, they have weekly ramen nights, sandwiches and snacks. Don’t miss their cocktails, including the Negroni slushies.
There’s always something going on in Athens, so plan your visit accordingly.
Wild Rumpus Halloween Parade and Spectacle is one such, held every fall to bring together the city’s creative energy. It has a parade, performances, and parties.
AthHalf Marathon in October allows runners to see the historic district and UGA campus on foot, with live Athens bands playing throughout the course. The event raises money for music and arts in elementary and middle schools.
Athens Wine Weekend in February brings together wine aficionados and those new to wine with more than100 wines from the world. Enjoy wine expert seminars, gourmet dinners with wine pairings, and other wine-related events.
Another fit event is Twilight Criterium in April, which is named one of the most unique races, held at night. It brings in teams from around the world for courses of varying lengths, including competitive and family-friendly tracks.
Athfest Arts and Music Festival in June is one of the city’s iconic annual music festivals that features local and regional musicians and artists.