Athens’s double-barreled cannon that sits in front of city hall is a perfect symbol for the city. It’s a double-barreled city, and both barrels are loaded with lots of fun for visitors. Athens has many choices for different styles of fun. Here are some of my favorites, from history and nature to dining and drinking. I have visited Athens many times, both on comped press trips and on my own, researching a book I wrote about Georgia’s ghosts. I grew to love the city for its unique personality.
1. Double-barreled Cannon
You’ve got to see this one-of-a-kind Civil War relic. They built it to fire two balls attached to a chain. In tests, it proved a dismal failure but still sits in front of city hall, pointing north. It’s been featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Georgians, and especially folks in Athens, are rabid Georgia Bulldog fans. You will see these painted tributes to the UGA team all over the city.
Pro Tip: I quickly learned nowhere in Georgia do you say “dogs” when referring to its revered football team. The Georgia pronunciation is “dawgs.”
3. Church-Waddel-Brumby House
Athens Welcome Center is housed in a historic home believed to be the oldest house in Athens. Aside from touring the house museum, it’s a great place to get maps and information.
4. T.R.R. Cobb House Museum
The Cobb House was the home of Confederate General Howell Cobb, who helped draft the Confederate Constitution. The museum tells not just the Cobb family history but that of the enslaved people who lived there. Hard to believe when you see the massive pink house with its columns that it has been moved twice. Where it is now is just about 2 blocks from its original location.
5. Morton Theater
The Morton Theater, built in 1910, is one of the first vaudeville theaters owned and operated by an African American, Monroe Bowers “Pink” Morton. In the early 1900s, some celebrities that performed there included Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, and other big-name musicians.
6. Georgia Theater
Another historic theater here is Georgia Theater. Originally built as a YMCA in 1889, it underwent many incarnations, including a Methodist church. A fire destroyed it on June 19, 2009. It’s rebuilt and opened as a prime live music venue.
7. University Of Georgia Athens
Take a UGA Campus tour or do a self-guided one. Chartered in 1785, UGA is the oldest state-chartered university in the country. Football fans will want to see Sanford Stadium but there are many interesting and historical places on campus.
8. Alpha Gamma Delta House
The Alpha Gamma Delta House has its own permanent resident, Susie Carithers. Susie’s father donated the house to the sorority after her death. Susie planned to get married in the drawing room. When the groom failed to show on their wedding day, Susie hung herself from a beam in the attic. Supposedly, whoever inhabits the room beneath that beam will become engaged while staying there. The house is known as “The Wedding Cake House” because it resembles a three-tiered wedding cake. It is not open to the public but worth a drive-by.
9. Toombs Oak
The university campus has a resident spirit. Many people claim to have seen a man in a Confederate uniform near Demosthenian Hall. The ghost is believed to be Robert Toombs, who had been dismissed from the college. On what would have been his graduation day, he gave a speech under this oak that drew more listeners than the official speakers in the hall. Toombs became Confederate Secretary of State, and he resigned to become a general. He fled to Europe at the end of the war but later returned. He never took the oath of allegiance to the United States.
The tree was killed by lightning around the time of Toombs’ death, December 15, 1885, but a plaque and sundial still mark the spot.
10. The State Botanical Garden
This on-campus garden is Georgia’s official state garden. Along with the breathtaking gardens, it has seven color-designated trails and a special Hummingbird Trail. In November and December, the garden becomes Winter WonderLights.
11. The Georgia Museum Of Art
The Georgia Museum of Art, Georgia’s State Art Museum, is on the UGA campus. You’ll find about 17,000 art objects, including an outdoor sculpture garden.
Pro Tip: The gardens, museum, and most other places on campus are free.
12. Bear Hollow Zoo
The zoo is small but beloved by kids and adults alike. It is home to wildlife that cannot be returned to the wild, including some bears, otters, deer, and eagles. It’s in Memorial Park, and it’s free.
13. Classic City Tours
Classic City Tours are offered by the Athens Welcome Center. The Athens Heritage Tour and the Museum Mile Tour are both guided tours that bring you to the most popular sights in Athens. Book at the Athens Welcome Center or on its website.
14. Athens Haunted History Walking Tour
Jeff Clarke will lead you to some of Athens’ darker history on his Haunted History Walking Tour. So many of its old homes and theaters have their own resident spirit. The stories are not scary and contain a lot of genuine history. Ask him to tell you the story of Dicy Ann Roberts, who is buried in the Old Athens Cemetery. It’s a fun tour for believers and non-believers alike.
15. Terrapin Brewing
Athens’s best-known brewery offers tours often with live music and tastings of Terrapin’s full line of award-winning beers. Several other breweries have popped up to offer competition.
16. Weaver D’s
Even non-music fans know the name of Athens’s most famous band, R.E.M. Weaver D’s was popular with R.E.M. and many other start-up bands in the late 1980s. His Southern soul food was cheap and tasty. When R.E.M. asked Dexter Weaver’s permission to use his slogan “Automatic for the People” on its album, Weaver D’s became part of the R.E.M. legend. Weaver D’s food is worth any wait time.
17. Trappeze Pub
If you want to dine with the locals, this is the place. Trappeze Pub is housed in the historic Cotton Exchange building and one of Athens’s most popular gastropubs.
18. 40 Watt Club
Another Athens music legend is the 40-Watt Club. Its first location was a huge third-floor space lit only by one dim bulb, thus its name. It has moved countless times since but kept its name and reputation. It is a music venue that hosts some of the biggest names in the business and popular local bands.
19. The Last Resort Grill
If you like Southern food, try the Last Resort. In 1966, when it opened as a bar on the same street as three finance companies, its motto was if you got turned down by all the finance companies, the bar was your “last resort.” It has hosted big-name musicians, including Gamble Rogers, Reverend Pearly Brown, Towns Van Zandt, Doc Watson, B-52’s, and Jimmy Buffett. It evolved from a music venue and reopened as The Last Resort Grill in 1992. The restaurant still has some touches from its old bar days, like the red brick wall.
Pro Tip: Be sure to check out the mural on the wall facing the parking lot.
20. Hotel Indigo
Hotel Indigo is convenient to many of Athens’s attractions, and each Indigo Hotel is unique and blends with its location. Besides having all the usual amenities, it’s ultra-modern and pet friendly. Its Madison Bar and Bistro is great if you want to dine in after a long day.
Pro Tip: If you visit in June, AthFest is a free 3-day festival that brings dozens of bands to town.
Consider this other Georgia content before your next visit: