With mountain ranges, plateaus, rolling hills and bustling metropolises, Georgia’s varied topography also is home to nearly 550 diverse municipalities, each with its own personality.
Though Atlanta might be Georgia’s crowning glory—it's known as the “jewel of the South,” after all—the capital city is just one of the state’s many gems. Make full use of your remaining vacation days with a getaway to one of these classic Southern cities, all within a 90-minute drive of Atlanta.
This small town east of Atlanta grew into a creative hub, thanks to the founding of the University of Georgia. The public research university graduated its first class in 1801 and was the magnet that attracted residents, who built homes, restaurants and shops around the educational institution.
Today, Athens is far more than just a college town. It has a plethora of quaint boutiques, locally owned restaurants, acclaimed breweries and renowned music venues speckling the main thoroughfare, Broad Street, and surrounding blocks. Athens is home to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, Georgia Museum of Art, Bear Hollow Zoo and Georgia Theatre.
Georgia’s expansive Blue Ridge Mountains are known throughout the world for their striking beauty, including 106,000 acres of Chattahoochee National Forest, wooded landscapes and snowcapped peaks shooting into a hazy blue sky. This province of the Appalachian Mountains is surrounded by Blue Ridge, Georgia, a small-town community with plenty of cultural activities to complement the area’s outstanding outdoor offerings.
Explore the largest orchards in Georgia, Mercier Orchards, visit one of only three remaining drive-ins in the state, The Swan, and stroll down the gallery- and shop-lined streets of Downtown Blue Ridge. Overnight accommodations include everything from cozy cabins to luxury mountain homes to bed and breakfasts, and of course, traditional hotels.
Fewer than 9,500 people call Braselton’s 12.5 square miles home, making this tiny town an ideal rural getaway for big-city travelers. Antique shops pepper the small area, but perhaps its biggest draw is the magnificent Château Élan. As its name eludes, Château Élan is a French-inspired winery, resort, spa and golf club that sprawls throughout 3,500 verdant acres.
A visit to the exceptional Spa Mansion and three championship golf courses can’t be missed. You’ll also find plenty of dining options onsite.
Georgia’s fourth-largest metropolis lies on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and shares a border with Alabama. The city’s centerpiece is the Chattahoochee RiverWalk, a 15-mile linear park along the river.
The city’s downtown area, known to locals as Uptown, is vibrant and energetic, and is home to an impressive variety of restaurants and nightlife. In this central area, you’ll also find some of the region’s most beloved attractions, including the National Civil War Naval Museum, Coca-Cola Space Science Center, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Springer Opera House and Chatt Glide Tours.
Would you believe us if we told you Georgia is home to a Bavarian-themed city? Nestled at the base of the Appalachian Mountains, Helen is a full-fledged Alpine Village, replete with traditional Bavarian architecture and the state’s most famous Oktoberfest.
The village is a walkable district bursting with small shops selling souvenirs, ice cream, beer and handmade goods. You’ll find your fill of German food here, too, in restaurants like Old Bavaria Inn Restaurant, Hofbrauhaus and Old Heidelberg. In addition to the village, Helen offers cultural attractions—like the Helen Arts and Heritage Center and Sautee Nacoochee Center—and aquatic activities along the Chattahoochee River, which runs directly alongside the village.
Not quite a 90-minute drive from Atlanta, you’ll find serene Lake Oconee, a water-lover’s oasis. Lake Oconee is in fact a reservoir located along the Oconee River near the small towns of Greensboro and Eatonton. Bordering the lake are several lodgings that cater to the waterfront lifestyle, including Reynolds Lake Oconee, the stunning Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee and The Lodge on Lake Oconee. A stay at the Ritz gives guests access to Segway tours, a massive lakefront recreation area, an exquisite spa and more, while a stay in Reynolds Lake Oconee will make you feel like you’re at your very own lake house.
Apart from the various amenities offered by hotels, nearby historical sites and attractions bring the area’s rich history to life. A visit to Greensboro City Cemetery, Greene County Historical Museum, L. L. Wyatt Museum, Greene County African-American Museum, Union Point Museum and E.H. Armor Museum tell stories of the past through a wide variety of extraordinary relics.
A one-hour drive east of Atlanta is practically a trip back in time when your arrive in Madison, Georgia, the practical epitome of a Southern small town. This picturesque town was spared during General William T. Sherman’s devastating (and fiery) March to the Sea during the Civil War, which makes the area’s abundance of pristine antebellum homes a rare find in Georgia. One of the state’s largest Historic Districts, this charming area is a history buff’s dream. Explore the several house museums—including Heritage Hall, Rogers House, Richter Cottage and Rose Cottage—the Morgan County African-American Museum, the gorgeous Madison-Morgan Cultural Center and the stately Morgan County Courthouse.
Madison is also one of the state’s agricultural hubs. If farming practices, farmers markets and farm-to-table fare is your cup of tea, then you won’t want to miss a visit to the newly opened 10,000-square-foot Farmview Market or The Farmhouse Inn. Make sure to pick up a copy of the Madison Morgan Conservancy’s FARMeander map, which allows you to take a self-guided tour of area farms, agricultural attractions and other farm-related activities.
This small area 80 miles southwest of Atlanta is a bit of a conundrum: it is home to an itty-bitty town with just more than 1,300 residents but is also home to the sprawling Callaway Gardens, massive Wild Animal Safari and a handful of other attractions.
Callaway Gardens is perhaps the area’s best-known destination thanks to its astounding 6,500 acres of natural beauty, resort amenities and recreational offerings. At Callaway, you’ll find the 5-acre Sibley Horticultural Center, a tropical butterfly conservatory, azalea and vegetable gardens, 13 private lakes, golf courses, zip lines and more.
Wild Animal Safari offers a thrilling, 5-mile drive through a reserve that’s home to more than 650 animals, including American bison, elk, water buffalo, wildebeest, tigers, hyena and zebra.
The winding trip from Atlanta to Serenbe will make you feel like you’re entering another world. Only a 40-minute drive from the city, this 900-acre conservation- and wellness-focused community replaces Atlanta’s towering buildings with wooded trails, organic farmland and star-studded skies. Deep in the heart of Chattahoochee Hill country, Serenbe is considered both a model for sustainable development and “the Hamptons of the South.”
Scattered throughout the lush grounds, you’ll find a farmhouse-turned-inn, two spectacular fine-dining restaurants, horseriding, an organic farm, boutique shops and a quaint coffeeshop and bakery.