K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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If you’re looking to discover the best the state of Georgia has to offer, these destinations will give you a glimpse of its top highlights. It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling solo or with the family, these exciting cities, picturesque islands and charming historic towns deserve a spot on your must-visit itinerary.
This beautiful historic town with cobblestone streets, moody Spanish moss, and southern charm is one of Georgia’s most famous cities and one of its most romantic. You’ll see many homes from the 1840s, all perfectly preserved, turning a simple, pleasant walk into something absolutely unforgettable. If you want to get more active than that, paddle a canoe on a Wilderness Southeast tour and glide along the coastal creeks that are framed by grand tupelo and cypress trees while watching for wildlife like alligators, turtles, and herons. In the mood for romance? Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the picturesque streets. Savannah is also renowned for its fantastic cuisine; on nearby Tybee Island, you can enjoy lovely beaches too.
Providence Canyon State Park is a 1,000-plus-acre park that’s home to Providence Canyon, which is known as “Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon” as its massive, up-to-150-feet gullies resemble so closely resemble the real thing. Although the gullies were actually caused by poor farming practices in the 19th century, today, they make for some postcard-perfect photographs. Rare Plumleaf Azalea grows only in this area, blooming in July and August when most other azaleas have already lost their color. The orange, red, pink and purple hues of the canyon also create a colorful, natural painting that must be seen to be believed. You can view it from the rim trail, hike deep within, or even backpack overnight.
The Tallulah Gorge is a nearly two-mile-long and 1,000-foot-deep gorge – the deepest gorge east of the Mississippi. Adjacent to the valley is a beautiful state park with six waterfalls that rush through the canyon and into the Tallulah River. This gorgeous area once rivaled even Niagara Falls in terms of tourism, and it’s also been used as a setting for movies like “Deliverance.” Of course, it’s a must for outdoor lovers, not only for soaking up breathtaking scenery but also for many opportunities for hiking and biking, swimming, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. The park offers a suspension bridge, picnic shelters, a large campground, a gift shop, and more.
This alpine town in the Blue Ridge mountains is a re-creation of a Bavarian village. Visit Helen, and you might think you’re in Germany, with the town’s colorfully painted wooden houses, chateaus, cobblestone streets, and old-world towers. Classic Bavarian style can be seen on every building in Helen, even in the chain stores, due to mandated zoning introduced a half-century ago. The town features over 200 import and specialty shops featuring handcrafted gifts, and at Habersham Winery, you can enjoy sampling some great local wines. Nearby, you’ll have access to all sorts of mountain activities that offer the chance to soak up the impressive mountain, forest, and waterfall-filled scenery.
The eclectic college town of Athens is tucked just below the Blue Ridge Mountains. It offers an ideal blend of old and new, with one of the liveliest music scenes in the nation, having given birth to bands like the B-52s and R.E.M. It offers an outstanding culinary scene, contemporary art, and gorgeous Antebellum architecture. It also boasts several historical attractions like the double-barreled Civil War-era cannon. Its proximity to the mountains makes it an excellent base for enjoying many outdoor adventures and stunning scenery. Take a stroll through the vibrant, restored Victorian-era downtown, and you’ll discover an abundance of art galleries, trendy shops, and an array of outstanding eateries.
Jekyll Island is home to beautiful beaches and an attractive 240-acre historic district. By taking one of the carriages, walking, or tram tours, you can experience life when Victorian-era millionaires wintered on this Georgia barrier island. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel was originally a hunting retreat built in 1888 for families like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgan, and the Astors. The waterfront views in front of the hotel stretch across the river and marsh to the mainland. You can also visit Georgia’s only rescue and rehabilitation facility to learn about the endangered sea turtles that visit the coast. And during the nesting months of June and July, the center leads nightly turtle walks. If you’re into biking, rent a bike and pedal the over 20 miles of trails – the paths that run along the western side offer some of the best vistas.
Nestled in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains, Gibbs Gardens is a premier destination for horticulture enthusiasts in the south. Located just outside Atlanta in Cherokee County, it’s considered one of the world’s most extensive residential gardens. The 220-acre garden contains 19 ponds, 24 lakes, and 32 bridges. Enjoy a tranquil walk along the streams and waterfalls and around the water gardens, taking in the fragrance of plants, flowers, and millions of bulbs that provide a wide array of colors, shapes, and textures. The grounds include magnificent Japanese Gardens too. The gardens also feature a gift shop with garden-related items, including bulbs.
The state’s southernmost and largest barrier island offers the chance to feel as if you have your private beach, with peaceful stretches of sand that are ideal for strolling, bird-watching, and fishing. The car-free Cumberland Island is a relaxing haven where you’ll even discover roaming wild horses and ancient turtles. The Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated Wilderness area, undeveloped beaches, historical sites, cultural ruins, critical habitat, nesting areas, and a wealth of plant and animal communities. You can rent a bike to explore all it offers overnight camp at one of five campgrounds.
Fayetteville takes visitors back to the peak of the Civil War days, with its downtown area transforming to revitalize it to its glory years, encapsulating a historic feel, particularly within its architecture. It truly has a picture-perfect feel, with many impeccably manicured gardens along with charming buildings and the ability to boast of being used in “Gone With The Wind” after Margaret Mitchell’s made frequent visits. Take a self-guided walking tour through the historic downtown district to learn just how it inspired the places and characters in the legendary film. You can also view rare artifacts from the Old South at the Holliday-Dorsey-Fife House Museum and enjoy a concert at the Southern Ground Amphitheater.
Duluth is known for hosting a wide variety of fun festivals and concerts throughout the year that bring together the community and visitors in celebration of the town’s many talents. It’s home to a thriving, restored downtown area where you can experience its small-town feel without sacrificing city amenities, including highlights like the New Dawn Theater and the Red Clay Music Foundry. Duluth also hosts the Southeastern Railway Museum and the Hudgens Center for the Arts.
Dahlonega is just an hour from Atlanta. It offers a fabulous mountain getaway and a popular spot for wine enthusiasts as part of the “heart of the North Georgia wine country.” But its biggest claim to fame is that it was the site of the first significant gold rush in the U.S., which began in 1829. The town was built on the success of its early pioneering days. Several gold-related attractions still draw visitors, including Gold Rush Days in early October, when more than 300 art and craft exhibitors and food vendors gather around the Public Square and Historic District. Dahlonega’s original architecture offers prime examples of 19th-century buildings in America, giving visitors an authentic glimpse into its rich past.
St. Marys was first explored in the 16th century, and today, it’s considered one of the earliest areas in the U.S. to be set foot upon by Europeans during their voyages of discovery. History enthusiasts will appreciate the many museums and historic churches and the chance to take a history tram tour highlighting the town’s rich past. You’ll find plenty of unique shopping and tasty coastal cuisine in between. Visitors can also enjoy the outdoors by taking a fishing excursion, kayaking the St. Marys River, and hiking or biking at Crooked River State Park. The nearby birding trail, woodlands, and Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge provide even more fun opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Canton is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in what was once the heart of the Cherokee Nation. Its historic downtown district is an ideal place for history buffs to wander, particularly at its Cherokee Arts Center and the Cherokee County Historical Society. Visitors can also explore historical buildings, Cagle’s Dairy, Wild West Town with over 150 miniature animals, and a pioneer village, including a bank, saloon, jail, and trading post with snacks and souvenirs. The Canton Theater and Cherokee County Arts Center feature performances year-round if you want some culture.
The Etowah Indian Mounds is a 54-acre area considered the most intact Mississippian culture (a mound-building Native American civilization) site in the southeast – and it offers what is likely to be the most remarkable history lesson you’ll ever take. It includes six earthen mounds, a village site, a plaza, a defensive ditch, and borrows pits. Artifacts in the museum reveal how natives of this political and religious center decorated themselves with paint, complicated hairdos, shell beads, feathers, and copper ear ornaments. Hand-carved stone effigies that weigh 125 pounds still bear some original pigment. The site also includes a nature trail following the Etowah River, allowing visitors to view a v-shaped fish trap for catching fish. The path also shows how early civilizations used native trees for food and medicine.
Nature lovers won’t miss heading to Blairsville, tucked within the Chattahoochee National Forest and North Georgia Blue Ridge mountains. You’ll enjoy striking natural beauty, old-world charms, and a thriving cultural scene. Hike the practically endless trails, taking in awe-inspiring views atop Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald, viewing roaring waterfalls and warm weather water sports on pristine Lake Winfield Scott and Lake Nottely. Horseback riding and golfing are popular activities here too. No matter what the weather, the antiquing is always great. At Track Rock Archaeological Area, you can get a glimpse of the area’s extensive past by viewing preserved petroglyphs of ancient native origin that were carved or pecked into soapstone boulders.
Arabia Mountain is among only 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States (spots recognized by Congress for their contribution to the nation’s history). But this destination isn’t just for history enthusiasts – dominated by two granite outcrops; it offers plenty of natural wonders, outdoor activities, and awe-inspiring views. In this incredibly serene place, visitors can enjoy the chance to discover rare plants and exciting geology while hiking, and wandering above the trees at the mountain’s peak, viewing the city of Atlanta in the distance as well as checking out the remnants of the quarrying industry that once prospered here and shipped the stone that built monumental buildings across the country. The paved Arabia Mountain Path trail is popular for biking. The rolling journey takes cyclists past fishing lakes and grassy fields, shaded woods, rock outcrops, and over the South River, and provides the chance to spot wildlife like turkey and deer.
The Okefenokee Swamp is a peat wetland straddles the Georgia and Florida border. It’s the continent’s largest intact freshwater and blackwater wilderness swamp, filled with vegetation and animals like alligators and cranes. One of the best ways to explore it is to paddle the water trails through indigenous creeks called “The Land of Trembling Earth.” There are also guided canoe tours where you can travel along the historic Suwannee Canal through a tangled forest of bay, cypress, pine, and shrubs and then out into the open expanse of Chesser Prairie. In contrast, guides share their expert knowledge of the swamp’s cultural and natural history, along with exciting swamp stories, identifying plants and wildlife along the way.