Georgia Th

Best Things to Do in Athens, Georgia

BY Blake Guthrie | November 23, 2022

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” the Athens, Georgia? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Athens, Georgia?”

Downtown Athens rises, literally and figuratively, from the surrounding rural Georgia landscape much like the original Athens in Greece it’s named after. Centered on a hill bounded by two forks of the Oconee River, it’s home to the University of Georgia, where college football seems to take precedence over almost everything else. A vibrant independent alternative culture has also manifested itself here, most notably in the music scene, which took off in the 1970s and, in the 1980s, made Athens hipper than its big-city neighbor Atlanta. A bevy of consequential musical acts have sprung from Athens’ fertile ground including Pylon — whose late-1970s loft practice space inspired what would become the 40 Watt Club — Widespread Panic, Vic Chesnutt, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal and Danger Mouse. Oh yeah, and R.E.M. and the B-52s.

If you’re heading down the Atlanta Highway these days, you’ll encounter big box stores and ever-sprawling subdivisions, not the fabled “Love Shack” with its rusted tin roof. Still, it’s easy to find the new version of that old scene with its counterculture vibe and thrift-store chic garnished with a dewy Southern accent. Pick up a copy of Flagpole, the local alt-newsweekly, tune into WUOG 90.5 FM, UGA’s student-run radio station and use this guide to discover the best of bumping Athens.

YOU'RE HERE FOR MUSIC.

The B-52s played their inaugural gig at an Athens house party in 1977. The band that would become known as R.E.M first performed at a party in an abandoned church in 1980. Music venues come and go like the wind in Athens, but some have stood the test of time and deserve your attention.

40 watt club
#1
40 watt club

40 Watt Club

285 W Washington St, Athens, GA, USA

No music pilgrimage to Athens is complete without a visit to the 40 Watt Club, a longtime anchor of the local scene and one of the more famous music clubs in the U.S. Founded in the late 1970s as a loft party space lit by a single 40-watt light bulb, the club has grown and moved a few times, landing in its present location, an old grocery store and warehouse space on West Washington Street, in 1991. Along with all the local luminaries, a short list of notable national acts that have graced the stage in the 500-person venue include Nirvana, Iggy Pop, Snoop Dogg, Run-DMC, X, Flaming Lips, The Killers and Kenny Chesney. It’s still lit by low-wattage bulbs. 

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Georgia Theatre on Athens. Photo via Shutterstock.
#2
Georgia Theatre on Athens. Photo via Shutterstock.

Georgia Theatre

215 N Lumpkin St, Athens, GA, USA

More concert hall than a club, the Georgia Theatre can hold 1,000+ people on multiple levels in a theater-like setting. Shows are general admission, standing room only and without assigned seating. An Athens mainstay since 1978, it was gutted by fire in 2009, and reopened in 2011 with major upgrades to the concert-going experience, including a rooftop bar that can host live music in a smaller open-air setting.

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Flicker Theatre & Bar
#3
Flicker Theatre & Bar

Flicker Theatre & Bar

263 W Washington St, Athens, GA, USA

Located next door to the 40 Watt, Flicker offers an artsy trifecta of independent movie screenings, live music and art showings in its cozy confines with a full bar. The music runs the indie gamut from folk to punk to hip-hop and experimental.

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Hendershot's Coffee Bar
#4
Hendershot's Coffee Bar

Hendershot's Coffee Bar

237 Prince Ave, Athens, GA, USA

It’s a coffeehouse by day and a pub with live music by Wednesday-Saturday nights. You’ll hear jazz and soul-influenced acts here, as well as singer-songwriters, and perhaps catch a rising local star at the bar’s open mic and jam nights.

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Globe bar in Athens.
#5
Globe bar in Athens.

Globe

199 N Lumpkin St, Athens, GA, USA

Across from the Georgia Theatre, the Globe opened in 1989 as an Irish-style pub and soon became a hot spot where professors and townies gathered to down pints of Guinness, discuss world affairs and watch the street life of downtown unfold through giant windows. Up the wooden staircase inside is where the live music happens at Globe Upstairs along with poetry readings, comedy nights and DJs spinning tunes. On Sundays, there’s traditional Irish music downstairs in the late afternoon.

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The Classic Center Theatre in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Shuttestock.
#6
The Classic Center Theatre in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Shuttestock.

The Classic Center Theatre

300 N Thomas St, Athens, GA, USA

For the bigger shows, it’s the Classic Center Theatre, a modern 2,071-person venue in the Classic Center complex at the edge of downtown. This is where the B-52s are scheduled to play their farewell concert in January of 2023, a far cry from the house on Milledge Avenue across from the Taco Stand where the band played its first gig in 1977, albeit less than a mile away.

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ANNUAL EVENTS/BEST TIMES TO VISIT

Spring and fall are ideal times to visit Athens, but know that it gets super-crowded on UGA football home game weekends in the fall. Check the calendar during this time of year to avoid the throngs of Bulldog fans that converge on the town and send hotel rates through the roof. Unless, of course, you’re coming for the football, too.

AthFest Music and Arts Festival
#7
AthFest Music and Arts Festival

AthFest Music and Arts Festival

Athens, GA, USA

A flagship event for the city, each June AthFest celebrates all things Athens. There are outdoor stages dedicated to local and Athens-affiliated acts, a block-long artists’ space and a KidsFest area. The festival is free, with ticketed shows occurring later in the evening at participating clubs. It doesn’t get any more Athens than AthFest, except for maybe at…

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Porchfest
#8
Porchfest

Historic Athens Porchfest

498 Prince Avenue Fire Hall No. 2 Athens, GA, USA

In October, on a Sunday afternoon during a non-football-game weekend, the porches and yards of Athens’ historic neighborhoods come alive with dozens of local acts. Like AthFest, HIstoric Athens Porchfest is free and a great way to experience the diverse creative environment in the daylight hours. Stroll from house to house and yard to yard in the tree-shaded neighborhoods near downtown for a few hours. By that Sunday’s evening you’ll feel like a local yourself.

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Twilight Criterium
#9
Twilight Criterium

Twilight Criterium

Athens, GA, USA

One weekend each April, the streets of downtown are closed off for a world-class professional bike race called the Twilight Criterium. The race has occurred since 1980 and draws cyclists and spectators from around the world. Downtown becomes a rare, non-football sporting spectacle with thousands converging for the race and many associated events.

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Historic steel archway on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Shutterstock.
#10
Historic steel archway on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Shutterstock.

Stroll UGA’s Campus Greens

University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA

The campus isn’t just for students. Wander through the beautiful and historic North Campus adjacent to downtown to marvel at the architecture and grand green spaces. On South Campus, take in a classical recital, symphony orchestra and chamber music at the UGA Performing Arts Center and stroll through the galleries of the Georgia Museum of Art, the state’s official art museum.

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YOU’RE ALSO HERE FOR MUSIC LANDMARKS

the Steeple
#11
the Steeple

Nuçi's Space and the Steeple

Nuçi's Space - Musicians' Resource Center, Oconee Street, Athens, GA, USA

Nuçi’s Space may not be enticing at first glance —  it’s an educational and mental health resource center for local artists — but it’s home to THE steeple, all that remains of the St. Mary’s Episcopal Church where a then-unnamed R.E.M. performed its first gig in 1980. Nuçi’s Space acquired and restored the steeple when the condo development next door announced plans to demolish the landmark in 2013. The organization hosts many special events, including the delightful Athens Uncovered festival on Giving Tuesday after Thanksgiving when prominent acts play their favorite cover songs.

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Wuxtry Records
#12
Wuxtry Records

Wuxtry Records

197 E Clayton St, Athens, GA, USA

Open since 1976, Rolling Stone magazine has called Wuxtry one of the best record stores in the U.S. This is where Peter Buck was working in 1980 when he met Michael Stipe. Many other notable musicians have manned the counter at Wuxtry since then, including Mighty Manfred of The Woggles/Little Steven’s Underground Garage fame. The store still looks much the same as it did decades ago, always stocking the latest releases by the most germane acts, along with tons of vintage vinyl and other ephemera.

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Ciné
#13
Ciné

Ciné

234 W Hancock Ave, Athens, GA, USA

Housed in a historic building that once served as a retread plant for tires, Ciné is a nonprofit arthouse cinema with a full bar and cafe. Independent, international, documentary and classic films show on its two screens each afternoon and early evening, and there are late-night screenings on Fridays and Saturdays. Ciné also spotlights local visual artists in its exhibit gallery. 

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HIT THE BREWERIES

In 2001 Athens had no breweries. Today, it has six. They range in size from smaller storefront operations such as the Normaltown Brewing Co. in the Chase Street Warehouses complex to mega-facilities like Terrapin Beer Co., Athens’ first brewery, which opened in 2002 and has concerts and a large outdoor space. The others are Southern Brewing Co. with a relaxing five-acre yard; Athentic Brewing Co. with indoor/outdoor live music and other entertainment; Akademia Brewing Co., the only Athens brewery with a full-service restaurant; and …

Creature Comforts Brewing Co.
#14
Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

Creature Comforts Brewing Co.

271 W Hancock Ave, Athens, Georgia, USA

The only production brewery located downtown, Creature Comforts is within shouting distance of most of the music venues listed above and crafts one of the tastiest and most popular local brews, Tropicália IPA. It’s also home to the Athens Farmers Market each Wednesday from March through November.

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GET OUTSIDE

There’s easy access to plenty of trails and green spaces in Athens. We’ve got some of the best for you here.

The Firefly Trail/Dudley Park/North Oconee River Greenway
#15
The Firefly Trail/Dudley Park/North Oconee River Greenway

The Firefly Trail/Dudley Park/North Oconee River Greenway

Firefly Trail, Athens, GA, USA

The Firefly Trail is a rail-to-trail project that will eventually connect Athens to deep rural Georgia along 39 miles of abandoned railway beds. It begins in Dudley Park, known to R.E.M. fans as the home of the old wooden train trestle that graced the back cover of the “Murmur” album. That long-abandoned trestle was dismantled in 2021 to make way for a new pedestrian bridge. It will mimic the old one and connect the Firefly Trail to the park and the North Oconee River Greenway. All of this is within easy walking/biking distance to downtown.

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State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Photo via Shutterstock.
#16
State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Photo via Shutterstock.

State Botanical Garden of Georgia

2450 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA, USA

You’ll have to drive here, but it’s one of the best places to experience the outdoors in Athens — with a caveat: no dogs allowed. Explore five miles of trails through woodlands, wetlands and along the river, as well as the immaculate indoor/outdoor garden spaces.

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WHERE TO EAT

Many Athenians are still despondent over the sudden closing of The Grit in 2022, a longstanding and beloved vegetarian cafe. But not to worry, Athens’ culinary scene has blossomed as much as the music scene since the 1980s. You’ll find many impressive establishments beyond the plethora of affordable eateries catering mainly to the large UGA student body. Here are a few. 

Clocked!
#17
Clocked!

Clocked!

259 W Washington St, Athens, GA, USA

This hip diner next door to Flicker and the 40 Watt Club is known for its large and inventive burger menu with lots of vegetarian choices. Try the peanut butter bacon burger for something different, or the falafel burger if you want a veggie option. If the small inside dining room is full, which is often the case at this popular spot, you can eat on the large patio outside. 

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Five and Ten
#18
Five and Ten

Five and Ten

1073 S Milledge Ave, Athens, GA, USA

On the higher end of the Athens dining scene is Five and Ten, celebrity chef Hugh Acheson’s flagship restaurant. Located in a historic house in the Five Points neighborhood, it’s a casual spot for an upscale dinner and fancy cocktails. The menu changes with the seasons, but expect dishes that infuse classic Southern cooking with refined French influences such as cornmeal-fried catfish with saffron beurre blanc served with rice pilaf. 

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The National
#19
The National

The National

232 W Hancock Ave, Athens, GA, USA

Next door to the Ciné movie house, the National serves Mediterranean-inspired fare in a comfortable environment reminiscent of Europe’s neighborhood cafes. Try the hummus and flatbread with spiced ground lamb, piquillo peppers, pomegranate molasses and mint. If you get it to-go, carry your meal across the street to Creature Comforts, a brewery that lets you bring in your own food. 

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The Taco Stand
#20
The Taco Stand

The Taco Stand

2270 S Barnett Shoals Rd, Athens, GA, USA

In business on Milledge Avenue since the 1970s, T-Stand, as it’s lovingly called, is an affordable fast-food joint where most menu items come loaded with gobs of stretchy, gooey white American cheese. Other than a recent facelift, T-Stand hasn’t changed much over the years. Expect a line from the counter to the door during lunch and dinner rushes. It will give you time to peruse your copy of Flagpole that you picked up from the rack outside. (Fun fact: It sits across Milledge from the house [a private residence] where the B-52s played their first gig.)

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WHERE TO STAY

Many cookie-cutter chain hotels exist on the periphery of Athens, but the new players downtown are more upscale boutique-style accommodations within easy walking distance of clubs and restaurants.

Graduate Athens
#21
Graduate Athens

Graduate Athens

295 E Dougherty St, Athens, GA, USA

A cool hotel in an old foundry. It has its own bar/restaurant/live music venue appropriately called the Foundry. This hotel’s location at the edge of downtown provides easy access to the Classic Center, the North Oconee River Greenway, the UGA campus and many other hot spots. The rooms and suites have an eclectic collegiate vibe with plenty of music-themed artwork.

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Hotel Indigo Athens
#22
Hotel Indigo Athens

Hotel Indigo Athens

500 College Ave, Athens, Georgia, USA

Chic modern elegance abounds at this chain property with lots of local touches and its own bar and bistro. Hotel Indigo Athens is situated within easy walking distance to the heart of downtown and provides complimentary bicycles to its guests. The hotel’s Rialto Room is an intimate club-like event space that often hosts live music. 

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ATH|BNB: The Rushmore
#23
ATH|BNB: The Rushmore

ATH|BNB: The Rushmore

1175 S Milledge Ave, Athens, Georgia, USA

Positioned not downtown but in the Five Points neighborhood near South Campus, ATH|BNB: The Rushmore is steps away from many locally owned shops and restaurants (including Five and Ten). This upscale bed-and-breakfast has 14 finely curated rooms in a stately three-level house. Every room is different in design, but all provide luxurious creature comforts such as fine linens, smart TVs and vintage-looking mini-fridges. 

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