Are you wondering what to do in Georgia? You won’t be wondering for long! This large southern state’s varied terrain and position on the Atlantic Coast make it a desirable vacation destination for just about any traveler. Outdoorsy folks have their pick of mountains, waterfalls, lakes, gorges, forests, and more. City slickers can explore vibrant communities rich in history, culture, and entertainment opportunities. And for those looking to relax, Georgia’s barrier islands will welcome you with uncrowded stretches of white sand beaches.
From natural wonders to bustling metropolises, Georgia’s diverse offerings don’t disappoint. We’ve put together a list of some of the top attractions in Georgia to help you narrow down your options from the multitudes available.
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No traveler’s list of the best towns in Georgia can be complete without Atlanta, the state’s largest city and capital. Atlanta boomed from rebuilding efforts after the Civil War, and it hasn’t stopped growing and changing since. Today, the city is a multicultural hub known for its vibrant arts and music scenes, professional sports, status as a leader in television and film production, and much more.
Atlanta’s wealth of attractions can be intimidating, but you can’t go wrong with some crowd favorites. The Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest in the world and offers amazing animal encounter and diving programs that allow visitors to get up close and personal with creatures like penguins, rays, and even sharks. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is another popular spot, featuring events like Storybook Time, Garden Grooves, and live music and cocktail parties. Stop by Piedmont Park to peruse the farmers market or encourage the kids to let off steam on the playgrounds.
Learn about Atlanta as a setting of the Civil Rights Movement by visiting sites like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, where park rangers provide guided tours of Dr. King’s birth home. Opened in 2014, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a top-rated museum with three levels of exhibition and event space.
2. Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge
Close to the Florida border in the southeast corner of Georgia is the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, a stunning landscape of swamps, forests, and prairies that cover more than 402,000 acres. There is evidence of Native American activity in the Okefenokee Swamp as far back as 2500 BCE, and the name comes from the Choctaw people’s words for Land of Trembling Earth. The refuge harbors more than 400 species of animals and 600 species of plants, making it one of the best places to visit in Georgia for those interested in wildlife and conservation.
Unsurprisingly, wildlife is a major draw at the refuge. Photography is a popular pursuit, and Okefenokee’s diverse ecosystems provide shutterbugs with a wide variety of dynamic subjects. A boat ride into the swamp may reward eagle-eyed visitors with glimpses of turtles, waterfowl, and alligators. The refuge’s longleaf pine forests are home to snakes, tortoises, and myriad bird species, including woodpeckers and screech owls.
Additional attractions at Okefenokee include hunting, fishing, wilderness canoeing, and hiking. Hunters have seasonal opportunities to search for quails, rabbits, turkeys, deer, feral hogs, and more. Fishing is available year-round. The refuge also offers interpretive programs and environmental education activities.
3. Providence Canyon State Park
Providence Canyon State Park is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Georgia, but the land’s topography is a scar left by the ravages of slavery. Located in southwest Georgia, not far from the Alabama border, the canyon is the result of erosion from overplowing cotton fields planted by enslaved peoples in the 19th century. Today, the site is protected, and visitors are drawn to the human-made canyon’s breathtaking shades of orange, red, pink, and purple.
The canyon’s dramatic landscape attracts hikers and photographers. The site features large gullies that measure up to 150 feet deep, leading some to call the park by its nickname, Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon. Providence Canyon is also known for being one of the only places in the country to see the rare plumleaf azalea, which flowers in the summer, months after most azaleas have lost their blooms.
The visitor center of the 1,003-acre park offers geology and astronomy programs on a seasonal basis. Other amenities include two picnic shelters, three pioneer campsites, and six backcountry campsites. A backcountry trail gives hikers views of the canyon as well as a path through a mixed forest.
If you’re visiting Georgia for the first time, Savannah should be near the top of your list. Savannah is one of the five largest cities in Georgia by population, and its attractions are endless. The city’s focus on preserving history has created neighborhoods brimming with gorgeous architecture. If you’re brave enough to confront the past, Savannah is the perfect place to book a ghost tour – it’s considered by many to be the most haunted city in the country.
Savannah’s historic district is the largest National Historic Landmark District in the US, and an architecture tour is the best way to see the 19th- and even 18th-century era buildings that continue to beautify the city. Head to Forsyth Park to walk among the iconic live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Don’t forget to snap a pic of the park’s fountain, installed in 1858 and still one of the most photographed spots in Savannah to this day.
Museum-goers are spoiled for choice. The Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters is a museum whose 1819 mansion, gardens, and slave quarters provide a vivid juxtaposition of the lives of free and enslaved peoples. Swing by the American Prohibition Museum for a unique combination of educational exhibits and a fully stocked speakeasy. Or head to the SCAD Museum of Art to be among the first to glimpse works by emerging contemporary artists.
5. Tallulah Gorge State Park
One of the coolest places in Georgia for outdoorsy thrillseekers is Tallulah Gorge State Park. Situated in northeast Georgia, just a few miles from the South Carolina border, Tallulah Gorge State Park features a remarkable canyon carved by the Tallulah River that measures two miles long and almost 1,000 feet deep. The park’s 2,739 acres comprise varied terrain suitable for adventurers of all experience levels. The gorge has been the setting for a skywalk on two occasions, including Karl Wallenda’s famous walk in 1970.
The park provides several ways to enjoy the spectacular vistas. Some 20 miles of trails on the canyon rims lead hikers to multiple overlooks that are perfect for photo ops. Intrepid visitors can obtain permits to hike the gorge floor, but make sure to plan ahead: Only 100 permits are distributed per day, and this hike can be strenuous. For those who prefer a bit of elevation, a suspension bridge hangs 80 feet above the gorge floor and affords fantastic views of the river and waterfalls.
To learn more about the area’s history and ecosystem, stop by the Jane Hurt Yarn Interpretive Center to view an award-winning informative film. Fishing, paddling, swimming, biking, picnicking, and more are possible in certain areas of the park, which also has various campsites for overnight stays.
6. Cumberland Island
When it comes to weekend getaways in Georgia, Cumberland Island is unlike any other destination. Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island has had a somewhat turbulent history, but today it operates under the National Park Service as the Cumberland Island National Seashore. Accessible only by ferry, the island includes more than 9,800 acres of designated wilderness.
Much of Cumberland Island’s beauty comes from its seclusion. The island has 17 miles of white sand beaches, and wildlife such as feral horses are free to roam. There are no paved roads on the island, making travel slower than on the mainland, but hiking and biking are popular pursuits and a wonderful way to explore the landscape. Ranger-guided tours are also available. Streams, freshwater lakes, and marshes provide fishing and crabbing opportunities.
Visitors can track some of Cumberland Island’s history by visiting three very different sites: the ruins of Dungeness, an 1884 mansion built for Thomas and Lucy Carnegie; Plum Orchard, a well-preserved turn-of-the-century mansion complete with antique furnishings; and the First African Baptist Church, established in 1893. Overnight guests on the island can choose to camp or book lodgings at the Greyfield Inn, built in 1900 for the daughter of Thomas and Lucy Carnegie.
7. Amicalola Falls State Park
State parks aren’t typically known for featuring luxurious lodgings, but Amicalola Falls State Parks stands out from the rest. The park was established in 1940 and is named for the Cherokee word meaning tumbling waters. The 729-foot waterfall is undoubtedly the park’s biggest draw, but Amicalola also shines thanks to a wide variety of accommodations. The combination of natural splendor and comfortable lodgings make this park one of the best vacation spots in Georgia.
Amicalola Falls is the third-highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi River and one of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders. Visitors come to see the falls, but they stay for all the other attractions in this 829-acre park, which sits within the Chattahoochee National Forest in northern Georgia’s mountains. Popular amenities include hiking trails, zip lines, 3D archery, animal meet and greets, wilderness survival sessions, and GPS scavenger hunts.
Once you’re ready to turn in for the night, Amicalola Falls State Park’s lodging options will provide you with comfort and convenience. The lodge features 57 resort-style rooms with majestic mountain views, Wi-Fi, satellite TV, and central air conditioning. The park also has 14 cabins with decks, fireplaces, and full kitchens. Amicalola Falls’ campground includes 24 wooded campsites that can accommodate RVs and tent camping.
8. Lake Lanier
Officially named Lake Sid Lanier, this reservoir was created by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s for water supply, flood protection, and power production purposes. Lake Lanier is one of the largest lakes in the state, and although it was created for specific resources, today the 38,000-acre body of water has become a hub for recreation. Lake Lanier has nearly 700 miles of shoreline and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Georgia.
More than 10 million people visit Lake Lanier annually, and it’s easy to see why. The lake’s distinctive, aqua-colored surface dotted with verdant islets make for some stunning photography subjects. Options for fun on the water are seemingly endless, including kayaking, sailing, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming, and fishing.
Back on land, Lake Lanier is surrounded by 76 recreational areas. A plethora of parks and beaches along the shore have playgrounds, campgrounds, and plenty of picnic space. Additional park amenities include hiking trails, RV hookups, pavilions, boat ramps, and barbecue pits. Overnight accommodations range from hotels to cabins to bed and breakfasts. The Lanier Islands resort offers luxurious lodgings such as villas and lake houses.
9. Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area
Located roughly 20 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta, Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is one of the best places to go in Georgia if your travel group has widely varying interests. The 40,000-acre site has something for everyone, whether you’re looking for outdoor recreation, scenic topographical features, places of historical and spiritual significance, or activities for kids.
Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area is best known for its distinctive monadnocks, isolated granite rock formations that rise dramatically above their surroundings. The area as it appears today is the result of 400 million years of geological history. Hiking and biking are excellent ways to enjoy this unique landscape, and visitors have dozens of miles of trails to choose from. Other outdoor activities include archery, geocaching, camping, and paddling and fishing in the South River. Junior Ranger programs provide regularly scheduled educational fun for kids.
History buffs will want to check out a couple of significant sites. The Flat Rock Archives, located in the 1917 homestead of T. A. Bryant, Sr., present an important record of the African American experience throughout the history of rural Georgia. About 10 miles southeast, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is a beautiful, contemplative space founded by a community of Trappist monks who moved to Georgia in 1944.
10. Jekyll Island
If you’re dreaming of a coastal respite from everyday life, Jekyll Island is one of the best places in Georgia for a relaxing escape. Jekyll Island is the southernmost of Georgia’s Golden Isles and is renowned for its preservation of history and abundance of wildlife. Originally inhabited by Native Americans, the island has been part of Georgia since the colony was first named in the 18th century. Once home to plantations and a private retreat for the super-rich, today Jekyll Island is a popular tourist destination.
Some of the most beloved spots on Jekyll Island are beaches. The island boasts 10 miles of unspoiled white sand beaches, several of which offer great shelling opportunities. Driftwood Beach, with its distinctive driftwood shapes dotting the shore, is especially popular for photo ops. Dolphin tours, bike trails, and the Summer Waves Water Park are some other popular outdoor recreation choices.
Dive into the isle’s past by visiting the Jekyll Island Historic District, a National Historic Landmark. The district provides a glimpse into Jekyll Island’s heyday as a playground for some of the wealthiest families in the US, including the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts, and the Pulitzers. Another must-see spot on the island is the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the first facility in the state dedicated to the rehabilitation of sea turtles.
11. Callaway Gardens
Vacationing in Georgia is easy when your destination is Callaway Gardens. Situated in west-central Georgia, less than 20 miles from the Alabama border, Callaway Gardens is a 2,500-acre resort complex in the town of Pine Mountain. Opened in 1952, the resort and gardens were founded by Cason and Virginia Callaway as a place of respite where humans could connect with nature. Today, Callaway Gardens continues to be a space for relaxation as well as a hub for recreation.
Your stay at Callaway Gardens can be as busy as you want it to be. The resort complex is home to two distinct golf courses and a practice facility. Ten lighted tennis courts allow you to hone your skills amid a scenic, forested locale. Thrillseekers can tackle the resort’s zip lines and elevated TreeTop Adventure ropes course. Boating and fishing are popular activities on Callaway Gardens’ 13 private lakes.
Indulge in a slower pace by exploring 10 miles of nature trails. Guests who visit Callaway Gardens in the spring are treated to an explosion of color when the property’s thousands of azalea bushes burst into bloom. Fans of wildlife will enjoy the butterfly center and the birds of prey program. You can also relax and recharge with a day spent at the beach or the resort’s spa.
12. Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forests
Of all the things to see in Georgia, some of the most majestic sights may be in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forests. Though run jointly by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, this 867,000-acre site actually comprises two forests: Chattahoochee National Forest and Oconee National Forest. The two forests offer myriad recreation opportunities, including numerous picnic areas and campgrounds as well as some 850 miles of trails.
Located in northern Georgia, Chattahoochee National Forest is the larger of the two, covering around 750,000 acres. Chattahoochee is known for its dramatic landscapes and plethora of hiking trails. Notably, the southern terminus of the famous Appalachian National Scenic Trail is located on Springer Mountain in Chattahoochee National Forest. Chattahoochee is also rich in wilderness, trout streams, and scenic outlooks.
The smaller Oconee National Forest is roughly 70 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta, so it’s an accessible day trip destination from the capital city. The terrain is easier to traverse here, making this forest a popular choice for family outings. Oconee has hiking and picnicking opportunities, but lakes are the star attractions. With 417 miles of shoreline, Lake Sinclair has 15,330 acres for boating, swimming, fishing, and water skiing.
13. Tybee Island
When it comes to Georgia attractions, Tybee Island is ideally situated. This northern Georgia locale is a popular coastal escape located just 20 miles southeast of Savannah. Tybee Island has a rich history shared by many Georgia isles: Native Americans inhabited the land for thousands of years before Spanish missionaries claimed it in the 16th century. Tybee Island played a significant role in the Civil War and subsequently became a resort destination before assuming the family-friendly beach town identity it enjoys today.
Tybee Island is known to many as Savannah’s Beach, so it’s no wonder that some of its most popular attractions are on the water. Families flock to more than five miles of public beaches for sunbathing, swimming, boating, fishing, and surfing in the Atlantic Ocean. The lesser-known Back River Beach rewards visitors with dolphin sightings, spectacular sunsets, and fewer crowds.
Head to the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum to see a Georgia icon. Built in 1736 and standing 145 feet tall, the lighthouse is the oldest and tallest in the state. The Tybee Island Marine Science Center features galleries, educational programs, and events like beach walks and turtle talks throughout the year. Make a quick excursion to the adjacent Cockspur Island to see Fort Pulaski National Monument, the site of an important Civil War siege.
14. Lookout Mountain
In 1935, a man named Clark Byers began what would be a three-decade-long career painting barns with variations of the same slogan: See Rock City. The large, black and white advertisements appeared on barns across the country, from Michigan to Texas, and they all pointed passersby to Lookout Mountain. Located roughly five miles southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Lookout Mountain is the home of Rock City Gardens, a must-see in Georgia that attracts more than half a million visitors each year.
Lookout Mountain has been nicknamed Rock City since the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that the iconic attraction, Rock City Gardens, came to be. Experience the site via its Enchanted Trail, a 4,100-foot path that winds past wondrous geological formations. Don’t forget to take in the view from Lover’s Leap, a famous panoramic outlook from which seven states are visible.
The Enchanted Trail is well known for its botanical gardens. With more than 400 native species of plants, the gardens provide visitors with a spectacular show in any season. Children will enjoy Rock City’s Fairyland Caverns, which feature large dioramas of classic fairy-tales created using glowing paint. Other notable spots along the trail include a swinging suspension bridge and rock formations like the Needle’s Eye and the Grand Corridor.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Georgia, a college town is a great place to start. Home to the University of Georgia, Athens is a center for educational, athletic, and cultural events. Founded in 1785, the University of Georgia is the first state-chartered public university in the United States. The city developed around the university as the campus grew, and today Athens is an exciting hub with historic buildings, green spaces, bustling live music venues, and a burgeoning culinary and brewery scene.
Many of Athens’s most popular attractions are connected to the university. The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a unit of Public Service and Outreach at the university and features a wide variety of trails and gardens, including an international garden, a hummingbird trail, a heritage garden, and horticulture greenhouses. Situated on the university campus, the Georgia Museum of Art has a permanent collection of almost 17,000 objects housed in a 79,000-square-foot building.
For some outdoor exploration, head to the Sandy Creek Nature Center with its four miles of trails and 225 acres of wetlands and woodlands. Sandy Creek’s visitor center features aquariums and natural history exhibits. Fans of cycling will want to check out the Firefly Trail, built on an old railroad track near the city’s downtown.
Building your Georgia travel itinerary doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, thanks to the state’s abundance of attractions, planning your trip can be as easy as pie (specifically, a slice of sweet Georgia peach pie). No matter where your interests lie, Georgia has a destination for you.