Athens Georgia is best known for its music scene, and as the home of the University of Georgia. I’ve lived in Athens for over 10 years and these are my favorite free things to do here.
Downtown Athens, Georgia
Athens is smallish town with a lot of charm and flavor. The downtown area is right next to the University of Georgia (UGA) campus, and at about 10 x 5 city blocks, is very walkable. It is filled with eclectic shops, and many very good local restaurants (5&10, Last resort Grill, The Grit). You’ll also get a look at the many local music venues (Georgia Theatre, 40 Watt) and bars. Most Athens bars don’t have a cover charge unless they have a band, so it’s easy to check out several places to see which ones have the right vibe for you.
Depending on the time of year, Athens holds a variety of free events right in the streets of downtown. In April, the Twilight Criterium comes to town, bringing a full day of biking and running events to Athens. The event culminates late Saturday night as dozens of the best bicycle racers in the country compete in an 80 lap race around the downtown bar district. Many of the local bars open temporary “beer gardens” on the sidewalks, and cheering fans line both sides of the racecourse, inches away from the competitors. In June, volunteers erect several temporary stages in the streets for the Athfest Music and Arts Festival. Buying a wristband will get you into all the local clubs that host bands, but there is plenty to see for free. The 3 outdoor stages host different bands all weekend, and the streets between them are filled with arts, crafts and food vendors, and activities for the kids. Around Halloween, the Wild Rumpus Parade winds through the streets, which is big fun for both spectators and the costumed participants.
2. The UGA Campus
UGA is the first state chartered university in America (founded in 1785), and has a beautiful, sprawling 800 acre campus. Start at the iconic arches and wander through the lawns, gardens and fountains between the majestic old buildings. Check out the library and student center for rotating art exhibits and displays. And while football tickets can get pricey, several of the Bulldog sports events, such as volleyball, have free admission.
3. Botanical Gardens
A short drive south of downtown you'll find the Georgia State Botanical Gardens, home to the UGA Horticulture laboratory. Hiking trails wind around the 300 acre complex, showcasing the beautiful local plants, trees, and the gorgeous Day Chapel. The large indoor enclosure houses tropical plants, a café and a gift shop.
4. Farmers Market
The Athens farmers Market operates each Saturday, from 8 am to 12 noon from April through December at Bishop Park. It features local and sustainable produce and crafts, as well as live music and activities for children.
5. Bear Hollow Zoo
This is not a big-city style zoo with exotic animals in expensive enclosures. But for a small town zoo with free admission, it is very enjoyable and impressive. The zoo is inside Memorial Park, and features bears, bobcats, eagles, hawks, alligators and turtles. There are frequently staffers wandering the grounds showcasing animals that you can learn about and touch.
There are plenty more fun things to do, but I think these 5 are a great free way to sample the charm and flavor of Athens, Georgia.