As a former battleground during the Civil War and cradle for the Civil Rights Movement, it's hard to separate Georgia from its loaded past. 

But look closer and you'll see a kaleidoscope of historical landmarks, contemporary communities and natural treasures skirting the cityscapes; each offering a variety of experiences for a range of travelers. 

Here’s our list of the best places to visit in Georgia. 

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German style houses in Helen, Georgia.
During the winter months, revel in holiday cheer and shopping in the quaint town of Helen © Sean Pavone Photo / Getty Images

Go shopping in Helen 

The town of Helen is brimming with revelry during the fall Oktoberfest, but it can turn into a shopper’s paradise during the holiday season. Kitschy at first glance, gift shops and strings of lights illuminate the streets of this faux Germantown situated along the Chattahoochee and about two hours from Atlanta. 

The tinny clink of bells on shop doors signal the hurried movement of shoppers while the clacking in the woodshop keeps time for them as a countdown to Christmas. 

Here, visitors can purchase apparel, toys, or decadent treats from the fudge shops that fill the air with the cloying scent of vanilla, cream, and chocolate at once. 

A life-size gingerbread man and technicolor light display make this town a festive spot to snap holiday photos and warm up to a steaming bowl of goulash or spätzle after. 

Embrace eco-friendly life at Serenbe 

Ground yourself with an escape to Serenbe, a collection of sustainable neighborhoods in the rural hamlets on the outskirts of Atlanta. Dirt paths, quaint cottages and penned pastures abound along its winding farmsteads. The settlement’s layout and building features minimize environmental impact. 

The scent of sodden earth, the bleating of livestock or the succulence of locally-grown produce will detox the mind and reinvigorate the body. 

From outdoor goat yoga to farmer's markets, art galleries to healing centers, Serenbe's eco-friendly establishments make way to reconnect with oneself and strengthen a connection to one's surrounding spaces.

Don’t miss dinner at the Farmhouse, where hearty risottos, Georgia fowl and signature bourbon pecan pie are favorites. In the summer months, visitors can roll up their sleeves for flower arrangement workshops or blueberry picking. 

 

Enjoy the nightlife in Poncey Highlands

Rooftop bars, underground karaoke and alternative strip clubs find a unique home in Atlanta’s Highlands. This vibrant neighborhood plays host to Clermont Lounge, Atlanta’s oldest and most offbeat adult entertainment venue, flaunting an entirely female ownership, quirky dancers, live music, an enviable rooftop bar and indiscriminate patronage. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrity visitors. 

For those looking to take a more active role in the entertainment, look no further than karaoke in the basement of Dark Horse Tavern. A live metal band provides vocalists with accompaniments.  

But it’s not all adult fun. Grab some grub in the mess hall of Ponce City Market and then head to the roof for vintage games and a brilliant panorama of the Atlanta skyline. The whole family can enjoy post-dinner amusement amidst the carnival atmosphere at Skyline Park.

Top 7 state parks in Georgia 

A pair of legs hang over the sides of a hammock. There are two more hammocks hanging off a gnarled tree on Jekyll Island.
Jekyll Island has long been playground for the wealthy © Lee Dawkins / EyeEm / Getty Images

Get a dose of wealthy history on Jekyll Island 

Join the ranks of the richest American families in history who comprised one-sixth of the world’s wealth — from J.P. Morgan to Joseph Pulitzer and John D. Rockefeller.

The Jekyll Island Club Resort is luxuriously furnished with Victorian decor while offering modern comforts and activities to make for a memorable stay. The beachside bungalow once hosted the likes of the Vanderbilts, who came down to Jekyll Island for a respite from city life in the North. 

Along the isolated coasts of Georgia’s barrier island, they enjoyed hunting, fishing and golfing. Here, an exclusive group of them, identified only by first name, drafted the beginning of the nation’s federal bank, the Federal Reserve.

Today, visitors can enjoy modern room amenities and ample activities, such as boating, art classes, biking and guided horse-drawn carriage rides. 

History buffs will particularly enjoy walking the lavishly draped halls and sun-bathed terraces where the movers and shakers of the 19th and early 20th centuries once stood. 

Escape to Georgia’s rolling hills at Chateau Elan 

The plush, pillowy villas of Chateau Elan in Braselton beckon to couples seeking a secluded, sensuous experience. The sweeping views of the European-style resort against Georgia's undulating hills (just an hour from Atlanta) transport one to the French countryside.

Enjoy a sumptuous brunch at the Versailles restaurant in the hotel's lofty atrium. Take part in a hands-on culinary class during the day, or indulge in the syrupy sweetness of Georgia's local, hand-picked muscadine grapes.

For ultimate relaxation, unravel in the mist of the spa's eucalyptus steam room or melt away stress with a candlelit couple's massage. End the night with a guided stargazing session away from city lights. 

The14 best free things to do in Georgia 

A trio of white Porsches are lined outside the glass building of the Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta.
The Porsche Experience Center offers adrenaline junkies a chance to sped around the 1.6-mile track © Helioscribe / Shutterstock

Rev your engines at the Porsche Experience Center

Adrenaline junkies put the pedal to the medal at the Porsche Experience Center – one of three locations in the USA. The 1.6-mile racing track emulates the countryside and gives drivers the thrill of hugging sinuous roads at high speeds – if they dare.

For the less ambitious, an indoor Simulator Lab offers virtual access to drive a myriad of tracks and Porsche models around the world. 

And if the cars weren't exhilarating enough, the elevated Restaurant 356 provides a bird's-eye perspective of the track as well as uninterrupted views of commercial jets taking off and landing at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.  

The restaurant's locally-sourced seasonal menu includes tasty seafood and pasta dishes.

Stroll the cobblestone streets of Savannah

Savannah stoops seep with charm – from cobblestone squares to horse-drawn carriages. Take a stroll through the arboretum at Forsyth Park, with its collection of Spanish-moss swathed trees, fountains and scattered sidewalk musicians. 

To soak up architecture, tour the historic district, particularly the Hamilton-Turner Inn, one of the first buildings in Savannah to be completely equipped with electricity. From there, traverse Jones Street still paved in the original colonial-era red brick. 

At twilight, promenade the riverwalk or take a river cruise to explore the waterways surrounding this coastal city that has so much of America’s history to tell.

Savannah vs. Charleston: which Southern gem to visit 

A male hiker descends into the canyon via the hiking trail at Providence Canyon State Park
Plan a hike in Providence Canyon, which has miles of trails to check out © Jacqueline Nix / Getty Images

Go for a hike at Providence Canyon 

The vermillion ridges of Providence Canyon carved by erosion from poor farming practices in the 1800s attract visitors every year.  Less than an hour from Columbus, this 1003-acre state park has miles of trails to check out. 

The wondrously colorful red, pink, purple and orange layers of soil make it one of the most picturesque destinations in the region. 

Visitors can hike the canyon itself, but your feet will get wet from the water table below that permeates the canyon base. Looking to stay dry? A rim trail traces the outer edge of the canyon.

Backcountry overnight stays are available.  

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Georgia’s 10 best hikes
Top things to do in Macon, Georgia
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