Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Athens, GA

  • Published 2023/01/06

Athens, Georgia, has a laid-back college town appeal with a lively atmosphere and plenty of recreation opportunities.

This city, which is the county seat of Clarke County, is home to the renowned University of Georgia.

Historically, Athens started as a small trading settlement on the shores of the Oconee River.

It became a city after Abraham Baldwin’s charter was granted by the Georgia General Assembly in 1785 to establish Georgia’s first state-sponsored university.

The settlement then grew into a town and a city in the next decades, which paved the way for it to grow bigger.

Today, Athens is a blissful destination that many haven’t discovered.

Besides being the home of a renowned university, Athens has plenty more to offer.

It has art museums, historical attractions, parks, and natural areas, which are a stone’s throw away from each other.

Amazingly, most of these attractions don’t cost a single penny to enjoy.

Read on to discover free things to do in Athens, Georgia.

Explore the Historic University of Georgia Campus

Buildings at the Historic University of Georgia Campus

Sean Pavone /

The Historic University of Georgia Campus isn’t just your typical college.

This place in Athens is full of history, charm, and gorgeous sceneries, especially its old college portion.

When visiting this part of the university, you’ll come across the restored 1806 old college buildings, which once served as classrooms, dormitories, administrative offices, and barracks.

A hall at the Historic University of Georgia Campus

Bryan Pollard /

The Historic University of Georgia Campus comprises numerous three-story brick buildings which are free to tour and explore.

Grab the chance to discover the different sides of Athens’ past by wandering through this magnificent historic area.

Stadium at the Historic University of Georgia Campus

Books Beans and Beads /

Stop by the Athens Welcome Center

The Athens Welcome Center serves as the city’s visitor center along E. Dougherty Street in Athens’ downtown area.

This visitor center is unique, considering it’s housed in the Church-Waddel-Brumby House Museum.

It offers various brochures, maps, and answers to your questions about getting to Athens’ attractions.

It’s an excellent place to ask for directions and recommended places.

Athens Welcome Center also has a gift shop for souvenirs.

Stroll inside the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

Welcome sign of the State Botanical Garden of Georgia

KL Starr /

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a wonderful place to explore, especially for plant lovers.

This botanical garden, managed by the University of Georgia, spans over 313 acres filled with rare and colorful plants.

It’s one of Athens’ must-see attractions because of its wonderful collection of plants and flowers that you can see up close by strolling through its scenic trails.

Visiting this botanical garden isn’t just for plant lovers and those who want to de-stress since it has a tranquil atmosphere.

Visiting the State Botanical Garden of Georgia is a splendid experience you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Athens.

You can visit this gorgeous attraction along S. Milledge Avenue.

Bring Your Kids to the World of Wonder Playground

The World of Wonder Playground lives up to its name as an amazing place for kids to have fun.

Unlike common playgrounds, this one has dozens of exciting features and play sets to keep your little ones busy.

It has plenty of slides, including a three-story slide tower, a spinner, a climber, rope swings, and other features.

Adults can wait for their children at the picnic area or enjoy a short walk through the park’s 1.5-mile concrete trail.

The World of Wonder Playground is an excellent place to bring kids to have fun without breaking the bank since it’s free to the public.

You can visit this children’s playground along Whit Davis Road in Southeast Clarke Park.

Browse through Artworks at the Georgia Museum of Art

Facade of the Georgia Museum of Art

ESB Professional /

The Georgia Museum of Art opened in 1948 as Georgia’s official state art museum.

This art museum along Carlton Street within the University of Georgia houses over 10,000 artworks, making it an exciting place to explore, especially for art lovers.

Its permanent collection includes 19th to 20th-century American paintings, European masterpieces, Asian artworks, and more.

It also has Italian Renaissance paintings of the Kress Study Collection and a growing collection of Asian and southern decorative arts.

Remarkably, this art museum is open to the public for free, so grab the chance to see these magnificent artworks when visiting Athens.

Besides exploring the art collections of the Georgia Museum of Arts, you can also attend art workshops and related events to complete your experience.

Connect with Nature at the Oconee Forest Park

Oconee Forest Park is a sprawling public natural area known for its ancient petroglyphs, historic ruins, and plenty of outdoor recreation.

This 60-acre forest park is one of the best places in Athens to connect with nature because of its lush and pristine greenery, peaceful ambiance, and abundance of local flora and fauna.

Remarkably, this small forest in Athens has been existing for the past 100 years, thanks to the efforts of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources that takes care of it.

It’s your go-to place if you’re yearning to connect with nature through hiking, biking, and sightseeing, which are all pleasant experiences you shouldn’t miss.

You can visit this park along Riverbend Road.

Meet Locals at Athens Downtown

Aerial view of Athens Downtown

Sean Pavone /

Athens Downtown is the best place to discover what the city offers.

Here, you’ll come across historical attractions, parks, shops, and restaurants in a bustling environment.

Shops along Athens Downtown

Sean Pavone /

As you journey downtown, you’ll enjoy free music sessions from buskers and see huge murals on alleyways and building walls.

There are plenty of things happening in Athens Downtown, making for a memorable stroll in the city.

Night scene at Athens Downtown

Sean Pavone /

Go Fishing at the Middle Oconee River

Head to the Middle Oconee River if you want to test your bait against the fish thriving in its waters.

You can access one of its beaches at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

This river flows over 65 miles that connects to the main Oconee River.

Many locals flock to this river to fish since it’s abundant with black bass, white bass, crappie, catfish, and bream.

With that in mind, remember to pack your fishing gear when visiting Athens because you’re likely to spend your time waiting to catch some fish.

Otherwise, you can head out to the Middle Oconee River’s natural area to hunt for turkey, hogs, deer, or waterfowl.

Feel the Rush of the Athens Twilight Criterium

Besides the gorgeous parks and streets, Athens is also home to a premier cycling event dubbed the Athens Twilight Criterium.

This major cycling race happens every April, featuring some of the nation’s best cyclists competing in a criterium race through Athens’ major thoroughfares.

This sought-after sports event has been happening for the past three decades in Athens, drawing thousands of spectators throughout Georgia and neighboring states.

Witnessing this one-of-a-kind cycling race is an exhilarating and unique experience during your trip to Athens.

At the same time, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the neck-to-neck action between cyclists and the energetic fans cheering on the side of the streets.

Mark your calendar in April to witness the Athens Twilight Criterium!

Explore the Historic Five Points

A bakery at Five Points

Jen Wolf /

Five Points is an upscale 1920s-era charming neighborhood in the city.

This place is renowned for its well-balanced retro flair and traditional charm.

This community is one of the sought-after places for college students.

Besides its retro shops, restaurants, and cafes, this place is known for its gorgeous well-preserved century-old houses, which served as dormitories and fraternity/sorority houses.

Strolling through Five Points streets is like walking down memory lane, making it a must-visit during your trip to Athens.

Step inside the Athens Institute to Discover Contemporary Art

Head to the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art, a non-profit and independent art gallery that opened in 2001.

It’s an ideal place to browse through more artwork during your trip to Athens, as it’s home to the best contemporary artworks in the area.

Besides the usual paintings, you’ll come across gorgeous contemporary photos and other artworks at the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art.

At the same time, you can catch art-related events and workshops for a more interactive experience.

You can visit this unique art attraction along Pulaski Street.

Enjoy the Festive Atmosphere of the AthFest

A band during the AthFest

Jen Wolf /

The AthFest is an annual music and arts festival in the city.

This three-day free festival celebrates Athens’ vibrant creative music and arts culture.

It features various musicians, singers, bands, and visual artists from around the nation converging at Athens’ historic downtown.

Handmade products for sale at the AthFest

Jen Wolf /

Thousands of visitors around Georgia flock to Athens to enjoy free concerts, art exhibits, and fun-filled activities during the three-day festival.

Joining the celebration of the AthFest is a wonderful way to rub elbows with locals and visitors.

This unique festival is a must whether you’re a music lover, an art lover, or a partygoer who wants to have extreme fun.

Pet accessories at the AthFest

Jen Wolf /

Check Out Athens’ Public Art Installations

Athens’ vibrant local art community beautifies the city with its unique and awe-inspiring public art installations.

It’s a no-brainer that you’ll find plenty of murals, unique sculptures, and other artworks scattered throughout Athens.

For a fun-filled art adventure, you can explore Athens streets to find these amazing public art installations.

These public art installations include the famous bulldog statue, the giant fire hydrant, the massive mural paintings, sculptures, and more.

Athens’ public art installations add life and color to every corner of the city.

Play Sports at the Walker Park

Head to Walker Park and play sports before wrapping up your Athens travel adventure.

You can visit this park along Trail Creek Street.

This park, formerly known as Trail Creek Park, is famous among locals for its sports facilities.

It has a football field, a rugby field, and a softball diamond.

It also has a space for frisbee games which regularly hosts a statewide tournament.

The park, spanning 113 acres, is the perfect place to stretch your legs and burn calories after exploring Athens’ attractions.

Besides the sports facilities, Walker Park has a picnic pavilion, a splash pad, and a playground.

Take a Break at the Founders Memorial Garden

A house at the Founders Memorial Garden

Bryan Pollard /

The Founders Memorial Garden is a charming historical attraction commemorating the 12 American Garden Club Movement founders, established in Georgia in 1891.

What makes this garden worthy of visiting is the 300-plus plant and tree species that thrive under the care of the founder of the University of Georgia Landscape Architecture Program.

Plants at the Founders Memorial Garden

Coxonian, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The entire garden spans over 2.5 acres and is perfect for taking photos.

You can also go on a historical side trip with guided or self-guided tours at the Founders Memorial Garden.

You can visit this historical attraction along S. Lumpkin Street.

Final Thoughts

This list of the free things to do in Athens, Georgia, is a testament that enjoying your time in this gorgeous city doesn’t cost a dime.

Plenty of hidden gems are worth discovering when you visit Athens.

Remember to pin this list as your handy itinerary to make your visit to Athens more convenient and fun.

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