There’s a famous saying in the South: “Whether you’re going to heaven or hell, you’re going through Atlanta.” It’s hard to avoid if you are flying or connecting through Hartsfield-Jackson International, one of the world’s busiest passenger airports. But that doesn’t mean visitors have to stay in the Peach State’s capital. Many towns in Georgia offer culturally rich experiences, outdoor adventures, and well-preserved architecture that are worth the trip. Here are seven reasons to discover Georgia beyond Atlanta.
Blue Ridge—Trout fishing capital of Georgia
Whether you’re a seasoned angler or first-timer, Blue Ridge offers a fishing experience that’s hard to match with more than 100 miles of trout streams in and around the town. The Toccoa River, with its abundance of rainbow and brown trout, is a local favorite. It’s also a gorgeous spot for kayaking and paddleboarding. But fishing excursions are not the only thing this charming mountain town offers. Trains take travelers along the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, through the iconic Appalachian Mountains and lush Chattahoochee National Forest.
In town, visitors can hunt for antiques, dig into traditional barbecue, and browse family-run shops, such as Oyster Bamboo Fly Rods. In the latter, you can buy pre-made rod caps and fishing poles, sign up for a pole-making class (there’s often a waitlist), and order a custom handcrafted bamboo fly rod.
Tallulah Falls—The outdoor adventure hub of Georgia
This Victorian-era resort town turned adventure capital draws visitors to one of the Southeast’s most beautiful natural areas. Tallulah Gorge State Park features a breathtaking two-mile-long canyon with steep walls that drop nearly 1,000 feet and a group of six waterfalls flowing to the bottom. It’s a dramatic mix of suspension bridge crossings, hiking trails with stellar vantage points, and waterways ideal for kayaking or paddleboarding.
Hikers need a permit to get on the gorge floor; only a hundred are issued a day from the park’s Interpretative Center, so get there early. For outdoor gear, stop by Wander North Georgia, a family-owned recreation store dedicated to keeping North Georgia green. After a long hike, refuel at Tallulah Adventures’ The Edge Café.
Athens—More than a college town
Despite being home to one of the oldest public universities in the U.S., there’s more to Athens than college football. Explore the city’s music history by taking a self-guided walking tour. Visit locations that played a significant role in the careers of bands like R.E.M. and the B-52s or stroll through the Georgia Music Hall of Fame collection at the University of Georgia.
Athens also marks the start of the state’s Antebellum Trail of historic Civil War towns, a hundred-mile route connecting seven communities from Athens to Macon. After, explore Georgia’s many natural treasures at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia and the Tree That Owns Itself, or Jackson Oak, on South Finley and Dearing Streets. According to legend, the original landowner loved the tree so much that he granted it and all land within eight feet of its base legal personhood in his will.
Augusta—Beyond the Masters Tournament
Each spring, thousands of people flock to this pocket of central Georgia for the Masters, one of the most revered golf tournaments in the United States. But this eclectic city offers more than just prized putting greens. Take a scenic boat tour along the historic Augusta Canal, Georgia’s first National Heritage Area, to learn about the impact of the Industrial Revolution.
Discover the rich legacy of Augusta’s African American community at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum. The two-hour guided tour takes visitors to more than 30 significant historical sites related to Augusta’s Black history. Don’t miss the new immersive experience, “Augusta’s Black Caddies—The Men on the Bag,” highlighting three legendary caddies who worked at the Augusta Nationals golf tournament. After, look for the more than 35 murals around the city, including the “Spirit of Funk: James Brown Mural,” located across the street from the James Brown Monument, just a 10-minute walk from the Augusta Museum of History.
Brunswick—Gateway to the Golden Isles
Once one of five ports of entry for the American colonies, Brunswick is the gateway to the Golden Isles, a group of barrier islands—including Jekyll Island, St. Simons Island, and Sea Island—known for their stunning beaches, nature reserves, and well-preserved Victorian architecture.
Browse dozens of locally-owned shops, art galleries, and markets located along oak tree-lined streets of Historic Downtown Brunswick. The best time to visit is the first Friday of every month, when hundreds of people gather for art exhibit openings, live music, and street performers.
Columbus—Walk among the stars
Situated on the Chattahoochee River, Columbus offers a range of activities, from virtual space exploration to outdoor recreation and world-class sporting events. Discover what it is like to be an astronaut at the Coca-Cola Space Science Center. Interactive exhibits include the Space Shuttle Odyssey launch simulator and the Challenger Learning Center mission simulator, where visitors can test their ship piloting and rover driving skills.
Come October, watch elite athletes worldwide showcase their freestyle canoeing skills at the I.C.F. Canoe Freestyle World Championship. This is the first time the event has been in North America after almost a decade. Visitors can have their own water adventure at RushSouth Whitewater Park. Watch kayakers battle challenging rapids on Riverwalk Island, the longest urban white water course, or ride on the first dual zip lines connecting two states (Georgia and Alabama). For those wanting to stay dry, join the RiverWalk GeoTour, featuring 31 challenging geocaches with collector game pieces.
Macon—Where history and culture meet
The history of music runs deep in Georgia, especially in Macon, located about an hour and a half drive from Atlanta. Learn about the rise of the Allman Brothers Band at the Big House museum, or “rock, roll, and stroll” through Macon music history on a guided outing with Rock Candy Tours. Catch a live show at the restored Grand Opera House, which hosts concerts, theater productions, and dance events.
History buffs should explore the Tubman African American Museum, the most extensive gallery in the Southeast devoted to African American art, history, and culture. Across the street, visitors learn about the state’s most outstanding athletes at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the largest state sports hall of fame in the U.S. From here, head to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, adjacent to downtown Macon, which was once a thriving Indigenous center for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Advocates are currently working to make the site Georgia’s first national park.
Starlight Williams is a Georgia native and travel editor for National Geographic. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter.
This story was created with the support of Explore Georgia and Visit Augusta.