With its peacefully beautiful coastline and rugged Appalachian interior, contrasting slow moving southern traditions and rapidly developing international cities, Georgia appeals to a broad spectrum of travelers. Whether you prefer to delve into Savannah’s antebellum history, roam the streets and clubs of Atlanta, or swim in the sea from a pristine Tybee beach, these ten destinations will have something to suit your tastes.
Built at the convergence of two rivers and surrounded by (approximately) seven hills, Georgia’s Rome is a storied old town nestled in the Appalachian foothills. Its Native American heritage is preserved in the Chieftain's Museum, focused on Cherokee chief Major Ridge, and visitors can learn about Rome’s more recent history at the Oak Hill & Martha Berry Museum, dedicated to Martha Berry, female founder of the town’s liberal arts college. And Rome is a popular weekend getaway spot with great places to eat (the Blue Fin, the Harvest Moon Cafe), drink (Old Havana, the 400 Block Bar) and shop.
Antebellum homes, a beautiful Catholic cathedral, grand Victorian mansions and enough cherry trees to earn the distinction of the cherry blossom capital of the world have made the mid-sized town of Macon popular with tourists seeking a pretty, historic and laid-back setting for a weekend away. There are a handful of unique and fascinating attractions, most notably the Ocmulgee Mounds, thousand-year-old Native American pyramids built on a hill with panoramic views over the new city. And then there are pleasant riverside walks, cosy cafes, tasty restaurants and intimate B&Bs.
Perhaps the most unusual destination on this list, Helen was an old Appalachian logging town that dwindled into near-non-existence with the decline of the industry in the highlands of Georgia. A stroke of genius saved the town, and it was converted into a recreation of a Bavarian Alpine village, a south German-style applied to the streets and the facade of every building. It now draws visitors from across the state, and is particularly popular with motorcyclists who stop over while riding the beautiful roads through the surrounding Alps - sorry, Appalachians. It’s particularly crowded during Autumn, when the leaves turn and the town holds its own version of Oktoberfest.
Dahlonega is famous for one thing: gold. It claims to be the site of the North America’s first gold rush; its name derives for the Cherokee word for yellow or gold; and for decades the town grew fabulously rich on the proceeds of various gold mines scattered in and around the town. Gold still provides the primary tourist attractions today, and in that way remains the town’s main source of income. Start in the Dahlonega Gold Museum, located in a former courthouse in the town’s central square, then choose between guided tours into a couple of former gold mines - Grissom's, Consolidated - and try your hand at a little gold panning. Real enthusiasts should visit on the third weekend of October, when the town holds its annual Gold Rush Festival.
Atlanta is frequently framed as the epitome of the USA’s New South, blending southern culture and traditions with a fast-moving, progressive spirit. Site of the busiest airport in the world, the city has no shortage of world-class restaurants, great bars, top hotels and cultural attractions. Visitors can hop from the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum for a taste of 20th century US history, before relaxing with a sweet tea or Coca-Cola, whose world headquarters are located downtown. Afterwards, Midtown awaits for some of the best nightlife in the southern states, including a particularly vibrant LGBTQ scene.
A barrier island 18 miles east of Savannah, Tybee has grown into one of Georgia’s tourist hot spots over recent years. It’s not difficult to see why - three miles of pristine beach slope into the shallow waters of the Atlantic, while on shore visitors will find an opulent selection of hotels, holiday villas and vacation homes. Mix this with a selection of sublime seafood restaurants and a handful of historic attractions such as the Tybee Island Light Station and the Civil War-era Fort Pulaski, and you’ve got a terrific vacation destination
Georgia was born in Savannah when it was settled by British colonists in 1733. 130 years later, General Sherman marched through town as the south fell to the Unionists, and his men were given the run of the city in return for refraining from torching it; this foresighted decision has left Savannah with some of the finest and most extensive antebellum architecture in the south. Today, it’s a relaxed, fun-seeking city with beautiful cobblestone streets running along the banks of the Savannah River, a network of picturesque city squares, a terrific market, a lively art and theater scene, and a reputation for rowdy tailgating parties
Jekyll Island ranks alongside Tybee as one of coastal Georgia’s prime vacation destinations, built around five miles of beautiful beaches. It’s been this way for a while - back in the 19th century, the island was owned by the famous Jekyll Island Club, made up of some of America’s wealthiest families (the Rockefellers and Morgans among them) who used it as a winter retreat. Somewhat less exclusive these days, its a top spot for families and vacationers with a penchant for fishing, golf and cycling.
Moving away from the coast and onto Georgia’s forest-cloaked mountains, Blue Ridge is a small resort town with a range of accommodation and restaurant options located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountain range. It’s a popular destination in autumn, when the turning leaves create a stunning tapestry of red, gold, yellow and bronze, and it’s also well frequented in the summer, situated close to several sand-fringed mountain lakes. It also makes a great stop-off while walking part or all of the mighty Appalachian Trail.
Once cloaked with rice and cotton plantations worked by enslaved Africans, St Simons evolved through the 20th century into a resort island with upmarket hotels and B&Bs dotted around its interior of woods and marshland. Before this, the island had a long indigenous history, home to the Timucuan and Guales peoples, before they were wiped out by Spanish settlers. The Spanish in turn were pitched out by the British, and the remains of Fort Frederica, built in 1736 on the site of a particularly bloody British ambush, evoke some of this history. These days the island is a perfect vacation destination for those who enjoy a little outdoor exertion: cycling, sea kayaking, deep sea fishing, windsurfing, parasailing and birdwatching are all popular activities.