WHY VISIT GEORGIA
Georgia is delightfully diverse, mixing shiny skyscrapers and antebellum architecture, forested mountains, and low-lying swamps, with no end of irresistible Southern charm.
In the booming city of Atlanta (known as “The City in a Forest”), magnolia and dogwood trees surround handsome Georgian-style homes, yet only blocks away, dazzling contemporary buildings add to the city’s ever-growing skyline. The glitzy Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coca-Cola (sugar overload alert) are visitor magnets, while locals bike the Eastside Trail and refuel at Ponce City Market’s cosmopolitan eateries.
Small-town Georgia shows its stuff on the Antebellum Trail, winding through over 160km (100 miles) of sprawling plantation estates, colonnaded antebellum homes, and beautifully preserved inns dishing up Southern soul food of grits and fried chicken.
Hundreds of hardcore thru-hikers start the Appalachian Trail at Springer Mountain every spring, but if you don’t have a spare six months to trek all 3,510km (2,181 miles) to Maine, fear not. Hikes to Blood Mountain, the trail’s highest point in Georgia, or Long Creek Falls, are both doable in a day.
Canoeists gently tease their paddles through the Okefenokee Swamp’s black water to avoid too-close-for-comfort encounters with the 20,000 alligators living in this peaty bog. Black bears, blue herons, and white-tailed deer are all keeping an eye on you too.
To the east, wild horses roam on Cumberland Island, a plantation turned Carnegie family retreat, and now a place to camp, flop on undeveloped beaches, and hike through untouched coastal forest.
History buffs can visit Civil War battlefields and sites across the state, including Old Fort Jackson on the Savannah River, Georgia’s oldest intact brick fortification, with ear-splitting daily cannon firings. And movie aficionados may recognize a few spots from The Hunger Games or The Walking Dead. Fortunately, you’re unlikely to meet any zombies.
WHAT TO SEE IN GEORGIA
- Golden Isles: a string of beautiful barrier islands along the coast of Georgia, the Golden Isles have been a popular beach trip for generations located just south of Savannah. The natural sanctuaries on Cumberland Island National Seashore, just down the road from tourist-happy Jekyll Island and its attractions like Summer Waves Water Park, have been charming visitors since the 1880s. Four golf courses, 20 miles of paved bike paths, and a cool dolphin tour make this island the best of the bunch for families, as well as couples. St Simons is another popular getaway, while historic Brunswick is where much of the area’s heritage is on display.
- Atlanta: Georgia’s urban metropolis, Atlanta, is many things to many people. The hometown of Gone with the Wind has grown up and modernized, with three professional sports teams, cultural attractions like the High Museum of Art, and the bohemian Little Five Points neighborhood. Downtown has a cluster of attractions within walking distance like the Georgia Aquarium, CNN Studios, the World of Coca-Cola, and Centennial Olympic Park. Two enormous farmers’ markets, the trendy neighborhood of Virginia-Highland, and Piedmont Public Park are other highlights in this vibrant southern city. Fun nightlife, awesome dining, and plenty of cool shopping round out the experience of ATL.
- Savannah: you won’t want to leave Georgia without spending a day or two in Savannah. It’s like stepping back into the Antebellum South of the 1800s. The historic district is the largest in America, with period mansions lining the streets where massive oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Downtown Johnson Square is a good place to enjoy an evening concert, while River Street is where to shop ‘til you drop. Stroll along the River Walk which outlines the Savannah River for a nice perspective on this important historic city or better yet, sees it on the water from the Savannah River Queen. Bonaventura Cemetery is simply magical, and plenty of organized walking tours will show you the underside of this southern gem.
- Antebellum Trail: an undeniable allure to Georgia is its incredible amount of pre-Civil War towns and their architecture. The state has created the Antebellum Trail to help you save time and hit all the historic settlements in one shot. Just 100 miles east of Atlanta by car takes you back through time to enjoy the few remaining neoclassic plantations General Sherman didn’t burn down during his infamous march of the South. Milledgeville, Madison, and Athens are just some of the stars on this cool driving route. Plan a day in each town to really soak in the unique ambiance found nowhere else in America.
- Chattahoochee National Forest: both an incredibly scenic driving loop and one of Georgia’s top natural attractions, this national forest is best enjoyed by renting a car and planning a day (or two) leisurely cruising US Route 76. Running from Ellijay through Blairsville and onward to Clayton, the drive is pure scenery all the way, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1920s when the federal government bought this region and the Blue Ridge Mountains to protect it. Though primarily a forest, there are a few traditional towns near the Chattahoochee that retain the nearly extinct Appalachian mountain culture. Few other locations in Georgia offer this mix of culture, small-town ambiance, and outdoor recreation in one spot.
- Macon: the anchor of the southwest is the historic town of Macon, a real gem that comes alive every spring when the March Cherry Blossom Festival lures thousands of people to this corner of the state. Cotton made this region rich, and many antebellum homes avoided Sherman’s torch. Warm Springs and Callaway Gardens are also in the area, with more history and some lovely inns to spend a night or two. But Macon is the star, with 170,000 cherry trees, wide boulevards, and stately mansions, rivaled only by Savannah for its pre-war architecture. The Grand Opera House, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame are other must-see Macon destinations.
- North Georgia: only an hour or two north of Atlanta by car, North Georgia is a marvelous area of under-appreciated nature and historic sites. The state’s highest peak is here, acres of national forest are open for hiking, and many mountain lakes are ideal for canoeing and fishing. Limestone caverns, sheer granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and mesa-topped mountains are common fodder in this corner of the state. It’s an outdoor adventurer’s playground with plenty of history mixed in. Remnants of the Civil War and preserved traditions of Appalachian heritage add to the magic of the region. Dahlonega is the main hub, offering easy access to highlights like Unicoi, Vogel, and Amicalola Falls.
WHEN TO GO TO GEORGIA
The best period to visit Georgia is from May to October.
Georgia weather is effectively divided into two regions. The low country includes the coastal area and the Savannah Plain, while the up country area is to the north and where the foothills of the Appalachians create a slightly cooler climate.
In general, Georgia enjoys mild weather all year round. The average annual temperature in Atlanta is around 70°F. Summers tend to be hot and humid throughout most of the state, with daytime highs hovering in the upper 80’s (°F) and into the low 90’s (°F) from June to August. In the mountains, the temperatures are about 5 to 10°F cooler all year round. Rain falls frequently in summer and throughout the whole year in general.
Winters are pleasantly mild with temperatures ranging from 50°F to 60°F. In the mountains, it can be a bit colder with even an occasional snowfall. Spring and fall are both excellent seasons in Georgia, with temperatures sticking in the comfortable 70°F range and lots of pretty scenery.
WHAT TO DO IN GEORGIA
Stumble through history in Savannah
No city in all of the South, much less Georgia, embodies the Southern dichotomy of gentility and debauchery quite like Savannah. The grand mansions that line the moss-draped squares are pure old-school class — and they’re set only a few blocks away from one of the wildest bar districts in the country. Savannah has no problem with you walking down the street with your drink in hand, meandering from jazz club to Irish pub among a sea of the overserved. Many of those people are also the ones living in the grand mansions. They help make Savannah what it is: a delectable, sometimes decadent, co-mingling of architecture and carefree spirit.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations in Georgia.
- Cherry Blossom Festival: each March, Macon, Georgia revels in its 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees as they burst into a symphony of blossoms. The historic town is cool, to begin with, but add a splash of color and things get downright inspiring. During this time, Macon also hosts a week of music concerts, food fairs, hot air balloons, fireworks after dark, and parades by day.
- Savannah Irish Festival: surprisingly, the city of Savannah puts on the biggest and best St Patrick’s Day party in the South. For several days each March, the city holds parades, concerts, outdoor parties, and other festivities to herald in spring and let off some steam.
- Atlanta Dogwood Festival: Georgia’s biggest city kicks off its spring with a celebration of the lovely dogwood tree as it blooms each April. For three days in the first half of April, Piedmont Park turns into a carnival of food stalls, entertainment, and horticulture marvels with the dogwood center stage. Part gardening festival, part spring celebration, this is one fun weekend in Atlanta at the city’s biggest park.
- NASCAR Races: every September, it’s time for the NASCAR motor racing circuit to make its stop in Georgia at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The quad-oval-shaped track is one of the fastest in America, and the speedway can hold up to 125,000 spectators.
- Atlanta Arts Festival: every September, Atlanta’s massive Piedmont Park becomes a playground for art lovers. More than 200 artists representing every medium imaginable come to the city to show their talent to throngs of residents and visitors. The fall weather is ideal for frolicking outdoors and the city also tacks on music concerts and food events to round out the experience.
- Georgia Mountain Fall Festival: fall is a magical season in the hills of Georgia, and this popular festival brings together a number of elements that make for an all-around good time with family and friends. Taking place at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee each October, the state’s unofficial country music capital also has carnival rides, food stalls, pageants, parades, and of course, lots of countries and bluegrass tunes.
- Savannah Harbor Boat Parade of Lights: Savannah’s harbor is already about as iconic as a waterfront can be. Add about 60 ships decked out in lights and parade them along the edge of the harbor and you’ve got something really special. Every November, the city of Savannah celebrates its maritime heritage with this one-day extravaganza that ends with a lovely fireworks display over the water.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH GEORGIA
In Atlanta, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) operates an integrated network of subways and buses that cover most of the important parts of the city. MARTA transport is safe, affordable, and reliable, but is only practical for trips around downtown. Visitors can buy multi-trip passes or seven-day passes for unlimited travel using the Breeze Card. But to get to the suburbs, you must drive yourself.
Savannah and other large cities in Georgia also have public bus networks that can be useful for getting short distances around the city center. Transportation between towns is best done via the Greyhound bus, which operates long-distance buses to nearly every town in the state and country. Fares are reasonable and the seats are comfortable enough for a few hours.
Amtrak trains pass through Georgia on their way up and down the eastern seaboard. Atlanta, Savannah, and a handful of smaller towns sit along the long-distance Crescent Line that runs between New York and New Orleans. The train journey from New York to Atlanta takes about 19 hours when there are no delays, and though fares are about the same as those for domestic flights, the scenery is very nice if you have the time to spare.
Main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON GEORGIA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-6,-5 (-5,-4)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN GEORGIA
Typical food in Georgia
- Crab cakes
- Grits and cornbread
- Vidalia Onions
- Fried Chicken
- Pimento Cheese
- Shrimp and Grits
- Brunswick Stew
- Cornbread cake
- Pecan pie
- Peach cobbler
- Lowcountry Boil
- Buttermilk Pie
- Mexican Tortas
- Lemon Pepper Wings
- Chili Dog
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- Boiled Peanuts
Souvenirs from Georgia
- Peaches, Pecans, Pimento Cheese, peanuts, ecans, blueberries and spring onions