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17 Best Free Things to Do in Athens, GA, According to a Local

Botanical Gardens in Athens, Georgia, GA

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In this post we are going to talk about the best free things to do in Athens, Georgia.

You’ll find the culturally vibrant Athens, Georgia, 70 miles northeast of Atlanta. It’s the state’s first stop along the Antebellum Trail and the home of the University of Georgia campus. This college town has much to see and do. It’s great for the budget-focused traveler. Athens, Georgia, has it all: arts, culture, nature, and history. It even has a tree that owns itself! 

17 Free Things to Do in Athens, Georgia

If you’re looking for free things to do in Athens, Georgia, you’re in luck. There’s much to see and do in the area that will cost you nothing but the time and fuel it takes to get there.

Check out the following points of interest on your trip to Athens. 

1. Visit the State Botanical Gardens of Georgia

Photo by Crystal Jackson
Photo by Crystal Jackson

While Atlanta’s botanical gardens might get the most attention, you’ll find that the State Botanical Gardens in Athens offers much to delight the eyes and senses. Enjoy the hiking trails, gardens, and even a treehouse playground on this immense University of Georgia property. It’s easily one of my favorite places in Athens, and the best news is that it’s entirely free.

They do accept donations to help toward their mission of conservation and preservation, but there’s no charge to visit except during the holiday light display in December. Be aware that pets aren’t allowed on the property, so this isn’t the best location for hiking with your pup.

Otherwise, bring the family and enjoy a picnic on the lawn, a hike through the forest, or a leisurely tour of the extensive gardens with its many sculptures. 

Botanical Gardens in Athens, GA
Photo by Crystal Jackson

2. Visit Bear Hollow Zoo

Bear Hollow Zoo, one of the free things to do in Athens, GA
Photo by Crystal Jackson

Another free stop on your visit to Athens, Georgia, is Bear Hollow Zoo, an Athens-Clarke County zoo and wildlife trail located within Memorial Park. The animals at the zoo have encountered challenges that make it impossible for them to thrive in the wild.

The zoo offers a safe home as well as educational opportunities for visitors. You’ll find black bears, otters, beavers, red foxes, American alligators, spotted skunks, deer, bald eagles, wild turkey, various owls, and a number of different reptiles in the zoo. Exhibits change periodically, and special events are held at the zoo throughout the year. 

3. Visit Memorial Park to Feed the Ducks and Turtles

Photo by Manuel Velasquez on Unsplash

After you’ve toured Bear Hollow Zoo, don’t forget to enjoy the rest of Memorial Park. You’ll find trails, outdoor basketball courts, a swimming pool, a playground, a fishing pond, picnic tables, a dog park, and the Athens Creative Theatre (Quinn Hall).

Stop and feed the ducks and turtles before you leave the park. Just remember: Bread isn’t good for them, so don’t bring your own. If you have quarters on hand, you can purchase food to feed the ducks and turtles who call the pond home. 

4. Visit the Georgia Museum of Art

You might be surprised to learn that it’s free to attend the Georgia Museum of Art. There’s a permanent collection at the museum, but there are also special exhibits throughout the year.

It has over 100 American paintings as well as African, Asian, and European art. On the third Thursday of each month, you can join a free yoga class in the gallery. Mats are provided, and space is limited. Arrive early to secure your spot. 

5. Visit the UGA Special Collections Libraries

While you’re in town, check out the UGA Special Collections Libraries on the University of Georgia campus. You can visit the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives & Peabody Awards Collection.

Free group tours are available upon request and must be scheduled at least two weeks in advance. Temporary exhibits are also available to view on your visit to the Special Collections Libraries. 

6. Visit Sandy Creek Nature Center

Another stop on your visit to Athens, Georgia, is the Sandy Creek Nature Center. You’ll find six miles of trails for hiking, and there’s even a planetarium.

Check out an 1815 log house and live animal exhibits on your visit. Donations are accepted, but there’s no fee to enter and enjoy this beautiful nature center. 

7. Visit the University of Georgia Campus

While you’re in town, you might want a tour of the UGA campus in downtown Athens, Georgia.

There are 760 acres to explore, and college sports fans may want to stop and see Sanford Stadium, Foley Field, and Stegeman Coliseum. Prospective students can schedule a free campus tour, and other visitors can download a self-guided tour of the University of Georgia campus.

8. Visit World of Wonder (WOW) Park Playground

If you’re traveling with children, you’ll want to check out World of Wonder Park Playground. This fenced-in playground is ADA-accessible and offers ramp access in the 2–5-year-old area as well as two transfer platforms in the older children’s play area.

You’ll also find a three-story Slide Tower, two-story Dynamo Apollo Spinner, a climbing rock wall, a rope web climber, a Biba Activated Playground, bench swings for parents, swings for mobility impairments, standard swings, and parent-child swings. 

The good news for parents and grandparents is that there’s plenty of shade to sit in while your children play and water-bottle refill stations in the park. There’s also a half-mile walking trail around the playground. While I cannot recommend the cleanliness of the bathrooms, they are adjacent to the playground for convenience. 

9. Visit the Oconee Forest Park

Nature-lovers can also enjoy a free visit to a 100-year-old forest at the Oconee Forest Park. This pet-friendly park has plenty of trails but does require your dog to be leashed at all times.

The park also has an ADA-compliant boardwalk and bridge to make it accessible for all guests. Enjoy the many benefits of forest bathing with a visit to this beautiful, protected space. 

10. Visit AthFest

In June of each year, Athens hosts AthFest, a 3-day music and arts festival. The festival includes three outdoor stages with live musical performances, an Artists Market, and a KidsFest area.

While the event is free, you can purchase a Cub Crawl Wristband to skip the cover charges at the local music venues and clubs hosting live events during AthFest. The festival raises money for AthFest Educates, a grant program that supports K-12 music and arts education in Athens, Georgia. 

11. Visit the Lyndon House Arts Center

Another must-see location for art lovers is the Lyndon House Arts Center. Not only are there ever-changing exhibits to see, you can also take classes and attend events here.

Although visiting the center is free, you also have the option to purchase an Open Studio Membership to access any of the 7 art studios, which include painting and drawing, ceramics, jewelry, sculpture, photography, fiber, and printmaking. 

12. Visit the Tree That Owns Itself

One of the coolest things you’ll see for free in Athens is The Tree That Owns Itself. In August of 1890, Colonel William H. Jackson deeded the giant oak tree to itself in his will, including the 8-feet surrounding it.

While the tree fell in a storm in 1942, the Junior Ladies Garden Club of Athens planted a new one in the same spot. The plaque’s incription reads:



13. Visit the We Let the Dawgs Out Public Art Exhibit

Kids Playing
Photo by Crystal Jackson

In 2003, the Athens-Oconee Junior Women’s Club installed the first “We Let the Dawgs Out” exhibit. The original exhibit included three dozen bulldog statues painted by local artists and installed around the community.

The project ended in 2010 when the bulldogs were all auctioned off to raise $25,000 for AIDS Athens, but you can still see the originals and many new statues all around the Athens area. One of our favorite selfie locations with the exhibit is at World of Wonder (WOW) Park Playground. 

14. Visit Heard Park (formerly East Athens Community Center)

This is one of the best free things to do in Athens, Georgia.

Heard Park’s community center has a gym, fitness center, dance studio, library, arts room, and multipurpose room. They also offer classes for adults and children for a fee. There are even bike trails to enjoy. 

15. Visit the Double-Barreled Cannon

The double-barreled cannon is an interesting bit of Civil War history. It was built by John Gilleland of Athens in 1863 at the local foundry and is the only double-barreled cannon of its kind.

It was never used in the war as testing showed that the cannon was far too unreliable after killing a cow and knocking down a chimney during practice tests. The cannon was donated to the city and continues to be a free Athens attraction. 

16. Visit the Athens-Clarke County Library

When you’re looking for something free to do in Athens, don’t overlook the Athens-Clarke County Library. There’s much to see and do here for all ages.

You can enjoy story time, arts and crafts, book clubs, free computer classes, chess games, and more at the library. On a hot summer’s day, come cool off with a good book in a beautiful location. 

17. Explore Downtown Athens, Georgia

The last thing to do while you’re in Athens is to make sure to walk downtown. Check out the local shops and restaurants in the area and enjoy the scenery. While you’ll have to pay for parking, a walk downtown is a free way to tour the city and enjoy the vibrant culture. 

Your Visit to Athens, Georgia

A visit to Athens, Georgia, doesn’t have to break the bank. While there’s plenty of entertainment available at a cost, you can enjoy these 17 family-friendly activities for free. Whether you’re planning a vacation, staycation, or day trip, you’re sure to find something to do in Athens. 

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