Free Finds in Athens, Georgia

Athens is a vibrant and eclectic college town about an hour northeast of Atlanta.  It's full of free things to do!

Arts & Culture, on the University of Georgia Campus

  • The Georgia Museum of Art
    houses a permanent collection of more than 9,000 works of art as well as a variety of highly regarded traveling exhibitions.  Admission is free, though donations are gladly accepted. Monthly Family Days, typically the first Saturday of the month during the school year, provide an excellent opportunity for children to learn about art through gallery activities and hands-on craft projects related to the theme of a current exhibit.   Gallery Hours:  8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  8 a.m. – 9 p.m. Wednesday, and 1 – 5 p.m. Sunday.  Closed Mondays and most state and federal holidays.90 Carlton St., University of Georgia  Performing and Visual Arts Complex, 706-542-4662,  

  • The Lamar Dodd School of Art, UGA’s art school, hosts revolving shows of student, faculty and professional work. Free admission. 8 AM-5 PM Mon.-Fri. Closed during UGA holidays. Visual Arts Bldg., Jackson St. and Gallery 2, 257 W. Broad St. 706-542-1511.

  • The Tate Student Center Gallery/Room 309 displays artwork by students and local artists as well as international exhibits. Closed during summer and UGA holidays. Free. 8 AM-midnight daily. Sanford Dr., Tate Student Center. 706-542-6396.

  • The Hugh Hodgson School of Music at the University of Georgia maintains a full calendar of performances not only by students, but also by faculty and renowned guests.  Concerts are free unless otherwise indicated in the event’s description. 250 River Rd., UGA Campus, 706-542-3737,

Live Music Scene:

Athens’ world-renowned music scene is also one of the most affordable, with a variety of music playing nightly in local clubs.  Tickets or cover charges are typically nominal.  For a weekend of FREE outdoor music, head to town in June for AthFest (12th Annual is June 18-22, 2008).  The sounds of Athens will pour out from a stage set in the middle of downtown’s action.  In addition to over 100 bands with local ties, AthFest also features a juried artists exhibition and plenty of festival activities for the family.  Want to head into the clubs after the outdoor stages shut down for the night?  All-access festival wristbands are just $15 for the weekend.

Athens Heritage:

Athens is home to several house museums, two of which are free to tour.

  • Church Waddel-Brumby House/Athens Welcome Center (ca. 1820).  This Federal-style house is believed to be Athens’ oldest surviving residence. Its rescue from demolition and restoration in the early 1970s as a house museum and welcome center sparked the historic preservation movement in Athens.  Recent restoration work features authentic floor, wall, and window-coverings, as well as a growing collection of period furnishings.  Free.  10 AM - 5 PM Mon. - Sat., noon - 5 PM Sun.  Open until 6 PM April through October.  280 E. Dougherty St. 706-353-1820.
  • Ware-Lyndon House (1856).  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and one of the few antebellum homes with Italianate elements remaining in the Athens area, Athens’ first city recreation center has been completely restored as a house museum and is the centerpiece of the Lyndon House Arts Center. House museum and art galleries are both free. Noon - 9 PM Tue. and Thur.; 9 AM - 5 PM Wed., Fri., and Sat.  293 Hoyt St. 706-613-3623. 
 Also open for tour, by advance request, is The Morton Theatre. One of the first vaudeville theaters in the United States built, owned, and operated by an African American, The Morton opened in 1910 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The fully restored Morton presents a wide range of dramatic and musical performances. Free tours available by advance request. 9 AM - 6 PM Mon. - Fri.  195 W. Washington St. 706-613-3770.

Roadside Wonders

  • “LET THE DAWGS OUT” PUBLIC ART EXHIBIT.  Three-dozen larger-than-life bulldogs painted by prominent local artists are on permanent display throughout Athens.  Go online or pick up a map of the bulldogs at the Athens Welcome Center, then set out on a self-guided tour sure to enchant public art admirers, University of Georgia fans and alumni, and anyone on the lookout for a unique vacation activity.
  • THE DOUBLE-BARRELED CANNON.  Built at the local foundry in 1863 when an anxious community feared attack by invading Northern armies, this one-of-a-kind weapon is among the most unusual relics preserved from the Civil War.  The concept was to load the cannon with two balls connected by a chain several feet in length.  When fired, the balls and chain would whirl out and cut down the unfortunate enemy soldiers caught in the path.  A spectacular failure in testing, it has met with success as a cherished landmark of Athens. Free.  Faces north (just in case!) on the grounds of City Hall, intersection of Hancock and College.
  • THE TREE THAT OWNS ITSELF. Professor William H. Jackson, out of love for a great oak on his property, willed to it the tree itself and the land within eight feet of it on all sides.  Although the original tree was blown down during a windstorm on October 9, 1942, a successor was grown from one of its acorns.  Thanks to the Junior Ladies Garden Club, which planted that acorn, Jackson Oak, Jr., stands tall today.  Free.  At the intersection of Finley and Dearing Streets, near Broad. 

Outdoor Attractions and Gardens

  • THE STATE BOTANICAL GARDEN OF GEORGIA.  This 313-acre preserve features trails that wind to the garden’s farthest boundaries, a stunning three-story tropical conservatory, and expansive themed gardens showcasing native and international flora.  Special events and programs held year-round.  Gift shop and Café Trumps at the Garden.  Free.  Grounds are open daily 8 AM - 6:00 PM Oct. - Mar. and 8 AM - 8 PM Apr. - Sept.  Visitor Center hours: 9 AM - 4:30 PM Tue.-Sat. and 11:30 AM - 4:30 PM Sun. Café hours: 11AM - 2:30 PM Tue. - Fri. and 11:30 AM - 2:30 PM Sat./Sun. 2450 South Milledge Ave. 706-542-1244.
  • UGA HORTICULTURE TRIAL GARDEN. This garden at UGA is renowned for new crop introductions such as the bestselling Homestead Verbena.  Come see the horticulturists in action as they determine the “best of the best” plants for the region’s high heat and humidity that will go on to receive the Athens Select label for sale in garden centers.  Open to the public. Across Carlton St. from UGA Coliseum.  706-542-2471.
  • More information on gardens at UGA and a “Campus Arboretum Walking Tour of Trees” guidebook are available at the UGA Visitors Center, 706-542-0842. 
  • Memorial Park and Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail.  Experience 80 acres of rolling hills, a lake, picnic shelters, and playground area.  The small zoo (Bear Hollow Wildlife Trail) is home to black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, river otters, owls, and over 120 species of wild, free-living animals.  Explore the mile-long Birchmore Trail, highlighted by the “Great Wall of Athens,” built single-handedly by Fred Birchmore while in his 70s.  Mr. Birchmore is a local legend who bicycled around the world in the 1930s.  His bicycle is in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Free; donations accepted.  9 AM - dusk daily. 293 Gran Ellen Dr.  Zoo: 706-613-3616; Park: 706-613-3580.
  • North Oconee River Greenway. This 3.5 mile long linear park is open sunrise to sunset to all types of non-motorized uses, including dogs on leashes. Connects with Cook’s Greenway Trail at Sandy Creek Nature Center and follows the North Oconee River south toward downtown Athens and the University of Georgia.  Don’t miss the thirty-six interpretive markers along the ½ mile Heritage Trail from Dudley Park to Wilkerson Street.  Picnic and recreational areas are located along the trail.  Free. 706-613-3615.
  • Oconee Forest Park. This 60-acre natural area has walking trails, a 1.2-mile mountain bike trail, and a 15-acre lake. Mature oak and hickory trees mingle with tulip poplars in the 100-year-old forest, home to the largest scarlet oak tree in Georgia.  Free.  College Station and East Campus Rds., at UGA Intramural fields.   Trails open daily sunrise to sunset.  706-542-4287.
  • Sandy Creek Nature Center and ENSAT Center. Explore over 225 acres of woodland, fields, and wetlands that support a variety of wildlife, including five miles of trails. The Environment, Natural Science and Appropriate Technology (ENSAT) Center features live animal exhibits and ADA accessible trails. Free.  Trails open daily until sunset, center open 8:30 AM - 5:30 PM Tue. - Sat.  205 Old Commerce Rd.  706-613-3615.
  • Skate Park of Athens.  This new facility is 14,000 square feet of state-of-the-art ramps, edges, rails, steps and bowls. BMX bikes and in-line skates also welcome. This is a skate-at-your-own-risk facility, and helmets are required.  No dogs or alcohol permitted.  Free.  Open daily 8:00 AM - dark.  At Southeast Clarke Park, 4440 Lexington Rd.  706-613-3871.
  • World of Wonder Community Playground. Georgia’s largest community-built playground is almost two acres of playscape mazes, slides, swings, bridges, tunnels, climbing wall, enclosed toddler area, plus gardens and outdoor children’s art. Southeast Clarke Park, 4440 Lexington Rd. 706-613-3871.