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Historic downtown Milledgeville
Georgia Department of Economic Development

15 small towns near Atlanta you need to visit right now

Here's a mapped checklist of 15 great (little) destinations to get you going in 2020

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Historic downtown Milledgeville
| Georgia Department of Economic Development

Let’s face it: Sitting in traffic jams and dealing with road rage (either your own or that of fellow drivers) can wear on ITP folks. Sure, we choose to live here—just look at the selection of restaurants, shopping, cultural destinations, etc.—but not surprisingly, lots of small towns around the state offer the same.

If all that separates you from a laidback day trip in a cool small town is a hundred miles of highway (give or take), why not put the pedal to the metal and visit one this weekend?

Here’s an updated, mapped list of 15 great little destinations to get you exploring beyond the limits of ITP in 2020.

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1. Cartersville

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Hit Interstate 75 north for about an hour, and you’ll encounter this community filled with Smithsonian-affiliated museums, a lively dining and entertainment district, and more outdoor recreation that any one weekend can accommodate.

These include the Booth Western Art Museum, home to collections that rival or even outshine museums in many larger cities, cuisine ranging from diner food to international fare, and chances to explore the great outdoors at Red Top Mountain State Park and beyond.

2. Blue Ridge

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For small-town enthusiasts who really don’t mind taking a good, long, scenic drive, Blue Ridge is the place to go.

The thing about a two-hour trek to Blue Ridge? It justifies renting a nearby cabin and staying the night for a full-on mountain adventure that’s sure to include beautiful vistas, fresh air, and if you’re (un)lucky, bears. The vibrant downtown area (full of art galleries and surprisingly good dining) is enough to warrant a trip to the tiny town alone.

3. Carrollton

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Head west on Interstate 20, and you’ll soon find yourself at this small but thriving city. Not to be outdone by Atlanta’s Beltline, Carrollton is home to the Carrollton Greenbelt, an 18-mile, closed loop paved bike and walking trail that’s ideal for exploring the area. It’s a showcase of diverse topography and landscapes, from historic neighborhoods to idyllic marshes.

Downtown, find a growing mix of shopping and dining and an outdoor amphitheater, along with a calendar full of entertaining events. And that’s before you include all there is to see and do at the University of West Georgia. 

Picture by Melanie Boyd

Posted by Main Street Carrollton Georgia on Tuesday, June 7, 2016

4. Milledgeville

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One of Georgia’s other college towns, former Peach State capital Milledgeville offers more than enough to fill a day-trip itinerary or even a full-fledged weekend getaway schedule.

Tour the Old Governor’s Mansion, and see where state business used to occur. Or enjoy the miles of nature trails at Lockerly Aboretum, which also makes for a fantastic picnic spot. Tip: save time to check out the many shops, bars, and restaurants that line the streets of downtown.

5. Suwanee

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It’s not a traditional small town with the old-school, historical vibe one finds in other places mapped here, but Suwanee has all the amenities you’ll likely seek for escaping the ATL for a day: parks, shopping, a town green, an impressive multi-use trail system, and real Southern accents.

The city hosts concerts on the Town Green throughout the year as well as Food Truck Fridays during the summer. Also, their beer fest (coming in March) rocks.

6. Senoia

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This Walking Dead mecca boasts all the right ingredients for a quaint, small-town escape. Senoia has museums, bed and breakfast spots, gardens, covered bridges, sightseeing for fans of post-apocalyptic zombie bloodbaths … yeah, it’s pretty much got it all.

Located in Coweta County—roughly an hour and 10 minutes away—the city’s website describes the town as “the perfect setting for life.” Ahh...

7. Covington

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Aside from ghost tours, antique stores, antebellum homes, and Civil War monuments (for history buffs), there’s something else about Covington that sets it apart. Give up? It’s known—apparently?—as the Hollywood of the South.

Covington has played host to production crews filming Vampire Diaries, The Dukes of Hazzard, In the Heat of the Night, and more than 60 other film productions. Curious? They’ve got tours, of course.

8. Rome

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A thriving city in the northwest corner of the state, Rome is built around the meeting of three rivers. The charming downtown area is ripe for shopping and dining, while the Town Green along the riverfront is home to family fun, annual events, and relaxing views of the flowing waters.

More than 13 miles of the Downtown Heritage Trail System provides the perfect opportunity for biking, jogging, and walking. Beyond downtown, there’s much history to explore at nearby Berry College, the Chieftains Museum & Major Ridge Home, and the Duke Museum of Military History. 

9. Downtown Buford

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Sure, it’s close to the Mall of Georgia (gasp), but venture a few miles farther and you’ll find Buford’s roots downtown. With the sprawling 9,000-square-foot Bona Allen Mansion—the 1911 European-style home of a local tannery tycoon—just a stone’s throw from the many shops and restaurants in the historic district, the City of Buford offers a unique take on charmingly preserved small-town life.

10. Helen

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Sure, it’s a bit kitschy, but Helen remains a fun destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Kick back and relax at one of the German restaurants or breweries (make sure you grab a baked good at Hofer’s Bakery!), float down the Chattahoochee River on a brightly colored tube, or take in some fresh air along the Helen to Hardman Trail, a one-mile long, in-town jaunt through the woods and along the river.

Extend your stay at a local B&B, the adults-only Valhalla Resort Hotel, a Unicoi State Park cabin, or one of the many other accommodations available.

People walking along a sidewalk in front of shops on the left and flower beds on the right. Geoff L. Johnson/Explore Georgia

11. Madison

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This is a well-known historical destination and a no-brainer for any day-tripper seeking a step back in time. And they’re proud of it.

According to the city’s website, Madison “retains its small-town character and remains the heart of the community.” For those who've been, it’s hard to deny Madison has something special going on, including some of the state’s most gorgeous historic homes and a thriving, walkable downtown. Take a guided tour through the available house museums, or check them out at your leisure during a self-guided walking tour.

12. Dahlonega

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Found near the northernmost end of Ga. Highway 400, the Lumpkin County seat known as Dahlonega (that’s “duh-lon-eee-guh”) has roots in gold. This mountain city was the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush (take that, San Francisco) and now boasts a “wine trail” leading visitors on a tour of local vineyards and a wealth of natural beauty. Don’t skip the beautiful historic downtown area.

13. Serenbe

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Serenbe is “a utopian experiment in new Urbanism being molded out of Georgia Red Clay.” The New York Times had that to say about the progressive community, which is immersed in nature about 40 minutes southwest of Atlanta.

It’s made up of acres and acres of preserved forests, meadows, and well-maintained nature trails. With good food. And thoughtful architecture. Yep, sounds pretty darn utopian.

14. Fayetteville

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Established in 1823, Fayetteville also fancies itself a cultural small-town destination, housing the Old Courthouse Art Show and Main Street Festival in October (it wouldn’t be a small town without a good, old-fashioned fall festival).

It’s about 35 miles south of Atlanta, so you can get there in about an hour if you hit traffic. Save time for a stop at nearby Pinewood Forest, a new small town tied to Georgia’s TV and film industry that’s starting to materialize now.

Multi-story courthouse with clock tower. Rick Forsyth/Shutterstock

15. Columbus

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Whether strolling the Riverwalk along the Chattahoochee, tackling the 2.4-mile urban whitewater run, or exploring the city’s more than 500 restaurants, you’ll find more than enough entertainment during a Columbus visit. (As Georgia’s second most populous city, it’s technically not a small town, but it feels like it downtown, relatively speaking.)

Military fans can explore years of history at the National Infantry Museum and the National Civil War Naval Museum, while adventure seekers can take to the air on the dual zip-line over the river. You also don’t want to miss the farmers market and craft fairs that happen every week in Uptown.

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1. Cartersville

Cartersville, GA

Hit Interstate 75 north for about an hour, and you’ll encounter this community filled with Smithsonian-affiliated museums, a lively dining and entertainment district, and more outdoor recreation that any one weekend can accommodate.

These include the Booth Western Art Museum, home to collections that rival or even outshine museums in many larger cities, cuisine ranging from diner food to international fare, and chances to explore the great outdoors at Red Top Mountain State Park and beyond.

2. Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge, GA 30513

For small-town enthusiasts who really don’t mind taking a good, long, scenic drive, Blue Ridge is the place to go.

The thing about a two-hour trek to Blue Ridge? It justifies renting a nearby cabin and staying the night for a full-on mountain adventure that’s sure to include beautiful vistas, fresh air, and if you’re (un)lucky, bears. The vibrant downtown area (full of art galleries and surprisingly good dining) is enough to warrant a trip to the tiny town alone.

3. Carrollton

Carrollton, GA

Head west on Interstate 20, and you’ll soon find yourself at this small but thriving city. Not to be outdone by Atlanta’s Beltline, Carrollton is home to the Carrollton Greenbelt, an 18-mile, closed loop paved bike and walking trail that’s ideal for exploring the area. It’s a showcase of diverse topography and landscapes, from historic neighborhoods to idyllic marshes.

Downtown, find a growing mix of shopping and dining and an outdoor amphitheater, along with a calendar full of entertaining events. And that’s before you include all there is to see and do at the University of West Georgia. 

4. Milledgeville

Milledgeville, GA

One of Georgia’s other college towns, former Peach State capital Milledgeville offers more than enough to fill a day-trip itinerary or even a full-fledged weekend getaway schedule.

Tour the Old Governor’s Mansion, and see where state business used to occur. Or enjoy the miles of nature trails at Lockerly Aboretum, which also makes for a fantastic picnic spot. Tip: save time to check out the many shops, bars, and restaurants that line the streets of downtown.

5. Suwanee

Suwanee, GA 30024

It’s not a traditional small town with the old-school, historical vibe one finds in other places mapped here, but Suwanee has all the amenities you’ll likely seek for escaping the ATL for a day: parks, shopping, a town green, an impressive multi-use trail system, and real Southern accents.

The city hosts concerts on the Town Green throughout the year as well as Food Truck Fridays during the summer. Also, their beer fest (coming in March) rocks.

6. Senoia

Senoia, GA 30276

This Walking Dead mecca boasts all the right ingredients for a quaint, small-town escape. Senoia has museums, bed and breakfast spots, gardens, covered bridges, sightseeing for fans of post-apocalyptic zombie bloodbaths … yeah, it’s pretty much got it all.

Located in Coweta County—roughly an hour and 10 minutes away—the city’s website describes the town as “the perfect setting for life.” Ahh...

7. Covington

Covington, GA

Aside from ghost tours, antique stores, antebellum homes, and Civil War monuments (for history buffs), there’s something else about Covington that sets it apart. Give up? It’s known—apparently?—as the Hollywood of the South.

Covington has played host to production crews filming Vampire Diaries, The Dukes of Hazzard, In the Heat of the Night, and more than 60 other film productions. Curious? They’ve got tours, of course.

8. Rome

Rome, GA

A thriving city in the northwest corner of the state, Rome is built around the meeting of three rivers. The charming downtown area is ripe for shopping and dining, while the Town Green along the riverfront is home to family fun, annual events, and relaxing views of the flowing waters.

More than 13 miles of the Downtown Heritage Trail System provides the perfect opportunity for biking, jogging, and walking. Beyond downtown, there’s much history to explore at nearby Berry College, the Chieftains Museum & Major Ridge Home, and the Duke Museum of Military History. 

9. Downtown Buford

Buford, GA

Sure, it’s close to the Mall of Georgia (gasp), but venture a few miles farther and you’ll find Buford’s roots downtown. With the sprawling 9,000-square-foot Bona Allen Mansion—the 1911 European-style home of a local tannery tycoon—just a stone’s throw from the many shops and restaurants in the historic district, the City of Buford offers a unique take on charmingly preserved small-town life.

10. Helen

Helen, GA 30545
People walking along a sidewalk in front of shops on the left and flower beds on the right. Geoff L. Johnson/Explore Georgia

Sure, it’s a bit kitschy, but Helen remains a fun destination for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Kick back and relax at one of the German restaurants or breweries (make sure you grab a baked good at Hofer’s Bakery!), float down the Chattahoochee River on a brightly colored tube, or take in some fresh air along the Helen to Hardman Trail, a one-mile long, in-town jaunt through the woods and along the river.

Extend your stay at a local B&B, the adults-only Valhalla Resort Hotel, a Unicoi State Park cabin, or one of the many other accommodations available.

11. Madison

Madison, GA 30650

This is a well-known historical destination and a no-brainer for any day-tripper seeking a step back in time. And they’re proud of it.

According to the city’s website, Madison “retains its small-town character and remains the heart of the community.” For those who've been, it’s hard to deny Madison has something special going on, including some of the state’s most gorgeous historic homes and a thriving, walkable downtown. Take a guided tour through the available house museums, or check them out at your leisure during a self-guided walking tour.

12. Dahlonega

Dahlonega, GA 30533

Found near the northernmost end of Ga. Highway 400, the Lumpkin County seat known as Dahlonega (that’s “duh-lon-eee-guh”) has roots in gold. This mountain city was the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush (take that, San Francisco) and now boasts a “wine trail” leading visitors on a tour of local vineyards and a wealth of natural beauty. Don’t skip the beautiful historic downtown area.

13. Serenbe

Palmetto, GA

Serenbe is “a utopian experiment in new Urbanism being molded out of Georgia Red Clay.” The New York Times had that to say about the progressive community, which is immersed in nature about 40 minutes southwest of Atlanta.

It’s made up of acres and acres of preserved forests, meadows, and well-maintained nature trails. With good food. And thoughtful architecture. Yep, sounds pretty darn utopian.

14. Fayetteville

Fayetteville, GA
Multi-story courthouse with clock tower. Rick Forsyth/Shutterstock

Established in 1823, Fayetteville also fancies itself a cultural small-town destination, housing the Old Courthouse Art Show and Main Street Festival in October (it wouldn’t be a small town without a good, old-fashioned fall festival).

It’s about 35 miles south of Atlanta, so you can get there in about an hour if you hit traffic. Save time for a stop at nearby Pinewood Forest, a new small town tied to Georgia’s TV and film industry that’s starting to materialize now.

15. Columbus

Columbus, GA

Whether strolling the Riverwalk along the Chattahoochee, tackling the 2.4-mile urban whitewater run, or exploring the city’s more than 500 restaurants, you’ll find more than enough entertainment during a Columbus visit. (As Georgia’s second most populous city, it’s technically not a small town, but it feels like it downtown, relatively speaking.)

Military fans can explore years of history at the National Infantry Museum and the National Civil War Naval Museum, while adventure seekers can take to the air on the dual zip-line over the river. You also don’t want to miss the farmers market and craft fairs that happen every week in Uptown.