Welcoming Albany is located in southwest Georgia, 300 kilometres south of the state capital of Atlanta.
Part of the American ‘Black Belt’ of richly fertile soils, it is surrounded by agricultural land that once made cotton plantations common.
Founded in 1836 after the removal of Creek native Americans, it became an important port on the Flint River for paddleboats, and then a major rail hub.
Combining a fascinating history with a range of outdoor activities, Albany also acts as a good base for site slightly further afield.
Here are the 15 best things to do in and around Albany, Georgia.
1. Thronateeska Heritage Center
Located around the 1913 former Union Station rail depot, the Thronateeska Heritage Center on Heritage Plaza comprises a series of buildings making up Albany’s primary museums complex.
Taking its name from the Creek native American word for the Flint River, the complex contains a history museum, science museum, rail museum, and planetarium.
The Wetherbee Planetarium boasts a 40-inch full dome high-definition system, the first of its kind in the world.
The history museum focusses on Albany’s past, with major displays both inside and out, while the science museum shifts from dinosaur skeletons to twenty-first century breakthroughs.
Rail displays include Locomotive 107, an impressive steam engine that once travelled along the rails to and from the city.
2. Albany Museum of Art
Founded in 1964, the Albany Museum of Art is made up of six galleries, in addition to an interactive children’s gallery, and auditorium.
Its permanent collection includes both American and European paintings, drawings, and sculpture, generally from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Some of its most celebrated works include ten hand-coloured silk screen prints by Andy Warhol, and works by US impressionist artist Edward Henry Potthast.
The museum also exhibits one of the largest collections of African tribal art in the region, which spans the continent in its display of masks, ceramics, and gold work.
3. Flint RiverQuarium
This 5,000 square metre aquarium is located on the banks of the Flint River, and tells the story of the river from its source to the sea, more than 550 kilometres away, through its series of tanks and displays.
Playing home to around 100 different species, its largest tank is an open-air tank some 6.5 metres deep that contains more than 600,000 litres of water and displays the huge range of lifeforms that can be found in the river.
In addition to aquarium tanks, the RiverQuarium also contains displays relating to the Flint River’s cave systems, an alligator enclosure, and an aviary housing birds from the area.
4. Riverfront Greenway Trail
Should you prefer to check out the river for yourself, you can do so by following Albany’s Riverfront Greenway Trail, a wide paved path. It runs for five kilometres along the Flint River from Riverfront Park in downtown Albany to Cox Landing Boat Ramp.
Heading roughly north from the centre of Albany, the trail can be quite busy with walkers, joggers, and cyclists, but no less special for that.
Easy to follow thanks to distance markers every half mile, the route is dotted with benches and observation decks, particularly around the Oxford Environmental Park about halfway along.
5. Civil Rights Institute
Occupying Old Mt Zion Baptist Church, which dates to 1906, Albany Civil Rights Institute is a museum which uses objects, documents, and the words of individual Georgians to help explain the fight for civil rights.
The battle against racial segregation is evocatively demonstrated through the reconstruction of separate waiting rooms for different races at a mock-up of a bus station.
It covers voter disfranchisement – which remains a much-argued about means of limiting voters at polling stations – to nonviolent protest and economic boycotts.
6. Zoo at Chehaw Park
Unlike the Flint RiverQuarium, which focusses on species native to the Albany area, the Zoo at Chehaw Park is a living encyclopaedia of world species, many of them either endangered or facing extinction in the wild.
Visitors can join the African Veldt Ride, which moves through the zoo’s largest enclosure, where seven African species form natural herds.
Black rhino and cheetahs are just two of the more than 70 species on show, while attractions extend to a cypress swamp typical of Georgia’s southwestern reaches.
7. Ray Charles Plaza
Lying in a prime location on the left bank of the Flint River, and accessible both from downtown and the Riverfront Greenway Trail, Ray Charles Plaza is dominated by a life-sized sculpture of the musician playing a baby grand piano in his unmatched style.
If that wasn’t enough of a drawer, the entire sculpture sits on a rotating base, below which waters trickle into a reflective pool. This is ringed by benches made up to look like the black and white keys of a piano keyboard.
A pioneer of soul music, Charles was born in Albany in September 1930, and wrote the official state song – Georgia on my Mind.
8. Jimmy Carter National Historic Site
The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site is located in the city of Plains, less than an hour northwest of Albany by road.
The site preserves a number of buildings linked with the 39th president of the United States, including his home, school, and a rail depot used as his headquarters for his victorious 1976 election campaign.
Each of these sites takes on an extra-special significance since Carter and his wife returned to Plains after leaving the White House in January 1981, and continue to live in the city.
Plains High School is now the site’s museum and visitor centre. Its exhibits include the president’s 2002 Nobel Peace Prize medal, which he was awarded for decades of peace negotiation and poverty reduction.
9. Old St Teresa Church
At the heart of the downtown district, the simple red brick structure of Old St Teresa Church is the oldest church building in Albany, as well as the oldest Catholic Church still being used for masses in the entire state.
Dating from 1859, it was built on land gifted to the church by Nelson Tift, the man who founded Albany twenty years previously.
Interestingly, the bricks used in its construction were made by hand by slaves in nearby Newton. The church was used as a field hospital for confederate soldiers during the American Civil War, even before its interior had been completed.
10. Radium Springs
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, Radium Springs lies on the south-eastern outskirts of Albany, around eight kilometres or ten minutes from the downtown area.
The largest natural spring anywhere in Georgia, Radium Springs boasts deep blue waters that contains small amounts of naturally-occurring radium, the radioactive element first discovered by Marie Curie in 1898.
The spring disgorges an impressive 265,000 litres of water per minute, which pours into the Flint River.
Nearby, visitors will also find the Radium Springs Country Club and Golf Course, whose holes were designed way back in 1927 by John Law Kerr, a noted architect.
11. The Bridge House
Also known as the Albany Welcome Center, The Bridge House is another relic of the city that predates the American Civil War.
The Bridge House was designed by Horace King, an African American architect who had been born into slavery, and purchased his freedom just a few years before this residential building was put up in 1858.
The house sat beside a covered bridge across the Flint River, paid for by Nelson Tift.
During the Civil War, the basement was used as a butchery to feed confederate soldiers, while the second storey was decorated with an ornate set of frescoes and once hosted Ku Klux Klan meetings.
12. Confederate Memorial Park
Opposite Chehaw Park and zoo, Confederate Memorial Park is a green space with lawns and mature trees.
The park also contains a stone monument to the soldiers of the confederacy, which was placed here after several moves, in the year 2000.
While the statue may be controversial due to the confederacy’s use of slaves, it is none-the-less part of Albany’s two centuries of history, and has a heartfelt dedication that reads ‘They Fought Not For Conquest, But For Liberty And Their Own Homes’.
13. Wild Adventures Theme Park
Wild Adventures describes itself as a zoological theme park, combining eight rollercoasters and variety of other thrill-seeker rides with a water park, zoo, and concert venue.
Covering 67 hectares, the park has a total of 34 rides, suitable for both children and adults.
These include the multiple loop-the-loops of the Boomerang rollercoaster, visible from quite some distance away, and Swamp Thing, that sweeps adrenaline junkies over the park’s swampland and alligator, who goes by the name of Twister.
Wild Adventures can be found off Interstate 75, in Clyattville, close to the state border with Florida and approximately 150 kilometres (1.5 hours) from Albany.
14. Lake Chehaw
Despite being a man-made lake created to produce hydroelectric power, Lake Chehaw is still one of Albany’s finest outdoor escapes.
Known as a destination for fishing and boating, it sits at the confluence of the Flint River with the Muckalee and Kinchafoonee Creeks.
Around one hundred years old, the lake has an area of over 550 hectares. This means that even on the busiest of days it’s possible to find a tranquil spot in which to relax by making use of the covered picnic area by the dam, or on the canoe trail.
The lake is just north of downtown Albany.
15. Andersonville National Historic Site
Anyone with an interest in history will want to consider Andersonville National Historic Site as part of their visit to Albany.
The site is the location of the Civil War-era prison for captured soldiers called Camp Sumter. It was the jail site for 40,000 Union soldiers, of which it is estimated 13,000 never went home and are buried in the national cemetery on site.
Run by the US National Park Service, Andersonville has also become the national monument and museum to US Prisoners of War, who have included author of Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut, and Senator and Presidential Candidate John McCain among others.