15 Best Things to Do in Athens (AL)

Written by Lucas Adams
Updated on
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Athens is one of the oldest cities in Alabama, founded way back in 1818. It originally went by the name of Athenson but was later renamed after the ancient city in Greece.

It is well-known as an early railroad and cotton city, with a rich heritage which has become a haven for history lovers.

With a superb selection of Civil War sites, museums and Antebellum structures, it exudes southern charm, has several nature parks nearby, and offers a wide range of activities for all to enjoy.

I’m an Alabama local and enjoy exploring the many cities and towns the state has to offer. Athens is a small but charming town, which is definitely worth a visit. Let’s explore the best things to do in Athens:

1. Alabama Veterans Museum & Archives

Alabama Veterans Museum & ArchivesSource: alabamaveteransmuseum.com
Alabama Veterans Museum & Archives

The museum is located in the heart of Downtown Athens, Alabama and hosts a vast collection of artifacts spanning eras from the Revolutionary War until the present day. Discover military uniforms, weaponry and medals, and listen to quotes and stories from people who lived through it all.

The museum is one of Athens’ top attractions with guided tours, gift shops and a monthly coffee morning where locals and visitors can swap their own stories.

Hosting an average of 10,000 people each year, I think it’s an attraction not to be missed if staying in or passing through Athens.

2. Isom’s Orchard

Isom’s OrchardSource: facebook.com
Isom’s Orchard

The farm first started growing cotton on its land over 100 years ago, and today, the 259 verdant acres are still abundant, not with cotton, but with fruit. It doesn’t matter which season you visit Alabama, there’s always fresh fruit ripe for the picking.

Whether you fancy sampling crisp apples, juicy peaches, plump plums or blueberries, you are sure to leave with full bags.

During autumnal months, bring the kids to raid the fabulous pumpkin patch, and I highly recommend to try a mouth-watering cider slushie before you leave.

3. Joe Wheeler State Park

Joe Wheeler State ParkSource: Steven H Gordon / shutterstock
Joe Wheeler State Park

Nestled on the shores of Wheeler Lake, approximately 22 miles from Athens, Alabama, is scenic Joe Wheeler State Park. Surrounded by emerald forests, with waterfront lodges, an 18-hole championship golf course, hiking trails and restaurant, I think you can easily spend a few days exploring the area.

The Tennessee River runs through the park, dividing it in two. It attracts anglers throughout the year, who arrive to fish for catfish, bass and bream.

If you’re feeling energetic, you can meander along the superb hiking and mountain biking trails, or simply sip a glass of beer or regional wine at the riverside restaurant.

4. Athens Saturday Market

Athens Saturday MarketSource: facebook.com
Athens Saturday Market

Each Saturday, the Athens Market springs to life in the city center. Helping to support local businesses, it allows artisans, farmers and creatives to come together and procure their wares to locals and tourists.

I always enjoy visiting markets, browsing for fresh produce, baked goods, arts and crafts. On specific days throughout the year there’s barbecues and live music too.

5. The Richard Martin Trail

Richard Martin TrailSource: facebook.com
Richard Martin Trail

Outdoor adventurers and nature lovers will enjoy a day exploring The Richard Martin Trail. Located just outside Elkmont, 10 miles north of Athens, the trail boasts a range of activities to suit all ages. On your travels, you’ll see refurbished old railcars, an historic depot, and abundant flora and fauna.

You can cycle, hike or horse-ride, as the trail takes you through homesteads, over bridges and past scenic cotton fields.

There are several notable places of interest to discover, which include Civil War battlegrounds, memorials and wetlands flush with wildlife.

6. Antebellum Trail

Mooresville Post OfficeSource: ShanMcG213 / Flickr
Mooresville Post Office

The Limestone County Antebellum Trail, takes you on a walking or driving tour through the cities of Athens, Mooresville and Belle Mina, showcasing delightful homes and buildings from the post-Civil War era.

Visitors can venture inside some of the buildings during opening hours, including Mooresville Post Office and Athens State University.

Although this is a self-guided tour, if you wish to find out more about the Antebellum homes and their patrons during your travels, you can purchase an audio CD which relays local history to you from Athens-Limestone Visitors Center.

7. Robert Beaty Historic District

Robert Beaty Historic DistrictSource: Dpepper73 / Wikimedia
Robert Beaty Historic District

Robert Beaty was an Irish immigrant who came over to America and originally settled in Virginia. He arrived in Athens, Alabama in 1818, when he purchased land to develop, and along with John Coffee, John D. Carroll and John Read, he became one of the founders of the city.

Robert Beaty Historic District is home to Athens earliest buildings, which showcase a variety of changing architectural styles from Greek Revival and Federal, to Italianate, Spanish Colonial Revival and Victorian designs.

The district is now part of the National Register of Historic Places and shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Athens.

More on Alabama: 30 Amazing Hidden Gems in Alabama

8. Point Mallard Water Park

Point Mallard Water Park, AthensSource: www.pointmallardpark.com
Point Mallard Water Park

If you’re travelling with children and touring the Athens area during summer months, you could spend a fun day at Point Mallard Water Park. This fabulous park, 19 miles south of Athens, is perfect for a family day out.

Home of America’s First Wave Pool, several flume slides and a scenic lagoon, you can splash around and soak up the sun from dawn till dusk.

If you don’t want to engage in anything too energetic, you have options too. Simply float along the Lazy River, relax on the man-made beach or head to the picnic pavilions for something to eat and drink.

Related reading: 11 Best Water Parks in Alabama

9. Southern Gayles Golf Course

Southern Gayles Golf CourseSource: southerngaylesgolf.com
Southern Gayles Golf Course

Golf fanatics touring Alabama have their pick of pristine championship courses on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, however, if you’re staying in Athens and don’t wish to venture too far, you could play at the Southern Gayles golf course.

This fun par-72 course has over 6700 yards of golf from the longest tees, and includes a driving range, putting green and snack bar.

It’s open to the general public, so you can stop and play whenever you feel like it.

10. Big Spring Park

Big Spring Park, HuntsvilleSource: Rob Hainer / shutterstock
Big Spring Park

If you don’t want to travel too far, and fancy a family picnic or leisurely walk, Big Spring Park is the place to be. It has grassy and shaded areas there’s also a pond with ducks and two large fountains in the center.

You can challenge friends or locals to a game of tennis or enjoy a picnic in the pavilion with fresh produce purchased from Athens Saturday Market.

Younger visitors aren’t left out at Big Spring Park either, there’s a fun playground which they can let loose in and run around for hours.

11. High Cotton Art

High Cotton Art, AthensSource: facebook.com
High Cotton Art, Athens

If you want to let your creative side flourish, then I’m sure you will like High Cotton Art in Downtown Athens. The fabulous art incubator offers space for artists and creatives to unleash their talents with myriad art events, educational classes and gallery space.

Pack up your paint brush and your imagination, and venture into the studio.

You’ll meet new friends and be able to explore new diverse methods and techniques alongside like-minded individuals in a warm, friendly atmosphere.

12. 306 BBQ

306 BBQ, AthensSource: 306bbq.com
306 BBQ, Athens

If you adore authentic Southern style BBQ like I do, you will love this family-owned eatery in Athens. With slow-cooked barbecue meats and home-made side orders, this friendly restaurant will have you coming back for more.

All meats are dry rubbed prior to being slow cooked on a bed of hickory wood. Their beef, poultry and pork dishes are so succulent and well-spiced that it doesn’t even need sauce, but they do offer special dip if you want to enhance flavours further.

If you’re feeling hungry try the full slab of ribs or whole chicken, alternatively for a lighter bite, opt for salads and fluffy loaded jacket potatoes.

13. Houston Memorial Library and Museum

Houston Memorial Library And MuseumSource: facebook.com
Houston Memorial Library And Museum

Houston Memorial Library and Museum was once the home of Governor George Smith Houston, a prominent figure and citizen of Athens. Following his passing, his estate donated his home to the city on the instruction that it be used as a museum and public library.

It is now the flagship building of the Athens Historic District, showcasing vast reading materials, historic furnishings and photographs.

The building is open for public tours and caters to special events.

14. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

Wheeler National Wildlife RefugeSource: atlnature / Flickr
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

One of the many birding locations in Alabama, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is like a holiday resort for winter and migrating birds. With over 300 documented species present at the reserve, including Bald Eagles and Whooping Cranes, there’s plenty of opportunities for keen ornithologists.

Bring your binoculars, and you could be observing Northern Cardinals and Red-bellied Woodpeckers during your trip.

The wildlife refuge is just 23 miles south of Athens, making it the perfect place for a day trip. So, pack a picnic, your walking shoes and camera, and enjoy a day in the beautiful Alabama wilderness with plenty of feathered friends!

15. U.G. White Mercantile

U.G White MercantileSource: facebook.com
U.G. White Mercantile

If you’re after the perfect souvenir or a gift for a loved one, head to U.G. White Mercantile in Athens. This old-world gift shop epitomizes a shopping experience of old Alabama.

Since 1917, this store has catered to cotton mill workers, farmers and developers, who used to purchase everything from cast iron skillets to horse drawn plows.

Today, visitors can enjoy browsing clothing, candy, gifts and kitchen items for the home. So, if you’re feeling nostalgic, pop into Downtown Athens and discover this old hardware store turned gift shop, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

15 Best Things to Do in Athens (AL):

  • Alabama Veterans Museum & Archives
  • Isom’s Orchard
  • Joe Wheeler State Park
  • Athens Saturday Market
  • The Richard Martin Trail
  • Antebellum Trail
  • Robert Beaty Historic District
  • Point Mallard Water Park
  • Southern Gayles Golf Course
  • Big Spring Park
  • High Cotton Art
  • 306 BBQ
  • Houston Memorial Library and Museum
  • Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
  • U.G. White Mercantile