While often described as one of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, at 35 kilometres away Duluth, Georgia has an atmosphere all of its own.
In fact, it’s recognised as being a city with a small-town ambience within easy reach of big city attractions.
Duluth was established in the early nineteenth century as Howell’s Crossing, not becoming Duluth until 1871.
It didn’t significantly change in size until around a hundred years later. Limited on its northern edge by the waters of the Chattahoochee River, it offers visitors a range of natural, cultural, and entertainment attractions.
These are the 15 best things to do in and around Duluth, Georgia.
1. Southeastern Railway Museum
With a city motto declaring ‘Pride in Old and New,’ it’s hardly a surprise that one of Duluth’s premier attractions is a heritage museum.
The Southeastern Railway Museum is the state of Georgia’s official transportation museum, meaning it has one of the best collections of rail and road transport relics in the southeast United States.
In total, the 14-hectare site includes close to 100 pieces of historic rolling stock, including steam locomotives, Pullman carriages, and the private rail car used by President Warren G Harding between 1921 and 1923.
Visitors are also able to ride some of the exhibits, such as the amusement train that was shipped here from the zoo in Birmingham, Alabama.
2. Hudgens Center for Art and Learning
Acting as the community arts hub, the Hudgens Center not only hosts between four and six separate exhibitions each year, but also offers longer term visitors the chance to join their fine art classes.
The centre’s Al Weeks Sculpture Garden is award winning, and centred around an attractive lily pond. Children are able to explore their artistic side in the Kids Art Zone.
Its 3,200 square metre area is made up of several different gallery spaces, where art as varied as collage and contemporary photography shares wall space with the ever-popular juried members’ exhibition. This sees a judging panel pick the best of submissions from right across Georgia.
3. Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf
Taking miniature golf to the next level, Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf boasts 27 fun-filled holes with which to test your golfing skill.
Hailed as one of the region’s best miniature golf facilities, Pirate’s Cove has some impressive landscaping, which includes cascading waterfalls several metres high and a full-scale pirate ship.
You might just discover you could be the next Tiger Woods, although alternatively you might find the life of an eighteenth-century pirate is the one for you!
4. Strickland House
This attractive cream clapboard building was constructed in 1898 and was the home of Duluth’s first female mayor Alice Strickland for many years (and who still haunts its rooms according to some).
Running for office in 1921 at the age of 62, she was the first woman in Georgia to hold the position as a city mayor. Strickland House also acted as the city’s first hospital.
Today, the house is occupied by Duluth Historical Society, and its artifacts and displays tell the story of the city from the time it was the territory of Cherokee native Americans to when it was established as Howell’s Crossing by an industrialist of the same name.
5. Chattahoochee River
Flowing across the northern and western suburbs of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River is easily reached from Duluth.
One of the best places to enjoy all this river has to offer is at the Abbotts Bridge unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
This riverside greenspace has large field-like lawns for games, a picnic area with a dozen tables and a couple of publicly-available grills, and plenty of natural splendour.
The Abbotts Bridge Recreation Area across the road incorporates a 1.6km walking trail, which is a popular spot for birders, as well as those looking for a little light exercise.
On the other side of the Chattahoochee River, in the city of Johns Creek around ten minutes away is XtremeHopp.
This indoor trampoline park features a ninja warrior course and multi-metre warped wall, smash room for releasing any unspent aggression, a splash room for messing about with paint, and even an escape room.
However, if you’re heading to XtremeHopp its probably to spend some time on a trampoline or two.
Wall-to-wall trampolines allow you to mess about in relative weightlessness, while these flexible mats also form an extreme dodge ball court and various other bounce-related activities.
7. Duluth Depot
Just down the road, or more correctly down the rail line, from the Southeastern Railway Museum, Duluth Depot is an old passenger station now used by the Duluth Historical Society.
This low-slung but beautifully-finished structure is a perfect example of southern railway infrastructure, and the arrival of the evening train from Atlanta became a popular time to meet with neighbours.
The depot eventually closed in the early 1950s, and it wasn’t until 2014 that it started to be used as an additional exhibition space for recording and displaying the city’s history.
8. Stone Mountain
Stone Mountain is a solitary protrusion of quartz which rises out of the surrounding woods.
Part of the wider Blue Ridge Mountains, and formed from an upswell of lava millions of years ago, it is one of the largest single protrusions of rock in the world.
The sparse rocky summit of Stone Mountain offers views right across the region, taking in Atlanta and reaching as far as Kennesaw Mountain on the opposite side of the state capital.
Those who don’t fancy following the walking trails up to 514m above sea level can instead opt for getting there by way of the Skyride cable car system.
Anyone interested in America’s Civil War history should also check out the confederate memorial bas-relief carving on the mountain – the largest in the world. Stone Mountain is just 26km south of Duluth.
9. Lake Sidney Lanier
Lake Sidney Lanier is on the opposite side of Duluth, around 40 kilometres north.
Named after the Georgia poet of the same name, the fingers of this artificial lake constructed in the 1950s push out among the region’s hillsides in a seemingly unstoppable range of stunning vistas.
Considered beautiful enough to have hosted the rowing and sprinting events at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the lake welcomes up to ten million visitors each year.
Many head straight for the Lake Lanier Islands, a resort complex spread out across what were once hilltops. Their white sand beaches are particularly well known, and its water park also popular.
10. Red Clay Music Foundry
This music venue is an excellent way to spend an evening while in Duluth. It welcomes a range of singers and songwriters to its stage, with – as you might imagine – a particular emphasis on country music.
Just a short flight from Tennessee’s Nashville, the home of country (rather than the one of Georgia), previous artists that have performed here have included Jason Isbell and Patterson Hood.
A common tour stop for up-and-coming groups, the Red Clay Music Foundry also hosts other events including comedy nights.
11. Autrey Mill Nature Preserve and Heritage Center
Autrey Mill is a historic grist (maize grinding) mill that sat on a dammed stretch of water known as Sal’s Creek. This was used to turn the heavy grinding stones.
Situated in several hectares of attractive woodland and wetlands, visitors are able to join a three-kilometre boardwalk which cuts through these idyllic landscapes.
Along the way, you should look out for the 100 species of animal that have previously been recorded here. You can also try and identify the 30 types of native tree that form a welcome shade from the sun, and watch for orchids including one known as Pink Lady’s Slipper.
Other buildings on the site include a farm museum. Autrey Mill is roughly ten kilometres west of Duluth, in Johns Creek.
12. Good Word Brewing and Public House
Good Word is a combined brewery and taproom, where patrons are able to sample the latest creations of the craftspeople who dedicate their working hours to producing inspiring craft beers.
Among its 20 or so beers are traditional German pale ales, Italian-style pilsners, English bitters, Irish stouts, and American pale ales, meaning there really is something for every beer fan.
But don’t worry if you’re not a lover of all things brewed, Good Word has a good list of classic cocktails and wines too. This casual space is also known for its southern cuisine blended with a Latin flavour.
13. Lawrenceville Ghost Tours
Just down the road in Lawrenceville, 18km from Duluth, you can swap a night in the pub for one discovering the city of Lawrenceville’s more otherworldly goings on.
Lawrenceville Ghost Tours are run as an offshoot to the city’s Aurora Theatre, and sees their professional actors bringing to life stories meant to chill you to the bone.
They last 90-minutes in total, and lead you to Lawrenceville’s most haunted sites, including the old jailhouse, which is apparently a hotspot for sighting ghosts.
Along the way, you’ll hear all sorts of unexplainable events from the city’s history, not least the day the walking dead were seen strolling downtown – and we don’t mean the television series.
14. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park
Like Stone Mountain, the slopes of Kennesaw Mountain are rightly a magnet for anyone who enjoys the fresh air and the chance to stretch their legs.
Rising a couple of hundred metres above the surrounding landscape, the mountain is not just an attractive escape from the cities of the metropolitan Atlanta region, but also an important part of American history.
The location for a major battle during the civil war, confederate forces used the mountain as a natural defence, with their trenches and walls still visible in many places.
Artillery emplacements hosting cannon have also been recreated, while informative display boards help alert visitors to all that took place here.
The mountain lies approximately an hour west of Duluth.
15. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
Martin Luther King is so important to more recent US history that his birthday is a national holiday – an honour that not even George Washington or Abraham Lincoln have received.
The park that bears the Nobel-peace prize winners name encompasses several buildings linked to his life and the Civil Rights Movement he led before he was assassinated at the age of 39 in 1968.
These include his childhood and life homes, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where his father was the pastor.
The park is also the location for the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, where King’s remains were entombed after his death.