Welcome to Athens, a small town with a big university, which comes right into downtown. There’s a high degree of walkability, especially among the intown neighborhoods and on campus. Athens is big enough for all kinds of interesting aspects—music, arts and food, pleasing architecture, outdoor activities—yet small enough that neighbors get to know each other. So enjoy your stay, whether it’s a weekend, four years or the rest of your life. Or, if you already live here, browse our guide, anyway. You never know, you might learn yet another reason why people here like Athens so much.
Athens residents are represented by 10 commissioners in 10 districts and a mayor, currently Nancy Denson, who is elected at-large. (District maps, contact information and meeting agendas are available at athensclarkecounty.com.) Local elections are nonpartisan and are conducted in May in conjunction with the Republican and Democratic primaries for state and federal office.
Here are some frequently needed numbers:
The Clarke County School District, governed by a nine-member school board, operates 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and three high schools that educate more than 12,000 students. They’ve mostly improved recently under Superintendent Philip Lanoue in spite of high poverty rates and a sizable percentage of students who are speakers of English as a second language. The 72.3 percent graduation rate in 2013, up two points from 2012, was above the state average. For more information, see clarke.k12.ga.us.
The Athens area also has eight private schools: Athens Academy (PK-12), Athens Christian School (PK-12), Athens Montessori School (PK-8), Monsignor Donovan Catholic High School (9-12), Prince Avenue Christian School (PK-12), St. Joseph’s Catholic School (PK-8), Waseca School (PK-5) and Westminster Christian Academy (PK-12).
UGA is not the only local institute of higher learning. Piedmont College has a small campus in a former church complex on Prince Avenue, and the University of North Georgia has a branch in Watkinsville. But UGA, in addition to being a top public university, is the city’s largest economic engine (generating $2 billion annually in the local economy) and one of its cultural centers as well. UGA is a big part of what makes Athens Athens.
North Campus: Athens was built adjacent to what we now call North Campus across Broad Street from downtown. It’s the oldest and one of the most beautiful parts of the city. Don’t let the high iron fence put you off. Walk right through the iconic Arch and have a picnic or play frisbee. It’s public property and functions like a park for students and townies alike.
Entertainment: UGA has departments of theatre, film, dance, music, visual arts and more. All of them constantly produce and showcase cultural events and artifacts, and they really want you to share in these offerings. UGA’s master calendar at calendar.uga.edu will tell you everything that’s happening on campus. And pay close attention to The Calendar at flagpole.com/events and in the weekly Flagpole to stay in the know about campus happenings.
Of particular note are the UGA Performing Arts Center and the Georgia Museum of Art, both located on East Campus off River Road. The performing arts center will host such world-renowned acts as NPR raconteur and author Garrison Keillor, the State Ballet Theatre of Russia and the Count Basie Orchestra during its 2014–2015 season (see pac.uga.edu for more). The art museum (georgiamuseum.org) features an astonishing-for-its size collection that includes works by Winslow Homer, Georgia O’Keeffe and many others, as well as numerous special exhibits and films.
Many lectures are held in the historic Chapel on North Campus. Hear a bell ringing? That’s the Chapel bell, rung by students to celebrate football victories or, really, any reason at all.
Though it may be hard to believe, football isn’t the only game in town. UGA’s softball team, for example, advanced to the Super Regional round of the NCAA Tournament this year for the sixth time since 2007. The Gym Dogs women’s gymnastics team, too, is routinely one of the best in the country. Other programs have produced stars like John Isner—who won the longest-ever professional tennis match in history, 11 hours and 5 minutes, at Wimbledon in 2010—Bubba Watson, who won the Masters in 2012 and 2014; and Olympic Gold Medalist swimmer Allison Schmitt.
While the high-profile student sports—football, basketball (men’s and women’s), baseball and gymnastics—charge for tickets, all the others—from tennis to swimming to women’s softball and soccer—are free. Visit georgiadogs.com.
Bus: City buses are based at the Multimodal Transportation Center on the eastern edge of downtown at 775 E. Broad St., behind the Classic Center. Buses run every hour or half-hour Monday through Saturday starting at 6 a.m. Some make their last stops at 6 p.m., others at 10 p.m. Adult fares are $1.75; discounts for multi-ride passes, seniors, children and the disabled are available. UGA students, staff and faculty (including retirees) ride free when they swipe their UGACards. See athenstransit.com for routes and schedules.
UGA buses run more frequently in and around campus, and they’re free for everyone, including non-students. For instance, the Milledge Avenue buses make a continuous loop from downtown through campus to Five Points and are free to all. The Health Sciences buses run every 20 minutes from campus along Prince Avenue to Normaltown and back when school is in session. Maps and more for all campus-transit routes at transit.uga.edu.
For longer-distance travel, Southeastern Stages operates daily inter-city bus service to Atlanta, the Carolinas and beyond; its station is inside the Texaco convenience store at 4020 Atlanta Highway and operates daily from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. and 8 p.m.-9:30 p.m. 706-549-2255 or go to southeasternstages.com. Megabus offers daily rides to and from Atlanta, Charlotte, NC and Washington, D.C. for as low as $1 per fare. Buses depart and arrive at the Multimodal Transit Center every day but Sunday, when they rendezvous at the UGA East Campus Parking Deck. For more info or to book fares, go to us.megabus.com.
Rail: The nearest Amtrak station is in Gainesville, with the next closest in Atlanta. There’s one northbound train at night and one southbound train early in the morning. Both are stops on the Crescent line between New York City and New Orleans. Call 800-USA-RAIL or go to amtrak.com.
Air: As of September, 2014 Athens will be without a scheduled air carrier, though local officials are trying to recruit one.
Shuttle: Groome Transportation runs a full schedule of shuttle vans from the Georgia Center on campus, the Holiday Inn downtown and Athens West Shopping Center on the Atlanta Highway to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta daily. Call 800-896-9928 or go to groometransportation.com.
Car: If you must drive, downtown metered parking is 75 cents an hour, with two-hour time limits from 8 a.m.–6 p.m. (You have to feed the meters until 10 p.m., but the time limit ends at six.) Overstay your quarters and get a $10 ticket; overextend your time and get a $15 ticket; fail to pay your fines and get a boot on your wheel. Many of the meters (some of which are kiosks that serve multiple spaces) now take credit cards and even allow you to pay by smartphone, but some are still coin-operated. There are also several parking decks downtown (see map on p. 35) that cost $1.50 per hour after the first (free) half hour, up to $8 a day, with no time limit. Details are available at downtownathensga.com. Most surface lots downtown are operated at night by Prestige Parking, which charges $5 and will tow you if you “forget” to pay.
On campus, a good rule of thumb is that, if you drive onto campus, you can only park in a deck. Most surface lots are permit-only, and rules are strictly enforced with high ticket fees and towing. Be prepared: call 706-542-PARK or go to parking.uga.edu—or better yet, just walk, bike or bus free to campus.
Taxi: If you’re out drinking, take a cab home if it’s too far to walk. There are a bunch of companies in the phone book, or you can usually hail a taxi downtown in front of the Arch on Broad Street late at night. Pro tip: The cabs are large vans shared with other riders, and they tend to fill up, so your route home may be less than direct. And, make absolutely sure that the van you get into is actually a legitimate cab. A permit and fares should be posted on the dashboard, and the vehicle should have a special license plate.
Bike: You can bike just about anywhere and everywhere in Athens. For all your local cycling needs, look to BikeAthens, whose bike map, available around town and at bikeathens.com, is only one of the many excellent resources they have to offer.
Hoof It: You can walk just about anywhere, too. It feels good, and it’s good for you and for the environment.
• Smoking: It’s illegal inside any public building (even bars), in public parks and on most parts of the UGA campus.
• Drinking: At a bar and want to sneak a cig outside? Make sure you stay inside the iron railing that delineates a sidewalk cafe from the sidewalk, because open containers are illegal in the public right-of-way, except for the UGA campus on football game days. Last call is 2 a.m. except for Sundays. Bars can’t open on Sundays, but restaurants that also sell food and stores can sell alcohol from 12:30 p.m.-midnight.
• Underage drinking: The cops are not messing around. If you’re under 21 years old and they catch you drinking or with a fake ID, it’s not just a ticket. They will throw you in the paddy wagon (seriously) and take you to jail.
Oh, and don’t be that guy who can’t hold his liquor, either. Fighting, urinating in the street and other forms of jackassery are illegal, too.
• Bikes: Bicyclists have to follow the same rules as cars. Aside from that, be polite and be careful (and wear a helmet—it’s not the law, but it can be vital to your health). Also, you can’t ride on the sidewalk unless you’re 12 years old or under, and not even then if you’re downtown. Drivers: You are required to give cyclists a three-foot berth when passing.
• Littering: Don’t. Downtown has trash cans and has receptacles for cigarette butts. Use them. Even better, recycle—there are bins for bottles, cans and paper all over downtown, and your trash pickup provider will come to your house and get your recyclables for free.
• Cohabitation: It’s illegal for more than two unrelated people to live in houses in areas zoned single-family. If the area is multi-family, it’s fine. Check with the ACC Planning Department before signing a lease.
• Smile: Cameras mounted downtown are monitored by the police and are recording your every move. Cameras at some main intersections are ready to catch you running a red light.
Still need more info on where to go and what do in Athens? Our welcome centers are a great resource.
• Athens Welcome Center: 280 E. Dougherty St., 706-353-1820,
athenswelcomecenter.com. Run by the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, it’s in a house museum, one of Athens’ oldest structures. Both self-guided and guided tours focusing on local music and historic landmarks are available.
• UGA Visitors Center: 405 College Station Rd. at River Road, 706-542-0842, visit.uga.edu—in a repurposed old dairy barn on east campus. It occupies the southern wing of the Four Towers Building.
• Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau: 300 N. Thomas St., 706-357-4430, VisitAthensGA.com—in the firehall the citizens saved when it was threatened with demolition to make way for the Classic Center in the early 1990s.
• Oconee County Welcome Center: 22 N. Main St. Bldg. B, Watkinsville; 706-769-5197, visitoconee.com—in an old brick storefront downtown.