Athens, which is home of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, is one of the great college towns in the country. Just ask any SEC alum out there. With the third largest enrollment of any SEC school, Athens is filled with college students and a great bar scene. Just north of campus, you’ll find more bars than you can work through during an entire weekend. In the fall, the town is overrun on Saturdays with Georgia red as fans enjoy a great college football experience from a team that’s been consistently successful in recent years. Southern warm weather and a growing food scene will be the cherry on the sundae for your football weekend.
When to Go
Georgia’s biggest rivalry is with Florida and the game is no longer officially known as the “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party.” Unfortunately, that game takes place in Jacksonville, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good games on campus every year. Georgia plays in the SEC East and in 2014 the SEC determined its non-divisional opponents until 2025 (or until the conference expands again). But if you can only squeeze in a game against an inferior opponent, you’ll still enjoy yourself in Athens.
How to Get Tickets
As you’d expect, tickets aren’t the easiest things to come by. You generally won’t be able to find tickets on the primary market through the University of Georgia because most tickets are sold to alumni or students. You’ll likely end up having to look at secondary ticket options such as StubHub, eBay, or a ticket aggregator (think Kayak for sports tickets) such as SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Craigslist is another option for deal-making but doesn’t have the same security of knowing you’re buying real tickets. You can also try working the tailgates before the game to see if anyone’s selling, but it’s probably worth securing the tickets earlier if you’re traveling all that way.
Athens is located about an hour and 15 minutes from Atlanta, so getting there is very easy. Those within driving distance make it to Athens by car, but flying into Atlanta and driving from there is also simple since the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport is one of the biggest airports in the world. Serving as a hub for Delta Air Lines, you’ll be able to find flights from most cities in the United States. Athens is also within a five-hour drive from convenient cities such as Birmingham, Charleston, Savannah, Charlotte, Nashville, and Columbia. You can also grab a bus with Greyhound from Atlanta if you don’t want to drive.
Where to Stay
There are a decent amount of hotels just a short walk from the north of Georgia’s campus, but you’ll need to book them well in advance for football weekends and be prepared to page large sums of money. The list of standard chain hotels includes Holiday Inn, Best Western, Courtyard by Marriott, Hilton Garden Inn, Travelodge, and Holiday Inn Express.
There’s also a group of other hotels two miles away from campuses such as the Hampton Inn, Howard Johnson, and Country Inn & Suites. The Georgia Gameday Center includes nice rental apartments, which fill up quickly as well. If the hotel situation is dire by the time you start booking, you should look into renting a house via VRBO or Airbnb. Try to find a house that’s within walking distance to downtown to make your weekend more convenient.
Tailgating at the Game
Tailgating at Georgia is spread out since there’s no designated tailgating area like the Quad at Alabama or the Grove at Ole Miss. Don’t worry though. People still tailgate all day long, mostly in North Campus and just to the west of campus. Your ideal location would be to find some space west of campus (possibly along South Lumpkin Street) because there are many fewer restrictions.
There’s plenty of space near the Georgia Center of Continuing Education and you can find parking a little further south along Milledge Avenue if you don’t mind paying a minimal amount. The North Campus area restricts generators, kegs, and televisions, so your tailgate won’t be as enjoyable. Fraternities and sororities also have pregame tailgating parties on Saturdays.
Food in the Area
The food scene in Athens has truly blown up in recent years and now has a great blend of high-end foodie experience and casual favorites. Hugh Acheson, known for his time as a "Top Chef" judge, owns the two most famous restaurants in town. They both reflect the enhanced Athens food experience. The National, the newer of the two restaurants, features Mediterranean food with a Spanish focus. You’ll be happy with the grilled pork chop, the roasted chicken breast, the home fries with a spicy tomato sauce, or the tuna melt. Five & Ten was Acheson’s original restaurant in Athens, but it still holds up well. The most enjoyable dishes are the short rib bourguignon, duck breast, seared scallops, and the Frogmore stew.
The food on the lower end of the price range doesn’t disappoint either. Tlaloc El Mexicano Restaurant offers El Salvadorian and Mexican food just a short mile trip north of town. You’d never expect to find tacos and gorditas that are this authentic in Georgia, but they match up. Cali-N-Tito’s to the west of campus is filled with students and has a BYOB policy to go with its outdoor seating and lovely Cuban sandwiches and plantains.
Blind Pig Tavern has the best burgers on campus and other standard bar fare. There are a dozen burgers to choose from but the two best offerings are the Fat Matt (cajun spices, bacon, and pimento cheese) and the Jalapen-ya-business (fried jalapenos, pico de gallo, and chipotle ranch). The Choo Choo offers affordable Korean and Japanese food. There’s also good late-night food served at The Grill, but you’ll enjoy the milkshakes more than anything you eat. There’s also Little Italy Pizza, which does a good enough job to replicate quality late-night pizza.
Bars for Game-Day Happy Hour
You surely won’t lack nightlife when in Athens. All the bars are located within a few blocks from Broad Street, which runs north of campus. The bars are flooded Thursday through Saturday and most of them offer drink specials late in the evening.
Beer lovers can enjoy themselves at numerous places. Trappeze Pub is where you should start because they offer more 200 beers, so you're sure to find at least a few to relish. There are only about 80 beers are on offer at The Globe a few blocks away, but there are 40 different types of scotch to cleanse your palette.
There are plenty of lively college bars if you’re looking for something with more energy. Bourbon Street is mentioned on every list of best college bars and has fishbowls and dancing to lose yourself in the night. Magnolias is worth a trip as well because of its southern charm and is a little less intense than the previously mentioned places. City Bar looks less like a college bar, but it’s still full of students and young alumni going nuts on the weekend. The final college bar worth checking out is Allgood Lounge because it has a nice rooftop patio and offers up a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar for great day drinking.
If busy college bars aren’t for you, The Nowhere Bar offers a more relaxed atmosphere with pool and a healthy jukebox. More bar games can be found at Boar’s Head Lounge, which offers pool, foosball, and table shuffleboard. A large patio area adds to the occasion if the weather’s nice.
Music Scene Options
It might not catch you on the surface, but there’s a good music scene in Athens as well. It’s a worthwhile addition if you have some time around the football weekend. The Georgia Theatre was renovated in 2011 after burning down, and its new modernized look brings in the crowds. Dave Matthews and R.E.M. played at the venue back in the day, which is a testament to the quality of music showcased. The rooftop bar at the Globe is useful if there’s no music going on. There’s also the 40 Watt Club, which gets its own accolades. Be prepared to stand all night as it's standing room only but acts including Nirvana, M.I.A., and R.E.M. have graced its stage in years past.