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We’re not city people. So, when we plan trips to visit family near big cities I always look for outdoor options or unique activities in the area. Luckily, even in the largest cities, you can always find some natural beauty mixed in among the skyscrapers. And if all else fails there is most likely a quaint little town nearby that would love to be explored. 

After many trips to the ATL, we have had the opportunity to find some great gems near Georgia’s sprawling capital. So, if you need ideas for day trips and things to do near Atlanta that will help you forget you are in a city, we have you covered!

1. Georgia Aquarium

The top thing to do in Atlanta is visiting the Georgia Aquarium. If you don’t mind braving the downtown traffic and crowds, a trip to the aquarium is a must. This place is super impressive and has over 500 species to check out – including whales, dolphins and even penguins!

You can learn so much about these amazing creatures and truly gain an appreciation for the diversity of life in our oceans. This is the place Buddy and I decided we had to get scuba certified one day.

A visit to the Georgia Aquarium is one of the top things to do in Atlanta

2. Downtown Explorations

If you are looking for more fun downtown, across from the aquarium is Centennial Olympic Park. This area was built to commemorate the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta. And the World of Coca-Cola is nearby too – a soda lovers dream. It gives you the opportunity to taste more than 100 types of soda from around the world!

There is plenty of great food in Atlanta, but Flip Burger shakes are a can't miss!

And if you can make it to Flip Burger for one of their out-of-this-world milkshakes, do it! We went three times in one trip after stumbling upon this place. And we even met Richard Blais, the owner and Top Chef winner. The Nutella & Burnt Marshmallow Milkshake is heaven in a glass.

3. Stone Mountain

If you look for anything to do outside of Atlanta, I’m sure you have seen photos of Stone Mountain. Growing up in Florida, this was the first “mountain” I ever saw. As a kid, I remember being amazed at how huge it was and how terrified I was to fall off the edge once I made it to the top (well, dad carried me, but whatever).

Now that I live in Colorado, I have to chuckle because I just see a stone hill when I look at it. But this is still a fun spot to check out and it is a short drive from downtown!

Atlanta Skyline from Stone Mountain

Hike to the top! It is only one mile, and although it is a bit steep, it is a fun, short trek. If you aren’t feeling a hike, there is also a cable car option. From the top you can see the Atlanta skyline (I’ll admit, as much as I avoid cities, skylines are quite pretty) and the Appalachian Mountains.

Snow Mountain Fun at Stone Mountain

In winter, you can also go snow tubing! Before our big move to Colorado, getting to see snow – even fake snow – was a joyous occasion! I talked the hubby into taking me and two of my besties here for my birthday one year and we had a blast.

Snow Mountain at Stone Mountain includes lots of fun activities for kids, and adults!

“Snow Mountain” takes place from late November to March and is great for kids and adults alike. You can go tubing, roast marshmallows and play in “snow.” The machines that shoot out the fake snow ended up just pelting us with ice chunks, but that just made it more hilarious.

4. Alpine Helen, GA

My maternal grandma, “Omi” as I called her, was from Germany and told me so many stories of her homeland that I’ve always been obsessed with going there. However, tickets are expensive so when I found out about this little Bavarian-themed town in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Atlanta, I jumped at the opportunity to go.

Photos of the quaint town of Helen Georgia.

Only 1.5 hours from the ATL, the quirky little town of Helen is definitely worth a trip! You can eat German food, go to German festivals and even do some hiking while still experiencing that “Southern Charm.”

I do have to admit that it was pretty hilarious being served by a girl with a super strong southern drawl, but who was also dressed to the 9s in traditional German clothes – but, it just adds to the uniqueness of this town.

Anna Ruby Falls is a short hike right outside of Helen

A hike to Anna Ruby Falls is also a must while you’re in town – such a pretty and serene spot! And it is only about a mile round trip.

5. Blue Ridge Mountains

Speaking of pretty and serene, if you have never gone driving in these lush mountains you are really missing out. With over 300 miles of hiking trails, including the start of the Appalachian Trail, you will never run out of hiking spots and many lead to waterfalls or sprawling vistas.

Blue Ridge Mountains is a must do drive anytime you are near it!

I had the pleasure of spending a few days in a cabin in these mountains for a Bachelorette weekend and it was lovely! If you have time for more than a day trip, definitely stay as long as you can. Here are our best tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway in fall!

Top 5 Best Things to Do In & Near Atlanta, Georgia