Whether you live in Atlanta or just visit the city in the forest, this is the perfect place to explore the deep south of the United States.
Located in the heart of Georgia, with Tennessee, Alabama and Carolina on your doorstep, it is the perfect base for long and short car trips to the cotton states.
With traditional city trips, beautiful mountain tours, southern blues and long trips from Georgia, this is our top 20 car trips from Atlanta.
Short-term road services of Atlanta
1. Macedonian, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 84 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: Perfect for year-round visits
A few miles south of Atlanta, the city of Macon is a huge antidote to the hustle and bustle of the big city.
The streets are full of cafes and restaurants offering great local cuisine. The city is also known for its music with Otis Redding and The Allman Brothers Band, who made Macon their home. Visit one of the concert halls or the Great House Museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the Allman Brothers.
Festivals are held in the city almost every month. Before you travel – from beer for craftsmen to musical events and the cherry blossom festival – check out the programme and see if there’s something for everyone.
Take the time to visit the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park, located within the city limits and recently converted into a national monument. In the historical park the Indian cultures of the southeast are preserved with artifacts, buildings and hills of antiquity.
The place has been inhabited for 17,000 years and you can see elements of ancient temples and visit the archaeological museum in the visitor centre.
2. Lac Lanier, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 49 miles (1 hour)
When to visit: From April to Labour Day, when the weather and water activities are good and the Margaritaville water park is open.
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Lake Lanier, near Atlanta, is a reservoir formed over the Buford dam built in 1956.
This reservoir is different from anything you’ve ever seen – the scenery is breathtaking, the coastline is articulated by beautiful islands with everything that makes it Atlanta’s perfect retreat.
Along the 680 miles of coastline there are more than 90 different parks with unlimited water activities, camping, hiking trails and 23 beaches.
The lake is incredibly popular with the famous 10 million visitors a year, but with so many attractions and so many parts of the lake to explore, you’re unlikely to encounter a large crowd.
In the summer months you can rent kayaks and canoes, which is one of the best ways to enjoy the lake. If you’re looking for a little thrill, head to Margaritaville on the Lanier Islands (the part of the lake closest to Atlanta), a water park with several slides, beaches and restaurants that is perfect for the whole family.
3. Stone Mountain Park, Georgia
Distance to Atlanta: 20 miles (40 minutes)
When to visit: Entertainment and shopping all year round.
Stone Mountain Park is Georgia’s most visited attraction and attracts more than 4 million visitors a year. Located just 20 miles from the city, it’s a great place to get away from the busy streets of Atlanta on weekends.
A large park with many trees and paths is surrounded by the largest lakes – Steinberg Lake, Venable Lake and Howell Lake.
The mountain itself is the largest piece of granite in the world, with large confedered sculptures on one side. You can climb to the top of the mountain via a special path or take part in many activities at the base, from golf to train rides.
Shows and events are organized throughout the year. So don’t forget to check out what’s going on first – from summer laser shows to the amazing list of snow-related Christmas events – there’s always something fun to do.
4. Okony Lake, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 78 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: From April to October for the best weather and water conditions
Okony Lake was created in 1979 when the Wallace Dam blocked the Okony River and flooded the valleys above the dam. Today the lake is a fascinating network of waterways with retreats, luxury hotels, including the beautiful Ritz-Carlton Reynolds Hotel, and a boat full of entertainment.
If you want to relax, play golf, kayak a few hours on the calm waters of the lake or walk 21 miles of trails, there is something to do on a day trip from Atlanta or even for the whole weekend.
Okoni Lake is very easy to reach – the I-20 departs from Atlanta and runs directly across the middle of the lake. If you have time, the northern tip of the lake is the Oconee National Forest, where you can explore and observe animals, including deer and foxes.
If you are an archery enthusiast and would like to rent a boat for half a day, visit the Sandy Creek sports field. Located on the northeastern tip of the lake, this 100-hectare site specialises in clay pigeon shooting and is a favourite spot for visitors, whether you are an experienced specialist or an absolute beginner.
5. August, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 145 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: It’s fine all year round, but avoid mid-April when the Masters golf tournament comes to town and it’s busy.
The city of Augusta is after Savannah the oldest city in Georgia and there is much more than the famous golf course that bears its name.
The best thing you can do in August is take a walk. Stroll along Broad Street to visit the many restored cafes, galleries and classic buildings (of which there are now more than 150 on the national list).
Then walk two blocks to the Savannah River and follow the Augusta Corridor back. The trees along the river and the river breeze are welcome in the heat of summer, and there are places to stop for a drink or lunch, as well as the Morris Museum of Art on the west side of the parkway.
The Godfather of Soul, James Brown, grew up in Augusta after leaving South Carolina as a child. You can visit the Augusta History Museum to see part of his life’s work and other exhibitions that tell the city’s history.
6. Athens, Georgia and handbook for Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 115 miles (2 hours 20 minutes)
When to visit: Whenever you want, but avoid the weekends when the Georgian Bulldogs play at home, because the city is very lively.
Athens is a charming southern city, home to the University of Georgia, famous for its excellent cuisine and live music. If you’re a gourmet who also likes a bit of live blues, a visit to Athens might be just what you need.
The lively atmosphere on campus means that there are several interesting museums and art galleries to visit, and you can visit one of the very good local breweries – the Creature Comforts brewery is located here, and there are several other craft breweries.
Georgian guides are still 50 minutes away and just before reaching the Savannah River, which marks the state border with South Carolina.
This 19 feet high granite structure, located outside Ebrton, is covered with 10 key principles for the preservation of humanity and the planet for the future, written in 8 modern and 4 ancient languages, including Egyptian characters in different parts of the monument.
It is known as the American Stonehenge and has caused a lot of commotion since its foundation in 1980. Authors and sponsors remain anonymous, and the principles include keeping the world population below 500 million and developing a new world language.
7. Providence Canyon State Park, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 147 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: In the summer, when the rhododendrons are in bloom…
The Providence Canyon State Park, a hidden secret in southwestern Georgia, is little known outside Georgia and, surprisingly, within the state as well.
Providence Canyon is often called Little Grand Canyon because of its appearance and resemblance to the famous Arizona site. There are actually 16 different canyons in the park, and their origins are a little less exciting and natural than you might think.
As a result of the poor farming practices of the local settlers, gullies were created, causing soil erosion and creating deep gorges, the deepest of which sank 150 feet.
You can lie on the floor, but expect it to be wet and dirty. The best view from above, overlooking the gorges and the flowers in the different layers of the ground.
Watch out for the red plum blossoms of the azalea, which can only be found in this part of Georgia, and most of these plants can be found in Providen Canyon.
Take a few hours to explore the various gorges, but don’t expect to spend more than a day there – camping is easy and Atlanta is only two hours away when you’ve finished hiking.
8. Callaway Gardens, Georgia
Distance from Atlanta: 79 miles (1 hour 20 minutes)
When to visit: Catch azaleas in full bloom in April.
Callaway Gardens is a 6,500 hectare garden, situated in the middle of several small lakes, with a combination of flowers, forests, attractions and even two golf courses.
Just over an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Callaway Gardens has been open to the public since 1952 and a 10-mile trail through the grounds connects different parts of the gardens, including the world’s largest artificial beach around Lake Robin and Cecil B. The Butterfly Day Center, home to over 1,000 butterflies.
The main attraction of the gardens is the garden overlooking the azalea with different types of azalea colours. Georgia is known for the fact that there are many different types of azaleas growing all over the state, and large shrubs of these flowers of different colors grow in the park where you can sit on a bench in the shade and relax.
Weekend trips from Atlanta
9. Birmingham, Alabama
Distance from Atlanta: 147 miles (2 hours 10 minutes)
When to visit: Out of season with good weather from April to October
Born and flourishing in the industrial era and known as an important center throughout the country during the civil rights movement, the city is now experiencing a boom with a renaissance of neighborhoods and an emergence of art and culture.
Birmingham, Alabama, is known as the place where Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the letter from prison and where four little girls died in a church explosion in 1963.
Today, the city celebrates its position as a pioneer in the transformation of civil liberties in the 20th century. You can wander around the Civil Rights District and visit attractions such as the 16th Street Church and Kelly Ingram Park.
The Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham presents a revealing exhibition on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and continues to show the broader struggle for civil rights and equality in the United States of America and around the world.
In addition to some of the oldest artifacts in American history, there are art and science museums, a botanical garden, a beautiful zoo and lots of nature to explore outside the city.
One of them is the Red Mountains Park in the Appalachian Mountains. The old mine has walking and cycling paths and plenty of outdoor facilities, including a long row of zippers, but be sure to clean your shoes with a separate red iron ore clay afterwards – it can go anywhere!
10. Chattanooga, Tennessee
Distance from Atlanta: 118 miles (1 hour 50 minutes)
When to visit: Visit in autumn, when the weather is good and the trees start to turn golden.
Until recently, Chattanooga was not on the tourist radar, but it has quickly become a popular destination because the city has developed in harmony with its breathtaking surroundings.
One of the main attractions of Chattanooga is the Tennessee Aquarium, which includes the largest freshwater aquarium in the world. It’s one of the newest aquariums in the country. The facilities are excellent and you can observe a wide variety of sea, river and sea creatures. The large basins of the lake are beautifully decorated, giving you the feeling of looking at fish from an underwater cave.
When you visit Chattanooga, you will not miss the picturesque mountain overlooking the city on the border with Georgia.
A path takes you to the top of the mountain, from where you have a fantastic view of Chattanooga and beyond, allowing perfect rigging of the Instagram. It’s only a little over 3,000 meters long, so you don’t have to drive long.
Under the lookout mountain is another attraction – the Ruby Waterfall – the highest waterfall in the deepest commercial cave in the United States and is just a short walk from the center of Chattanooga.
11. Big Smokey Mountains and Ashville National Park, North Carolina
Distance to Atlanta: 220 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: Excellent for use all year round, but with cooler weather and better prices in April or May.
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The Great Smokey Mountains are what I like in my list of favorite places I have been to all over the United States. The Big Smoky Mountains National Park, Nantahala National Forest and Chattahuce National Forest form a vast protected area that gives you the feeling of being millions of miles away from Atlanta.
The Great Smokey Mountains (locally known as the Smokey Mountains) owe their name to the fog that often settles in the valleys and gives the mountains a subtle blue smoke effect. Amazing views, along with endless trails and other activities, have made the Smokey Mountains the most visited national park in the country, with more than 11 million winemakers visiting each year.
Bryson City and Gatlinburg are great places to explore. There are several options for out-of-town, out-of-the-city accommodations that are sure to enrich your experience – check out AirBnb and other accommodations.
Take your time on the footpaths around Lake Fontana and walk around the lake overlooking the dense forest. If you are looking for an even bigger challenge, the Appalachian Trail starts at Fountain Dam and finally follows the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. This is a journey of about 70 miles, so you have to plan your route to see how far you want to go!
Asheville, a little further away in North Carolina, is a great place to relax, surrounded by tree-covered mountains on all sides.
The city is known for its art: The French Broad River runs along the River Arts District, and colorful street art is scattered throughout the city.
The main attraction of Asheville is the Biltmore mansion, a large mansion with landscaped gardens, built in 1889 by the Vanderbilt family. With over 250 rooms, it is the largest house in the country, but beware, tickets cost $79, which, even with discounts for children, can turn into an expensive family day.
12. Weekend in northern Georgia
Distance to Atlanta: 160 miles (4 hours)
When to visit: From June to September to get better weather throughout northern Georgia.
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North Georgia is home to the Chattahuce National Forest and some of the oldest and most beautiful cities in South America. It’s not far from Atlanta, so you can spend a lot of time studying and less time on the road during this trip.
The city of Dachlonega, Georgia, is known as the site of the first major gold rush in the United States in 1828. After his rapid rise in rank, Dahlonega began to deflate almost as quickly as the Californian gold rush offered even more potential wealth and attracted miners to the west.
Today you can stroll through the historic streets, visit the Dahlonega Gold Museum, which is located in the courthouse of 1830, and discover much of what Dahlonega stands for today – wine. Lampkin County, where Dahlonega is located, has recently become famous for its wines, and the town has tasting rooms and shops where you can sample local produce.
Helen is another city in northern Georgia that you should add to your stop list. Just 25 miles from Dalonega, it’s an incredibly different kind of city – you may feel like you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in Central Europe when you enter the city in typical Alpine style.
All houses, shops and restaurants are built in Bavarian style and you can enjoy many outdoor activities in the vicinity of the city.
Like the national forest, northern Georgia has a large amount of nature that is worth exploring. The Appalachians start here, and you can visit the highest peak of Brashstown Baldy. You can climb a mountain on one of the two paths leading to the summit, or for those who want to enjoy the view without sweating, you can go directly to the watchtower at the top.
Be sure to stop at Toccoa Falls in northeastern Georgia, near the border with South Carolina. The waterfall drops to 186 feet and is surrounded by a forest that offers a beautiful view.
13. Blue Parkway Ridge Drive from North Carolina to Virginia
Distance to Atlanta: 630 miles (18 hours)
When: From May to September to take advantage of the good weather.
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The Blue Ridge Parkway is the longest park in the United States. The 469 mile route from Cherokee in the Smokey Mountains to Wainsboro on the edge of Shenandoah National Park is a destination park and is probably one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
First you have to go to Cherokea – if you have time, explore the Great Smokey Mountains (see above) while you’re there before you go.
From there you can drive as long as you want. The duration of the road trip will probably be about 15 hours. The road goes through bends and curves along the Blue Ridge ledge, and the maximum speed is 45 miles per hour for the entire journey.
Along the entire length of the route you can see an infinite number of attractions, stops and historic cities that are worth a visit. It’ll take you two weeks and you still can’t quite see it. Besides dozens of places you can also take pictures of the road that winds through the mountains or overlooks the valley, don’t miss the Mabri mill at Myleological Station 176. You can see it just off the road, but take your time to stop and look inside – lunch at the restaurant is pretty good.
If 469 miles isn’t enough, you can keep driving! The road actually continues to Shenandoah National Park as Skyline Drive and ends at Frente Royal, Virginia, just a few miles from Washington, DC.
14. Destination, Florida
Distance to Atlanta: 314 miles (5 hours)
When to visit: From April to May, when the weather is perfect, and before summer, the crowds come here.
Destiny is a coastal town on the Florida Penhandle, 5 hours southwest of Atlanta. If you are looking for warm weather, pristine white beaches and lots of fun in and around the water, the Emerald Coast is the perfect place for you.
The city of Destiny lies on a narrow promontory that separates the bay of Choktavhatchi from the Gulf of Mexico, and everything you want to see, visit, eat or drink can be found on the southern tip of the beach overlooking the bay.
Not only can you lie on the sand and suck up the jets, but you can also rent a boat in the harbour, take a cruise with the dolphins, go deep sea fishing or even try a parasail.
In the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park you can experience a variety of marine life, including dolphin and sea lion shows.
There are other seaside destinations below (see Orlando at #19), but if you just want to get away and relax to the sound of the waves, grab your swimsuit and head south towards Destiny!
15. Savannah, Georgia
Distance to Atlanta: 248 miles (3 hours and 30 minutes)
When to visit: March – July for perfect weather and festival season (although the summer is really hot)
Savannah is Georgia’s oldest city and lies on the south bank of the Savannah River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
The city was designed in the 1730s and has a unique plan with 22 green spaces that form the foundations of the historic district. Villas with wooden panelling and painted shutters stand along the streets with live oaks, whose branches hang over the street and lawn in front of the house.
Just outside the city is the Wormsloe Historic Site – as you enter the city, you can see the famous Live Oak Tunnel Carousel stretching out into the distance. You can walk around and visit the remains of the oldest buildings in the Savannah.
The top tip: The second best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life is peanut butter and jelly chicken wings served in the savannah of Trailor Park – that place is not fashionable, it’s noisy too, and you might have to eat sitting down if you have a chair at all, but you really should try them when you get to the savannah!
16. Charleston, South Carolina
Distance to Atlanta: 305 miles (4 hours 40 minutes)
When to visit: Spring and autumn, like summer, can be warm and humid.
Charleston is a unique old town in the south, situated on a peninsula that extends to Charleston Cove and is surrounded by the Cooper and Ashley Rivers. The fastest way to get from Atlanta to Charleston is by land via the I-26. So there is no need to cross any of the three bridges connecting the city to Mt Pleasant and Mt West Ashley.
Charleston’s picturesque streets date back to the 17th century. It dates from the 16th century, when the city was founded and named after the English King Charles II. Many of the buildings in the city date from the 17th and 18th centuries. The oldest stone house, the Maison Rose, was built between 1694 and 1712.
The further into the bay, the more colonial the buildings become. At the very top, off the coast of Battery and Waterfront, lies White Point Garden, surrounded by streets of houses and pine trees.
The best thing to do in Charleston is walk the streets and admire the architecture. There are many unusual museums, interesting things and places to visit. Historic houses and museums are numerous and seem to be around every corner south of the historic city market, so choose and enter.
Photo by Davey Borden – Reference
On your way to Atlanta or back, take your time and stop in Summerville, near Charleston. The historic town of Colonial Dorchester shows the ruins of a once bustling trading town from the 17th and 18th centuries. Then explore the magnolia plantation and gardens and visit the oldest landscaped gardens in the United States at Middleton Place and the Drayton Hall Plantation from 1752.
17. Nashville, Tennessee
Distance from Atlanta: 250 miles (3 hours 50 minutes)
When to visit: The best weather is from April to October, but you can really come all year round.
Nashville, unlike many cities you’ve visited in the United States. Known as the city of music, it is famous for its live music scene, which includes some of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. The music that left its mark in the 19th century – Grand Ole Opry and Country Music of Fame – are just two amazing things to do.
Then, the famous neon signs along the Honky Tonk Highway, which runs along Broadway and Music Row, give you a glimpse into the history of music in the city.
In the ancient park of Nashville is a life-size copy of the Parthenon, originally built in ancient Greece. Today it is a museum that you can visit to see contemporary American art and also admire the building that was built in 1897 for the Tennessee Centennial Exhibition.
Don’t forget to spend some time in the city’s parks and visit some of the picturesque museums. Check out our list of the best classes in Nashville and get inspired!
The route from Atlanta to Nashville runs through Chattanooga, which is a good stopover if you want to interrupt or take more time for your trip.
18. Memphis, Tennessee
Distance to Atlanta: 391 miles (5 hours and 30 minutes)
When to visit: From April to June or May for the annual Memphis festival in May.
Add a few more hours to your trip to Tennessee and you trade country music for the blues and land in Memphis.
In this town on the east bank of the Mississippi River, music reigns. Just outside the city is Graceland, where you can see a complete exhibition of Elvis’ life and work.
The city has a Sun Studio, where everyone from Elvis and Johnny Cash to U2 has been recording for decades. There is also the American Music Museum, the Museum of Rock and Soul and the Blues Hall of Fame to complement your training in local music.
After you’ve done all that, go to Bill Street and listen to the best of modern blues concerts in one of the many places where live music is played.
Don’t miss the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. died tragically. The museum is one of the best in the country and shows the struggle for equality and civil rights throughout the centuries, with an emphasis on the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr.
We have an impressive list of things to do in Memphis if you are looking for other options.
19. Orlando, Florida
Distance to Atlanta: 439 miles (6 hours)
When to visit: It can be good all year round, but the weather and prices are best from April to May.
It’s easy to get from Atlanta to Orlando, but not very fast. You will get to know Route 75 very well as it runs almost entirely from the centre of Atlanta and can take about 6 hours a day.
Orlando is a dynamic city known to many. In recent years, tourism has become the main reason to visit Orlando, home to some of the world’s most famous theme parks. Maybe that’s why you’re at the heart of Florida – Disney World, Universal Studios Floria, and SeaWorld Orlando are just a few of the many theme parks in the region, home to 5 of the 10 most visited parks in the world.
It’s also worth spending some time in the city itself – there are lakes and swamps all over the area, and you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Orlando from afar and take great photos in the evening.
With such a high level of tourism in Orlando, there is a wide choice of places to go out and eat in and around the city. Don’t forget to try the Central American cuisine, which comes from large Caribbean communities and offers incredibly authentic possibilities.
20. New Orleans, Louisiana
Distance from Atlanta: 470 miles (6 hours and 30 minutes)
When to visit: It is excellent all year round, but it could increase at the end of February during Carnival.
Finally, New Orleans is not on our list of best car trips from Atlanta. It’s the furthest place and it will take almost 7 hours to get there, but the boy is worth it!
The best thing about traveling from Atlanta to New Orleans is that the trip is almost as good as the destination. If you are travelling through the Deep South, you can take the most direct route through the cities of Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama or the I-20 to Birmingham, then take the Big Easy Road along the eastern Mississippi.
Following a certain trend in our list of roadtrip destinations, New Orleans is another destination you should visit for its music. The jazz scene is known all over the world and you can find exceptional performances every night of the week throughout the French Quarter, not just along Bourbon Street.
The Garden District and other parts of the city have beautiful colonial villas and tree-lined avenues that you can explore on foot or by tram.
Few cities in New Orleans can compete with food. You’ll find everything from trendy French restaurants to small corner snack bars with Po Boy alligator and dozens of types of gumbo. You should try it – it may not be a typical gastronomic city, but the food here is truly phenomenal!