Here's what makes this tiny Bavarian town one of South’s Best.
The South holds its own in terms of small towns packing more than their weight in charm—but Helen, Georgia, really hammers that point home. Less than 500 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it’s surely tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering are what make the authentic Bavarian village absolutely enchanting. It looks straight out of our fairytale dreams, but actually sits quite close to home in the mountains of Georgia. While its annual Oktoberfest brings visitors flocking in the fall, and Christmas attracts crowds during the holidays, there are plenty of reasons to plan a stay in this German town nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains and Chattahoochee River all year long. Here are our favorite things about this South’s Best tiny town that keep us coming back season after season.
Get your fill on authentic Bavarian cuisine.
The Bavarian options go beyond golden German brews and bratwurst. (Though, that duo doesn’t disappoint.) Amongst the many cultural spots, you’ll find the most noticeable in the center of town. The landmark of Helen’s architecture and first German restaurant established in the town, Old Heidelberg has an impressively extensive schnitzel selection, German potato pancakes, Goulash soup, and more specialties. Wash the dishes down with one of their many in-house German brews, and then cap off the afternoon with an authentic chocolate-drizzled cream puff from Hofer’s about a block away. You can pick up any hiking snacks or picnic wares at the rustic old-fashioned grocery, Betty’s Country Store.
Plan a great outdoor adventure—and shoot the ‘Hooch!
For those seeking a little adventure outside of the storybook downtown, Helen delivers an impressive medley of outdoor pursuits that’ll indulge relaxed and experienced parties alike. Take on the quick Anna Ruby Falls Trail to admire twin cascading falls, or head out a little further to the famed Blood Mountain, a six-mile loop to Georgia’s highest Appalachian Trail summit, with far-reaching views that’ll take your breath away. You’d be seriously missing out if you didn’t shoot the ‘Hooch—that is, lazily tube down the Chattahoochee River and let the slow, trickling sounds soothe your soul. It’s the best way to spend a summer day and beat that Georgia heat. For adrenaline nuts, Nacoochee Adventures offers zip lines, high ropes challenge courses, and a 50-foot swing.
Experience its unique festivals, including Oktoberfest and the Hot Air Balloon Race.
Every September through October, you’ll find the South’s most renowned Oktoberfest celebrations transpiring on every street and in every biergarten throughout the Bavarian village. Later this year, the 48th Annual Oktoberfest will take place, and festivities are full of authentic German music, cuisine, and plenty of lederhosen. In late May, Helen hosts the South’s oldest balloon event and the United States' only long distance hot air balloon race. You can expect 20 massive, colorful hot air balloons floating in your midst, and there’s even a Balloonmeister who oversees the celebrations and won the race to the Atlantic in 1979.
Have yourself a charming little Christmas.
Helen goes from Oktoberfest to Christmastime without losing a beat, with the Lighting of the Village kicking the festivities off in late November. The charming, colorful pitched roofs drip with twinkling Christmas lights; and when lucky enough to get a rare touch of snow, the town looks like a Bavarian winter wonderland. (Fun fact: Even the Hallmark Channel considered it pretty enough for the movies.) Throughout the first two weekends of December, a traditional German market, Christkindlmarkt, has booths where visitors can shop for gifts, decorations, and sweet treats. No celebration would be complete with the Annual Christmas Parade, which is generally held on the second weekend of December.
Dive into the town’s Native American and Gold Rush history.
Helen, though reborn into its German style in the late 1960s, was originally the home of the Cherokee Native Americans before its time as a gold rush town, then logging town. Take a trip to the gazebo-topped Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound, located on the historic Hardman Farm just south of Helen. It’s estimated to have existed well before the Cherokees even inhabited the area, and there’s a stunning historic home visitors can tour while at the site. In honor of the town’s Gold Rush, take the family panning for gold and gems at Dukes Creek Mines. You’ll get a taste of the town’s rich history every step of the way.
Trade in the German beer for North Georgia wine for a while.
Get a taste of the North Georgia vineyards by booking one of the area’s wine tours that frequent local wineries like Habersham Vineyards and Winery, Yonah Mountain Vineyards, and Kaya Vineyard and Winery. The summer and fall make great times to check out the rolling hills and vineyards when the scenery is at its peak.
Grab an old-fashioned Cabbage Patch Kid from their homeland.
For adults and kids alike, Babyland General Hospital—home of the old-fashioned Cabbage Patch dolls—will be a truly unique experience. The kids can take home their very own hand-sculpted Cabbage Patch Kid, and you can cling onto a warm feeling of nostalgia from sharing your favorite childhood dolls with them.
Make yourself at home in the cozy inns and hotels.
You can stay in the heart downtown at The Castle Inn, an Old English-style spot just steps away from all of the shops and restaurants. Venture a little further for the Valhalla Resort Hotel, complete with its rooftop bar and old European influence; or go more rustic with the historic Mountain Laurel Farm, located just six miles out of town, and stay in its 19th-century converted farmhouse amid stunning scenery.
We're not the only ones who've noticed Helen's unique charm—travelers from all over the country make their way to the one-of-a-kind village, making it the third most-visited place in Georgia behind Atlanta and Savannah. Not bad for a tiny town, eh?