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. With around 550 residents and only 2.1 square miles, it's undoubtedly tiny. But the steeply pitched roofs, quaint cross-gables, and colorful half-timbering make the authentic Bavarian village enchanting. It looks straight out of our fairytale dreams but sits quite close to home in the mountains of Georgia.
While its annual Oktoberfest brings visitors flocking in the fall, 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 small town that keeps us coming back season after season.
Eat Authentic Bavarian Cuisine
The Bavarian options go beyond golden German brews and bratwurst. (Though, that duo never disappoints.) You'll find the most noticeable among the many cultural spots in the center of town.
The landmark of Helen's architecture and the first German restaurant established in the town, The Heidelberg has an impressively extensive schnitzel selection, German potato pancakes, Goulash soup, and more specialties. Pair these dishes 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.
Go on an Outdoor Adventure
For those seeking a little adventure outside the storybook downtown, Helen delivers an impressive medley of outdoor pursuits like fishing and hiking that'll indulge relaxed and experienced parties.
Take 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. Activities at Nacoochee Adventures include zip lines, rope courses, and a 50-foot swing for adrenaline nuts.
Experience Unique Festivals
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. Festivities are full of authentic German music, cuisine, and many people wearing lederhosen.
Helen hosts the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival, the South's oldest balloon event , in late spring 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.
Have 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. 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 without the Annual Christmas Parade, typically held the second weekend of December.
Dive into the Town's History
Though reborn into its German style in the late 1960s, Helen 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 taste the town's rich history at every step.
Try North Georgia Wine
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.
Find a Cabbage Patch Kid
Visiting Babyland General Hospital will be a unique experience for kids and adults as it is home to old-fashioned Cabbage Patch dolls. The kids can take home a hand-sculpted Cabbage Patch Kid, and you can cling to a warm feeling of nostalgia from sharing your favorite childhood dolls with them.
Stay at a Cozy Inn or Hotel
Stay in the heart of downtown at The Castle Inn . It's an Old English-style spot with views of the Chattahoochee River and Main Street, just steps away from all the shops and restaurants. If you venture a little further, the Valhalla Resort Hotel is complete with a rooftop bar and old European influence. Guests can enjoy a wildlife tour or visit the spa. Find serene mountain views at Lucille’s Mountain Top Inn and Spa . This hidden bed-and-breakfast isn’t far from town and offers gourmet breakfast and plush amenities.
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?