Short on cash for a German getaway? Pack your lederhosen and head to Helen, Georgia, instead!
· Helen, Georgia, is the epitome of a “tourist town,” with only 430 residents, but sees almost 3 million visitors annually
· It packs a lot of punch in 2.11 square miles — outdoor adventures, seasonal events, European flair, and a whole lot of people watching.
· Helen is home to the U.S.’ longest-running Oktoberfest.
Nestled in Northeast Georgia, Helen may not be surrounded by the Alps, but its Blue Ridge Mountain range is nothing short of breathtaking. Making up Georgia’s highest mountain range, the peak elevations vary from 1,600 to 4,700 feet. This rugged terrain gives visitors a plethora of outdoor activities. Tourists can choose to hike several mountain trails, tube down the Chattahoochee River, or soar above the Unicoi State Park canopy in a zip line.
For those who prefer more structured or laid-back experiences can visit wineries, festivals, museums, restaurants and more. With so many features that can appeal to families, couples, groups, and solo-travelers, it’s no wonder Helen is the third-most visited city in the state.
Bratwurst, and schnitzel, and wurst, oh my!
No visit to Helen would be complete without a stop at one of its many restaurants and eateries. Locals swear by Hofer’s of Helen, a family-run bakery serving European cakes, pastries, and breads, located right on North Main Street. It’s the perfect stop for stocking up trail food before a hike.
Continuing the German food-fest, visitors should make a stop at The Heidelberg — the first German restaurant in town and most photographed building in Georgia.
People who want some visual entertainment with their meals should stop by The Hofbrauhaus, a riverfront restaurant serving German favorites like kassler ripchen, wurst platters and schwein braten. Have your bratwurst while watching people tubing down the river.
After watching tuber after tuber go down the Chattahoochee, it’s definitely tempting to want to jump in. Luckily, there are the Cool Tubing Company and Helen Tubing that’ll get you floating down the river in no time.
The Adventure Lodges of Georgia-Unicoi State Park’s hosts outdoor adventures including ropes courses, canopy ziplines and bridges, fly fishing, guided nature hikes in Unicoi State Park, and more.
Horse enthusiasts should check out the Gold City Corral & Carriage Company, which offers a day in the life in the old west. Enjoy horseback trail rides, carriage rides, and a unique dinner wagon ride.
More than just Oktoberfest
Another claim to fame is Helen’s Oktoberfest, which is the longest-running Oktoberfest in the country. It was established in 1970 and takes place September to the end of October. German bands around the US and the world make a stop at this event to celebrate Bavarian music, food and drink, and culture. As the Alpine Helen / White County Convention & Visitors Bureau puts it, “it’s the charm of Bavaria, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.”
But the celebration of all things German doesn’t stop at Oktoberfest. Helen is also home to so many more. Bavarianfest takes place during Memorial Day weekend. Fasching is a German-style Mardi Gras festival full of feasting and costumes. Faschingsverein Tubing Parade takes place the week prior, with tubers floating downriver to end at the Festhalle for music, games, and schnapps.
Outside of German fests, Helen also hosts an annual hot air balloon race that takes place in early summer. It is the oldest balloon event in the South and boasts dozens of hot air balloons taking flight.
It’s the charm of Bavaria, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Helen has so much to offer and is a must-stop for anyone visiting Georgia. Founded in 1913, it became the Alpine village it is known today in 1968 as a way to reinvigorate the town. But Helen actually began as a home to the Cherokee Indians before Europeans settled to mine for gold and harvest timber. Visitors can learn more about this rich history by visiting the Sautee Nacoochee Center and Sautee Nacoochee Indian Mound. The Helen Arts & Heritage Council is also a great place to learn about local history through workshops, exhibits, and art.
A deeper dive — Related Reading from the 101
Travel accessories to bring with you to make things easier.
Helen isn’t the only place for Oktoberfest. This lists the original.