If you find yourself wanting to don lederhosen and hit a German beer hall, then there’s a place for you in Georgia. It’s called Helen. A little more than an hour’s drive from Atlanta, Helen is nestled in the North Georgia Mountains and a perfect destination for a family getaway. During the 1960s, to boost tourism in the area, the tiny town of Helen was developed into a faux Alpine Village. Everything in the town, even the fast food chains, is built in keeping with the Bavarian theme. Yes, it’s a little cheesy, but that’s part of the fun!
Helen has all the trappings of a usual tourist town: souvenir shops, hotels and restaurants (many of them German-themed). The natural beauty of the area sets it apart, however. You even cross over the Chattahoochee River while strolling through town. There’s also a scenic hilltop park in the middle of town. Mountain vistas beckon in the distance. If you feel like escaping from it all, Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls are just a few miles up the road. While there are hotels in the village, there are also plenty of cabin rentals and campgrounds not too far away.
Where to Dine
You know you HAVE to eat German food in Helen. Truth be told, there are a few tourist trap restaurants that cater to the masses. However, there are several really tasty and authentic German food establishments. Two to try are Hofer’s Bakery and Bodensee Restaurant. At Hofer’s you’ll find delicious Old World breads baked in a stone hearth oven. There’s also a pastry case full of Linzer cookies, apple strudel, cakes, tortes and other sweet treats. Sit down for breakfast or lunch in café for a full menu of soups, sandwiches and German favorites—or grab something to go. Open for lunch and dinner, try Bodensee for more of a fine dining experience. (Never fear, they do have a kid’s menu, though!) Here you’ll find chef-inspired takes on German specialties like schnitzel, sauerbraten, spaetzle and all manner of housemade sausages. They also have steak and some more American style offerings.
For the Kids
The minute your kids see the horse and buggies trotting around Helen, you know they will be smitten. During peak tourist seasons (particularly fall), you’ll find them in the village. Advanced reservations are not required. Also hit Jolly’s Toys on Main Street and Charlemagne’s Kingdom if you have little train enthusiasts in tow. When the sweet tooth hits, pay a visit to Hansel and Gretel’s Candy Kitchen for some handmade fudge, taffy and almond butter toffee. We promise, no evil witches lurk inside!
Just outside of town on Highway 17 is historic Nora Mill Granary and Country Store. Open every day (except Christmas and Easter), both kids and adult will find the old-fashioned water powered grist meal fascinating. When you’re finished exploring the mill, buying some fresh ground cornmeal and sampling goodies in the store, head out to the deck and feed fish in the river.
For the Grown Ups
Of course, there is plenty of German beer to be found in Helen – even outside of the Oktoberfest season. But, it’s also become a destination for wine connoisseurs. One of the oldest wineries in Georgia, Habersham Winery, is also located just outside the village and offers free tastings. Several other Georgia wineries including Frogtown Cellars, Sautee Nacoochee Vineyards and Yonah Mountain Vineyards have tasting rooms in Helen or nearby in Sautee Nacoochee.
When to Go
Helen offers something for all seasons. Fall is by far the busiest time of year because of leaf watchers and Helen’s annual Oktoberfest celebration. Note this is the time of year to go for the German beer hall experience. It runs September through October—and yes, it is kid friendly. Make your lodging reservations far in advance and expect traffic jams if you plan on visiting on an October weekend. For a less crowded experience, try visiting during the week. The winter holiday season is also a great time to visit Helen. The village is lit and full of holiday activities and markets. Early June brings another Helen tradition: the Helen to the Atlantic Balloon Race and Festival. In general, spring and summer are the best time to visit for Helen’s outdoor attractions. Several tubing and canoeing outfitters, like Cool River Tubing operate out of Helen. There are also several mini golf courses, a zip line course and all sorts of outdoor options for family fun.
For more information visit the City of Helen online by clicking here.
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Photos courtesy of the Helen Chamber of Commerce via Facebook and the author