Nestled into the Blue Ridge Mountains is the old Bavarian town of Helen, GA. The second you turn onto main street, you leave behind your American traditions and transport to Germany. The roads are dotted with old Bavarian buildings, an adorable old time town square, murals of old fairy tale and fantasy characters, German restaurants, people milling about with mugs of beer and German get up, and of course, the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge mountains.
The city is settled along the Chattahoochee River and the Blue Ridge mountains which makes it the perfect spot for an adventure while exploring a unique but bustling city!
When I arrived here, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve heard the name – Helen – thrown around a lot on Instagram and while talking to people about Georgia. I decided to find out what all of the hype was about, and the hype was not enough! No one told me I would end up leaving the United States and gorging myself with German food and fare.
I also didn’t realize in the madness of 2020, Helen would be putting on their 50th Oktoberfest one of the longest running Oktoberfest’s in the country!
The town has plenty of pay-for-parking lots available right off of main street – which is where I opted to leave my car for the day. Parking was only $5, and the lot was easily accessible for me to come back to throughout the day – important for all of the shopping I did!
It’s hard to choose where to start, so I let my tummy decide for me! I was starving after hiking all morning my tummy was growling so I decided to head for the food! There were so many German restaurants to choose from, all offering up their best, authentic German fare. I ended up choosing King Ludwig’s Biergarten, right on main street. They had a big tent set up right in a little square on the sidewalk, with live music, an outdoor bar, and an entire party going on!
I ordered a cider – sorry, I don’t know beer or what to pick – and to my surprise they had a vegan bratwurst option! My veg self got super excited and knew this was the right choice! I sat down at a table with two other couples, enjoyed the music, and inhaled my vegan bratwurst – which was definitely just a Beyond Meat sausage, but I am so about it.
Everyone in town was super friendly so I decided to ask around on where to go and what to do. The obvious answer was to drink so I decided to keep the buzz going and wander around some more, seeing what I could get myself into.
I walked along main street and through all of the alleys and side streets offering up their drinks, food, clothes, and gifts. I wandered through the maze of gift shops, toy shops, and shops that offered up the best of Helen! I walked under and over the bridge that crosses the Chattahoochee River, which was flooded with tubers heading down the river. My Florida blood wouldn’t be able to handle the water in September, but a great activity to remember for the summer months – or for anyone that isn’t from Florida!
I finally stumbled upon my next drinking spot of the day – Fox Winery Tasting Room at the Gourmet Shoppe! The free wine tasting sign really got my attention. Instead of doing the free wine tasting of the Fox Wines, I did the $1 tasting for four other wines. The shop was a cute little shop, home to a wide variety of wines – sweet and dry! Along with wine, they have everything you would ever need – or not know you wanted for your wine drinking days!
After the wine tasting – and attempting to get into more bars that were already at capacity – I made my way to the Georgia Mountain Coaster. One of the places the couple at King Ludwig’s told me to go, and it did not disappoint! The ticket was only $16 and another $1 to rent a locker to throw my backpack in. The coaster takes you up the mountain and then you ride the sled back down, controlling the brakes and speed you go! I thought I was going to be so cool and go full speed the whole way down, until my first turn and I chickened out and rode the brakes the rest of the way down.
I decided it was getting late and I should head on back to the hotel before I started to party too hard! My last wish for the day was to get a giant pretzel! I LOVE pretzels, it’s one of those great snacks for us vegs, and the ultimate German snack. I was told the Old Bavaria Inn was THE place to go for pretzels.
The Old Bavaria Inn is a restaurant on the ground level of the alley, and above is home to a lounge. I opted for the lounge since I was alone and didn’t want to take up a whole table to myself. I did have to wait half an hour to get in due to COVID-19 capacity limit. It was well worth the wait.
Once I walked into the Old Bavaria Inn Lounge, I knew I’d be coming back every year. The atmosphere in the lounge was extremely friendly, drunk, and happy. The people were rowdy gregarious patrons, cheering every time someone new walked in, and everyone would invite you to sit with them. I sat with a group of couples from all over the eastern US. We drank, took shots, and of course had a giant pretzel with beer cheese! And I have to give a shout out to the bartender, for being able to deal with everyones rowdiness, he was a trooper.
After the lounge, we were going to have dinner together but I left to get my nose pierced at Main Street Tattoo. They were super nice and clean and accept walk-ins but beware, word on the street is they hide penises in their tattoos – which I think is kinda cool and made me want a tattoo.
I only had a half day to explore this amazing city and revel in the glory of their Oktoberfest. My original plan was to just grab lunch here and then head back to Blue Ridge – boy was I wrong! I stayed way longer than planned, but my future plans involve being in Helen for a whole weekend – maybe even longer! The city may be small, but there is no shortage of things to do in Helen, Georgia!
TL;DR and some extra places to hit if you’re up in Alpine Helen, Georgia!
Places to eat –
Places to get into the Oktoberfest spirit –
Places to drink –
- Old Bavaria Inn Lounge
- Wineries throughout the region
- King Ludwig’s Biergarten
- Paul’s Margarita Deck
- Alpine Brew Deck
- Fox Winery Tasting Room at the Gourmet Shoppe
- Alpine Coaster
- Town Square
- Unicoi Hill Park
- Main Street Tattoo
- Cool River Tubing
- Bavarian Mountain Mini Golf and Arcade
- Helen Arts and Heritage Center
- Hiking all over the region
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