Prior to 1800, Alpine Helen was the center of Cherokee Indian culture. Once pillaged for natural resources, first gold and then timber, by the 1960s there was nothing left except a dreary row of concrete block structures. So, in 1968, a group of entrepreneurs worked with a local artist who had been stationed in Germany. The artist determined a new look for the North Georgia town, adding gingerbread trim, Bavarian-inspired details and colors to the buildings. In January 1969, business owners and local carpenters began turning ideas into reality and all downtown stores were renovated. In 2002, $1.2 million was spent on improvements in the downtown area. Since then, Helen has accomplished much, creating a new town and industry, providing jobs for more people and boosting the economy of the entire area – supporting over 1,200 hotel rooms, more than 150 shops, including those of Old World artisans, 40-plus restaurants and a number of wineries.
And while you can still see the beloved old gal of yesteryear in her bustling main shopping thoroughfare, traditional German restaurants and bakeries and tourist mainstays like gold panning and mini golf, you’ll meet a more urbane Helen today. Create a piece of art at The Willows, a working potter’s studio with Paint Your Own Pottery studio, or paint a toy you can take home and enjoy at Elfmade Wooden (100% natural) Toys. Take in a gallery show or live theatre performance at The Sautee Nacoochee Center. Find a new artist to collect at InsideOut Sautee with its local artists’ gallery and home furnishings, pottery, jewelry and more. Take time to tour the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia; housed in a post and beam building, this is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to folk pottery and showcasing a 200-year tradition of men and women who shaped the earth and water of the Georgia Mountains into once essential household items now valued and collected as distinctive folk art.
While in Helen, feast at dozens of restaurants, including the authentic German bakery of Hofer’s and at the Old Bavaria Inn where German food, stein sales, lederhosen sales and much more contribute to the experience. German food, beer and wine reign at the Old Heidelberg restaurant while at Higher Ground Coffee & More a warmly brewed cuppa is the perfect pairing for the homemade fudge and other sweet confections at the Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen. And, at Muller’s Famous Café, savor delicious European specialties in a cozy and intimate atmosphere.
At the end of your adventure, you’re sure to sleep like a baby in Helen’s in-town hotels, motels and B&Bs, many of which overlook the Chattahoochee River and decorate the landscape with their mural-enrobed facades, and the mountainside and mountaintop accommodations, including B&Bs, cabins and condos, scenically situated throughout White County.
Plan your mountain vacation during one of Helen’s popular annual events, such as Wine Highway Weekends (March through December), the Northeast Georgia Arts Tour (June and November), Oktoberfest (September through November), and December’s Holidays in Helen.
One of the top attractions in the entire state, hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, Helen celebrates the future while commemorating its historic past when the early settlers came to this remote area. Stop by the Welcome Center in downtown Helen to see the sketches that tell the story of Helen. A village with a mountain heritage and a touch of Bavaria, Helen has created a unique experience for its visitors.