We spent a weekend exploring a myriad of things to do in Columbus, Ga., and I had no clue how much there was to do in this expanding city.
With the advent of the Chattahoochee RiverWalk and WhiteWater Express, the city has seen a change. I can’t wait to go back!
With lots of outdoor adventure, awesome museums, great restaurants, and plenty of free things, too — Columbus is one Georgia city that’s worth the visit.
Gems You’re Sure To Enjoy
Looking for a guaranteed good time in Columbus? These experiences fit the bill!
Whitewater adventuring with WhiteWater Express in Columbus, Georgia is still relatively new, but it has already taken the planet by storm.
RushSouth Whitewater Park on the Chattahoochee River is the longest urban whitewater rafting in the world! USA Today calls it the best man-made whitewater on the planet, and one of top 12 man-made adventures in the world.
The original idea was born in the 70s, launched in the 90s, and completed in 2013. Visitors have been enjoying guided tours down the Chattahoochee ever since!
Coca-Cola Space Science Center
When we visited the Coca-Cola Space Science Center it was during the Columbus Comic-Book Convention, so we didn’t experience it as others might, but we still had a great time.
The kids loved seeing the space suit and driving the simulated space shuttle landing. There is a real shuttle nozzle on display that is pretty amazing too.
If you can stay longer than we did, be sure to catch a movie or a planetarium show in the Omnisphere Theatre.
John S. Pemberton’s Grave
Dr. John S. Pemberton is well-known as being the inventor of Coca Cola, and he happens to be buried in Columbus.
Pemberton’s wife was from Columbus, and it’s where they settled and raised their child. His grave is located in Linwood Cemetery.
Want to know more about Pemberton? Make sure you visit the World of Coke where you’ll find a tribute to him.
Blue Heron Zipline
Ready to zipline to another state?! Try the only dual zipline in the United States that connects two states at Blue Heron Adventure Park!
Race on the dual zipline over the Chattahoochee River from Georgia to Alabama. The Flight of the Osprey package includes 3 ziplines — a 1200′ from Georgia to Alabama, a 500′ through the trees in Alabama, and an 1100′ zip back to Georgia. If you want more, The Blue Heron Adventure includes 7 ziplines and two jumps from a 45′ tower.
Going over the river was one of the highlights of the zip course for us, and we loved racing our kids!
Blue Heron Aerial Course
Ten challenges, two levels of difficulty, and an infinite amount of fun is what you’ll find at the Blue Heron Aerial Course.
Adventure seekers ages 5 and up will enjoy challenges like crawling through tunnels in the trees, balancing on floating beams, walking across a wobbly bridge, swinging from high ropes, and so much more.
This experience definitely gave our family something to talk about. We were all impressed with my husband’s Tarzan-swinging ability on the high course. Tickets can be found here.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Even if you’ve never tried stand up paddle boarding before, it’s pretty easy to stand up on a SUP and actually quite relaxing.
The Whitewater Express folks brought our boards down to the flat part of the river (below the rapids), and got us all set up, then climbed down to pick everything up, so all we had to do was paddle.
My favorite part was being able to see what was on the bottom of the river. We were able to see fish and turtles!
Renting a SUP is seasonal, and is available in the summer.
The Columbus RiverWalk has a 22-mile liner-paved trail that follows the Chattahoochee River. The path takes you from Downtown Columbus to the drill fields of Fort Benning — with lots of interesting stops in between that include parks and attractions.
A great way to explore part of it — or all of it, if you’re up to it! — is by renting a bike.
There may be some places along the trail where a smaller child or one on training wheels might have a bit of trouble, but for the most part it’s a easy ride with some rolling hills.
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Kayak and Tube Rentals
Just want to relax on the water? Then a kayak or tube rental is a great choice.
Rent a kayak or tube from WhiteWater Express in the summer months, and relax on the flat water below the rapids.
Year-round, whitewater kayaks can be rented too — as long as you know what you’re doing!
National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus
The National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus honors the sailors, soldiers, and civilians affected by the Navies of the American Civil War. It’s one of the most emotional, touching history museums we’ve been to, with a number of interesting artifacts.
You’ll find the largest surviving Confederate warship, the CSS Jackson, as well as several full-scale replicas of other Civil War vessels.
Southern Pirate Festival
Looking for an excuse to visit the National Civil War Naval Museum? Try the annual Southern Pirate Festival in late October.
There’s live entertainment, family activities, cannon firings and pirates. Expect storytellers, mermaids and games, black powder weapons demonstrations and face painting.
Vendors offer food, drink and pirate merchandise, and guests can also tour the museum as part of their festival admission.
RiverCenter For The Performing Arts
Catch a concert or event at the RiverCenter For The Performing Arts while you’re in town, and you’ll be glad you did.
RiverCenter has hosted famous musicians, dancers, actors, and entertainers from around the globe. The Bill Heard Theatre at RiverCenter regularly holds performances by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Youth Orchestra of Greater Columbus, and the Columbus Ballet. It also hosts the Miss Georgia Pageant every year.
If you’re in town in December, make sure to check out their annual Gingerbread Village entries! The houses on display are locally made by people in the community.
The Springer Opera House
The Springer Opera House is a historic theater in downtown Columbus that was originally opened in 1871!
Today, it hosts performances all year on two stages. Their main stage — Emily Woodruff Hall — hosts a Mainstage Series that features plays, musicals, and Broadway-style productions. The McClure Theatre, hosts a Children’s Theatre Series and Studio Series. Definitely catch a show here if you can!
Free Things To Do In Columbus
The best things in life (and in Columbus) are FREE! It’s true!
Uptown Columbus opened its distinctive Sculpture Walk in 2012, and you can look for original sculptures and artwork on the corners of Broadway between the blocks of 9th-13th Streets and also in the median.
You can learn more about the public art featured throughout Uptown Columbus by downloading the FREE OtoCast app. The app allows you to take a narrated self-guided tour.
New pieces are added annually so the collection keeps growing!
Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center
The Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center first opened as a collaboration among Columbus State University, Columbus Water Works, and the City of Columbus. It provides exhibits, displays, nature trails, and educational programs.
When we visited, we loved seeing the turtles, snakes, alligators and more. Don’t forget to check out the Discovery Trail Guide at the front desk; it’s a great way to extend the learning opportunities of your visit.
Oxbow is free, but donations are welcome.
Spring and Fall Concert Series in Uptown Columbus
Hang out and enjoy the live music at the Spring and Fall Concert Series in Uptown Columbus.
Families are invited to bring their lawn chairs and blankets, kick back (or get up and dance!) on the 1000 block of Broadway from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. on Friday nights. The concerts usually run for 6 weeks each season.
Columbus RiverWalk GeoTour
Have you ever been geocaching? It’s an outdoor adventure game — similar to a treasure hunt — played with a GPS device. You’re basically trying to find hidden containers.
Columbus has jumped on board, and offers a fun way to explore the RiverWalk — with the Columbus RiverWalk GeoTour.
You’ll find 5-6 caches in each category including the walk, the dams, the attractions, the mills, the river and the whitewater. Bring your completed Grid Sheet into the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau during regular hours to receive your custom GeoTour playing card or geo-coin.
Our favorite place along the RiverWalk was “The Island.” It’s one of the best places to view folks rafting! You’ll find it directly below the Eagle and Phenix apartment complex.
The Island is open daily from 9am – 8pm, depending on the weather. You can also splash in the water here, just bring a life vest.
The Columbus Museum is one of the largest museums in the Southeast and is unique for its dual concentration on American art and regional history, displayed in both its permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions. The best part? Admission to Columbus Museum is FREE.
Additional FREE programs of note here:
Second Saturdays. Free-Family programs that include anything from hands-on art creating with the kids, scavenger hunts and story time (10:00am-12:00pm).
Teen 3rd Sundays. Free-Special guest artists talk to teens about their works then they get to take part in art-making activities with the artist (2:00-4:00pm).
Annual Fall Festival. The Annual Fall Festival takes a look back in time to explore past decades! Get hands-on at five different activity stations featuring marble making, photo tinting, invisible ink, and more.
The Museum provides family-friendly games, special scavenger hunts, and story time throughout the program. Children can also participate in a costume contest for a change to win prizes.
Established in 1988 as a stunning addition to the Columbus Historic District, the Heritage Corner features five preserved homes representing different eras of Georgia history.
Among them is the Pemberton House, once the home of local pharmacist Dr. John Pemberton. As we mentioned earlier, he is renowned today as the inventor of that truly Southern concoction, Coca-Cola.
You can see the homes from the sidewalk for free, but guided tours are also available for a small fee.
Historic Linwood Cemetery
Visit the beautiful Historic Linwood Cemetery to see the graves of such notables as Dr. John S. Pemberton, H. Augusta Howard, and Noble Leslie DeVotie.
Pemberton, as previously discussed, was a pharmacist who was wounded in the last land battle of the Civil War in Columbus. Pemberton would go on to concoct the secret formula to Coca-Cola.
H. Augusta Howard: As the woman who founded Georgia’s Women Suffrage Association, Howard’s headstone is emblazoned with the word “Martyr.”
Noble Leslie DeVotie: A Baptist minister and newspaper editor, DeVotie is among the founders of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, the first national fraternity to be established in the Deep South.
Kadie the Cow
Kadie the Cow used to sit in front of Columbus’s Kinnett’s Dairies, but once they were torn down, she sat in storage for a while. But not to worry!
You can now see the larger-than-life cow just west of the Peachtree Mall. She has been visible to residents of Columbus for decades, and was deeded to the City of Columbus as a historical landmark.
She continues to keep watch over the Manchester Expressway. Stop by and get a pic! (Tell her I said hi.)
Tuesday Night Group Bike Rides
Make some friends and ride some bikes, that’s what Tuesday Night Group Bike Rides with Ride on Bikes is all about.
This is a family friendly, social group ride open to all levels. Most rides take place on the Columbus RiverWalk and lasts about 2 hours. Meet at Ride On Bikes on Broadway.
Columbus Botanical Garden
Located on 36 acres of greenspace, the Columbus Botanical Garden currently offers four developed acres with plans for new gardens in the works.
The gardens offer free daily admission to visitors, and hosts fun events and plant sales throughout the year.
It’s a great and beautiful place — don’t forget your camera.
Directly across from WhiteWater Express, there is an awesome, seasonal splashpad for the kids at Woodruff Park.
They can watch the rafters, soak up some rays and cool off in the water. Trees, rocks and music make this a great place for a family picnic, too.
National Infantry Museum
The National Infantry Museum is a large, beautiful facility and a world-class tribute to those who served in this capacity in the Army. Honestly, I was a little worried about it holding my guys’ attention, but they really enjoyed it. It’s no wonder why this ranks on TripAdvisor as the #1 attraction in Columbus.
The museum itself is FREE — however, greeters at the door do suggest a $5 per person donation.
The museum includes a Family Gallery, which examines how spouses and children manage when a soldier is deployed. There is a kid-sized room in which they can try on soldier uniforms and learn about humanitarian missions soldiers carry out.
Where To Stay in Columbus, Ga
While we visited Columbus, Ga., our family stayed at Columbus Marriott. It worked well for our family of four, with spacious rooms and easy access to the best of the city. Here is the scoop on why we enjoyed it.
The history. The Columbus Marriott stands on the site of a 1860s conglomeration of warehouses, a cotton mill and a Confederate arsenal. The original brick was refurbished and converted into this national landmark hotel.
The rooms. Our room was simple, but clean and elegant. There was plenty of room for our things. I especially loved the oversized foyer area for our suitcases and toys. We stayed in a room with two queen beds. It also included a desk, free WiFi, a mini-fridge and microwave and large windows with plenty of natural light.
Restaurant options. For your convenience, Houlihan’s is the hotel restaurant. I’m sure it is a great restaurant, but I want to encourage you to get out to some of the local Columbus, Ga restaurants for lunch and dinner.
However, we all know that kids want to eat at the strangest times. It’s very handy to have a full-service restaurant right on site. Also, if you want to take a dip in the pool (see below), then it is also a great place to grab a cocktail to enjoy on the pool deck while the kids swim.
The pool. We always look for a pool when traveling with the kids. It’s a great way to work out the squirmies in the morning before we head to breakfast, and it is the perfect way to wind down an evening.
Columbus Marriott has a seasonal outdoor pool with a large deck. Towels are provided. For mom and dad, there is also a fitness room with free weights and cardio equipment.
The location. You are only minutes away from tons of fun activities like The RiverWalk, WhiteWater Express, and the best restaurants. We walked almost everywhere, especially in the mornings when the weather was cooler.
If you find yourself walked out far from the hotel, Lyft car service operates in Columbus. To sweeten the deal, we’re giving you $50 in Lyft credits to get yourself a driver for the evening. (Must be a first time Lyft customer.)
Directly across the street from the Marriott is the Columbus CVB. I encourage you to stop in for tips on where to visit, the best times and more.
We were extremely pleased with our stay at Columbus Marriott, and we hope to return soon. Between the rooms, the staff, the amenities, and the location, this is a no-brainer.
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Disclosure: Thank you to Columbus CVB for hosting us at Columbus Marriott. We are grateful, but it did not sway our opinion. #keepingitreal