Athens, home of the University of Georgia (UGA), is located along the north Oconee River in Clarke County, in the rolling Piedmont of northeast Georgia. Athens and Clarke County combined to form a unified government in 1990. According to the 2010 U.S. census, Athens–Clarke County had a population of 115,452 making it Georgia's fifth-largest city.  Chosen in 1801 as the site for the first chartered state university in the nation, University of Georgia North Campus.

Athens is known for its culture and diversity. Georgia's "Classic City" has preserved many of its historic neighborhoods and landmarks, and its largely intact nineteenth-century townscape abuts the historic North Campus of UGA. Today Athens is the center for commerce and trade, health services, and cultural arts for all of northeast Georgia. The city struggles to maintain its distinctive sense of place in the face of rapid growth and development.

R.E.M. and the B-52's put Athens on the map in the 1980s as a lively venue for rock music and helped spawn a plethora of bands and the clubs where they perform. The B-52's left Athens, but R.E.M. stayed to make their mark as historic homeowners, preservationists, and friends of the environment as well.

Athens has its own symphony, opera company, band, choral societies, gospel groups, folk, jazz, blues, and more. In the spring, the annual Human Rights Festival brings together political activists, musicians, and craftsmen, and the city's Twilight Criterium, one of the country's largest cycling events, attracts both cyclists and spectators. Athfest, a local music festival held on outdoor stages and in venues around town, takes place each June, and on autumn weekends the town swells as football fans flock to watch the University of Georgia Bulldogs.

UGA is the largest employer in Athens–Clarke County, and its presence is still the largest single factor in the city's increasingly diversified economy. Major industries in Athens–Clarke County include poultry and timber.