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Savannah, established in the early 1700’s, was used as a protectorate for the northern city of Charleston from the Spanish who then inhabited what is now Florida. The city has a wonderful history which stretches well beyond the American Civil War, considering at that point it had been in existence for over 100 years. Savannah is pretty, it is sunny, it is warm. It’s bustling and full of vibrant nightlife, cafes, art museums, restaurants and shops: there is so much to do. I was more than pleasantly surprised at what I found in the city. I knew it was pretty but I didn’t know quite so much about its story and all it has to offer.
So, if you’re headed there, here are 10 things to do in Savannah. And if you’re not, here are 10 things which will make you want to book your trip now!
If all you’re really after is food, I feel yah, and I’ve got you covered. Check out where to eat in Savannah
1. Walk along River St.
The city of Savannah is exceptionally flat. It is in fact nearly a plain. But as you near the river, that plain drops off. You’ll have to take stairs to get down from the main areas of the city on to River St. Those stairs are historical and as such are quite steep and treacherous, especially for those not good on their feet. Luckily, Savannah has not left you to stumble and fall your way down. On Bay St, to the left of the Hyatt, behind city hall, is a free elevator which will bring you down to River St.
Once you’ve made it down take a walk. River St. stretches in either direction and is dotted with local shops, restaurants, bars and markets. There is a lovely promenade directly on the water where seasonal markets pop up. This area is a great place to enjoy during the day or into the evening, though if you’re looking for real nightlife, check elsewhere.
Do keep in mind Savannah’s open container laws, of which there are none! You can buy a beer (or any beverage under 16 oz.) in one spot, get it in a to go cup, and wander down the street no bother!
2. Take a tour with Savannah Dan
Our tour with Savannah Dan happened accidentally. We were meant to be on a different tour but couldn’t see the guide, so we joined his. And we were so glad we did.
Savannah Dan goes above and beyond the normal call of tour guide duty. You’ll first spot him beneath the wide oaks of one of Savannah’s many squares dressed in a matching tweed suit and hat (is it a stetson?) with a handlebar mustache. If you’re not immediately drawn to his deep southern drawl and captivating stories, give it 30 seconds.
Savannah Dan has a way of telling history that you may or may not have ever learned, but most certainly don’t remember, in such a way that you’ll never forget it again.
From the story of how Jews cured the plague in Savannah to how to order the best BLT in town (those two clearly not being related) Savannah Dan will deliver the goods in fashion. The tour costs $25/person and lasts 2-3 hours.
I can’t recommend this tour strongly enough.
SCAD stands for Savannah College of Art and Design. It’s Savannah’s most formidable college and you’ll be walking through its campus throughout your entire visit. The SCAD museum is a contemporary art museum showcasing new exhibits every quarter, from statues and paintings to interactive pieces and videos. Generally speaking, the art is not that of the students who attend SCAD, but rather is used to teach and engage them with lectures often held on the premises. You may find some pieces from alumni. Entrance is $10 and the museum is closed on Mondays.
Called the Sistine Chapel of the south, The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is nothing short of impressive, especially for an American church. Its twin spires stand above the neighborhood it sits in and are adorned with Celtic symbols, one of my nods to Savannah’s Irish links. The decorations throughout the main nave as well as the stained-glass windows throughout will have you marveling at the detail that went in to creating this tremendous tribute to the Roman Catholic Church.
Savannah is said to be one of the most haunted cities in America. And whether or not you believe in ghost tales, an evening jaunt around the city in a trolley is a great way to see beautifully lit homes, and listen to entertaining tales of the tormented soles that are said to linger throughout the city. There are a number of tour companies that offer the rides and if you’d prefer, you can also go on a tour by foot.
6. Explore the squares
There are 24 squares in Savannah, each approximately two city blocks from the next in a line of site formation which served many purposes in the original creating of the city. Today, warning that the enemy has arrived and stopping city wide fires are less of the purpose of these beautiful squares. They’ve each been manicured, groomed, and filled with stunning greenery. They are the backyard of Savannah locals. They are a gathering place, a perfect place for a picnic or to read a book, and they can even be rented out, by the hour, for private parties. It’s difficult to miss them but easy to move on too quickly. Relax and chat with the old man playing his guitar on the bench. That’s what they’re for.
The historic downtown of Savannah is hardly more than two square miles. And it is very, very walkable. In fact, you may find yourself being jolted back to reality by the beep of a horn as you meander down the middle of a street, that’s how relaxed you’ll feel. Whether you take a gander at the shopping along Broughton St. or stroll down Jones St, voted one of America’s most beautiful, you’ll be missing out on much of the city if you don’t lace up and take a hike.
If you came carless to Savannah you probably made the right decision, walking is key and parking is expensive. But now I’m going to encourage you to rent a car. Just for the day. There’s an enterprise downtown and they’ll even come pick you up from wherever you’re staying. Once in your car take a 15-minute drive east to Bonaventure Cemetery. Even if you’re not into cemeteries, this is one not to be missed. It’s absolutely stunning. From the beautifully carved headstones and statues to the grand, shady oaks. There are plenty of famous people buried throughout and you can look up a self-guided walking tour to help you stay on track. Keep an eye out for the synagogue and the extensive Jewish section, one more surprise to add to Savannah’s list! You’ll want at least an hour to wander, photograph and enjoy.
9. Tybee Island
After your visit to Bonaventure, continue another 30 minutes to the eastern most barrier island in the area, Tybee. No matter the season, the spot is perfect. Follow route 80, the only main road on the island, all the way to the end. The beach stretches for miles in either direction and bars, restaurants and store fronts line the streets around it. The off season is quiet, and windy but that’s what we liked about it. In summer, rumor has it, the area is hectic.
Ask anyone where’s a good place to eat and they’ll point at the nearest restaurant. Everywhere in Savannah is good. Check out my top recommendations!