Beautiful Savannah: Spared by General Sherman on his infamous “March to the Sea,” the city still resonates with graceful antebellum charm. Featured in many popular films including Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Forrest Gump, Savannah is famous for its oak trees draped in Spanish moss, elegant eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings, and slower pace of life. There’s plenty to occupy every visitor to the city. Below is my list of the top ten things to do when visiting Savannah, Georgia.
1) Relax at Forsyth Park – The centerpiece and probably most photographed sight in all of Savannah is the stunning white, cast-iron fountain located at the north end of this thirty-acre park. Modeled after the fountain at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, the fountain in Forsyth Park was added in 1858. The park also features a majestic Confederate Memorial, honoring the men who gave their lives fighting for the Confederacy (or as it’s sometimes referred to, “The War of Northern Aggression.”) Broad lawns, iron benches, playgrounds and a café—all surrounded by tree-lined pathways—add to the Southern charm.
2) Admire the Architecture – Visiting Savannah is like stepping back in time. The U.S. Customs House (built in 1848), Savannah Cotton Exchange (1886), and the 23-karat gold-domed City Hall (1906) are among dozens of beautiful historic buildings. Another favorite is the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. You can tour the Low House, as well as many other architectural treasures such as the Owens-Thomas House, the Davenport House, and the Mercer House.
3) Visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist – Poking high above the city’s skyline are the dual steeples of St. John the Baptist Cathedral. Dedicated in 1876, the French Gothic-style edifice serves as Mother Church for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. A fire ravaged the cathedral in 1898, but in thirteen years it was restored to all of its former glory with the addition of Renaissance-style murals, spectacular stained-glass windows imported from Austria, and a 9,000-pound altar made of Carrara marble. Visitors can tour the cathedral daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. or attend noon Mass, Monday through Saturday. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Colonial Park Cemetery, where you can wander amongst the gravestones of some of the city’s earliest residents. (You may notice that some of the dates on the gravestones seem inaccurate. This is because, during the Civil War, the Union troops maliciously re-carved some of the dates.)
4) Check Out Savannah’s Squares – When Savannah was founded by James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733, he planned the city around four public squares, each surrounded by four residential “tithing” blocks and four civic “trust” blocks. Today there are twenty-two peaceful public squares, most named in honor of an important person or historical event and containing monuments or statues at their centers.
5) Hang Out on River Street – One of the most popular parts of town is along Savanna’s Riverfront. Restaurants, bars, and shops selling souvenirs and sweets line the cobblestone streets facing the Savannah River. Here’s where you’ll find the Oglethorpe Landing monument, marking the spot where General James Edward Oglethorpe landed in 1733. You can board a river cruise or catch one of the many popular tours from this area as well. Don’t miss the famous Waving Girl statue, honoring Florence Martus, who greeted every ship that entered Savannah’s port for forty-four years (from 1887 to 1931) with a wave of her handkerchief. It’s estimated that she welcomed more than 50,000 ships during her lifetime and to this day she’s recognized as an eternal symbol of Southern hospitality.
6) Take a Tour – Whether by horse-drawn carriage or in an open-air trolley, there are countless ways to learn about the city’s rich history. Savannah is known as “America’s Most Haunted City” and several companies capitalize on our obsession with the macabre by offering ghost tours around Savannah’s Historic District. You can even ride in the back of a modified hearse! Most of these tours aren’t really frightening—they’re more historical in nature, describing in vivid detail some of the horrific happenings in Savannah’s centuries-old buildings. One of the best parts about Savannah: you can bring along “to go cup” cocktails, so you can sip on spirits while searching for spirits.
7) Visit the Telfair Museums – Named for prominent nineteenth-century philanthropist Mary Telfair, the Telfair Museums are actually three separate buildings: the Telfair Academy, the Owens-Thomas House and the Jepson Center. The Telfair Academy houses nineteenth- and twentieth-century paintings, decorative arts and sculptures (including the famous Bird Girl, which was moved from Bonaventure Cemetery after being featured on the book cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.) Across the street is the contemporary Jepson Center, which features a permanent collection by renowned artists such as Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and Roy Lichtenstein. A few blocks away is the third building, the Owens-Thomas House. Dating back to he early 1800s, it now houses an impressive decorative arts collection.
8) Cruise down the Savannah River – What better way to experience the days of yesteryear than traveling by riverboat? Aboard the Savannah River Queen, visitors can take a sightseeing, dinner, or romantic moonlight cruise. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the peaceful views as the lovely city goes by. You’ll see the cotton warehouses lining River Street, old Fort Jackson, as well as the Waving Girl statue from a different vantage point.
9) Enjoy some Southern Cookin’, ya’ll – Savannah’s very own celebrity chef, Paula Deen’s hugely popular restaurant Lady & Sons is located in the heart of the Historic District. Enjoy southern fried chicken, mac & cheese, black-eyed peas, collard greens and potpies, then top it off with some fresh peach cobbler. Savannah is a foodie’s paradise and there are countless places to load up on some old fashioned Southern specialties.
10) Go Shopping! – One of the most popular areas for shopping, City Market, is a four-block outdoor marketplace featuring an array of down-home shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. Nearby on Broughton Street, you’ll find quaint boutiques, art galleries, and popular stores like Marc Jacobs, Banana Republic and Urban Outfitters. You can’t leave Savannah without buying some souvenirs. There are some great, kitschy store on River Street as well.
Below are a few more photos from my trip to Savannah:
Getting There: By plane—Most major carriers fly into Savannah Hilton Head International Airport, located about eight miles west of downtown. By car—From the north or south, I-95 passes ten miles west of Savannah, with several exits to the city, and U.S. 17 runs through the city. From the west, I-16 ends in downtown Savannah.
For More information: Check out Visit Savannah.
Have you been to Savannah before? What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment in the section below!
Michael Figueiredo is a freelance travel writer based in Los Angeles, California. When he’s not gallivanting around the world, he’s enjoying the laid-back lifestyle and perfect weather of Southern California. So far he’s visited forty countries and territories on five continents. His goal is to see at least one new country every year! . Read more from this author