Savannah is a Southern city with more than enough charm to go around. Much of Savannah’s architecture has either been preserved or restored, which combines with the surrounding oak trees to create a historical atmosphere. But while the quaint architecture feels like a step back into antebellum times, the nightlife gives the city a pulse.
There are a ton of different ways to explore Savannah. Ghost tours are particularly famous here since the city is nearly 290 years old. You can also opt to see the city through trolley tours, walking tours, food tours… you get the point.
But if you want to walk the city’s streets without a guide, Savannah is definitely doable on your own. You can sufficiently explore the city over a weekend, though many people come back for longer because of its fairy tale-like atmosphere.
Here are my top things to do in Savannah:
Getting There and Getting Around
Savannah is the United States’ first planned city, which is why the city neatly divides into a grid-like format. Its National Historic Landmark District is only around two square miles, so you can easily explore downtown on foot. If you get tired, Savannah operates dot, a free transportation system through Downtown. You can find a map of the dot’s routes here.
Finding accommodation in the Historic District is easy, with a lot of Airbnb and Booking.com options available. Prices will vary throughout the city, although generally places near the river will typically be more expensive.
Savannah Historic District
Savannah’s meticulously grid contains 22 historic squares throughout the Historic District. You can pass through all of the squares in a day, though some squares are particularly interesting.
You might recognize Chippewa Square as a famous background of Forrest Gump. Though you won’t find the movie’s famous bench here, one was donated to the Savannah History Museum. The renovated Ellis Square is also a good stop, especially if you want to go shopping in the City Market. You can read more about the squares and find a map here.
There are quite a few parks around the Historic District, with Forsyth Park being the most famous. The 30 acre park often hosts events on the weekends, and its over 160-year-old fountain is a photoshoot favorite! Check out Savannah’s events calendar that lists different tours and events. On the opposite side of the district, you can pass through Emmet Park and see the monuments inside.
River Street is arguably Savannah’s top must-see spot. It can resemble a tourist trap with some of its gimmicky shops, but a walk by the river is essential to experience its port city roots. The shops on River Street are renovated cotton houses to keep up with its architectural integrity. Don’t forget to check out River Street’s backside, known as Factors Walk, for more interesting shops.
Savannah’s free transportation services extend to the Savannah River, where the Savannah Belles Ferry operates free rides from River Street to Hutchinson Island. While Hutchinson Island is mostly for golf, the ferry itself gives you a different view of River Street and the Waving Girl Statue. The ferry boards at three different places; you can see its complete schedule here.
The African American Monument in Rousakis Plaza is a reminder that Savannah wasn’t built without conflict, and there are many more relics dedicated to the slaves who built the city. To learn more about Savannah’s deep ties to African American history, sign up for a tour or visit them on your own.
In the nighttime, River Street is a great time to come for a bar crawl (they allow open containers downtown!) or to listen to live music. The Riverfront Plaza is also a good place to relax and watch the cargo ships go by. During specific holidays, sit by the river for a fireworks show along the waterfront. The street is especially lively on St. Patrick’s Day, as Savannah hosts one of the best St. Patrick’s celebrations in the country.
Admire the Architecture
Architecture is where Savannah shines. Over 1100 of its buildings are historical, with some of the oldest dating back almost three centuries! For such an old city, it’s no surprise that you’ll find Colonial, Victorian, and Modern style buildings under the same sky.
Jones Street is the most picturesque street in Savannah. Besides the architecture, you’re covered in trees as you walk down. The famously haunted Sorrel Weed House, Mercer Williams House, and Owens-Thomas House are some of Savannah’s buildings that offer tours.
You can find the continent’s only Gothic-style synagogue here, along with a historical Catholic basilica on Lafayette Square. The Pirates’ House is a famous restaurant. You can even take architectural tours of the city. Or on a scavenger hunt of Savannah’s murals.
One of the most historical spots in Savannah is the Bonaventure Cemetery. You can try to navigate the 100+ acre cemetery on your own or take a free guided tour offered by the Bonaventure Historical Society every second weekend of the month. The Wormsloe State Historic Site is a 15-minute drive out of Savannah, but the plantation’s oak-lined trails and museum offer a glimpse of Georgia’s beginnings.
Shop and Eat Local
Besides the River Street Market Place and City Market, Broughton Street is one of Savannah’s shopping hubs. A couple of blocks over, boutiques on Whitaker Street populate the street. Savannah Bee Company sells honey native to the Southeast.
Surprisingly, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is a big part of the city’s driving influences. The art school restored many of Savannah’s buildings in the eighties, and now owns over 60 buildings in the Historic District. Visit shopSCAD on Bull Street for keepsakes from SCAD students, alumni and faculty.
The South prides itself in high quality comfort food, and Savannah offers a ton of it. Tourists flock to The Lady and Sons (temporarily closed due to renovations as of this writing) because it’s Paula Deen’s famous restaurant, but there are plenty of other restaurants (especially brunch!) to visit. Don’t miss a taste of Savannah’s famous ice cream store Leopold’s Ice Cream. A couple blocks over, Congress Street is great for a less touristy bar experience.
Outside of Savannah
Don’t limit your travels to Savannah’s downtown, because there are lush beaches and wetlands outside of the city limits. About fifteen minutes from the city you can visit Skidaway Island State Park, and Wassaw National Wildlife Refuge (which is only reachable by boat). Visit the Civil War-era Fort Pulaski, to learn more about the area’s Civil War-era history. A ten mile drive north of Savannah’s Historic District is the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, where you can see animals, especially gators.
One of the best things about coastal cities is how close they are to the beach. Drive only 20 miles east and you’ll end up on Tybee Island. The island’s parking app lets you refill the meter using your phone. A 45-minute drive north takes you to Hilton Head, which is a bit more expensive and less laid-back than Tybee.
Safety in Savannah
Like every place I explore, I like to be hyperaware of my surroundings. The Historic District is safe for the most part, but be alert and keep an eye on your belongings, especially if you’re in places like Factors Walk where there aren’t as many tourists. Use your common sense if you’re going through the city at night – calling for an Uber is better than crossing through the squares and parks alone.
Unlike most cities, Savannah won’t put you in crowds of people unless you’re in line for Leopold’s ice cream. It’s a weekend trip perfect for a quiet city visit, and even a side trip to the beach if you’re interested.
Have you ever visited Savannah? Let me know!
This post was written by staff author Chloe Arrojado.