Savannah, Georgia, is where modern edginess meets antebellum history. The coastal city was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, making it the oldest city in Georgia. Tucked in the side of the Savannah River, it’s home to mint juleps, mammoth oak-lined streets, manicured parks, and beautiful squares that ooze Southern hospitality. Its streets dip into swamps and Spanish moss creeps onto the sides of almost all buildings.
Over the past 10 years, however, an influx of students and young professionals have brought their own fresh flare to much of Georgia’s classic Southern tastes. This urban revival has come to head most prominently in Savannah, making it an ideal destination for travelers of all ages. If strolls along cobblestone streets or feasting on home-style cooking aren’t enough, here’s a list of all the reasons why you should visit this great city.
The epicenter for everything good about Savannah can be found in the Historic District. Located in the heart of the city, the neighborhood is filled with eateries of all kind, a wide variety of shopping, and all kinds of colorful and pristinely preserved colonial homes. The architecture and parks that visitors can see are like nothing else in the world, and the entire district is walkable. After spending hours going up and down the maze-like streets, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to pre-Civil War times.
The City Market
The City Market, located in the center of Savannah’s Historic District, might even be older than the city itself. The open-air market buzzes with energy, live bands, and grungy refurbished warehouses inviting tourists in to explore their shops and homemade goods.
At night, the City Market transforms into blocks of musical fun and adventure, and visitors can dip in and out of the lively bars that fill the streets.
The area itself is quite small, but with work being displayed by local artists and artisanal shops, you’ll want the time to comb through it all, so avoid taking the pedicabs or horse carriages through. The City Market is best enjoyed by foot.
For lovers of seafood, beer, and history, River Street is the best place to be. The popular thoroughfare is filled with artifacts from both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Best of all, all of this can be explored while listening to the sounds of incoming cargo ships and little tugboats. Most of the restaurants open up out to the Savannah River and, be it day or night, give visitors a spectacular view. The area can get quite busy and parents with small kids should be careful, but it’s suitable for all ages. While candy stores, ice cream parlors, and knick-knack shops will keep the kids busy, Savannah’s open-container law will let the parents have their own kind of fun on the river.
Savannah’s numerous oceanfront cottages and quaint little homes are perfect for a traveler trying to unplug and detach. With white trimmed shutters and fences, each little home will feel like you’re living in Gone with the Wind. The antebellum charm can be accessed via several companies that operate out of Savannah that offer visitors the opportunity to rent entire homes in or around the city. What better way to soak up Savannah than to live in it?
Technically not part of Savannah, Tybee Island is a barrier island that is found just off the coast. Originally a resort destination for locals, the island’s popularity has grown and it now welcomes an increasing number of tourists. On the island is the historic Tybee Lighthouse, which was built in 1736 and exists to this day.
Rumors of a lost nuclear bomb called the “Tybee Bomb” continue to circulate, and to this day, individuals continue to hunt a supposed Hydrogen bomb that was lost off the coast of the island in 1958.
Tybee is a perfect day-vacation for those in Savannah, or for those looking to really get away. A week in Tybee can be just like Savannah but without all the commotion.
If you’re the kind of traveler that likes to see as much as possible when on vacation, sightseeing Savannah on foot isn’t going to cut it. To get the most out of your trip, Savannah offers an amazing number of old-timey trolley tours with knowledgeable guides that give visitors the full historical significance and stories behind all the city’s nooks and crannies. Drivers will generally also give riders tips and suggestions about the best places to eat and drink for after the tour, and riders typically end up making an entire day of it.
Classic B&Bs and Inns
While staying in a cottage might be appealing to some, the price tag of renting an entire home can occasionally be burdensome. For those who are traveling on a tighter budget, Savannah has a variety of nostalgic and well-preserved housing options. Southern hospitality is no joke, and the many smiling and kind owners who operate Savannah’s inns and B&Bs make every visit unique. These locations generally advertise their appeal so if you’re looking for a more romantic getaway, a scenic view, or a lively location, you’ll be able to find anything and everything to suit your taste.
Civil War Re-enactments
Georgia experienced a lot of the fighting that happened during the Civil War. In fact, General Sherman passed through Savannah during his infamous “March to the Sea” that helped disrupt important trade routes in the South, and which was essential to the Union’s victory. During Sherman’s campaign, he would destroy every city he encountered, using a total war strategy. Rumor has it that he was so struck by Savannah’s beauty that he decided to spare the city. In homage to the city’s rich connection to Civil War history, there are several intricate and realistic Civil War re-enactments. The experience is fun and exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. There are also plenty of Civil War-related sights and activities throughout Savanna including lectures, exhibits, and historical hikes.
The public might love Savannah for all its day-time grandeur, it has also garnered plenty of attention and affection for its more mysterious and occult night-time side. Savannah is known for being one of the most haunted cities in America, and is known for spooky stories, voodoo, and disturbed undead.
The craft of ghost tours has been fine-tuned in Savannah and there’s a variety of places where people can hear the tales of long-gone locals.
Most of the tours have voice machines installed to add to the drama, with photographic evidence of incidences and experienced storytellers. Even skeptics are sure to be spooked.
Forsyth park is Savannah’s entertaining, picturesque, and sprawling public space. A beautiful fountain in the middle of the park acts as the epicenter to a vast sea of green grass. For tired visitors who need to rest their feet, the park is filled with benches and shade to rest. Otherwise, there’s tons of basketball courts, yoga classes, soccer fields, and tennis courts. The park is in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District and gives visitors an opportunity to see the area’s homes and streets without all the noise. The park is filled with moss-covered oak trees that are classically Southern. For a quiet day, grab a bottle of wine, a picnic, and a Frisbee and head to Forsyth Park.
While there may be many places to see antebellum architecture in the South, Savannah is unique because of how well-preserved its buildings are. With brilliant white fronts, enormous columns, and colorful paneling, there’s a unique architectural feat around every corner. To truly experience all the history and associations with Savannah’s antebellum architecture, visitors should take a walking tour. While appreciating the outer beauty of many of these buildings can be done without more information, knowing who built the homes, when, and why can give visitors a deeper understanding of the significance of what they’re seeing.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
A visit to the cathedral is best done during Christmas when it’s festively decorated. This includes an incredibly ornate nativity scene, poinsettias, and other Christmas decorations. During any other season, the church itself is impressive, with incredible stained glass and frescos. The outside of the church is also incredibly ornate with white walls and gold trim with copper-blue roofing. St. John’s is a Catholic Cathedral, but outside of service times, they welcome visitors of all denominations for visits. Anyone — religious or not — can appreciate the detail and architecture of this unique structure.
Mint Juleps and Family-Style Cooking
Spending the day walking and sightseeing is sure to build up anyone’s appetite and thirst. Like any proper Southern city, Savannah is famous for its family-style cooking and refreshing mint juleps. These can be found at a variety of places, but everyone usually has a claim that theirs is better than the rest. Just ask some of the locals where their favorite places to drink and eat are and you’re sure to find something good. For food, be sure to sink your teeth into some BBQ, brisket, crab stew, or fried chicken — all local specialties and done exceptionally right in Savannah.
SCAD Museum of Art
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 2002 and less than 10 years later, in 2011, the SCAD Museum of Art opened its doors. The museum functions as a teaching museum and most of the tour guides are students studying at SCAD. Outsiders and visitors are welcome to participate in lessons and lectures.
Every room features a guide that can take visitors along and explain the art that the person is viewing — the result is a remarkably personal and educational tour.
For those who are looking to take a souvenir home, the SCAD museum features exhibits by its students, some of which are even on sale! The art featured is contemporary, so those who prefer more classical exhibits might want to skip this one.
Visiting the interior of one of Savannah’s many beautiful buildings should definitely be on your to-do list. One structure that you will not want to miss is the Owens-Thomas House.
The house was constructed in 1816 by a cotton merchant, and it stands as one of the best examples of English Regency architecture.
After suffering heavy financial losses, its owner sold the house to the Bank of America, and today, customers of Bank of America can sometimes get discounts to tour the house. The home is a National Historic Landmark and serves as a museum. Notably, it has one of the earliest intact slave quarters in the South.
Have a recommendation on what to see or do in Savannah? Tell us in the comments below!