11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Savannah
Savannah is what many people might think of as the stereotypical southern city. Grand old mansions, green parks with fountains and huge moss draped trees, and cobbled streets along the waterfront all combine to provide a beguiling charms. The atmosphere is always relaxed, giving off the a feeling of a small southern town.
Savannah lies on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Savannah River, directly on the border with South Carolina. It was once the world's most important cotton port. Savannah was founded in 1733 by General James E. Oglethorpe in his newly created colony of Georgia. It was the first town in North America to be laid out on a regular plan. It developed into the leading port for the shipment of cotton and was thus a place of strategic importance in the Civil War. It was badly damaged during the war, but when it was taken by General Sherman's Union troops in December 1864 it was not set on fire but was preserved intact as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln. As a result it has one of the largest historic districts in the United States, which with its green streets and shady squares carries visitors back to the great days of the south.
See also: Where to Stay in Savannah
1 Bull Street
The best way of getting to know Savannah's historic district is to take a stroll along Bull Street and the side streets opening off of it in either direction. The starting point is City Hall (1905), opposite which is the U.S. Customs House, built in 1852 on the site of the colony's first public building. To the south of this is Johnson Square, the first square laid out in the new planned town, with the Christ Episcopal Church (1838), on the site of the colony's first church of 1733. There are many historic squares to explore in this section of Savannah. Along this stretch are also coffee shops and restaurants, some with outdoor tables.
For a more memorable experience, see Bull Street from the comfort of a horse drawn carriage tour, where you can also learn a little history. Trolley tours are another good option.
2 Forsyth Park
Forsyth Park is the largest and most active park in Savannah. It was created in the mid 19th century, at a time when large parks were fashionable in American cities. The large, cast-iron fountain was placed here in 1858 and intended to be the focal point of the park. It has remained the primary feature in the park since that time, with several periods of restoration, including the most recent major restoration in the late 1980s.
Forsyth Park is also a lovely area to walk, with mature, shady tree and paved paths. Surrounding the park are a number of interesting old buildings. In the spring the park puts on a great display of color when the azaleas are in full bloom. Within the park is the Visitor Center and Band Shell, with amenities that include a café and snack bar.
3 Squares of Savannah
Perhaps the most beautiful features of Savannah are the many squares. Huge old trees overhang benches, pathways, statues, and fountains, and create great spaces for people to enjoy some nature and shade. A walk down Bull street will lead you through several such squares. These historic squares were laid out in the mid 1700s to mid 1800s.
Iron steps leads down from Factors Walk to Riverfront, a row of 19th century warehouses now occupied by shops, and restaurants. This is a popular area day and night with old style candy stores selling fresh fudge and other treats, unique art galleries, and souvenir vendors. From here there are views, particularly fine in the evening, of the port and the large suspension bridge.
5 Cathedral of St John the Baptist
The Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Savannah was first built in the 1870s and then rebuilt in 1899 after a severe fire. It took more than a decade to redecorate the new cathedral. The building again underwent restoration work in the 1950s and 60s, and more work done in the 80s and 90s.
The interior is a delight, with marble railings, floors, and altar. The main altar, carved in Italy, weighs 9,000 pounds. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist is also well known for its incredible renaissance-style murals, and the pipe organ with 2,308 pipes. Above the organ is the Great Rose Window, with panels radiating out from the images of St. Cecilia in the middle. There also are many other artful details to be found throughout the cathedral.
Address: 222 East Harris Street, Savannah, GA 31401, United States
6 Factors Walk
Factors Walk runs from east to west above the river, with iron steps and bridges linking the old cotton warehouses on the river banks with the streets on a higher level. The most important building is the Cotton Exchange (1886), the centre of the cotton trade.
7 Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
The birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, a founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA, was built in 1821. Known less formally as "Daisy", her family house, which was the first National Historic Landmark in Savannah, has been restored to reflect the 1880s and furnished with many original Gordon family pieces. In the Gallery are some of her original artworks, as well as some of the family's furnishings and memorabilia. Some of the collections on display in the house include jewelry, photographs, and written material.
The house offers great insight into the lifestyle of the family and of the era. It also describes the achievements of Juliette Gordon Low and the history of the Girl Scouts.
Address: 10 East Oglethorpe Avenue, Savannah, GA 31401, United States
8 Fort McAllister State Historic Park
Fort McAllister, now a State Historic Park, was used during the Civil War and contains some of the best preserved earthwork fortification of the Confederacy. It is an excellent example of coastal defenses during this time period. On the grounds are cannons, and other military operational items, as well as a Civil War museum with interesting displays and information.
Despite its historical significance many people also visit the park simply for the recreational opportunities and the natural beauty. The park is located on the Great Ogeechee River south of Savannah and offers such activities as camping, hiking, fishing and picnicking in a lovely treed area. There are a limited number of cabins available for rent. Trails offer places to walk or bike and there is some children's equipment. Since winter months can be cool and mid-summer can be blazing hot, the spring and fall are generally the best times to visit.
Address: 3894 Fort McAllister Road
9 Old Fort Jackson
Old Fort Jackson is the oldest standing fort in the state of Georgia. The original brick fort, one of only a few Second System fortifications still left standing in the United States, was begun in 1808. It was manned during the War of 1812 and was also active during the Civil War. Today it is a National Historic Landmark, preserved and managed by the Coastal Heritage Society. On display at the fort are various exhibits on military history. The fort also features cannon firing demonstrations.
Address: 1 Fort Jackson Road
10 Fort Pulaski National Monument
The Fort Pulaski National Monument commemorates events of this historic fort. During the Civil War Fort Pulaski was captured with the use of rifled cannon fire. After capturing the fort the release of local slaves was ordered and the First South Carolina Colored Regiment was formed.
11 Tybee Island Beach
A half hour's drive east of Savannah is Tybee Island beach, a 3 mile long stretch of beach featuring sand dunes. Located on a barrier island, It is a great spot for swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and soaking up some sun. Tybee Island is a popular tourist destination with accommodation, dining, and fishing piers.
Where to Stay in Savannah for Sightseeing
To fully appreciate Savannah's genteel southern charm, historical squares, moss-draped oak trees, antebellum mansions, great restaurants, and quaint shops, it's best to stay right downtown, in the Historic District. The waterfront and Bull Street are the two main tourist focal points of this area, so staying within walking distance of either of these is preferable. Below are some highly-rated hotels in good locations:
- Luxury Hotels: On Lafayette Square in the Historic District, the Hamilton-Turner Inn is a beautiful 1873 mansion, and was featured in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This charming inn features 17 individually designed suites, with high ceilings, four poster beds, claw-foot tubs, and other fine antique furnishings. With a fabulous location along the waterfront, The Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront, Autograph Collection is an elegant hotel in a romantic 18th-century building, with views over the water and the Historic District. In the heart of the old city, steps from Bull Street, the Eliza Thompson House is a boutique hotel with a true southern feel. Built in 1847, the property consists of a main house and carriage house, with 25 individually designed rooms, a lovely courtyard patio, and lush gardens. For something a little more contemporary but equally enticing, The Brice, a Kimpton Hotel is the best bet.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On the edge of the Historic District, near Emmet Park and overlooking the riverfront, the Homewood Suites by Hilton has a rooftop pool and patio. The Marshall House, dating from the mid-19th century, is a small, delightful hotel, with an awesome location, close to Bull Street and the riverfront. Overlooking Savannah's famous Forsyth Park is the Forsyth Park Inn, a historic Queen Victoria mansion with high ceilings, huge doors, and quaint indoor and outdoor sitting areas. This is a B&B, serving a full gourmet breakfast.
- Budget Hotels: True budget hotels are found a short distance outside the city center. La Quinta Inn & Suites and the BEST WESTERN Savannah Gateway both offer basic, comfortable rooms and are an easy 15-minute drive from the Historic District. Slightly closer is the Baymont Inn and Suites. All of these hotels have pools and offer a free breakfast.