6 must-see things to do in savannah ga + 1 Thing you can skip
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Savannah lives up to every magazine article that’s ever been written about it. It is lovely. It has it all–culture, history, scenery, architecture, plus not to mention ridiculously good food.
You’ll most likely love visiting here even with no plan or travel suggestions at all, but read on for must-see Savannah attractions plus restaurant and hotel recommendations.
Best Time To Visit: Spring (March – April). The summer months bring high humidity (plus bugs), but visiting in the Spring provides the perfect cooler temperature for walking, and the mass of azaleas are in vivid pink bloom.
1. Walk the Squares | Tour an Historic Home
22 historic squares connect the streets of Savannah, each offering its own unique, distinctive atmosphere and/or monument. Walking through each of them is the best way to experience and absorb their character; but, if you’re short on time, you can also drive around them or take a carriage or bus tour.
Staying on the riverfront? Then two nearby squares are Ellis and Franklin, which bookend the City Market district: a street brimming with art galleries and jewelry shops. While the Market was a bit smaller than we had envisioned, it is an interesting area to walk around and browse.
Fans of the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which helped to further ensconce Savannah as a tourism destination, will undoubtedly be familiar with the Mercer-Williams house, which fringes Monterey Square.
Many historic homes offer tours, which are incredibly helpful in relating a clearer understanding of the architecture and interior design of these homes and the day-to-day customs when these homes were built and occupied.
Home Tour Recommendation: Gordon-Low House.
2. Stroll the Riverfront
The Riverwalk area of Savannah is continually bustling, day or night, but the best time to walk the brick-paved way is at sunset.
To get there, walk along the upper street, East Bay, past Emmet Park, and then descend to River Street, so you can walk towards the sun setting behind the bridge.
Several stairways are available that connect the upper and lower streets, although some are more treacherous than others.
In addition to the wide variety of bars, restaurants, and sweet shops, there are also quite a few art galleries and shops to browse before or after dinner.
3. Visit Forsyth Park
Located about a mile from the Riverwalk, Forsyth Park is a lovely, lush, blooming hub of Savannah, filled with locals and their dogs (and even a few cats) out for a stroll.
Local artists and street musicians provide a pleasant atmosphere and source of entertainment. The primary highlight is the centrally located Forsyth Park Fountain spouting water towards the overhanging boughs.
Forsyth Park is also surrounded by beautiful old homes, some of which are now hotels or home to other businesses.
If you’re a fan of ancient trees, then be sure to look for The Candler Oak just across from Forsyth Park in front of the old Candler Hospital (now owned by SCAD). The Live Oak took root in the early 1700s, and in 2001 it was designated a Georgia Landmark and Historic Tree.
4. Walk through St John’s Cathedral
St John’s Cathedral is a beautiful, cake-like cathedral, colored a bright white and accented in gold. Located midway between the Riverfront and Forsyth Park, the cathedral welcomes all visitors through its arched doors.
Once you step inside, you’ll notice a suggested offering of $2.00/person to assist in keeping the church in good repair. Soft, watercolored lights filter through the stained glass windows, each one depicting a scene from the life of Christ.
If after touring the Cathedral you’re in the mood for a quick caffeine pick-me-up, then just step across the street to The Mirabelle Cafe: a coffee, waffle, and panini purveyor housed on the main floor of an old house with the upper rooms available as condo rentals. There are quite a few tables both inside and out, perfect for viewing the cathedral or people-watching.
5. Experience Bonaventure Cemetery
“I found a road which led me to the Bonaventure graveyard. If that burying-ground across the Sea of Galilee…was half as beautiful as Bonaventure, I do not wonder that a man should dwell among the tombs.” John Muir | A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf
Bonaventure Cemetery is truly one of the highlights of Savannah. You’ll need at least an hour to spend here, or more if you hire a guide.
You can either park outside the burial grounds and hire someone to take you on a guided tour through the cemetery, or you can choose to drive its narrow, winding gravel paths in your own vehicle.
The first section of the cemetery seems relatively recent, but as you delve deeper into the grounds, the tombstones grow older and more worn, giving you the strange sensation that you’re going back in time.
Towards the back of the cemetery, there is a clear place to park that faces the blue of the rippling river. In the Spring, pink and white azaleas bloom everywhere and slowly sway in the cool breezes that gust off the river.
From there, it’s an easy walk to the marker pointing the way to the poet, Conrad Aiken’s grave. If you want to pay a visit to the poet’s grave, just look for a bench, not a headstone.
It was his apparent wish that people come to his grave to sit and enjoy the views of the ships passing back and forth along the river. Engraved into his bench are the words, “Cosmos Mariner, Destination Unknown” and “Give My Love to the World.”
“Take my arm, and let us drift like leaves when the wind is driven; for the day soon ends.” Conrad Aiken | Nocturne of Remembered Spring and Other Poems
6. Drive Under the Live Oak Canopy of Wormsloe
When you arrive at Wormsloe, a large archway is the first sight you’ll see which marks the entrance to the estate.
The canopy of live oaks interlacing in a curve over the drive is every bit as beautiful as the pictures and paintings make it out to be.
There is a small ticket and information house just inside the archway where you can pay the 10.00 / person fee to tour the grounds and be allowed to take pictures of the drive. The drive takes you to a small museum and gift shop with information about the surrounding grounds.
Some find the $10.00/person fee a bit steep to pay for taking pictures and driving down the long lane, but it is a remarkable site to behold.
If It’s Your First Time in Savannah, It’s Ok to Skip the Visit to Tybee Island
The drive from Savannah to Tybee Island only takes about 20 – 25 minutes, and the road leads you through marshlands outlined by purple-black reeds thickly carpeting the lands lining either side of the road.
Once you cross the final bridge and glide onto Tybee, you can just make out the iconic striped lighthouse to the left of the island. Tybee is fairly small and unassuming with several older homes surrounded by lush island greenery.
A drive along Front Beach Road offers the usual selection of beach shops selling flip-flops, bathing suits, and neon t-shirts with pizza and ice cream cafes sprinkled in amongst the seashell shops.
The Strand is the short road that runs directly along the beachfront, and if you want to get out and walk the beach to the large Pavilion and pier, you can pay 2.00 to park in the large lot.
The pavilion is pretty and buzzing with beachgoers and fisherman buying snacks and drinks from the vendors inside.
Several fishermen typically line the end of the pier, their fishing poles threaded with silvery line descending in hopeful strands down to the Atlantic below.
The sands and beaches of Tybee are large, flat, with such densely packed sand it looks like orange pavement. Most sunbathers choose to settle further back on the softer sands.
I’m not saying you’ll have a bad time on a visit to Tybee Island, but if your primary goal is to enjoy Savannah, by all means, stay in Savannah and enjoy it. It would be a different story if you were choosing to stay on the island or found yourself with plenty of time to explore Savannah and wanted some non-city activities.
The bottom line: if your Savannah agenda is already packed, a day trip to Tybee most likely isn’t worth it.
The Grand Bohemian Hotel Savannah Riverfront is striking in its rich colors, patterns, and textures.
Located on the riverfront, it’s an ideal location for exploring Savannah on foot, with Forsyth Park located only a mile away. The riverfront area is itself a hive of energy with plenty to see and do in the area. If you only have a weekend in Savannah, then consider staying on the riverfront at the Grand Bohemian Hotel.
*Note: My one critique of this hotel is its valet service. They park the cars in a garage across the street, and due to the limited number of valets, it can take a while to retrieve your car, particularly if it’s during the check-out hours. So, just be aware if you are in a hurry.
The outdoor seating area encircles the entirety of the hotel with clear views of the river and the harp-like Talmadge Memorial Bridge to the left. There is a fire pit on the terrace as well, but with there being only the one, it’s difficult to find a space around it, and temperatures at night can get quite cool.
If you don’t want to sit outside, the interior of the bar is spacious and the cocktails, while pricey, are innovative and well-crafted. If you’re looking for a light bite, they serve tapas-style appetizers as well.
SAVANNAH DINING SUGGESTIONS
700 DRAYTON | LUNCH OR DINNER
700 Drayton | Facing Forsyth Park, 700 Drayton is housed in the vivid red brick Mansion on Forsyth Park. It’s the perfect place to grab a light lunch before during or after your exploration of Forsyth Park and the surrounding neighborhood.
If you could only order one thing here, make it the Lobster and Crab Bisque. A bowl won’t seem like enough.
THE GREEN TRUCK PUB | LUNCH
The Green Truck Pub is a casual, award-winning Savannah dining destination that is located about 20-30 minutes walking distance from Forsyth Park.
The exterior of the pub is nothing extravagant. It’s basically just a converted Hardee’s, but the reason to visit this restaurant is for the food, not the romantic ambience.
The Green Truck Pub specializes in craft burgers, and they even offer a house-made veggie burger topped with goat cheese and caramelized onions. Burgers are served with fries or a salad.
HUEY’S ON THE RIVER | LUNCH OR DINNER
Huey’s on the River is a large and rambling restaurant, which isn’t a surprise considering it used to be an old cotton warehouse back in 1817.
Many of the tables offer riverfront-facing views which is lovely, particularly at sunset.
The menu is Creole-inspired, with their Gumbo being one of the stand-outs on the menu. Pair it with a Sidecar or Sazerac from the bar to round out the experience.
GRYPHON | AFTERNOON TEA
If you find yourself on Bull Street near the SCAD store (which sells student designed items and art), across the street you’ll see a striking white building with gold pillars carved into its upper levels.
In the main level of the building, you’ll find Gryphon: a converted apothecary now lunch, brunch, and an excellent spot for afternoon tea.
Table seating is offered both inside and out and both offer fascinating views. Inside, your eyes can rake over the pharmacist tables that once contained a range of ointments and pills, now serving as a tabletop for books.
Outside, you can sip your tea and watch the nonstop parade of trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, and walking tours pass by.
VIC’S ON THE RIVER | DINNER
Vic’s on the River | There are 2 entrances to this restaurant with the direct access via Bay Street. If you enter from River Street, you’ll need to walk through the coffee bar entrance and ride the slow, clanking elevator to the 4th floor where the main dining room is located.
Although the cocktails revolve seasonally, ask for the “Scarlet and Rhett,” sort of a mix between a Manhattan and a Blood and Sand.
The Crab Cake appetizer is a tasty way to begin the meal, consisting of mostly blue crab loosely packed with a mustard cream sauce and garnished with arugula.
For an entree selection, the Pecan Encrusted Flounder served with a side of andouille hash (normal preparation) or substituted with smoked cheddar grits is delicious.
The service here is excellent and accommodating, but one of the best aspects of dining here besides the delicious food is the live piano music featuring Johnny Mercer classics and modern ballads.
ELIZABETH’S ON 37TH | DINNER
Elizabeth’s on 37th | A grand old mansion with a wide verandah houses this fine dining restaurant.
Even if you have a late reservation, the restaurant will still be abuzz with diners. The bread service is a type of hard cheese biscuit served with unsalted butter and homemade orange marmalade. Individually, the components aren’t that remarkable, but together, they combine into one flavorful bite.
For an entree, the Almond Encrusted Grouper with peanut sauce served with a side of potatoes is an excellent choice.
For a vegetarian option, the pasta made with fresh pappardelle tossed in a light parmesan cream sauce served over fresh vegetables is fresh yet decadent.
For dessert, don’t hesitate to order the Cream Cheese Goat Cheese Tarte balanced atop a sugar cookie crust garnished with citrus sauce and fresh fruit.
Best Places to Have a Cocktail in Savannah
THE ALLEY CAT LOUNGE
The AlleyCat Lounge | In true speakeasy form, the AlleyCat Lounge is a little hard to find. But, when you do find the right alleyway, you’ll discover a super swank cocktail lounge housed in the basement of an old building.
It’s a popular spot, so go early if you can and a snag a chair at the bar to watch the magic of mixology at work.
The menu is actually a newspaper that not only lists out its huge variety of cocktails but divides them according to style and liquor base. The newspaper is a fun read actually, with loads of historical information on the craft and/or origin of the cocktails.
If you’re in the mood for Tiki, order a “Zombie” or a “Scorpion,” which is served with a flaming jigger of rum buried in a mound of crushed ice. Using the long straw, nudge the jigger of liquor until it cascades over the ice, allowing the flaming alcohol to quickly cool.
For more traditional cocktails, a strong choice is “Remember the Maine,” crafted with Rye, Vermouth, Cherry Heering, and an Absinthe rinse.
The rooftop bar is large with several seating areas, adequate outdoor heater or fans (depending on the weather), as well as multiple levels for seating. Much of the area is covered in soft, cushy faux grass.
From this vantage point, you can see three of Savannah’s church spires with the Talmadge Bridge in the distance.
For a cocktail, try the “Perry Lane Special” made with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Dry Curacao, Absinthe, Sparkling Wine, and lemon garnish.
Additional Cocktail Bar Options
The Bosendorfer Lounge (Main floor of the Mansion at Forsyth Park) All cocktails are crafted with care, and it’s a relaxed space to sit back and admire the rich colors of the large yet cozy room, marked with bold, striking color choices and intriguing architectural elements. The lounge features live music in the evenings, making it the perfect place to unwind with friends.
Casimir’s Rooftop Lounge | Located atop the Mansion at Forsyth Park, Casimir’s is known for its stellar terrace views of Forsyth Park and traditional jazz. It’s a soothing yet upbeat place to spend an evening or stop in for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Top Deck Bar (Cotton Sail Hotel Riverfront) | Located atop the Cotton Sail Hotel (Tapestry Collection by Hilton), the Top Deck Bar is a casual spot to stop in for a glass of wine, cocktail, or just some shots. Crowded, it definitely offers a more loud “party” vibe, but the views of the river are unobstructed, and in March, there is just enough heat from the outdoor heaters to make it comfortable in the breezes blowing off the water.
The huge barges pass by on a regular basis, sometimes looking a little terrifying because they seem slightly too large to fit through the riverway, but somehow they do.
*NOTE: Savannah has a to-go cup, open container policy when it comes to alcoholic beverages, much like New Orleans. Don’t be surprised if a waiter asks if you want a takeaway cup for your beverage.
Or, if you don’t feel like finishing it at whatever bar or restaurant you’re currently at, ask for a to-go container and walk to wherever else you would like to go and enjoy it, perhaps in the park or a square.
“The legislation in Savannah simply permits patrons and party goers to carry open drinks as long as those concoctions are held in a plastic, 16-ounce cup (not bottles, mugs or flasks) and must remain in the parameters of the Historic District.”
This area encompasses everything from River Street to Jones Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to West Broad Street. With no federal or state law restricting open containers, it is left up to local legislation to decide and Savannah sided in favor of open containers and to-go cups. Cheers!”
Just remember to drink responsibly.
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of experiencing a city for the first time.
Although you may have looked at maps and read guides to prep you for your visit, when you first enter the city, you still really don’t know what effect it will have on you. You have yet to explore it in person.
It’s always interesting to compare the initial experience of the city with the final one.
At the end of it all, you know where the attractions are and how to get around. You also have in mind which were your favorite restaurants and experiences.
But, who knows if it’s going to be your very first experience–your first walk along the river or this particular restaurant that turns out to be the most memorable moment of your trip?
Or maybe you won’t discover that favorite until your final day, and it’s that experience that makes you want to return someday.
That’s part of the fun of travel, and also a lesson in mindfulness– a reminder to put the phone away and live in the present moment. Just in case.