Things to Do in Savannah
An Overview --- The Must See Places in Savannah
Art Gallery Shopping
Shopping in Savannah
Tours of Savannah
Tybee Island, Fort Pulaski and Fort Jackson
Directions to the Airport
Day Trips to Popular, Nearby South Carolina Cities
Day Spa, Fitness and Health
Savannah Historic Sights
In order to experience historic Savannah you will want to walk the streets and through the squares. The Savannah National Historic District encompasses 2.2 square-miles, the largest area within a city with this designation in the United States. Savannah's wealth came from cotton. Just before the start of the Civil War Savannah was the world's leading cotton port. The men who made their fortunes from cotton built mansions throughout the historic district. Today there are more than 1,200 restored structures of architectural or historical significance. Most were built in the 19th century and were restored after 1960.
With a map in hand you can start your walking tour. The town is compact enough that you can walk everywhere. Twenty-one of the original twenty-four squares remain intact and are kept in lovely condition by the Savannah Park and Tree commission. On hot days, we found the squares were cooler than the streets and had a breeze, a wonderful respite from the heat.
We counted 67 different tours listed in the Savannah Visitor Guide. These include walking tours, van, trolley, bus, boat, and horse drawn carriage covering the Historic District, Victorian District, Lowcountry, and beaches. For foodies they have tours with tastings or a meal as well as a pub crawl tour. Other tours that tell you about Savannah's architecture, ghosts, African-American history, and movies that were filmed in town. For adventure or eco tours you can go sea kayaking, parasailing, or take a trip to uninhabited islands to see giant alligators. Check with our innkeeper as to which company is currently doing the best job for the type of tour you would like. The visitor center in the old railroad station on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. has brochures of the companies. Most of the tours that provide transportation leave from the visitor center. Walking tours leave from different points in the historic district.
Strolling through Savannah's historic district is a seminar in 18th and 19th century American architectural styles: Federal, English Regency, Italianate, Victorian Revival, Greek Revival, Romantic Revival, and Gothic Revival. If you want the most detail about the houses in historic Savannah have a copy of The National Trust Guide to Savannah in hand as you tour the city.
A few thoughts as you walk. The statues and monuments in the squares are not of the same person or event that the squares are named after. This can be confusing as the statue of Oglethorpe is in Chippewa Square not Oglethorpe Square while the monument to Nathaniel Greene is in Johnson Square not Greene Square. Monterey Square, named after a battle during the Mexican War, has a statue honoring Casimir Pulaski who fought in the American Revolution.
An architectural feature common to homes built in the 19th century is a flight of stairs that leads up to the main entrance on the second floor. A distinctive feature of homes built in the second quarter of the 19th century is the Savannah gray brick, larger, rough-faced and more porous than ordinary brick.
This can be a pleasant afternoon walk with a stop for lunch, dinner or a drink along the river front. Start your tour at the Old Cotton Exchange, 100 E. Bay St. This building was the center of commerce in 1887 when cotton was still king in Savannah. This area is called Factors Walk because the cotton merchants (called factors) walked on the bridges to inspect the cotton which was in wagons below. Iron bridges, cobblestone streets and sidewalks tie together this unique multilevel collection of four and five story 19th century buildings. The merchants had their offices facing the city so the front of the buildings have cast iron and granite decorations while the river side (River Street) of these buildings were used as cotton warehouses and were decorated more simply. Make your way by one of the long flights of stairs from the upper level of Factors Walk to the river. Continue down to the beautiful nine block plaza facing the Savannah River. The old cotton warehouses have been recycled as hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops. During the day tourists fill the area, strolling along the brick plaza and along the stone street, shopping, dining, taking river cruises, sitting on benches and watching the large ocean-going freighters coming and going in this busy port. On weekends lots of young people come to the waterfront for the entertainment, restaurants and especially the bar scene.
This is a walking tour that starts in Johnson Square and continues south along Bull Street (the main walking street of Savannah) to Forsyth Park and returns with several side detours.
Johnson Square, the largest and the first square built by the arriving settlers in 1733, was named for the governor of South Carolina. The monument is to Nathaniel Greene, a general during the American Revolution. Christ Church is where John Wesley established the first Sunday School in the U.S. The U.S. Custom House has the six monolithic granite columns. The gold-domed building is City Hall which faces south and overlooks the five squares we will walk through on Bull Street.
Ellis Square, the square to the west of Johnson at Bryan and Barnard Street, was once the Old City Market. To explore the City Market area continue west on Congress Street. The actual market was torn down in 1954. There are restaurants, open air cafes, jazz clubs and galleries. Vinnie Van Go Go, across from Franklin Square, voted one of the tops for pizza, is popular. Ray Ellis Gallery, 205 W. Congress St., is well known for his paintings of the Lowcountry as well as Martha's Vineyard.
Lady & Sons, 102 W. Congress St., the restaurant featuring Paula Deen's recipes that she made famous on Food Network shows, is a huge tourist draw. People line up in the morning to get a reservation to wait in line for lunch or dinner.
Broughton Street was the former main commercial retail center street of Savannah. As in other cities the department stores moved to the suburbs. Now the area is reviving. The Savannah College of Art and Design has taken one block to make a school library and art gallery. Broughton Street is also home to Savannah's oldest hotel, The Marshall House.
Head south on Bull Street to Wright Square which is named for Georgia's last colonial governor. The large monument honors William Washington Gordon who established the Central of Georgia Railroad. The large boulder marks the grave of Tomo-chi-chi, the Yamacraw Indian chief who befriended General Oglethorpe. Walk around the square and look at the round disks under the frieze at the post office that are examples of the types of marble available in Georgia. The old Chatham County Courthouse built in 1889 of yellow brick and terra cotta is in the Romanesque Revival style. The Greek Revival Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ascension was built in 1875.
Head west on West State Street for two blocks to Telfair Square and Telfair Academy, Mon. 12-5, Tue.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 1-5, (912) 790-8800, designed and built in 1818 by William Jay in the English Regency Style. The large exhibition hall was added in 1883 to house the painting collection. The garden sculpture that originally was in the Bonaventure Cemetery and is pictured on the book jacket of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is now in the museum.
Jepson Center for the Arts, closed Tues., other days 10-5, Thurs. till 8, Sun. 12-5, 207 W. York St., (912) 790-8800, is a new dramatic contemporary-styled art museum that's two buildings made of white Portuguese stone connected by bridges. The architecture is stunning with a huge glass wall and stairs leading to changing exhibits galleries of 20th and 21st century art, children's gallery, and sculpture gardens. The highlight of their collection consists of important works of artists of the last 50 years including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons.
Walk back to Wright Square and continue south on Bull Street. toward Chippewa Square. At the northeast corner of Oglethorpe Street is the Juliette Gordon Low Girl Scout Center, Mon.-Sat. 10-4, Sun. 11-4, closed Wed. Nov.-Feb., 10 E. Oglethorpe Ave. (912) 233-4501, affectionately known to the locals as "The Birthplace," the most visited historic house in Savannah. (Girl Scouts of America was started in 1913 in Savannah.) You frequently see Girl Scout troops here. This Regency townhouse, built between 1818 and 1821, is restored to look as it did in 1886, the year Mrs. Low was married.
Walk east on Oglethorpe Avenue to see houses dating from the Colonial period through the 19th century. Notice the houses with the curved stoops that protrude onto the city sidewalks and the cast iron gates through which we like to peek in at the private gardens. Return to Bull Street then head south past the Federal-style Independent Presbyterian Church with its tall spire, clocks on all four sides topped by a brass weathervane.
Chippewa Square commemorates the War of 1812, Battle of Chippewa in Canada on the Niagara Peninsula, just below Niagara Falls. But the square is much more famous today to movie buffs as the park bench scenes of Forrest Gump were filmed in this square. However, the placement of the bench was done only for the movie as there is no bench in that part of the square. The monument of Oglethorpe is by Daniel Chester French who did the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Oglethorpe faces south signifying that he is protecting Savannah from invasion by the Spanish who were in Florida. Facing east on the square is the marble clad First Baptist Church (designed in 1833 renovated in 1922). If you like organ music check to see if there is a concert as the Skinner organ here is exceptional.
Madison Square, named after James Madison, fourth president of the United States, has a monument to local Revolutionary War hero Sergeant William Jasper. The Green-Meldrim House, Tues., Thurs., Fri. 10-4, Sat. 10-1, 1 West Macon Street, (912) 233-3845, built between 1850 and 1856, was General W. T. Sherman's home for six weeks when his Union forces captured Savannah. The rich interior and exterior of the Gothic Revival house features lots of ironwork. The porches, tile and marble are imported from Europe. The ornate Italian plasterwork is very fine especially in the south drawing room and the north parlor. It is the parish house and rectory for St John's Episcopal Church. St John's Episcopal Church is Gothic Revival-style and is famous for its chimes and stained-glass windows. As you walk around the square notice the mansions and Greek Revival townhouses.
The 1893 Richardson Romanesque building at 340 Bull Street, corner of Bull and Charlton, at one time the home of the Savannah Volunteer Guards, was restored and opened as the first building of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 1977. It is now shop SCAD with imaginative gift items all made by current or past artists associated with SCAD. Well worth a stop.
Continue south on Bull Street to Jones Street, one of the prettiest streets in Savannah. Head east one block. If it's lunch time you'll see a line of people in front of Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House. Return to Bull Street and go south to Monterey Square.
Monterey Square. The Hugh W. Mercer House, built in 1860, is one of the finest examples of Italianate designs in Savannah. It was built for the great grandfather of the songwriter Johnny Mercer and in 1969 was purchased and then restored by Jim Williams, the principal subject of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Scenes from the movie were shot here. Still privately-owned by the family, the Mercer-Williams House Museum, is open for tours.
The square was named to commemorate the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War of 1846. The tall monument honors Casimir Pulaski, the Polish nobleman who was mortally wounded during the Siege of Savannah in the Revolutionary War.
Across the square is Temple Mickve Israel built in 1876, the only Gothic synagogue in America. Mickve Israel is the third-oldest Jewish congregation in America (established in 1733) and has the oldest Torah in America.
Forsyth Park. This 26-acre park, that starts at the south end of the historic district, is particularly beautiful in spring when the flowering trees and azaleas are in full bloom. The large ornate fountain dates to 1858. Joggers and walkers, head here to make the mile loop around the perimeter of the park. The Georgia Historical Society, 501 Whitaker Street at the northwest corner of the park houses a large collection of records and books pertaining to Georgia history. Stop in to take a look at the impressive interior of the main reading room especially the panorama of Savannah done in 1837 by Fermin Cerveau. A farmers market is held in the square across from Mansion on Forsyth Square, Saturday 9-1, early May to late November.
After walking through Forsyth Park return to Gaston Street. The Oglethorpe Club, an exclusive private dining club at the corner of Bull Street, was built in 1857 originally as a private home. Walk east on Gaston to The Gastonian. Stop and look through the gate at their manicured garden. Walk back one block to Abercorn then go north through Calhoun Square built in the 1850s. This square is the only one without a 20th century building. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, a Gothic cathedral, is across the street on Abercorn north of Lafayette Square. Continue to the Colonial Cemetery. Walk through the cemetery which was used as an encampment by Union Soldiers when they captured Savannah. You will notice that a number of the headstones are stacked along the eastern wall and vandals have changed dates on some of the headstones.
Oglethorpe Square. Two of the finest house museums in Savannah are in this area. The Telfair's Owens-Thomas House, Mon. 12-5, Tues.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. 1-5, 124 Abercorn Street, (912) 790-8800, is on Oglethorpe Square. The house, built in 1818 at the same time as the Davenport House, is one of the finest examples of the English Regency style. The English Regency style flourished in the beginning of the 19th century and included Greek, Roman and Egyptian elements. William Jay, the young English architect, came to Savannah to supervise the construction. The ironwork, bricks, furnishings, paintings, and wallpaper for this house came from England.
Go east on State Street to Columbia Square to the Davenport House, Mon.-Sat 10-4, Sun. 1-4, 324 E. State Street, (912) 236-8097. This brick 1818 Federal style house was the house that started in earnest the preservation of Savannah. In 1955 seven women banded together to save this elegant home from bulldozers. Davenport was a builder and showed off his talents to prospective clients in the grand parlor with its original marble mantelpiece, Tuscan columns and arches and fancy plasterwork. The house is furnished as it would have appeared in the early 1820s with period pieces especially the fine Hepplewhite settee and table, Chippendale chairs and Sheraton reeded four-poster bed. The Kehoe House also overlooks this square.
In the Victorian era people went to the old cemeteries just as we would go to a park - to walk and picnic. In the spring the cemetery is particularly attractive as wisteria and azaleas are in bloom. Paths lead through the old cemetery which is shaded by live oaks draped in moss. Johnny Mercer, the famous lyricist, is buried here. Conrad Aiken, Pulitzer prize winning Georgia poet, had a stone bench placed over his grave and the inscription on the bench invites visitors to sit, relax and enjoy the view of the river. Tours based on Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil generally include a trip to this cemetery. The cover jacket of the book is of the statue Bird Girl, sculpted by Sylvia Shaw Judson in the 1930s, which was on a gravesite at Bonaventure but had to be removed because of vandals. It is now on permanent loan at the Telfair Museum. The cemetery is about a 20-minute drive from Savannah. Take Liberty Street to Wheaton Street to Bonaventure Road.