Savannah. The name alone evokes images of the iconic land of plantation homes and horse-drawn carriages. But did you know there’s more to Savannah than meets the eye? Savannah is the second largest container port in the United States (second only to the combined ports of New York and New Jersey). Visit the waterfront on any given day, and you will see large container ships making their way up the Savannah River from ports around the world. Savannah has also been the setting for numerous Hollywood films (who can forget “Forrest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”?). Savannah derives lesser-known notoriety as the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts) and the site of sailing competitions during the 1996 Summer Olympics.
So, what’s a visitor to do with a day in Savannah? Your first stop should be the Savannah Convention and Visitor’s Center. The helpful staff can point you in the right direction and help you customize your day. There are several tour companies that offer tours departing from the Visitor’s Center (including Hop On Hop Off trolley tours) as well. Parking at the Visitor’s Center is free for the first hour, and $1 per hour thereafter. Metered street parking is free after 5PM, and the Visitor’s Center lot closes at 6PM. Plan ahead to move your car from the lot if you’ve parked there for the day. A narrated tour of the city is a great way to start your visit. Or, if you’re like me, you may choose to strike off on your own and explore the city by foot. Savannah’s convenient (and free!) DOT buses circle the city and make stops every 20 minutes at well-signed locations throughout the Historic District if your feet get tired.
Pick up a map at the Visitor’s Center before you head out. The maps show the locations of the DOT stops, and also highlight many of Savannah’s attractions. You’ll notice that the city is centered around 22 beautiful, historic squares located in a grid pattern throughout the Historic District. Wandering in and around these squares will give you a good overview of the city, and will no doubt charm you into feeling like a true southerner. The city’s crown jewel is Forsyth Park, located on the south end of the historic district. Photos of the fountain in Forsyth Park have graced many a Savannah postcard, and for good reason. The fountain was built in the 1850s and is thought to be a replica of a Parisian fountain located in the Place de la Concorde.
During your wanderings, be sure to stop at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (located adjacent to Lafayette Square) to admire the beautiful stained glass windows. Also not to be missed is a visit to Savannah’s City Market, where you can sample authentic Georgia pralines at Savannah Candy Kitchen and stroll through the many shops and galleries. If you’re a Food Network fan, you’ll want to stop by Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons restaurant (on West Congress Street). Even if you forgo a meal in the restaurant (the wait can be quite lengthy), you can stop into the store next door and take a taste of Paula home with you.
If all the walking hasn’t worn you out yet, stroll over to East Bay Street, where you can walk down one of several flights of stairs to the cobblestoned River Street. River Street is an eclectic mix of souvenir shops, restaurants, art galleries, and historic landmarks. Grab a drink at any bar, and ask for it in a to-go cup (Savannah is one of a handful of cities in the U.S. with no open container law). Stop for a rest on one of the many benches lining the Savannah River and watch the steady stream of boat traffic and cargo ships going up and down the Savannah River. As you make your way down River Street, keep your eye out for the Olympic Monument commemorating Savannah’s role in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Nearby, you’ll find the historic Waving Girl statue. The statue is a tribute to Florence Martus, who greeted each ship entering and leaving the port of Savannah by waving either a handkerchief by day, or a lantern by night. It is said that not one ship was missed during her 44 years on watch.
Whether you spend your day strolling through the historic squares, taking a guided tour of the Historic District, or enjoying the vibrant action along River Street, you’re sure to enjoy the southern charm and hospitality of Savannah.