Savannah is a small, vibrant colonial city on Georgia’s Atlantic Coast, near the South Carolina border. Founded in 1733 and blessed with an extremely well-preserved historic district, the city is a must-visit for its rich American history. If you’re planning a visit, this comprehensive guide is all you need.
Thanks to its liberal culture and ample student population (from schools such as Savannah State University and Savannah College of Art and Design), Savannah is also a great place to relax. And, for a touristy town, Savannah is surprisingly affordable. If you’re visiting from bigger cities such as San Francisco or New York, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices of food, beverage, attraction admission, and lodging, especially outside the historic district.
Savannah’s beautiful historic district, known for its 22 green-filled squares, is sometimes compared to New Orleans‘ French Quarter. The Georgian city is considerably smaller, but its intimate, lively streetscape and 18th-century architecture echo the Big Easy.
Like New Orleans, Savannah is also proud of its raucous nightlife. The historic district is jam-packed with casual eateries and cafes that turn into local watering holes at night, as well as bars and clubs serving Savannah’s ample student population. Lax open-container laws (as long as it’s in a plastic cup, it’s fine) encourage parties to spill out onto the street. If you order an adult beverage at a bar or casual restaurant, you can get it in a to-go cup.
That’s not to say Savannah isn’t family-friendly during the day – it is. But, holidays such as Mardi Gras and St. Patrick’s Day (which Savannah takes very seriously) are wild affairs. Families seeking peace and quiet in the evenings should look for hotels outside the historic district or investigate private vacation rental options.
If you’re planning a visit to Savannah or simply want to learn more about this unique Southern city, here’s what you need to know.
Tours and Resources
Not sure where to start? Look into these tourist-friendly resources before or just after you arrive in Savannah. Keep in mind that they add costs to your travel budget.
1. Visit Savannah
Visit Savannah is Savannah’s official tourism bureau. It operates five visitor centers within Savannah’s city limits, plus single outposts at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport on nearby Tybee Island (often described as “Savannah’s beach”), and in the community of Port Wentworth. Its website is also a great planning resource, though promotional partnerships with local businesses somewhat compromise its objectivity.
Still, it’s worth checking the website and then stopping by a visitor center for a quick chat with a docent. Don’t leave without grabbing a city map, which lists most major attractions in the historic district, and a Savannah Insider’s Guide booklet. The Insider’s Guide includes a flexible walking tour itinerary that serves as an excellent introduction to historic Savannah.
2. Old Town Trolley Tours (Historic Tours of America)
Old Town Trolley Tours is a 15-stop circuit with unlimited hop-on, hop-off privileges, real-time GPS tracking (the only tour company in Savannah to offer this), and a 100% money-back guarantee (though it’s not clear how easy it is to get the company to make good on that promise). Tours are narrated by expert conductors with extensive knowledge of Savannah’s history and architecture. One-day tours cost approximately $30 before tax. Two-day tours cost a little more than $40, so it may be worth to spring for the longer option if you plan on heavy sightseeing in Savannah.
For a spookier experience, try the Old Town Trolley Tours’ Ghosts and Gravestones Tour, which costs a little less than $30 and includes admission to two purportedly haunted museums. Though kids under six are prohibited, this is still one of the more family-friendly ghost tours in Savannah. The city’s numerous walking ghost tours, such as Blue Orb Tours, can actually be scary – ideal for boozy bachelor parties, perhaps, but not family vacations.
3. Oglethorpe Gray Line Tours
Oglethorpe Gray Line Tours, whose vehicles are actually blue, is another popular trolley tour operator. Its 90-minute, expertly narrated tours include unlimited hop-on, hop-off privileges and pass approximately 15 points of interest in Savannah’s historic district. Gray Line is slightly cheaper than Old Town, with single-day tours tickets starting at $26. Gray Line’s trolleys also run an hour longer than Old Town’s, so you technically get more bang for your buck.
Pro Tip: Before you land in Savannah, and definitely before you start spending money in town, check out popular social coupon and daily deal websites and apps. Groupon and Living Social are the two biggest; both are great for travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path deals away from tourist crowds. Indeed, daily deal sites are more likely to feature discounts and package deals on food, golf, concerts, festivals, spa treatments, and fishing outings, than cut-rate admission to museums and the like.
Personally, I prefer Groupon, which I’ve found to be more comprehensive and relevant than Living Social. However, since there’s no cost to download either app, it doesn’t hurt to check both. (You do need to pay for coupons upfront.) Remember to bookmark Groupon’s Savannah deals page for non-mobile access as well.
Here’s another bit of free advice: Make your life easier (and cheaper) by signing up for daily deal push notifications. I can’t even tell you how much I’ve saved over the years simply by jumping on deals about which I’d otherwise be unaware. In new cities, where you’re not sure quite how to fill in gaps in your itinerary (or even where you’re going to eat your next meal), the opportunities are even starker. For instance, if I’m planning to eat tonight’s dinner out, but have no idea where to go, a deep discount at a popular local restaurant could be all the encouragement I need.
Historical Sights and Tourist Attractions
Much of downtown Savannah is designated as a National Historic Landmark District. It’s one of the country’s largest contiguous historic districts. Most of these sights and attractions are found in or just outside the protected area.
4. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
- Adult admission: Free, with $2 suggested donation
- Hours: Self-guided tours Monday through Saturday, 9am to 11:45pm and 12:45pm to 5pm
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is arguably Savannah’s most impressive house of worship. With twin spires that soar high above the city’s skyline, it may well be Savannah’s most impressive building. The current structure has been standing since 1900 when it reopened after a devastating fire. The cavernous sanctuary is worth a few minutes of your time. If your schedule allows, consider a self-guided tour.
5. Bonaventure Cemetery
- Adult admission: Free
- Hours: Daily, 8am to 5pm
Located on Savannah’s eastern fringe, Bonaventure Cemetery is a spooky, atmospheric place featured in dozens of movies and TV shows. Many members of Savannah’s business and military elite are buried here, but even if you don’t care about the place’s pedigree, you won’t soon forget the elaborate headstones and mausoleums.
6. Fort Pulaski National Monument
- Adult admission: $7
- Hours: Daily, 9am to 5pm
Fort Pulaski National Monument protects a 19th-century fort on a river island between Savannah and Tybee Island. During the Civil War, it had the unfortunate distinction of being the first Confederate masonry fort to succumb to the Union’s rifled cannon fire – a major inflection point in the annals of military technology. Fort Pulaski is temporarily closed for repairs in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which struck the Savannah area in October 2016.
7. Owens-Thomas House
- Adult admission: $20 (includes admission to all three Telfair Museums properties for seven days)
- Hours: Guided tours only, Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Sunday and Monday, 12pm to 5pm
Part museum, part architectural fossil, the Owens-Thomas House “is considered by architectural historians to be one of the finest examples of English Regency architecture in America.” It is unusual and ornate, even by Savannah standards, so it’s worth seeing even if you don’t venture inside.
If you do go inside, you’ll get a glimpse into how Savannah’s elites lived back in the 19th century. Owens-Thomas is part of the Telfair Museums, so admission is only a bargain if you can visit all three Telfair properties within the space of a week.
8. Wormsloe Historic Site
- Adult admission: $10
- Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 5pm
The Wormsloe Historic Site is a quintessential relic of the Old South. The ruined plantation was built by Noble Jones, whose up-by-the-bootstraps story was decidedly rare in colonial Georgia’s stratified society. Today, Wormsloe is an indoor-outdoor museum replete with interpretive exhibits, an extensive collection of colonial and indigenous artifacts, and frequent special events.
9. Andrew Low House
- Adult admission: $10 ($21 with Pioneers in Preservation combo ticket, which includes admission to the Davenport House Museum and Ships of the Sea Museum)
- Hours: Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm
Located in Savannah’s historic district, the Andrew Low House maintains an impressive collection of 18th- and 19th-century furnishings, kitchenware, and decor. If you have a DIY decorating streak, you’ll likely find this place interesting. Outside, the lush and unusual gardens (which include hourglass-shaped beds) offer a respite from the sometimes crowded house.
10. Sorrel-Weed House
- Adult admission: $10
- Hours: Tours only, daily, 10am to 4:30pm
The Sorrel-Weed House is another old Savannah mansion in the heart of the historic district. During the day, it’s popular with the architectural tour crowd. At night, the reputedly haunted property welcomes ghost tours and daredevils. If you don’t want to pay the full admission price, you can get a great look at Sorrel-Weed’s exterior and gardens from the street.
11. Old City Exchange Bell
- Adult admission: Free
- Hours: 24/7
The Old City Exchange Bell, a little cousin to Philadelphia’s famous Liberty Bell, once hung in Savannah’s famed City Exchange Building. Sadly, that building was torn down before the mid-20th-century preservation impulse that froze the city’s historic district in time. The bell now sits in a replica of the building’s cupola near Savannah’s city hall.
12. City Market
- Adult admission: Free
- Hours: Plaza open 24/7; business hours vary
City Market‘s catchy tagline is “the art and soul of Savannah.” This pedestrian-only courtyard bustles throughout the day thanks to an eclectic mix of art galleries, knickknack shops, cafes, sit-down restaurants, and bars. If you want to support local business owners and craftspeople with your hard-earned tourist dollars, City Market is a great place to start.
Check the website for outdoor music and performance schedules as well as information regarding other special events.
13. River Street Market Place
- Adult admission: Free
- Hours: Daily, 10am to 7pm or 8pm, depending on day and season
River Street Market Place isn’t quite as popular or extensive as City Market, but it’s worth a stop if you find yourself on cobbled, touristy River Street, one of Savannah’s main shopping and nightlife drags. The adjacent plazas offer excellent views of the Savannah River too, so don’t forget your camera.
14. Colonial Park Cemetery
- Adult admission: Free
- Hours: Daily, 8am to 8pm; ghost tours after hours
Colonial Park Cemetery is one of Savannah’s oldest – and creepiest – burial grounds. Operational since 1750, it’s the final resting place for some of colonial and early-American Savannah’s most notable residents, as well as several hundred victims of the tragic yellow fever outbreak of 1820. Not surprisingly, Colonial Park is a popular venue for ghost tours.
15. Fort McAllister Historic Site and State Park
- Adult admission: $9
- Hours: Daily, 7am to 10pm
Fort McAllister State Park boasts an amazingly well-preserved earthen fort that sustained relentless attack during the Civil War, finally falling in Union General Sherman’s infamous march to the sea. The onsite museum contains numerous military artifacts, and the surrounding wetlands and riverbanks teem with wildlife, particularly migratory birds.
Fort McAllister is also an affordable lodging option for visitors who don’t need to be in the middle of it all – its tent campsites start at $20 to $30 per night – a bargain compared to local hotels.
Museums and Cultural Institutions
For a relatively small city, Savannah has a rich and varied cultural landscape. These affordable museums and institutions are definitely worth your time – perhaps on rainy or overcast days, when exploring historic Savannah on foot doesn’t sound so appealing.
16. The Telfair Museums
- Adult admission: $20 (includes admission to all three Telfair Museums properties for seven days)
- Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm; Sunday and Monday, 12pm to 5pm
The Telfair Museums are three separate properties united under a single institutional banner: the Owens-Thomas House (mentioned above), the Telfair Academy, and the Jepson Center. The Telfair Academy focuses more on older art and decor, while the Jepson Center is all about 20th-century American art (including original works by seminal artists such as Jasper Johns). At Jepson, the kid-friendly ArtZeum is an excellent way to get younger children engaged in the creation and appreciation of avant-garde art. If your schedule aligns, don’t miss the architectural tours of the super-modern Jepson building, held daily at 3pm.
17. Congregation Mickve Israel
- Adult admission: Free, donation suggested
- Hours: Tours only, weekdays, 10am to 12:30pm and 2pm to 3:30pm
Congregation Mickve Israel is the third-oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, dating back to 1733 (the year of Savannah’s founding). The current sanctuary, an impressive neo-Gothic structure, was completed in 1878. The congregation is active and open to the public, with tours daily at midday and in the afternoon. The adjacent museum features some of North America’s oldest Jewish artifacts.
Pick up a brochure at Visit Savannah or your hotel for a 10% discount when you spend $30 or more at the gift shop.
18. First African Baptist Church
- Adult admission: Free to enter, $7 for a tour
- Hours: Variable; tours held Tuesday through Saturday at 11am and 2pm, and Sundays at 1pm
First African Baptist Church bills itself as “the oldest black church in North America.” Like Congregation Mickve Israel, it offers a revealing and poignant look into the history and struggles of an oppressed minority group integral to Savannah’s history.
The sanctuary is open to the public during worship times, but be respectful of congregants. Even if you can’t spring $7 for a tour, the view from the street is worthwhile.
19. Pin Point Heritage Museum
- Adult admission: $8 ($17 with the See 3 Pass, which includes admission to your choice of two other family-friendly Savannah attractions)
- Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 9am to 5pm
Operated by the Coastal Heritage Society, Pin Point Heritage Museum is a moving and insightful tribute to coastal Georgia’s once-isolated Gullah/Geechee culture, created and nurtured by descendants of the region’s huge slave population. Mixing elements of European, African, Caribbean, and indigenous culture, the Gullah/Geechee way of life has improbably persisted to the present day. Pin Point Heritage Museum is arguably the best place to learn about it in person. Note the limited hours.
20. Davenport House Museum
- Adult admission: $9 ($21 with Pioneers in Preservation combo ticket, which includes admission to the Andrew Low House and Ships of the Sea Museum)
- Hours: Tours only, Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm; Sunday, 1pm to 4pm
The fight to save the Davenport House from destruction is widely credited with jump-starting Savannah’s historic preservation movement. Today, the Davenport House Museum honors that transition along with the contradictory, problematic lives of the house’s 19th-century inhabitants, including upper-class white merchants and enslaved African-Americans.
21. Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
- Adult admission: $9 ($21 with Pioneers in Preservation combo ticket, which includes admission to the Davenport House Museum and Andrew Low House)
- Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 5pm
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is a must-visit for nautical buffs of all ages. Housed in the family home of William Scarborough, one of the owners of the famed steamship Savannah, the museum contains a treasure trove of model ships, nautical artifacts, records, and other items of historical import. The garden space provides a welcome respite from the hot city streets, though it’s frequently reserved for private functions.
22. Mercer Williams House Museum
- Adult admission: $12.50
- Hours: Variable
Housed in one of Savannah’s grandest private structures, The Mercer Williams House Museum is yet another impressive artifact of Savannah’s wealthy, genteel, and – yes – problematic past. Like the Davenport House Museum, it’s an important piece of Savannah’s 20th-century preservation movement. If you can’t make it inside to see the immaculate decor and authentic period furniture, snap a few pictures as you walk by.
Free Parks and Natural Areas
With its sprawling live oaks and lush gardens, the entire city of Savannah can feel like a park sometimes. But there are plenty of actual parks and natural areas dotting the Savannah area, along with 22 leafy squares in the historic district. Unless otherwise noted, all are free to enter and explore.
Savannah’s squares are generally open 24/7. On a leisurely walking tour of the city’s parks and squares, use Google Maps or Yelp to find nearby attractions, points of interest, and places to eat or drink.
23. Forsyth Park
- Hours: Daily, 7am to 11pm
Forsyth Park is Savannah’s answer to Central Park. At 30 acres, it’s considerably smaller than its Big Apple counterpart, but its broad lawns and shaded corners can make it feel a lot larger.
The centerpieces, both of which follow the oak-lined path bisecting the park, include an ornate fountain and a towering monument to Civil War casualties. The tidy visitor center sells refreshments and has public restrooms. Don’t miss the tiny, walled Garden of Fragrance, a strange park-within-a-park that lives up to its name (in a good way). Check with the city of Savannah or Visit Savannah for information about Forsyth Park’s frequent public events such as the ever-popular (and free) Savannah Jazz Festival.
24. Chippewa Square
Originally conceived as a monument to the War of 1812, Chippewa Square is one of Savannah’s best-known pocket parks. It’s anchored by a larger-than-life statue of General James Oglethorpe, widely credited as Georgia’s founding father. Also of note: The expository scenes from the famous film “Forrest Gump” were filmed here, on a bench (now removed) facing north toward Bull Street.
25. Daffin Park
Daffin Park isn’t as well-known as Forsyth Park, but it’s nearly as extensive and picturesque. Its low-key nature is a blessing in disguise as it’s rarely crowded. If you’re looking for a quiet park experience that locals frequent, head here.
26. Telfair Square
Named for a prominent Savannah family that lived in the area during Savannah’s early days, Telfair Square is now home to two of the three Telfair Museums and regularly hosts small-scale cultural events. The surrounding area is reliably busy on weekdays, making Telfair Square a great place to people-watch and experience the ebbs and flows of Savannah life.
27. Ellis Square
Ellis Square is reliably one of Savannah’s busiest public spaces. It’s not hard to see why – in addition to the nearby City Market, it’s within walking distance of city hall, the riverfront, dozens of restaurants, and several of Savannah’s top tourist attractions (including the Telfair Museums). Plus, it has plenty of seating, a shallow fountain that kids can play in, an open grassy area, and a Visit Savannah outpost. Ellis Square is another prime people-watching spot, especially at night.
28. Johnson Square
With two fountains, an obelisk, and a vintage sundial, Johnson Square is a quiet, quirky area that’s been a gathering space for locals since Savannah’s founding. Take your turn sitting on the Johnny Mercer Bench, named for the prominent Savannah songwriter.
29. Other Squares
Savannah has more than a dozen other squares. Most appear similar, but all have their little quirks, from unexpected splashes of color in decades-old flower beds to impromptu neighborhood yoga sessions amid centuries-old Spanish moss drippings. If you tour Savannah on foot or participate in a ghost tour, you’ll likely run into a few squares not named here. If nothing else, they’re useful for resting on leisurely walks.
30. Skidaway Island State Park
- Adult admission: $5 parking fee
- Hours: Daily, 7am to 10pm
Skidaway Island State Park is a 588-acre nature preserve that protects a pristine stretch of coastal marsh and forest. The main attraction is a boardwalk leading across an active salt marsh to an observation deck that provides panoramic views of the otherworldly landscape. You’re almost certain to spot waterfowl here as egrets and other seabirds frequent the waters. Like Fort McAllister, Skidaway Island State Park is a great budget-friendly lodging option, with tent-only campsites starting at $26 per night.
31. Savannah Riverfront
Savannah’s riverfront isn’t exactly a park – it’s an old, cobbled street that runs along the banks of the Savannah River, a few stories below the rest of the city. The river’s shore itself changes from block to block, but most of it is publicly accessible. Seating is plentiful here, as are outdoor vendors and performance artists. For an exceptional, reasonably priced view of the river and beyond, hit one of the rooftop bars on River Street during happy hour – Rocks on the Roof and Top Deck Bar are both fine choices.
Regional Day Trips and Excursions
If you only have a weekend in Savannah, you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied in the city center. If you’re in the area for longer, consider renting a car and exploring the islands, small towns, and historic sites nearby. The four destinations listed here are all part of the Sea Islands, a long chain of barrier islands stretching from South Carolina to the Florida border.
32. Hilton Head Island
Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport’s name is no accident. Hilton Head Island, located northeast of Savannah proper, is indisputably the region’s “second city” – a tourist magnet and economic engine second only to Savannah itself. However, it’s just as undeniable that Hilton Head, which is nationally known as a golf and tennis mecca, is more exclusive than Savannah. That can lend parts of the island a remote, even chilly atmosphere.
The best way to experience Hilton Head’s democratic and welcoming side is to head to one of its beaches, where Atlantic waves and plentiful sunshine attract surfers and sunbathers from up and down the coast. When you’ve had your fill of the sun, sand, and surf, retreat to one of the island’s 250 restaurants, many of which are more affordable than Hilton Head’s exclusive reputation would suggest. Fresh-caught local seafood is just as plentiful here as in Savannah, where it’s sometimes harder to get a table.
33. Tybee Island
Tybee Island is the next island along the coast after Hilton Head. It’s actually a bit closer to Savannah proper, hence the nickname “Savannah’s beach.” It’s also much more laid-back than Hilton Head, with shades of Key West. The broad, miles-long beach is great for an uncrowded, no-cost, judgment-free day in the sun. If the island’s many vacation rentals are out of your budget, check out privately owned River’s End Campground, where low-season tent sites start at $29 per night.
34. St. Simon’s Island
Farther down the coast, about halfway between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida, lies St. Simon’s Island. Part charming beach town, part high-end resort, St. Simon’s splits the difference between Tybee and Hilton Head – balancing exclusivity with accessibility.
If you’re continuing to Florida after your Savannah trip, St. Simon’s is worth a stop, and possibly an overnight stay. Nearby Jekyll Island, which is just across a tidal river but feels much more remote, is also worth a look. (Its beaches provide critical shelter for threatened sea turtles.) For budget-friendly accommodations, check out the area’s plentiful campgrounds, where sites can go for as little as $20 per night during the off-season.
35. Daufuskie Island
Nestled between Hilton Head and Tybee, Daufuskie Island is the least developed of the inhabited Sea Islands. Though it has modern conveniences and plenty of innovative, tourist-friendly businesses, it retains a unique, unspoiled character that encourages visitors to tread lightly and respectfully. Most Daufuskie inhabitants can trace their lineages back centuries, when freed slaves farmed, fished, and practiced their culture with relatively little interference from the mainland. Must-visit spots include Haig Point, which offers great water views, and locally owned The Iron Fish Art Gallery, a beloved art institution.
When to Visit and What to Bring
Planning a visit to Savannah? Here’s what you need to know.
Weather and Ideal Visiting Times
Savannah has a subtropical climate characterized by long, sultry summers and brief, chilly winters. From May through September, high temperatures routinely exceed 90 degrees, with nighttime lows often remaining above 70. Fortunately, virtually every indoor space in Savannah is air conditioned. Summer is also very rainy, though intense afternoon cloudbursts followed by sunshine are more common than dreary, day-long washouts.
Savannah’s shoulder seasons (March and April/October and November) tend to be more pleasant, with temperate to cool nights and highs in the 70s and 80s. Precipitation drops off a bit during these periods, though rain is still common. The winter months are cool to occasionally cold, but still laughably mild for visitors from northern cities such as Chicago and Boston. Frost isn’t uncommon, but accumulating snowfall is exceedingly rare. (Snow shuts down the city when it occurs.)
Weather-wise, the shoulder seasons are the best times to visit Savannah. You should expect to pay more during spring break and around the winter holidays, however.
Due to the heat and the absence of Savannah’s sizable student population, high summer is ideal for visitors whose top priority is avoiding crowds. Lodging prices in the city center can be slightly lower during the summer too, though rentals on the islands might actually be more expensive.
Hurricane Risk and Precautions
Though the Georgia coast isn’t hit by hurricanes as frequently as South Florida or the Gulf Coast, Savannah is no stranger to tropical storm activity. In fact, Savannah’s extremely low elevation, swampy surroundings, and dense tree cover render it unusually vulnerable to storm surges, rain-related flooding, and wind damage. (About a week after I visited Savannah, Hurricane Matthew destroyed hundreds of ancient live oaks and caused extensive flooding in and around the city.)
Peak tropical storm season runs from late July through early October, though storms can happen outside that window. The risk of a storm hitting in any given year is low, and the risk that you’ll be directly affected is even lower.
Still, if you visit during the tropical season, read up on what to do in a hurricane (courtesy of Chatham County Emergency Management) and ask your hotel or vacation rental host about property-specific instructions to follow.
What to Bring
Your Savannah packing list will vary based on when you visit and what you plan to do. Here is what you may need to bring:
- Lots of Light, Breathable Clothing: If there were ever a place for an all-cotton packing list, Savannah is it. The long summer’s heat and humidity demand light, breathable clothing, whether you’re a fan of summer dresses or comfortable T-shirts. Unless you’ll have easy access to laundry, bring a few extra changes, as you’re likely to sweat after spending prolonged periods of time outside.
- Rain Gear: Savannah doesn’t have a distinct dry season, so it’s best to prepare for rain at any time of year. In summer, pack a lightweight poncho and compact umbrella. In winter, when the rain can get chilly, a heavier raincoat and waterproof boots are recommended.
- Sun Protection: When the sun does come out in Savannah, it can be hot and direct, especially in beach towns like Tybee Island. If you’re prone to sunburn, bring a hat and plenty of sunscreen. Your umbrella can provide extra protection too.
- Sturdy Footwear: The best way to see downtown Savannah is on foot, so make sure you’re comfortable. Running shoes are probably fine, though Savannah’s uneven and sometimes cobbled streets, sidewalks, and stairs require good traction.
- Backpack or Satchel: Your pedestrian (or trolley-bound) sightseeing activities will be a lot more convenient with a backpack, satchel, or oversized purse to hold your maps, camera, water, and other essential items.
- Hydration Gear: Profuse sweating doesn’t have many upsides, but at least it reminds you to stay hydrated. Help that process along (and do your part to protect the environment) by bringing a refillable water bottle.
How to Get Around Savannah
Most out-of-area Savannah visitors arrive via Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, located a few miles northwest of the city. It’s not a huge or particularly busy airport, but it does have regular nonstop flights to many major cities in the eastern half of the U.S., including Atlanta, New York City, Charlotte, Houston, Dallas, and Indianapolis. Most other U.S. cities are reachable via one-stop flights through Atlanta.
Though fares vary considerably based on origin city, demand, flight time, and other factors, they’re not outrageous – I flew direct from Minneapolis for approximately $300 round trip, including taxes and fees.
Once you’re in town, you can get around by:
Walking and Public Transit
Central Savannah is tailor-made for pedestrians. The narrow but straight streets are fairly easy to navigate, and the plentiful squares are perfect for taking a load off or simply enjoying some quiet, stationary reflection. Since parking is tight and distances manageable in the most touristy areas, it’s often not practical to drive from attraction to attraction.
If you’re planning to walk extensively around Savannah, stop at a Visit Savannah location for a map – or, if you’re staying at a hotel, ask the front desk for one. Google Maps is suitable for navigating the city’s streets and finding places to eat, drink, and shop, but it’s not guaranteed to have accurate information about historic landmarks.
When you tire of walking, hop on a city bus. Chatham Area Transit (CAT) provides frequent, comprehensive service in the city center, and decent (but sometimes infrequent) service to outlying areas – including an airport shuttle that can dramatically reduce the cost of getting to and from the airport.
Compared with larger transit systems, CAT is incredibly cheap: a one-way fare is $1.50, an unlimited-use day pass is $3, and a weekly pass is $14. Select downtown routes are free, but you’ll want to check the website to determine whether you can get where you need to go without paying.
Aside from the river bluff and very gentle hills on either side of downtown, Savannah is table-flat. In theory, that makes it ideal for cycling. In practice, sharing the narrow streets with cars and pedestrians can be challenging but doable for those used to bike commuting.
Visiting cyclists looking for a quick, easy two-wheeled transit option can take advantage of CAT’s bikeshare program, appropriately known as CAT Bike. (Savannah College of Art and Design has a bikeshare program, but it’s limited to students, faculty, and staff.) CAT Bike’s two hubs are located in the historic district. Once you pay the $5 day-pass fee or $20 seven-day pass fee, you can ride for free as long as you return your bike to a hub within 60 minutes. If you keep your bike for longer, you pay $2 for each additional 30 minutes. To avoid the surcharge, just return your old bike to a hub and pick up a new one.
For a wider selection of bikes and longer rental terms, check out one of the bike rental companies operating in the Savannah area such as Savannah on Wheels which has eight-hour rentals starting at $20.
If you live in the southeastern United States, driving to Savannah in your own private vehicle – perhaps as part of a longer road trip across the U.S. – might be your easiest, most cost-effective option. From Jacksonville, Florida, Savannah is approximately two hours in ideal traffic conditions. From Atlanta, it’s about three and a half hours. And, from Charlotte, it’s a roughly four-hour drive.
If you’re staying at a hotel in central Savannah, you can probably find lot or garage parking for less than $20 per night. If you’re staying at a rental property in the central district, it’s possible that you won’t have guaranteed off-street parking. Under those circumstances, you’ll need to find the nearest public garage (which could be many blocks from your rental) or take your chances with overnight street parking, which is heavily restricted in downtown neighborhoods. The upside is that garage parking rarely costs more than $10 per day. You can check rates and availability at ParkSmart Savannah.
Savannah is well served by the two major ridesharing services, Uber and Lyft. If you’re from a larger city, you’ll probably find the coverage and response times lacking a bit (especially with Lyft), but it’s possible to find a ride in the historic district, inner neighborhoods, and airport area at most times of the day. Volume picks up in the evening and weekends.
Unfortunately, budget-friendly carpool options such as UberPOOL and Lyft Line don’t operate in Savannah as of 2017, so you’ll need to budget for a standard UberX or regular Lyft. Unless demand pricing is in effect, expect short-distance fares within the historic district to cost less than $10. Rides to and from the airport cost less than $35.
Barring unusual traffic, Savannah is barely two hours from the larger city of Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston, which was founded decades earlier than Savannah and played a pivotal role in the Civil War, is among the United States’ best-preserved colonial cities. As one of early America’s key slave-trading centers and a bastion of Confederate power, it’s also a poignant – and often painful – reminder of our country’s complex, imperfect legacy.
In short, Charleston is also worth a few days of your time. If you’re already in the area, why not fold it into your Savannah trip?