Top attractions in downtown Savannah, Georgia: So many things to do, so little time…

 

Savannah downtown, Georgia 

Frommer’s:  “If you have time to visit only one city in the Southeast, make it Savannah.   It’s that special.”

The first time we considered visiting the city of Savannah (Georgia), it was because of a guidebook that my wife and I had purchased to aid in our quest for a cross country road trip back in 2003.  In that guidebook, it mentioned the city as the destination in the Southeast where many famous movies were filmed including “Forrest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.

That summer, we had completed a 3 week long trip going from New York City to Aspen (Colorado), visiting close to 30+ attractions spanning multiple cities and states.  We had so much fun that we decided to do another road trip before moving to Hawaii at the end of that same year.  I was also a movie buff back in those days, so it made sense to stop by to see the sights where those movies were filmed.

We dedicated another 3 weeks in November to drive down to Florida to visit/revisit iconic places like Disney World, Miami, Key Largo, and Key West.  Along the way, we had made a stop at both Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head Island, before making a quick stop at Savannah to see the sights.  

We got up real early the morning of our trip to Savannah from Hilton Head Island.  We knew after this quick stop at Savannah, we had to drive all the way down to Key Largo, an 8 hour drive.  We had literally 2 hours to see the important sights downtown and the best way we thought to do so, was to do a trolley tour of the city.

We booked a guided trolley tour that starts at the Savannah Visitor Center downtown and the tour took us around the downtown area.  We did see the filming locations for both movies: Chippewa Square (“Forrest Gump”) and Forsyth Park (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”) during that trolley tour and got a chance to get off the trolley to walk around the famous attractions.  

As nice as that was, we barely scratched the surface.  Two hours to properly see a historic, beautiful gem of a city like Savannah, is next to impossible.  We promised ourselves then, that we would come back to properly explore this city, by spending at least couple of days there.

Our opportunity to do that took all of 20 years, but we finally got there as part of our first stop on our 8 week long Southeast/Deep South/Central South road trip in December 2023.  

We used Hilton Head Island as our base camp to explore both there and the city of Savannah.  At a driving distance of roughly 32 miles, it made sense to do so, as the hotel prices in Savannah were much higher than what they were in Hilton Head Island.

The drive to Savannah took us on a rather leisurely route through the backcountry, via US-278 West, SC-46, then Highway 17.  As we approached the city proper, we saw the giant silhouette of the city from the distance, and the city from that angle, looked bigger than ever, compared to 20 years ago.

We saw more hotels, new residential developments, and new retail buildings dotting the landscape of the city.  City looked renewed, with a certain vibrant spirit that seems to permeate the city, similar to what we saw in places like Hilton Head Island or Biloxi (Mississippi).  

We used two different days to properly see the city, and we’re glad we did so.  There are so many attractions in Savannah that it takes at least 2 full days to experience the city.  On day 1 of our foray into Savannah, we decided to check out Fort Pulaski National Monument and the nearby Tybee Island.  On day 2, we spent a day inside the city’s downtown area, seeing both familiar and unfamiliar places we had just scratched the surface on our first trip to the city all those years ago…

Without further ado, check out our list of our favorite top attractions near the city of Savannah:


  • Savannah Historic District 
Savannah Historic District is the largest historic district in the United States, containing more than 20 city squares filled with museums, churches, mansions, monuments, and famous forts of the Civil War & Revolutionary War.  It is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, filled with cobblestone streets, manicured gardens, and oak-shaded parks & squares.  

We decided to see the historic district on Christmas Eve Day (Sunday December 24th), as we figured there would be much less traffic going into the city and I knew parking is free on Sundays at the Savannah Visitor Center.  We arrived at the visitor center, parked, then walked inside it to use the restroom and to check out the inside.

Afterwards, we headed out east along Liberty Street and found the streets as beautiful as we had remembered it, with the drizzling Spanish moss giving the city its iconic look.  We continued on to the first stop along the way, Orleans Square.  

It was only about 10 a.m., yet there were already visitors out in force along the streets, gathering at squares to get a closer look.  We did the same, taking in the scenery.

Orleans Square, Savannah 

One of many Spanish moss covered trees

The city came alive, thanks to it being a Sunday morning, and possibly because Christmas was just a day away.  We felt safe navigating the big streets and little side streets.  At no time did we feel uneasy or apprehensive going about our business of sightseeing.

Typical street in Savannah

Historic homes everywhere!




We moved along, eager to see more places like Orleans Square, and we found Chippewa Square.  This was a place we remembered from our trip 20 years ago, and it looked better than ever.  There were even more people at this square as it is one of the most popular squares in all of Savannah.

Chippewa Square 

We spent few minutes reminiscing and remembering, then moved on, eager to see our next destination:  
Colonial Park Cemetery.  At just around 6 acres in size, we followed our easterly direction and found the cemetery after several minutes of walking.

Size of it was big, but what caught our eyes were some of the unusual looking tombs all around it.  They were above ground rather than the usual underground.  We approached closer to get a better look at them.  They reminded us of similar tombs in New Orleans, as that city is below sea level, which explains the need to raise them above ground.  

Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah 





We stopped at several interesting locations including the burial site of Yellow Fever victims which hold reportedly close to 700 bodies.  There are some notable burials at the cemetery such as Button Gwinnett, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and Major General Nathaniel Greene, who served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.

We headed out of the cemetery to explore our next destination, Savannah’s Waterfront.
  • Savannah’s Waterfront
Located along the Savannah River, Savannah’s Waterfront is quite possibly the most popular attraction in the city.  At just around 1/2 mile long, the pedestrian promenade is a great place to feel the energy of the city, featuring over 70 shops and restaurants.  

Of course, we missed this place on our first trip 20 years ago.  We made sure we’d put this on top of our list when visiting downtown.

It was extremely easy to find popular attractions in downtown thanks to multiple signs with helpful information along many avenues and streets.  After walking around the famous parks and squares in downtown, we walked north until we found the waterfront.  

There was unmistakable energy and excitement about the place as we heard a slowly building murmur of people as we approached the area.  The waterfront reminded us bit of South Street Seaport in New York City where we grew up, with its cobblestone streets with shops/restaurants and tons of people.

We liked what we saw!  We lamented that we had missed this place on our first trip…

We had to get our bearings, so we stopped at the John P. Rousakis Riverfront Plaza.  Nicely laid out map of the waterfront helped out tremendously.  We decided to just freely walk around, first eastward, then backtrack to see the west side.







There was a buzz of activity along the waterfront, with people dining out al fresco, tourists walking to and fro, and a neat river cruise docked there.  We checked out a cute little Christmas store at the Hyatt Regency Hotel selling adorable ornaments and Christmas related merchandise.

We walked all the way to the end of the waterfront, when we started to get hungry.  We knew we wanted to eat something at the famous City Market, where there are lots of dining options.  Off we went!

  • City Market

City Market, established in the 1700’s, is an open-air market with shopping, dining, artworks, and entertainment.  It takes up 4 city blocks and it is just a short walk from the Savannah’s Waterfront.  As we were getting hangry (hungry & angry), we asked a nice employee at the Marriott Hotel who was working on mulching the trees, for directions to the City Market.  He was very friendly and pointed us in the right direction.  


City Market, Savannah, Georgia 

We climbed two sets of stairs then continued on until we saw Bay Street.  City Market was another 3 blocks or so at that point.  We finally reached the market and started to look for a place to eat.  

Along the way, there were street performers and festive Christmas decorations visible near Ellis Square.  We saw families with their young ones excitedly running around the square obliviously happy to be a kid.  Sometimes I wish us adults can be as carefree and just happy like kids can be…

We finally found a suitable restaurant near Ellis Square, called Goose Feathers Cafe & Bakery.  We were actively looking for a fast casual place so we wouldn’t have to tip, and this was perfect!  

View from inside the cafe

Excellent Goose Feathers Cafe, Savannah

The cafe was packed with line of people waiting to order from the counter, which is a good sign the place is run well.  We ordered a salmon BLT and a chicken sandwich on homemade croissants and they were messy to eat but extremely tasty!

Feeling good and fueled up, we wanted to use the restroom before heading out. While waiting for my wife to come out, an employee who was near me asked if I needed a refill on my drink.  Why, that is a great idea!  I wasn’t even thinking that, but when someone offers a free drink (or food), I will take it!  

While walking back to where we had parked our car, we realized we really needed like 2 full days to properly see the downtown area alone, as there are so many places to explore out there.  Well, there’s always next time…

In conclusion:

Savannah is truly one of the most beautiful cities in the United States, if not the world.  We were so glad we got to revisit it after all these years.

We revisited places we saw last time but also got to explore some new places this time around.  Tucked inside a 20 square blocks, there are just so many places to explore in Savannah downtown.  We really felt like we needed more than one day to properly see this place…

We highly recommend Savannah as one of the top destinations in Southeast, if not all of USA.  It is that unique and beautiful.

Thank you for reading and keep up with us on our continuing adventures in the South/Southeast/Central South!


Jake

Wandering Money Pig 


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