Savannah has been one of my favorite destinations for cultural travel since I first started visiting 15 years ago. Whether you’re a solo traveler, vacationing with your family, or traveling with a partner or spouse, you can’t go wrong with spending a weekend—or better yet, full week—in the Hostess City of the South. And no matter if it’s your first time here or your fifth, you’ll enjoy these iconic things to do in Savannah, whether you’re visiting in the heat of summer or dead of winter.
1. Explore the public squares
Savannah is steeped in Civil War history, and General James Edward Oglethorpe conceptualized a plan that laid the city out in a grid pattern punctuated by 24 squares that were used for military drills and a planned community that included the necessity of a central gathering place. Today, 22 squares remain, serving not only as shady respites from the Southern heat, but as central components to Savannah’s identity. Here’s a rundown of all of Savannah’s squares and parks.
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2. Orient yourself with one of many walking tours
There’s nothing better than hitting Savannah’s historic cobblestone ways on your own two feet, and my top tip is to take a tour on your first morning in town to get acquainted with the city. I’ve taken so many different history tours of Savannah, I could probably start my own tour company! Each one has a different draw; if you love the story behind old buildings, you’ll want to take a walk with Jonathan Stalcup, SCAD grad behind architectural tours of Savannah. If you love history with a dose of the theatrics, Genteel & Bard is a must.
3. Hop aboard the trolley
Savannah has a public bus system, the DOT, that will take you around the historic district for free. But if you want to level-up your transportation game, consider buying a day pass for one of the hop-on, hop-off open-air trolley companies that offer transit around town with a commentary to boot. They have ticket booths all over downtown.
4. Take a day trip out to Tybee Island
One of the most attractive parts of Savannah as a vacation destination is that it has the city culture and the chill beach town scene; it truly offers the best of both worlds. Just 30 minutes from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island with its tracts of sand, wildlife-filled marshes, striking lighthouse, lazy pier and bustling boardwalk is worth a day trip—if not an entire week’s stay.
5. Pop into Savannah College of Arts and Design
The South’s premier art institution, SCAD, is not only responsible for much of Savannah’s growth a few decades back, but many of its alumni have had a heavy hand in the design renaissance of this fashionable town. I never visit Savannah without dropping by the shopSCAD store to see what’s on display or for sale at the moment. The buildings themselves are also worth poking around.
6. Sample Chatham Artillery Punch
Back in the day, Chatham Artillery Punch served as the militia drink of choice as far back as the 1700s; today, it’s still known as the drink of Savannah. Where to try it? Artillery Bar never disappoints—not to mention, this packs-a-punch libation is served in a gilded pineapple.
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7. Have a scoop at Leopold’s
Leopold’s Ice Cream is a Savannah institution, one that has a history that dates back more than a century and has been run by Hollywood producer Stratton Leopold for the past two decades. Step back in time at Leopold’s on Broughton Street or grab a scoop at the airport on your way out of town as there are now two outposts at Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport.
8. Stroll down the riverfront
One thing that changes dramatically between each visit in Savannah is the riverfront landscape. I remember during my first visit 15 years ago, River Street was more or less a ghost town. Today, it sprawls in each direction, allowing visitors and locals alike plenty of room to enjoy the boats that pass by—and providing pretty much every dining or bar experience you could want.
9. Explore the Plant Riverside District
Even if you’re not staying in the JW Marriott, I beg you to go inside and see the giant dinosaur sculpture and all the gems, jewels and baubles for yourself. It’s truly a sight to behold, as is the evolution of the Plant Riverside District.
10. Set sail on the Georgia Queen
Want to see the riverfront—and the rest of Savannah for that matter—from a different viewpoint? The Georgia Queen offers several different riverboat cruises depending on the time of year.
11. Sip a horchata latte
While this may not be specific to Savannah, I’ve never seen this on any other menu, and two of my favorite coffee shops offer such a novelty: the Coffee Fox and Franklin’s. Try it iced or hot and grab a fresh pastry at either of these must-try Savannah cafes.
12. Dine at the Olde Pink House
Savannah has such a booming food scene that I rarely revisit some of the older restaurants—a few of my favorite restaurants in Savannah are Common Thread and Cotton & Rye—but if you’re a first-timer to Savannah, you have to experience the Olde Pink House in person, if for nothing else, the haunted legacy of the 1771 home it occupies.
13. Grab an adult beverage on the go
If you’re of age and enjoy imbibing from time to time, you’ll love Savannah’s open-cup policy that allows you to take a drink to go throughout the Historic District, so long as it’s in a 16-ounce plastic cup. Skip out on the more touristy bars and try a mojito on the run from Mint to Be instead.
14. See where the Girl Scouts got their start
There’s no shortage of historic homes to tour in Savannah. My personal favorite? The birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of none other than the Girl Scouts of America. Where are my former Brownies at? If you’re a fan of old houses, you should also visit the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home while you’re at it.
15. Check out the artsy Starland District
While it’s home to the famed Back in the Day Bakery, the Starland District is quickly becoming the hip ‘hood in Savannah, and I can’t get enough of everything cropping up just south of downtown, like a permanent food truck park with containers for seating.
16. Get an education from Sista Patt
Do you know about Savannah’s slave history? It was a very prominent stop on the transatlantic slave trade route and funneled hundreds of thousands of enslaved human beings that were then sold and traded all around the United States. This story is one that needs to be told, and who better to do so than a preservationist and retired ACLU lawyer with a passion for making sure the history of her people, the Gullah Geechee, is not erased. Book an Underground Tour of Savannah through their Facebook page.
17. Build your own progressive dining tour
My biggest problem visiting Savannah is that there are always too many delicious places to eat and not enough meals in the day. My solution? Plan out your own restaurant hop where you try small dishes at several different restaurants in the same neighborhood (example: an appetizer at a rooftop bar like Myrtle & Rose, followed by dinner at Rhett, topped off by dessert at the Drayton. Use my Savannah restaurant guide as your road map.
18. Kick it in Forsyth Park
Savannah’s own Central Park of sorts, the 30-acre Forsyth Park has roots that date back to the 1840s. It’s a great place to cool down by the fountain or in the kids’ area or to grab brunch at the new location of Collins Quarter.
19. Peek inside the cathedral
The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist is one of Savannah’s most iconic monuments, and so long as you don’t drop by during mass, you can peek inside this 1800s beauty for free most hours of the day.
20. Get spooked at Bonaventure Cemetery
Much of Savannah is built upon graves, and there’s an unmistakably spooky vibe about wandering among the centuries-old tombstones of this 100-acre Victorian cemetery.
21. Drop everything for the sunset
There’s nothing like a Savannah sunset, and whether you have to head to upward to one of the city’s many rooftop bars or catch an Uber to the riverfront, it’s worth clearing your schedule each night when the sun goes down.
There are plenty of other things to do in Savannah, but that’s your starter pack. Bookmark this post and use it on your next vacation—and let me know how it goes!
Have you been to this slice of coastal Georgia paradise? What would you add to my ever-growing list of things to do in Savannah?