Have you ever considered spending a long weekend in Savannah, Georgia? If you haven’t, you should.
Having grown up just a couple of hours to the south, I’ve spent time in Savannah over the years. But most of that time was for weddings, parties, or holiday weekends like St. Patrick’s Day, which is not exactly a weekend filled with history and culture. (unless green beer counts?)
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Savannah is how I remember Charleston being twenty years ago before it started exploding with tourism and restaurants. Although it does host a lot of tourists, Savannah is still quaint and quiet. And imminently walkable, which I love.
In my previous trips there, I had never focused on was the rich history of this charming city, and all that there is to do there. So if you’re able to plan a long weekend in Savannah, I’ve put together everything you need.
While much of what people know about the city comes from the popular book and movie, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, Savannah has arguably the richest history of any city in Georgia. In part because it was the first city founded in the state. And one of the few cities that General Sherman did not burn in his march to the sea. He sent a letter to President Lincoln, instead, offering the city as a Christmas present.
Savannah is known for its southern hospitality – and it’s a real thing. The city government still uses Savannah’s quaint promotional name, the “Hostess City of the South.”
It’s not perfect, of course. Like many beautiful-on-the-outside southern cities, Savannah has a cruel history leading up to the Civil War. Especially as a port city where slave ships regularly docked. During Reconstruction, the freed slaves who stayed built a thriving community that made Savannah one of the most historically significant African-American cities in the nation. And today, Savannah’s diversity continues to grow.
Where To Stay
There are a number of hotels at varying price points in the historic district. To include a lot of chains like Holiday Inn, Hilton, and Marriott. There are also a number of great Inns and Bed and Breakfasts housed in stately old buildings. The East Bay Inn is one example, with charming guest rooms, a lovely parlor, and a popular restaurant.
The 1896 red brick home and carriage house that makes up the Foley House Inn is in a central location in the
historic district. And the Old Harbour Inn, which dates back to 1812, is one of the oldest in Savannah. It’s located in the original wharf warehouses and storage buildings, just a stone’s throw from many of the city’s attractions.
The stately, two-hundred-year-old Planters Inn boasts a prime location right next door to well known The Olde Pink House Restaurant. Built in 1855, the Presidents’ Quarters Inn has hosted many famous guests, including Civil War General Robert E. Lee. In fact, its rooms are named after U.S. Presidents who visited Savannah.
We stayed at the Perry Lane Hotel, which we LOVED. It’s affiliated with Marriott, so if you’re a Bonvoy member, you’ll get the points. But it really feels much more like a luxurious boutique hotel than a chain.
A jar of Byrd’s mini chocolate chip cookies awaited us in our room. Little did we know when we demolished the cookies, that the jar would be replenished daily. Heaven? I think so. We’ll talk more about Byrd’s in my next post, all about the shopping.
What To Do
The Historic District is the heart of Savannah and contains most of what you’ll want to do on a first visit.
Savannah’s Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and is one of the largest historic landmarks in the country.
It includes such notable sites as the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts; Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (one of the South’s first public museums); and the First African Baptist Church (one of the oldest African-American Baptist congregations in the U.S.).
You’ll also find the only neo-Gothic, and the third oldest, synagogue in America, the Mickve Israel Temple. It houses the two oldest Torah scrolls in the U.S. (over 500 years old, in fact), brought over from England in the early 18th century. You can also view letters from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, among other presidents.
And of course, you can’t miss Forsythe Park. Its large fountain is one of Savannah’s most well-known landmarks.
City Market, built in 1755, is another part of the Historic District that you have to see. When it was initially constructed, residents shopped there for groceries, services and other goods. Today it’s home to popular restaurants, live performances, and great shopping. It starts at the corner of Jefferson and West St. Julian Streets and stretches a full block in each direction.
You can’t visit Savannah and not walk the cobblestone River Street along the Savannah River. The street is lined by one-time cotton warehouses and is now home to more than 74 stores, galleries, restaurants, and pubs.
The cobblestones of River Street have a storied history. They were originally used as ballast material on the ships sailing into Savannah’s harbor. They come from exotic locales such as Madeira Island, Spain, France, and the British Isles. Because they were affordable, the settlers in the area hand-laid them throughout the Historic District.
History of River Street
River Street was also home to some of Savannah’s darkest times. Because Savannah is a port city, many slave ships made the city their first stop in the new world. When slaves were brought to land, they were housed in warehouses that lined River Street, many of which still stand today. And some of the holding cells still have shackle remains and visible holes where slaves were chained to the walls.
In more modern times, the 1996 Olympic Games were held in Atlanta, Savannah was host to the Olympic yachting events that year. If you visit River Street, you’ll be able to check out the cauldron that was lit during the Savannah Olympic Opening Ceremonies.
If you’ve read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Even, or seen the movie, you’re probably familiar with The Lady Chablis (she played herself in the movie). Her Savannah venue when in town, Club One, is right near River Street.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) owns over 70 buildings in Savannah. Most of which were historic buildings that the college bought and restored. SCAD has over 11,000 students from all over the world. You could check out the SCAD Museum of Art, a contemporary museum with rotating exhibits. Or shopSCAD on Madison Square for artwork, jewelry, photography and more, all by current SCAD students, faculty, and alumni.
Savannah has a surprisingly strong shopping scene. Unlike many other cute cities (including my home in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia), there are more independent boutiques than big box stores. While you do see Urban Outfitters and other household named stores, there is a great mix of reasonably priced, locally owned stores that make the shopping a unique and fun experience.
Speaking of unique, Savannah has a really fun girls’ outing called the Sip and Shop Tour. Honestly, it’s less of a tour and more of just a shopping excursion, but it’s perfect for small groups of girlfriends, bachelorette parties, or just someone who’s looking for a local to show them some of the boutiques. The owner, Jami, is a school teacher, which explains her enthusiasm and ability to herd a group of grown women on a shopping mission!
The best thing about the tour is that the stores on the route all provide discounts – so yes, you’ll end up spending more than planned, but at least you feel like you’re getting a deal!
But REALLY the best thing about the tour is that Jami has offered a special discount for all of my readers – whoo hoo! If you book the tour online, use the code CUSTOM10 to claim your 10% discount. If you’re going to Savannah, try it out – I promise you will have fun!
The shopping in Savannah is so good that I’ve got a whole separate post on the topic – complete with discounts (both in-person and online)!
I highly recommend doing a city tour. The trolleys will take you through many of the sites in the Historic District. And many are set up as hop-on, hop-off so you can get off and explore. And if your first day starts after 2:00 p.m., the pass is good for the following day.
We used the locally owned Old Savannah Tours – the white trolleys. In addition to the standard tour fare, old-style re-enactors hop on and off the trolley at various stops to give you even more historical flavor. They offer private tours, as well as ghost tours.
Old Town Trolley Tours, which operates in a lot of cities (including the D.C. area, where I live) also has a Savannah outpost. If you do the hop-on, hop-off tour, they use GPS tracking so you can tell when the next trolley is coming.
If you’re one of the many bachelor/bachelorette parties that plan to descend on Savannah, there are also pedal pub tours where passengers sit at a bar on wheels and pedal (and drink) while the guide provides an entertaining tour of the city. Obviously, it’s for the over 21 crowd.
I don’t know about you, but I think ghost tours are fun. Given its long history, there’s a lot of material for ghost tours here and Savannah is known for being one of the most haunted cities in the U.S. Savannah was apparently built on a burial ground for Native American tribes in the surrounding area. Also, we know River Street has a brutal history of slave labor. Slaves and indentured servants were forced to load and unload freight from harboring ships – many of whom were literally crushed under the weight. The 17 Hundred 90 Inn, Savannah’s oldest inn, has several well-known ghosts. One, a barmaid named Anna, took her life when she realized her sailor lover had left her and was never coming back.
While I did not go on a ghost tour when we were there, it’s on my list. Ghost City Tours is highly rated and offers four different kinds of tours, including a late-night tour for adults only that starts at 11:00 p.m. Scary!!
What To Bring
You know by now that I pride myself on my packing skills, especially for short trips. For a weekend in Savannah, pay close attention to what the weather will be while you’re there. It gets hot. And by hot, I mean hot and humid, like just-give-up-and-throw-in-a-ponytail humid.
Savannah is a traditionally southern-preppy town. So feel free to break out your Vineyard Vines button down and khakis or dress, or your Sperrys and sweater set. But if you’re not so preppy, don’t worry. With the large presence of SCAD, Savannah also has a hipster crowd, so you’ll be in good company whatever your wardrobe is.
You should also leave some extra room in your bags for new purchases. Just saying. (see my next post, all about shopping)
Eat And Drink
Be prepared to come home from Savannah a couple of pounds heavier than when you left. Oh, and bring your stretchy pants. Yes, the food is that good. Here are a few options for your long weekend.
The Grove, where we kicked off our Sip and Shop Tour, also has great food. They offer up fries with a jalapeno honey relish/sauce that is out of this world.
We had Sunday brunch at the Funky Brunch Cafe, where the tables are outfitted with griddles so you can cook your own pancakes. We all had fun making different shapes and adding different toppings to our cakes.
The Emporium Kitchen and Wine Bar at the Perry Lane Hotel offers up a great breakfast. And if you’re looking for southern food, one of the dishes is pimento cheese omelets. Yes. They are exactly as good as you think.
Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern on River Street was once used as a cotton warehouse. It’s now a casual restaurant and tavern that’s been around since 1959.
Savannah has no shortage of bars and pubs. To include the “Most Authentic Irish Pub” in the world, Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. And if you’re interested in learning how craft spirits are made, take a free tour at Ghost Coast Distillery. The knowledgeable tour guides will take you through how they make vodka, whiskey, and other spirits.
Rooftop bars are a thing in Savannah. We loved Peregrin, the rooftop bar found at the Perry Lane Hotel (yes, we kept close to our hotel. It’s centrally located and as I’ve said, everything is walkable!), which offers up a fun atmosphere and amazing sunset views over the city.
I’d love to hear your feedback if you’re able to get to this wonderful town. Please comment below!