Boasting one of the biggest and most beautiful historic districts in the States, the charming city of Savannah can be found in the east of Georgia, just inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Long an important and prosperous seaport, it was founded in 1733 on the south bank of the Savannah River, and even served as the first capital of the state for many decades.
Thanks to its strategic setting and thriving maritime trade, stately mansions and plantations sprung up alongside majestic monuments and churches. Exploring the well-preserved historic heart is now one of the best things to do in Savannah with interesting tourist attractions and lovely architecture wherever you look.
While many people visit for its rich history, Savannah is known as the ‘Hostess City of the South’ and has excellent shopping, dining, and nightlife for you to delve into.
In this post, we'll cover:
17. Telfair Academy
Located a short stroll from Savannah’s waterfront is the Telfair Academy; an attractive historic mansion that now houses one of the oldest public art museums in America. Built in 1818, it has superb statues of Rembrandt, Raphael, and Rubens among others dotted about its garden.
Originally owned by the Telfair family, the townhouse was turned into a museum in 1886 with fine family furnishings and period pieces still adorning its elegant rooms. It also displays artworks by American and European artists, with the site having been recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
16. Colonial Park Cemetery
Not far from the Academy you can find the atmospheric Colonial Park Cemetery, which is the oldest surviving Revolutionary-era graveyard in the city. Established in 1750, it served as Savannah’s main public cemetery for just over a century before later being turned into a park.
While wandering around its weathered graves and vaults you can see the final resting place of some of the state’s very first colonists. Besides influential figures and former governors of Georgia such as Archibald Bulloch and Samuel Elbert, there are also countless victims of the 1820 yellow fever epidemic that swept Savannah buried here.
15. Savannah Theatre
Just a couple of blocks from the cemetery is the historic Savannah Theatre, which is remarkably one of the oldest continually operating theaters in the US. Since 1818 it has put on thousands of plays, concerts and stand-up comedy shows, and is still a huge part of the city’s nightlife and entertainment scene thanks to nightly performances.
Following a fire in 1948, the theater sports an arresting Art Deco facade that stands out delightfully against the other old buildings that line Chippewa Square. Over the years an array of stars, such as Oscar Wilde and Lillian Russell, have performed on stage with its electrifying shows making it a great place to enjoy a night out.
14. Mickve Israel Temple
One of the oldest synagogues in the States, Mickve Israel Temple was founded in 1735 by a group of 42 Sephardic Jewish immigrants who had arrived from London a couple of years earlier. Over the decades, the community and congregation flourished and relocated to their current site alongside Monterey Square in 1878.
Now a National Historic Landmark, the building is a rare example of a Gothic-style synagogue with its tall central tower presiding over fine facades and other fetching features. Besides exploring its attractive, light-filled interior, visitors can stop by its museum that focuses on the congregation and the role early Jewish settlers played in the founding of Savannah.
13. First African Baptist Church
Another historic place of worship that is well worth a visit is the First African Baptist Church, which lies just a short walk from the waterfront. Thought to be the oldest African American congregation in the States, it was established in 1773 with the church built just under a century later.
Aside from the fine features of its sanctuary and stained glass windows, visitors can hear how both free African Americans and slaves built the church and carved the pews. Now a National Historic Landmark, it served as an important stop on the Underground Railroad as runaway slaves would hide beneath the sanctuary’s floorboards as they made their bid for freedom.
12. American Prohibition Museum
A couple of blocks to the east of the church is another attraction that offers an interesting look at an entirely different part of the country’s history: the American Prohibition Museum. Through its excellent exhibitions and artifacts you’ll learn all about how the drinking, selling, and producing of alcohol was banned in the States from 1920 to 1933.
The only museum of its kind in the country, it takes you on a whirlwind journey from saloons and speakeasies to gangsters, bootlegging and NASCAR. Besides its well-presented displays, photos and short films, you can learn how to make your own alcohol and sample a prohibition-era cocktail.
11. Old Fort Jackson
Once one of the strongest fortifications in the States, Old Fort Jackson was built between 1808 and 1812 to protect the city from attack by sea. Located on the south bank of the Savannah River, it lies just ten minutes drive to the east of the Historic District.
Now home to the Fort Jackson Maritime Museum, it was first erected out of earth before later being reinforced by brick with a moat also dug around it. Aside from exploring its defenses and taking in the commanding views from its walls, visitors can learn about the role it played in the War of 1812 and the American Civil War.
10. Mercer Williams House Museum
Set at the southwest corner of Monterey Square is one of the city’s most famous historic homes: the Mercer Williams House. Although it exhibits some attractive architecture and boasts an exquisitely decorated interior, the stately mansion is most known for being the site of a grisly murder in 1981.
The shooting of Danny Hansford, allegedly by the property’s owner Jim Williams, was later made more famous by the successful book and film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Although both the site of the shooting and upstairs are off-limits, on tours of the ground floor visitors can take in the taste and touch of Williams; the antique dealer who was accused of the murder.
9. Chippewa Square
One of the most picturesque places in Savannah is Chippewa Square, which was laid out in 1815 and commemorates a battle of the same name from the War of 1812. Lined by beautiful buildings, such as Savannah Theatre and First Baptist Church, it has gorgeous green spaces to enjoy and is within walking distance of many of the city’s main sights.
Besides ambling about its leafy trees and flowerbeds, visitors can check out the superb statue at its center dedicated to James Oglethorpe—the founder of the colony of Georgia. It is also known as ‘Forrest Gump square’ as the famous park bench scenes from the film were shot in it.
8. City Market
Located in the heart of the Historic District is bustling City Market; one of the main places to shop, dine, and go out in Savannah. Sprawled across four blocks are countless boutiques and art galleries to check out, with many fine restaurants and busy bars also on offer.
Established in 1985 to entice both residents and tourists alike, the massive open-air market has since rejuvenated the city center, lending it a lively yet laid back ambience. On top of sampling tasty treats or shopping for souvenirs, visitors can often also enjoy live music performances outdoors or in any one of the area’s numerous bars.
7. Tybee Island
While Savannah is mostly known for its rich history, some beautiful beaches and fun watersports can also be enjoyed at the nearby Tybee Island. The easternmost point in Georgia, the barrier island and city of the same name lie just half an hour’s drive from the Historic District.
Popular with locals and tourists alike, the beach town has over 5 miles of sun-kissed sands for visitors to lounge on while basking in epic views out over the Atlantic. Aside from sunbathing, swimming, and kayaking, there are beachfront bars and restaurants to try, with a historic lighthouse and Fort Pulanski also to be found nearby.
6. Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters
Now a National Historic Landmark and museum, the elegant Owens-Thomas House boasts some of the finest English Regency architecture in the nation. While it already makes for a striking sight, its Slave Quarters are also interesting to explore as they count among the oldest and best-preserved in the American South.
Named after the plantation owner and politician George Welshman Owens, and his last descendant to live in the house Margaret Thomas, the mansion now showcases some fabulous furnishings and period pieces. Besides learning all about the lives of the family and the slaves they kept, tours also teach you about the eye-catching building which is located in the city center.
5. River Street
Perfect for ambling along peacefully is the wonderful River Street which stretches more than two miles along the southern shore of the Savannah River. Part of the city’s waterfront district, the pretty promenade is lined by excellent bars and restaurants which offer delightful views out over the river.
Besides enjoying a drink or meal, there are also some great shops and art galleries to stop by that are located in formerly abandoned warehouses. These historic brick buildings were used for housing cotton and as holding cells for slaves, with various monuments and plaques dotted along the waterfront documenting the area’s past.
4. Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Undoubtedly the most important and impressive building in all of Savannah is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which exhibits some astounding Gothic architecture. Originally built in 1799 by French colonists fleeing from Haiti, it was later torn down and rebuilt bigger and better than before at the end of the nineteenth century.
Nowadays its two twin spires tower above Lafayette Square with lovely stained glass windows and gargoyles lining the facades. Inside is just as alluring, as intricate gold-leaf designs and decorations can be found alongside an attractive altar and apse, with vast vaulted ceilings to be spied overhead.
3. Wormsloe Historic Site
Lying just fifteen minutes drive to the south of the center is one of Savannah’s must-see tourist attractions: the Wormsloe Historic Site. Besides offering a fascinating look into the plantation’s past, it also has gorgeous grounds for you to explore; an avenue lined by towering oak trees leads you up to the property.
Established in 1739 by Noble Jones, one of Georgia’s colonial founders, the huge estate boasts some exquisite antebellum architecture and can be found on the scenic yet secluded Isle of Hope. As well as the museum’s interesting exhibits and artifacts, there are also costumed interpreters on-hand who highlight what life was once like on the plantation.
2. Bonaventure Cemetery
Also located on the outskirts of Savannah is the atmospheric Bonaventure Cemetery that lies just to the east of the city on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River. Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world, it contains countless statues and sculptures with moss-coated tombs and mausoleums also dotted about.
Set on the site of a former plantation, its leafy, overgrown grounds are a delight to explore with the grand oaks and hanging Spanish moss making for a striking sight alongside all the tombs. Famously featured in the best-selling book and film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the cemetery is now the final resting place of many notable figures from Savannah, Georgia, and further afield.
1. Forsyth Park
Another picturesque place to feature in both the book and film that so helped to revitalize the city’s tourism sector, is breathtaking Forsyth Park. Sprawled over a large part of the Historic District, it has a plethora of pretty paths and green spaces for you to enjoy, with fountains, memorials, and playing fields also scattered about.
Founded in the 1840s, the park is now most known for myriad moss-laden oak trees that line its paths, with the sparkling Forsyth Fountain also making for a stunning sight. Popular with locals and tourists alike, Forsyth Park is not to be missed when in Savannah and lies not far from many of its main sights.