Savannah charms visitors with its architecture, history and stories
In historic Savannah, Georgia, elegant mansions line the streets. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
Even if this is your first time visiting Savannah, you might get a feeling of déjà vu here, thanks to all the writers and filmmakers who have featured this city in their books and films. But in Savannah, the real thing is even more refined, original, and captivating than its fictional counterpoints.
A Regency-style mansion built in 1819 houses part of the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in Savannah. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
The city was founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, who laid out its streets on a grid with wide streets and 24 public squares. Its elegant design made Savannah one of America’s first planned cities. Twenty-two of those original squares remain today, green havens filled with public art and surrounded by historic buildings. It is said that the city was spared during the Civil War because Union General William Sherman found it so beautiful that he could not destroy it.
Saint John the Baptist Cathedral is one of the most beautiful landmarks in Savannah. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
The best way to savor the charms of Savannah is on foot. A stroll along Bull Street will take you through the heart of the city’s historic district, which is teeming with architectural styles from the 18th and 19th centuries. When you need a break, find a bench to sit on and people-watch, like Forrest Gump in the movie of the same name which was partially shot here (his bench is on display at the Savannah History Museum). End your walk at Forsyth Park, a 30-acre oasis with a picturesque fountain, towering holm oaks, and a fragrant garden filled with aromatic plants and flowers.
The historic district of Savannah is full of beautiful 18th and 19th century homes and lush greenery. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
The Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the best art schools in the country, gets partial credit for the beauty of Savannah. Founded in 1978, it has helped preserve the city’s architectural heritage by restoring more than 60 buildings that today house its operations. You can also see the creativity of the school’s faculty, students, and alumni at the Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art and in the city galleries.
The Victorian-era monuments of Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah are surrounded by holm oaks covered in Spanish moss. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
Some of the city’s finest art can be enjoyed at Bonaventure Cemetery, which gained international fame for its role in the book and film “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. Lined with holm oaks draped in Spanish moss and filled with Victorian statues and monuments, the cemetery – one of the most beautiful in the world – is one of the savannah’s top tourist attractions.
Savannah’s Forsyth Park Fountain is one of the city’s most photographed spots. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
While you can walk around Bonaventure on your own, a guided tour provides a fascinating window into local history and culture. Located three miles from downtown Savannah on the Wilmington River, the property was originally part of a plantation founded in 1762. Famous Savannah natives buried here include Grammy-winning musician Johnny Mercer Award, the poet Conrad Aiken and Little Gracie, a girl who died of pneumonia at the age of 6 in 1889. The monument of Little Gracie, with the poignant image of the marble girl, touches the hearts of visitors for over a century.
“You can’t say you’ve seen Savannah without visiting Bonaventure Cemetery,” said Dawn Martin, guide at Bonaventure Cemetery Tours. “In addition to beautiful markers, it is filled with stories of people who shaped the city.”
You can learn about the uniqueness of Savannah at several downtown museums, including the Savannah History Museum, located in a former train station, and the Massie Heritage Center, which focuses on the educational history and architecture of the city. The Mercer Williams House is a must-see for anyone fascinated by “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” a book based on a murder that occurred there in 1981. The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, including part of it is in a Regency-style mansion from 1819, is the oldest public art museum in the South.
Reenactments clad in period clothing make appearances on narrated streetcar rides with Old Savannah Tours. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
For shopping and dining, head to River Street, a historic district with cobblestone streets that overlook the Savannah River. A few blocks away is City Market, a vibrant arts and entertainment district. Don’t miss the life-size statue of Johnny Mercer, who strikes a casual pose amid the strolling pedestrians.
A life-size statue of Grammy Award-winning Savannah musician Johnny Mercer stands in the City Market. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
One of the best ways to experience the city is to take a food tour with Savannah Taste Experience. His First Squares tour includes stops for alligator sliders at B&D Burgers, British-style sausage rolls at Little Crown by Pie Society, and honey treats at Savannah Bee Co.
Savannah’s Forsyth Park fountain is one of the city’s most photographed spots. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
“Savannah’s dining scene offers classic Southern fare like oatmeal and sweet potatoes interpreted in innovative ways,” said Deshawn Mason, guide at Savannah Taste Experience. “And because we’re a coastal city, we have access to the freshest and best seafood.”
Savannah’s best restaurants include The Gray, a trendy restaurant housed in a former Greyhound bus terminal; the Olde Pink House, known for its classic Southern dishes; and Husk, which serves seasonal and local dishes. For breakfast, try Back in the Day Bakery or Clary’s Cafe. And in the City Market, the Georgia Tasting Room offers samples of locally produced wines, spirits and craft beers.
Bonaventure Cemetery, one of Savannah’s main tourist attractions, is known for its beautiful funerary art. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
Finally, end your time in Savannah with a ghost tour. The city is said to be one of the most haunted in America, and local businesses offer a variety of ways to sample its supernatural side, from dusk walks to hearse-led ghost tours.
Horse drawn carriages are a popular way to see the sights of Savannah. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
“Given our long and colorful history, it’s no surprise that we have so many ghost stories in Savannah,” said Lady Ravenwood, a tour guide for 6th Sense World. “It is such a wonderful city that people want to stay even after they die.”
Holm oaks covered in Spanish moss surround a statue of Savannah’s founder, General James Oglethorpe. (Photo of Bob’s sessions)
Savannah Beach: Tybee Island
After seeing Savannah, take a 20-minute scenic drive to Tybee Island, a resort town with waves and a laid-back vibe. As well as strolling its 3 mile beach, recreational options include kayaking in salt marsh estuaries, dolphin cruises, eco tours, and deep sea fishing.
You can also visit Tybee Island Lighthouse, Georgia’s oldest and tallest lighthouse. Commissioned in 1732 by the founder of Savannah, James Oglethorpe, it guided ships in the Savannah River for almost 300 years. Today it houses a museum and a souvenir shop. And to learn more about the ecology of the area, visit the exhibits and meet the animals at the new Tybee Island Marine Science Center. Located next to the beach, it also offers guided nature walks. For more information: VisitTybee.com
Visits to the old savannah: Offers guided tram tours with appearances of re-enactment guests dressed in period clothing, oldsavannahtours.com
Savannah taste experience: Conducts culinary tours, savannahtasteexperience.com
6th Sense World: Offers both Bonaventure cemetery tours and ghost walks, 6thsenseworld.com
For more information: visitsavannah.com