From its majestic oak-lined park squares to its white sandy coastline, Savannah has much to offer the sojourners who finds themselves in the Hostess City of the South. Chock full of ornate antebellum mansions, sizzling low-country boils, and artsy shopping districts, Savannah is one of our top vacation destinations. And though we could go on and on about this Southern gem, we’ve chosen to limit the gushing to our favorite 7 things to do in Savannah. So grab your mint julip and let’s get going.
1: Explore Savannah’s rich historic architecture.
Why Union General Sherman decided to spare Savannah from his brutal “March to the Sea” Civil War campaign is still hotly debated. Whether it was due to the city’s strategic importance as a Southern port asset or simply because it was so beautiful remains a mystery. Regardless, we’re glad he did. As a result, Savannah enjoys one of the most bountiful collections of antebellum architecture anywhere, and it’s well worth a proper viewing.
We recommend going on a walking tour – not only to get those up-close, Insta-worthy pics, but for the cultural context and detailed histories behind the dazzling sites and architectural styles you will see. We like Architectural Savannah tours in particular. Their guides are exceptionally knowledgeable and tours cover a full gamut of architectural styles, including Greek Revival, Romanesque Revival, Victorian, 20th-century Art Moderne, and Art Deco, among others. Tours are $30 per person and run about 90 minutes.
2: Eat your way through the city on a food tour.
Tangy fried green tomatoes, spicy shrimp and grits, and rich, nutty pralines –the South has all the flavors. Truly, do you know a better way to get to know a city than through its cuisine? We don’t; and besides, thanks to its delicious, multi-layered culinary heritage, playing foodie on a good food tour is one of our favorite things to do in Savannah.
Naturally there are gobs of food tours available in town, but we like Savannah Taste Experience. Their First Squares Food Tour is perfect for first timers or families and includes loads of tastings from six tour stops, including some of Savannah’s best restaurants and local food boutiques. For those who want a little more history and off-the-beaten-track tasting stops, try the Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour. Finally, there is the Southern Fried Expectations Tour for a focus on traditional Southern favorites. Tours run about 3 hours and cost $56.95 per person.
3: Frolic in the waves on Tybee Island.
Just a 30-minute drive from downtown Savannah, Tybee Island offers wide sandy shores, a pier and cheerful pavilion building, and tons of aqua-themed fun. Whether you fancy a relaxing afternoon on the lounger, a bike ride to the historic lighthouse, or a sea kayaking adventure, Tybee is absolute tops.
There are several outfitters just off the sand for beach gear and bike rentals, though we like Tim’s Beach Gear for its wide selection of items (including games and towels) – not to mention friendly service. For $25, you can rent two beach chairs and a beach umbrella for the day. There are plenty of cute eateries beachside to keep you fed and watered as well. We like the Sundae Café on First Street for the Blackened Tuna Club or Oyster Po Boy and a cold beer.
For a salt marsh paddle through Tybee’s vast network of inlets, head to Sea Kayak Georgia on Tybee for equipment and tours. A 3-hour tour is $65 per person, but be sure to book at least one day ahead. Also, keep an eye out for Tybee’s historic Light Station; it includes the lighthouse itself (Georgia’s oldest and tallest), a museum, and other attractions. Tours are available most days for $10 per person.
Shuttle bus service from Savannah to Tybee Island is available most days for $10 per one-way trip.
4: Visit the Telfair Museum complex.
The Telfair Museum complex is a cultural powerhouse that includes three distinct collections encompassing over 300 years of art and architecture. For the artsy types, it’s not to be missed.
First, the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters includes a beautifully restored Regency-style mansion (including an exquisite decorative arts collection), carriage house, slave quarters, and grounds. The estate once served as home to local politician George Welshman Owens, his family, and 14 slaves.
In addition to the estate itself, the museum’s guided tour addresses the complex relationships between enslaved peoples and the powerful families for whom they worked during the early 19th century, as well as their cultural legacies that echo throughout the South today.
Next, the Telfair Academy collection includes 19th and 20th-century American and European art from the likes of Childe Hassam, Frederick Frieseke, Gari Melchers, and Robert Henri. It also includes Sylvia Shaw Judson’s iconic “Bird Girl” statue, which famously graces the cover of Savannah-based non-fiction novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” by John Berendt.
For those who like their art and history more on the modern side, the Jepson Center includes works by American contemporary artists including Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella, among others. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, the building itself is a masterwork in glass and white concrete and includes a technology gallery and interactive children’s museum space (the ArtZeum), among other attractions.
Admission is $20 for all three museums. Check the website for updated schedules and exhibitions.
5: Shop ’til you drop at City Market.
If you’re up for a little retail therapy – one of our top things to do in Savannah – head to City Market in the city’s historic district. The restored mixed-use complex includes some of Savannah’s best shops, eateries, and artist’s studios for a full day out of browsing and buying. Anchored by a brick pedestrian courtyard, shops include the Golden Realm Antiques & Jewelry for one-of-a-kind collectibles, traditional jewelry, cameos, and gemstones; Spartina 449 for coastally-influenced luxe women’s apparel; and the Georgia Tasting Room for a curated selection of locally sourced wines (including tastings), craft brews, moonshine, and wine smoothies (yes, it’s a thing), among many other treats.
Head to the Café at City Market for a mid-shopping spree for a bite to eat and a cold brew. We like the Uptown Meatloaf Sandwich with Savannah Bloody Mary mix glaze, served on Texas toast. Now that’s a sandwich.
6: Meander through the Bonaventure Cemetery.
Hauntingly beautiful, the Bonaventure Cemetery skyrocketed to its current fame after appearing in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” both the non-fiction novel and film of the 1990s. Whether or not you read the book or saw the film, wandering among the gravestones is both fascinating and slightly unnerving – in a fun sort of way.
The cemetery is approached by a long avenue lined with massive overarching oaks, peppered with thick strands of long moss that drape mournfully from their branches. The necropolis itself brims with ancient marble and stone obelisks, tombs, and wistful statues while clusters of pink azaleas, ferns, mosses, and grasses grow with abandon throughout.
Notable residents read like a who’s who from Georgia history, including governors, Confederate generals, judges, artists, ministers, and politicians. Famous novelist Conrad Aiken is here, as is Governor Edward Telfair and actress Edythe Chapman. Tours are available for about $30 per person for 2-3 hours. We like the Savannah Bonaventure Dash Tours thanks to their knowledgeable guides and roundtrip transportation (included in the price).
7: Tuck into an ice cream fantasy at Leopold’s.
Finally, our favorite thing to do in Savannah: a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream in the historic district for a Chocolate Turtle Cupcake or two. Established in 1924, Leopold’s is a classic ice cream parlor that has been pleasing hungry customers for generations. Our favorite? We still like the Chocolate Turtle Cupcake, but the Old Fashioned Ice Cream Soda with cherry syrup, cream, seltzer, and a scoop of vanilla is a close second. See for yourself …
For more things to do in Savannah, visit the city’s online tourism site.