The Savannah vs. Charleston Debate…

Savannah and Charleston: Rival Cities of the South

Savannah and Charleston: Rival Cities of the South

As we reach the top of the list of “America’s Most Friendly Cities,” I feel inclined to devote a bit more time and space to the Top Two…Savannah, Georgia (#2) and Charleston, South Carolina (#1).

After the hubby and I visited Charleston for the first time—and fell absolutely, head-over-heels in love with its beauty, charm, and culture—people began telling us that we had to visit Savannah, as it is the other side of the same coin and a worthy contender in hospitality and appeal. So, we set about planning an equivalent trip to the Peach State right away. There are many noticeable similarities between the two cities:

  • both are dotted with lovely and gracious Southern antebellum homes
  • each boasts a rich history and strong influence over Southern (as well as American) culture
  • impressive churches hold court on every other corner (or so it seems)
  • between the two locations, there are more eating establishments (serving truly mouth-watering cuisine) than you can shake a stick at
  • both cities cater to the tourist crowd while maintaining a sense of identity and antiquity—a delicate balance indeed

But, when all was said and done, Charleston was our clear favorite. I have since reflected upon the reasons for that and will attempt to articulate them—without diminishing Savannah and its appeal in the process. I can’t help but wonder if my enjoyment of Savannah would have been greater had we visited there first. I say that because during our visit I continually found myself comparing it to its (in my opinion) more classy northern sister. Here are a few of my personal observations…

  • The atmosphere in Charleston is what I would describe as refined and dignified. Savannah, on the other hand, is more casual—a real party town. (A major appeal for many people is the “open container” law that enables pedestrians to walk throughout the historic district with alcoholic beverages in hand.)
  • Charleston’s historic district is pristine and clean, its buildings spic and span, its gardens perfectly manicured and tended. Savannah, on the other hand, has many beautiful homes and gardens but doesn’t quite hit the Charleston mark of excellence. Might have had something to do with the abundance of Spanish moss draped over everything, but that doesn’t seem likely as I am a Louisiana native and find the Spanish moss there to be an enhancer rather than a detractor.
  • We toured both cities on foot and I felt perfectly safe at all times in historic Charleston. While I never felt unsafe, per se, in Savannah, there was a much larger number of panhandlers and street people. Granted, beyond being asked for money on a couple of occasions (which I do not like) we were not bothered.
  • The bottom line is that I found Savannah to be sort of creepy, for lack of a better description. Perhaps I was influenced by my reading of “The Book” (“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”—John Berendt’s popular exploration of the city’s darker side) shortly before our visit. Maybe it was the proud proclamation by the trolley tour guide that the city rivals New Orleans as the voodoo capital of the country. I don’t know…maybe it was the cemetery-turned-park that we passed through each time we traveled from our townhouse to the waterfront and back.  (I actually found myself casting furtive glances over my shoulder inside the lovely condo that we rented for the week…it just didn’t feel like we were alone! Crazy, I know, but seeing the open-top “ghost tour” hearse gliding down the street at twilight each evening was a tad disconcerting as well!)

Despite the unusual and surprising sense of unease and slight foreboding that I experienced during our visit, we found plenty of interesting and enjoyable things to do in Savannah. I look forward to exploring some of those—as well as Charleston’s many attractions—in upcoming posts. Also, the residents of Savannah are, indeed, friendly and gracious and the city’s ranking as number two on the America’s Friendliest Cities list is well-deserved. I would also add that while Charleston has a stellar restaurant selection, I found the food in Savannah to be just a bit better!

As always, I would be interested to hear your opinions and impressions of these two Southern gems. Don’t miss my review of the Top Two Cities in upcoming posts…

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