What to See and Do: My Savannah Top Ten – Part 2

If you missed Part 1 of this post, you many want to check it out for the first five entries on my Savannah Top Ten list…

As previously stated, there is more to do in Savannah than a few days will allow.  Therefore, I am attempting to break down the sights into a manageable list of ten (or so) top choices—based on my personal experience. (I recommend at least a week for your visit, if at all possible.)

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  • River Street and the Waterfront: Be sure to walk along the riverfront—both on the upper level along Factor’s Walk and Factor’s Row and also on the lower level along the Savannah River. The majority of these buildings are restored cotton warehouses. Several of my favorite attractions in this general vicinity include the Waving Girl Statue, the World War II Memorial, the Cotton Exchange Building, the Old Harbor Light, the Old City Exchange Bell, and Washington’s Guns. You can also stand on the spot where General James Edward Oglethorpe landed in 1733. River Street is home to restaurants, pubs, hotels, galleries, boutiques, open market stalls, and riverboat cruises.
  • Green-Meldrim House: This elegant example of Greek Revival architecture served as the Civil War headquarters for Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. (From here he sent the famous—or infamous to us Southerners—telegram to President Lincoln, offering the city of Savannah as a Christmas gift.) Hoping to save his home as well as his cotton crop, the owner, Mr. Charles Green, offered the use of his home and graciously moved upstairs, occupying only a couple of rooms. It proved to be a prudent decision as the home is still standing. It currently belongs to St. John’s Episcopal Church. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is open for tours. (There are many such beautiful homes in Savannah, but I am recommending this one because I visited it personally and found its history and the tour to be fascinating.)
  • Ships of the Sea Museum/William Scarbrough House: Not only does this pristine historic home contain a notable and expansive collection of all things nautical (model ships, ships in a bottle, figureheads, instruments, implements, uniforms, bells, tableware, correspondence…), it also has the largest gardens in the historic section of Savannah. Both are worth your time! Laid out as a typical 19th century parlor garden and later expanded, Scarbrough Gardens abound with trees and flowers of all kinds as well as a koi pond and—of particular historic interest—the official United States Government weather station which stood in Savannah from 1870 until World War II.
  • Georgia State Railroad Museum: My great-grandfather was a railroad roundhouse foreman, so this museum (and fully functioning turntable) was quite fascinating to me. As part of the most complete antebellum railroad complex in the United States, it is a National Historic Landmark. We saw rail cars from various eras and got to climb aboard several. We also toured the blacksmith shop, the workers’ garden, and the storehouse and enjoyed close-up views of the turntable and a model of the city of Savannah—complete with working trains. I understand that you can take an actual train ride at certain times. This was actually one of my favorite attractions in Savannah!
  • Battlefield Memorial Park: Recreated to immortalize the “Siege of Savannah,” a costly battle fought during the American Revolution, this replica of the Spring Hill Redoubt stands a short distance from the actual fighting ground and serves as a memorial to those Savannah patriots who gave their lives in 1779.

There are many, many other things to see and do in Savannah, including the Telfair Museum, SCAD Museum of Art, and various Girl Scout-related sights (Juliette Gordon Low birthplace, Girl Scout First Headquarters, and Louisa Porter Home/Location of the First Girl Scout Meeting). Additionally, there are homes, churches, and government buildings—some of which I will cover in future posts, so check back!

What to See and Do: My Savannah Top Ten – Part 1

It is no surprise that Savannah garners high rankings on many “favorites” lists—Top Ten Friendliest Cities in America, The 9 Most Romantic Cities in the South, and 2014 World’s Best Cities Awards to name  just a few. (For a listing of more 2014 rankings, click here and scroll down.) In fact, there is so much to do in Savannah that you will need at least a week to even scratch the surface! It is difficult to limit myself to a Top Ten list, and even more difficult to order my ten selections by preference. So, I have formulated a list…but not necessarily in any particular order. In this post I will outline the first five recommendations…

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  • Trolley Tour: Anytime I visit a city for the first time—or even as a repeat visitor—I find that this is a great way to get the lay of the land and begin to formulate a plan. Savannah has a number of trolley tour options—Old Town Trolley Tours, Oglethorpe Trolley Tours, and Old Savannah Tours. We had not done any real research before arriving so went with Old Town Trolley Tours. We had to wait for a second trolley as the first one that came by was full. The tour was informative and interesting. We were not happy at all, however, when we discovered that the tour ends promptly at 5:30, at which time we were dumped at the Visitor Center and forced to walk a fair distance back to the main drag. No one told us that when we purchased our tickets, so be sure to check the time schedule to avoid finding yourself in this predicament! The locals we spoke to later recommended Old Savannah Tours, complete with guides attired in authentic Southern garb. I think we will give them a try next time around. Most, if not all, of the trolleys offer hop-on, hop-off service, which is quite convenient.
  • Walking Tour: I find that a local guide adds so much to the tourist experience! I generally make arrangements for a private tour whenever I visit a new city. Granted, this can be a bit pricey, but I find it worthwhile as it guarantees that I will see the most important sights while efficiently budgeting my time. I try to schedule the tour for the second day so that I have plenty of time later to follow up on anything that piques my interest or that I would like to explore in greater depth. If a group tour is more to you liking, you might stop by the Savannah Visitor Center or consider Savannah Walks. Another option is a self-guided walking tour. I purchased a fabulous Guide for about seven dollars at Parker’s Market. It is called The Savannah Guidebook Including 4 Unique Walking Tours. I highly recommend it! Or you can drop by the Visitor Center and pick up self-guided walking, driving and bike tours, free maps and brochures on local attractions.
  • City Market: This four-block area in historic downtown Savannah is a throwback to the city’s open market of bygone days. With restaurants, entertainment, art galleries, gift and specialty shops (I quickly ran inside one of these and purchased an umbrella when it began to rain unexpectedly), sweet shops, beautiful flowers, and even benches to rest your weary feet, this is a great place to browse, rest, or purchase tickets for a trolley or carriage tour.
  • Forsyth Park: Dating back to the 1840s, this serene and beautiful park was envisioned by General Oglethorpe and later laid out and named for Governor John Forsyth. Visitors are drawn to the regal Forsyth Fountain which stands as the park’s crowning glory. Likely the most photographed thing in all of Savannah, the cast iron structure is said to have been modeled after the fountain in Paris’ Place de la Concorde. (While by no means identical, there is a resemblance.) Also located in the 20-acre park is the Confederate War Memorial, dating back to 1879. This is a great place for a stroll or simply for quiet contemplation. The park plays host to a variety of cultural events throughout the year.

I will round out my Savannah Top Ten in the next post, so stay tuned…

America’s Friendliest Cities…#2 Savannah, Georgia

Because there is so much to see and do in Savannah, my exploration of city #2 on the “America’s Friendliest” list will extend beyond one post…I can’t see how to do it justice otherwise! I will begin with a look at Savannah’s signature squares…

When James Edward Oglethorpe (and his band of 113 English colonists) arrived in Georgia in 1733, he laid out the unique city plan that is still in existence today. Beginning with four initial squares—Johnson, Wright, Ellis, and Telfair—historic Savannah eventually grew to include twenty-four such squares. Twenty-two of those remain to this day. When visiting Savannah, I suggest that you pick up a good guidebook (I recommend Paul Bland’s The Savannah Guidebook Including 4 Unique Walking Tours, which you can purchase at Parker’s Market for about seven bucks) and make your way through as many of the historic squares as possible. Below are photos of the fourteen squares that I visited…

Johnson Square

Johnson Square: Named for Robert Johnson, who was the Royal Governor of South Carolina when Georgia was founded in 1733, this was the first square built in Savannah.

Calhoun Square: Named for South Carolina native and U. S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, this is the only square with all original buildings intact.

Calhoun Square: Named for South Carolina native and U. S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, this is the only square with all original buildings intact.

Chippewa Square: Also known as Forrest Gump Square, this square was named for the Battle of Chippewa---an American victory over the British during the War of 1812.

Chippewa Square: Also known as Forrest Gump Square, it was named for the Battle of Chippewa—an American victory over the British during the War of 1812.

1 - Columbia Square

Columbia: Named for America, this lovely square centers around a fountain from Savannah’s historic Wormsloe Plantation.

Ellis Square: For a time, this square was swallowed up by a parking lot.  It was reclaimed a few years ago and is the most "modern" of the squares.

Ellis Square: For a time, this square—one of the original four—was swallowed up by a parking lot. It was reclaimed a few years ago and is the most “modern” of the squares.

Franklin Square

Franklin Square: This square was named for Benjamin Franklin. The monument above was erected to honor Haitian veterans of the American Revolution.

Lafayette Square: Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a wealthy Frenchman who assisted the U.S. during the American Revolution. The fountain was fountain dedicated by the Colonial Dames of America.

Lafayette Square: Named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a wealthy Frenchman who assisted the U.S. during the American Revolution, this square contains a fountain dedicated by the Colonial Dames of America.

Madison Square: This square was named for the fourth U. S. president, James Madison.

Madison Square: This square was named for the fourth U. S. president, James Madison.

Monterey Square: Possibly best known as the setting for much of "The Book," this square commemorates the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War. It is considered by many to be the most luxurious of the city's squares.

Monterey Square: Possibly best known as the scene of the crime in “The Book,” this square commemorates the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War. It is considered by many to be the most luxurious of the city’s squares.

Orleans Square: This square commemorates the heroes of the Battle of New Orleans. The fountain was erected in honor of Savannah's German immigrants.

Orleans Square: This square commemorates the heroes of the Battle of New Orleans. The fountain was erected in honor of Savannah’s German immigrants.

Reynolds Square: Originally named Lower Square, the current moniker honors John Reynolds, the first Royal Governor of Georgia.

Reynolds Square: Originally named Lower Square, the current moniker honors John Reynolds, the first Royal Governor of Georgia.

Telfair Square: One of the original four squares in Savannah, it was originally known as St. James' Square. It was later renamed in honor of Edward Telfair, philanthropist and governor of Georgia.

Telfair Square: One of the original four squares in Savannah, it was first called St. James’ Square after the royal residence in London. It was later renamed in honor of Edward Telfair, philanthropist and governor of Georgia.

Troup Square: Named in honor of George Michael Troup, a Senator and Governor of Georgia, this square contains an unusual sculpture---an astronomical device known as an Armillary Sphere.

Troup Square: Named in honor of George Michael Troup, a Senator and Governor of Georgia, this square contains an unusual sculpture—an astronomical device known as an Armillary Sphere.

Wright Square: One of the original four squares, it has also been called Upper Square and Percival Square. It's current name honors the last Royal Governor of Georgia, Sir James Wright.

Wright Square: The last of the original four squares, it has also been called Upper Square and Percival Square. It’s current name honors the last Royal Governor of Georgia, Sir James Wright.

These squares are now lovely parks in the heart of historic Savannah. Each has its own unique character, but all are tranquil and beautiful. Sadly, Elbert and Liberty Squares have fallen victim to urban sprawl and no longer exist. In addition to the fourteen squares I have covered above, there are eight others—Chatham, Crawford, Greene, Oglethorpe, Pulaski, Warren, Washington, and Whitfield. I hope to eventually make it back to Savannah and see those as well! For more information about Savannah’s historic squares, or to learn more about visiting the city, click here.

Coming up next…What to See and Do: My Savannah Top Ten

 

 

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…