In all my research of where I wanted to go on my USA trip, Charleston and Savannah seemed to go hand-in-hand. I struggled to choose just one to visit, but since they are only two hours apart by train, I picked both in the end. They also fit well between Charlotte and Nashville in terms of transport links, my stops on either side of my Southeast coastal stint. Like Charleston, Savannah is a colonial-era town full of gorgeous architecture and historic sites. It also has an unpleasant history of plantations and slavery, but the unique Gullah Geechee culture has persisted. With two days of after-work exploring and a full day at the end, I had the equivalent of about a weekend in Savannah.
Starting off strong on the historical theme, rather than an open-top bus tour, Savannah (and several other cities in the USA) has a trolley tour instead. The trollies run on the roads now, rather than a designated track, but they still look like old-fashioned trams with open windows. I finished work in time to catch the last departure, riding the complete circuit instead of hopping on and off. Savannah is a very walkable city in general, but this gave me a great overview of places I might want to go back to, while letting my feet rest for a while. The Pirates’ House and Prohibition Museum were both additions to my itinerary courtesy of the ride!
I was also pleased to learn that it was live commentary from the driver rather than a pre-recorded audio track. It makes it a little more unique, as while each driver covers the same route, they can add their own style and personality to the commentary. The tour took us past historic buildings including the First African Baptist Church, the Juliette Gordon Low (found of the Girl Scouts) birthplace, St John the Baptist Cathedral and the famously haunted Sorrel Weed House. I also just enjoyed taking in all the lovely architecture and the many park squares full of live oak trees covered in Spanish moss. These are a newfound obsession of mine since they’re so pretty!
Bull Street Squares & Forsyth Park
Speaking of squares full of trees. After the 1.5 hour tour concluded, I made my way across to Bull Street to walk back to my accommodation through several of them. I was staying just south of Forsyth Park, so this was a scenic route that covered some of the most famous squares. Most of them are named after historic figures and have statues or monuments in the centre of them. I lost track of who most of them were, but really I was just enjoying how pretty each square was. Seriously, I love live oak trees now, they’re gorgeous! One of the most famous squares in Savannah is Chippewa Square, where scenes for Forrest Gump were filmed. They had to remove the bench though, as people kept stealing pieces of it! The Savannah History Museum has a replica now.
Forsyth Park sits in the south of the Historic District, a large open green space with several tree-lined boulevards. The beautiful fountain in the centre has been there for 150 years, and I saw lots of wedding photos happening around it every time I passed. They actually dye the water green for St Patrick’s Day, which is a huge celebration in the city, with a parade second only to New York’s. Beyond the trees, the park has a cafe with outdoor seating, a bandstand and the large Civil War Monument. I continued through until I reached the southern end and returned to my Airbnb for the evening.
The Pirates’ House & River Street
The following evening, I ventured out on another stroll through the Historic District, enjoying the shade from the trees in the stifling Southern humidity. I veered east to my chosen dinner destination, The Pirates’ House. Turns out Savannah has a history of pirates raiding the ships bringing goods through the busy river port. I kind of love pirate stories, so I was intrigued and thought I’d check the place out. Inside was all wood panelled booths and pirate-themed memorabilia which was all pretty fun.
A perk of dining out solo is that you nearly always get seated at the bar straight away, instead of having to wait for a table! This was also a pretty memorable meal, as I decided to try their alligator pasta dish. I’ve never tried alligator before, but it was pretty good. It also came with biscuits – as in the Southern type kind of like scones, not the British type of cookie. This was my first time trying them too, and I enjoyed!
After dinner, I headed to River Street, which involves descending a very steep cobblestone street or some narrow stairs. Most of Savannah is built on slightly higher ground south of the river, but this street runs right along the shore. You can tell it’s a pretty ancient road, all cobblestones, and I wandered along browsing the shops and picking up a souvenir magnet.
Savannah Riverboat Cruise
River Street was also the boarding point for the Riverboat Cruise I’d booked for this evening. Have you ever seen those big, white steamboat with the huge wheels on the back? Like the Tom Sawyer one at Disneyland? I associate them with the Mississippi River and New Orleans but lo and behold, Savannah has one too. It turns out that the Georgia Queen isn’t actually propelled by its big wheel, but the vibe is still there. There are sightseeing cruises through the day, but the sunset option was perfect timing for after work. There’s a dinner package too, but I’m not fancy enough for that!
We set sail and cruised upstream a little ways to the Talmadge Memorial Bridge. This area of the river is a big shipping port and we watched a container vessel piled high as it sailed away. Our riverboat did a U-turn under the bridge and followed it downstream again as well. We cruised between the city and Hutchinson Island, and then past South Carolina on the north shore.
I had bought a cocktail from the bar at the start of the cruise, which came in a take-home souvenir glass, and replenished it with another later. I was significantly less drunk than the many guests who started dancing as the evening progressed! Instead, I was just lounging on the top deck next to the railing, enjoying the views. The sunset soon came, painting the sky in fiery oranges and the silhouettes of speedboats whizzed past us. As we looped back on ourselves again to return to River Street, we could see the city all lit up in the dark. The whole thing lasted a couple of hours and was a nice way to see a different part of Savannah.
Pin Point Heritage Museum
The full day of my weekend in Savannah started fairly early. I mentioned a little about the Gullah Geechee people in my Charleston post and I was interested to find out more. So I was off to the Pin Point Heritage Museum, a 20-minute taxi ride out from the Historic District. I had to be back in time for my food tour later, so I arrived almost as soon as it opened! Pin Point is south of the city centre, right on the shore of Shipyard Creek. This is one of the many rivers criss-crossing the coast to create the barrier islands. The Gullah Geechee people, descendants of enslaved West Africans, formed a community here in the late 19th century. They were finally able to purchase their own land and this also allowed them to preserve their unique culture.
The museum is on the site of the former Varn Oyster & Crab Factory, which employed many of the local residents until it closed in 1985. As well as exhibits on Gullah Geechee culture, you can also explore the processes and techniques used at the factory. Local residents still operate the museum today, so you can join an included tour. They guide you around the various buildings and give you more insight about their community and culture. It’s a small site, so I browsed the buildings myself first before joining the half hour tour. It finished just in time for me to call another Uber back into town for my next tour. I was very glad I went though, as it’s a really interesting place. And important to learn about the local Black history, away from all the pretty colonial architecture!
Savannah Taste Experience Food Tour
Next up, it was time to eat. I’d signed up for the 3-hour First Squares Food Tour, as it doubled up as a food and historic walking tour. Our group of half a dozen met our very bubbly guide at the Savannah Taste Experience shop on Broughton Street, one of the city’s main shopping streets. We had our first tasting here, as the venue it came from gets too busy for tour groups, and they have lots of local products for sale as well. Each guide might take you to different places too, so you may not get the same foods I did!
We started with pork belly donut sliders from The Ordinary Pub, which doesn’t sound like it should work, but somehow does! Very fatty and sugary, but a pleasant surprise. Then we set off to Pie Society for an honest-to-goodness proper British sausage roll! I was also shocked to discover one of the staff was Scottish! Savannah is also one of the few US cities (along with New Orleans and Las Vegas) to have open container laws. This meant we were able to buy cocktails to-go from venues along the way. We would sip on these as we stopped in some of the historic squares. There, our guide chatted to us about stories from Savannah’s past. She had a pretty dry sense of humour too, which I really enjoyed!
We headed down towards the river to Rhett where we sat at a marble-topped bar. Here we sampled their She Crab Soup – delicious! Taking a food break after that, we also wandered through the Marriott hotel across the street. Sounds like a random inclusion, but the lobby is dinosaur-themed! There are huge silver-painted skeletons suspended overhead and gigantic rock geodes around the room. Definitely a unique one! We ambled along the riverside before heading back into town to Moon River Brewing Company. Fun fact – Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics to ‘Moon River’ was from Savannah. While beer is of course their main product, we were there to try the fish. I’m not a big fish person, but this was ok, and they had a suggested beer pairing with it!
After another couple of squares, our final venue was Mint to Be Mojito. Now, as this is a food tour, our dish here was their yummy signature empanadas. But we got a discount on the mojitos as well, so it would have been rude not to! I sipped this on our way back to the shop, where we got one last bite – a sugary pecan praline. It was a fun few hours, full of delicious food and interesting stories. And it was nice to meet some friendly people to share the experience with after so much solo travel.
American Prohibition Museum
I still had a discount voucher from the trolley driver tucked away, and I decided to make use of it next with a visit to the American Prohibition Museum. There was something ironic about Prohibition in one of the only cities with open container law! The museum is at City Market, a block of refurbished warehouses with a pedestrianised central street. It was bigger than expected inside, a series of immersive exhibit rooms. Each room was decorated as if from the Prohibition era, with staff in period costumes. It explores how Prohibition came to pass, life during that era, and how it eventually ended.
I’ve always found it a bit odd that America adopted Prohibition. Maybe since I’m from a country pretty liberal in its drinking habits! So it was interesting to see the thought processes behind it. And life during the era was such a range, from the illegal speakeasies and bootleggers, to the rise of gangsters like Al Capone. Meanwhile, the other end of the spectrum had temperance societies and Carrie Nation, who famously smashed up bars with a hatchet! At the end of the museum, enter through a secret door to the museum’s very own speakeasy. Of course, I had bought the entrance ticket that included a drink. The menu is all classic Prohibition-era cocktails and I tried the tasty, lavender-coloured Aviation.
A Weekend in Savannah, Georgia
Between the food tour and the cocktails all afternoon, my meal times were a bit messed up! I had to head back to pick up my luggage, but stopped at The Sentient Bean near Forsyth Park first. It has a sustainable vegetarian & vegan menu (something I thought would be hard to find in the South!), so right up my alley. I snacked on some tacos before collecting my luggage and grabbing an Uber. Then it was off to the bus station to catch the Greyhound to Atlanta for the night, breaking up the long road to Nashville.
Overall, my weekend in Savannah ended up being a delightful surprise! For a city I didn’t know much about besides some pretty photos, I ended up really liking it. There’s lots of history and beautiful architecture, of course. But it also had this really laidback, friendly atmosphere in general. Wandering around was a nice way to pass the time. And again, I just love the live oak trees and Spanish moss!