As Georgia's oldest city, Savannah offers a charming blend of historic landmarks and modern attractions. Flat city streets and a pedestrian-friendly layout make it easy to explore all this Southern city offers. Pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes and set off to discover these Savannah attractions and many more.
Savannah Historic District
You'll feel like you've stepped back in time as you stroll along the cobblestone streets of Savannah's Historic District. It's the largest historic landmark district in the country, made up of 20 city squares dotted with museums, lavish properties, monuments, churches, and more. Its area, which was recognized as a National Historic Landmark District in 1966, spans the city's limits before the American Civil War. There's beauty everywhere you look, from the historic 18th- and 19th-century buildings to the perfectly manicured gardens and tree-filled parks.
The Savannah Historic District is where you'll find many of the city's hotels and key tourist attractions, so many travelers find themselves spending the bulk of their visit there. It's home to the Temple Mickve Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in the United States; the Central of Georgia Railway roundhouse complex, the country's oldest standing antebellum train facility; the historic Colonial Cemetery; the Isaiah Davenport House; and the United States Customhouse. When hunger pangs strike, dine alfresco at a local café or treat yourself to a gourmet restaurant meal.
Savannah Victorian Historic District
If you haven't had your fill of vintage architecture, head to the Savannah Victorian Historic District, recognized as Savannah's first suburb. This 50-block neighbourhood is a residential area rather than a tourist one, home to some of the most beautiful and expensive late Victorian and Queen Anne properties in Savannah. The homes, including many dating back to the 1800s, feature decorative details like turrets and tower bay windows. You can explore on your own, as long as you respect the residents who live there. Alternatively, join an organized walking tour.
Escape the bustle of Savannah's city streets in Forsyth Park, a 30-acre green space in the heart of the Historic District. It was built on 10 acres of land donated by William Hodgson in the 1940s. When it was expanded in 1851, the park was renamed after state governor, John Forsyth. The Confederate Memorial, which remembers volunteers who lost their lives fighting for the Confederacy, stands proudly at the center of the park. A beautiful fountain in the park's north is another eye-catching feature, especially when it turns green for St. Patrick's Day every year.
Recreational features like a children's play area, tennis and basketball courts, and walking paths keep visitors active. The Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club also plays its home games here. If you prefer enjoying life at a slower pace, indulge in a coffee or light meal at the café or stop to smell the flowers at the Fragrant Garden, a unique feature developed for the blind community.
Mercer-Williams House Museum
The Mercer-Williams House Museum, formerly known as the Mercer House, is a historic home with a rich and colorful history. It lay abandoned for many years until Jim Williams, a private restorationist, saw its potential and purchased the home in 1969. He worked tirelessly for two years to restore the property to its former glory.
It is one of more than 50 local homes Mr. Williams saved during his career, but it's perhaps the most famous, or infamous. In 1981, Williams' assistant, Danny Hansford, was shot dead in the home in the so-called “Garden of Good and Evil” murder. Williams was initially convicted of Hansford's murder, which many thought came after a lover's quarrel, but the conviction was overturned on appeal when Williams claimed he shot his assistant in self-defense. Hansford's ghost is thought to roam its halls to this day.
Williams' sister, Dorothy Kingery, currently owns the Mercer-Williams House Museum and keeps it open to the public for tours. Guests can admire art and furniture from Williams' private collection while they try to catch a glimpse of Hansford's spirit.
Tourists with a taste for the macabre love Bonaventure Cemetery, a nearly 160-acre resting place for many of Savannah's most prominent residents. The cemetery gained international attention when it was featured in both the book and film versions of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," inspired by the circumstances surrounding Danny Hansford's death. Hansford is buried in the cemetery, along with the writer Conrad Aiken, military hero Hugh W. Mercer, his great grandson, the singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer, former governor Edward Telfair, and photographer and author Jack Leigh.
Members of the public can visit Bonaventure Cemetery between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. There is no admission fee. You can explore the cemetery on your own or join a guided tour. Free tours leave at 2 p.m. on the second Saturday of the month and 2 p.m., 2:30 p.m., and 3 p.m. on the second Sunday. If tours aren't running during your stay, make sure you grab a guide from the visitors center.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a majestic church on Savannah's Lafayette Square. Tourists are lucky they can still see the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah as a fire blazed through in 1898, leaving only the walls and towers intact. Painstaking restoration work saw the church rebuilt in time to celebrate Christmas Mass in 1899.
Visitors marvel at the cathedral's opulent gold-leaf details, decorative stained glass windows, and stunning marble altar. There seems to be luxury at every turn, making the cathedral seem more like a European place of worship than a Savannah church.
The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is still an active place of worship, so tourists can't visit during masses, funerals, weddings, and other religious events and Holy Days. However, you can take a self-guided tour between 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. every day but Sunday. If you'd prefer a docent-led tour, contact the church office. The church encourages $2 donations per adult for self-guided and docent-led tours.
First African Baptist Church
Founded in 1777, the First African Baptist Church is the home of one of North America's first black Baptist congregations. Free African-Americans and slaves built the church in the 1850s from bricks they made themselves, often after long days working in the fields. It became the first brick building African-Americans owned in Georgia.
While it's been an active place of worship for centuries, the First African Baptist Church also played a key part in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Participants in the fight for equal rights met weekly in the church to plan strategies.
Visitors can learn more about the congregation and church's history at its museum. Displays showcase memorabilia dating back to the 18th century, including photographs of all its pastors, newspaper clippings, communion sets, and handcrafted quilts.
The church museum opens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and at other times by appointment. To explore the First African Baptist Church, book a guided tour. Tours run at 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. on Sundays. Joining a tour lets visitors admire the church's historic features, like the ornate stained-glass windows, original lighting fixtures and baptismal pool, and solid oak pews handcrafted by slaves in the 1900s.
The Green-Meldrim House is one of Savannah's best examples of Gothic Revival architecture, with its distinctive cast-iron porch, oriel windows, and stuccoed brick exterior. Built in the 1850s, it joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
General William Sherman occupied the house when Union troops captured Savannah during the Civil War. He used the property as his headquarters until the war's conclusion; he composed his famous telegram to President Lincoln inside the home. It was later owned by Savannah politician Peter Meldrim, who lived in the home for several decades from 1982.
Meldrim's heirs sold Green-Meldrim House to the St. John's Episcopal Church in 1943. The church runs public tours and uses the historic home as a meeting and reception venue. The tours let visitors see Green's original furniture, historic documents, and valuable artifacts. You can take a tour from 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays and between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays, except during Holy Week and from mid-December to after New Year's Day.
Attractions and landmarks like these popular sites help make Savannah one of Georgia's most popular tourist destinations. With so much to see and do, experts recommend spending a week in Savannah to really experience all it offers.
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