For travelers like us, it’s not always about the journey that’s up ahead that keeps us going. It’s also about the history of the places that we’ve been through that helps us understand the value of the stories behind the biggest tourist attractions and more. If you want to get a full serving of U.S. history, then you may want to visit the oldest city in Georgia, which is none other than The Hostess City of the South, Savannah.
Aside from being the oldest city in the state of Georgia, Savannah is also the county seat of Chatham County. Since being established in 1733, Savannah, Georgia has played a huge role in the state’s history and economy. Today, this city is to be what’s next on your travel bucket list.
On February 12, 1733, General James Oglethorpe and many settlers from a ship named Anne landed into the U.S. via the Yamacraw Bluff. Oglethorpe’s group was welcomed by the various tribes in the area and on that very day, the city was founded. Almost two decades later on 1751, Savannah and the entire state of Georgia became a Royal Colony and the city was eventually made the colonial capital of the state.
In the following centuries, Savannah’s strategic location by the shore made it a prominent commercial and wartime port. During the 19th century, the city of Savannah became a prosperous seaport. Its foray into trade and wartime efforts helped it grow into a booming city and at a time, Savannah was the sixth most populous city in the Confederacy.
It goes without saying but the city of Savannah is named after the Savannah River. Where does the name Savannah come from? There are numerous theories regarding its origins but some state that it is a variation of a Native American group called Shawnee who migrated into the river during the 1680s.
Another theory is that the name Savannah was derived from the extensive marshlands that surround the river inlined. That being said, it was derived from the English Term for “savanna” which is a variation of a tropical grassland. There are other theories that surround the name of the city and the river but what is certain is that this city is well-known throughout the U.S. If you haven’t been to Savannah then read on as what we’ve got will surely pique your interest. Before anything else, here are some important things to know before you go to Savannah, Georgia.
- 1 How to Get to Savannah, Georgia
- 2 Getting Around Savannah, Georgia
- 3 Best Time to Visit Savannah, Georgia
- 4 Best Free Things to Do in Savannah GA
- 4.1 Spend time in parks and squares
- 4.2 Take a look at the statues around
- 4.3 Go on a walking tour
- 4.4 Explore the city’s final resting places
- 4.5 Re-enact your favorite Forrest Gump scenes
- 4.6 Visit some churches
- 4.7 Spend more time on Tybee Island
- 4.8 Tour the city on a ferry
- 4.9 Window shop
- 4.10 Wander and/or relax at the Savannah Botanical Gardens
- 4.11 Join the fun or witness the city’s festivals and other special events
- 4.12 Explore the nature trails
- 4.13 Tour the historic homes
- 4.14 Tour the Ghost Coast Distillery
- 4.15 Explore art galleries
How to Get to Savannah, Georgia
Getting to Savannah, Georgia is made very easy thanks to the Savannah Hilton Head International Airport. This major airport in Georgie offers flights to and from major U.S. destinations such as Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Louisville, Minneapolis, New York, and Washington DC. Furthermore, its accommodated airlines include Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Air Canada, American Airlines, JetBlue Airlines, and more.
From the airport, various travel destinations are accessible including the historical district. If you are ready to head out into the city and Downtown district, go to the Visitor Information Center to find on-site car rentals, taxis, and other transportation services. More often than not, there are cars ready to take you to your hotel.
If you are already nearby, you can easily drive to the city of Savannah as it is accessible by all points in the east coast via Interstate 95. Alternatively, you can get to it from the west via Interstate 16. It’s a major city in the U.S. so using Google Maps, you won’t be able to get lost on your way there. You can also get to the city via the Amtrak’s Palmetto and Silver Service Lines,
Getting Around Savannah, Georgia
From the airport, you can find car rentals which as we all know is the most convenient way to get around major cities. It will cost you around $20 a day to get around the city using a rented car. This is the highly recommended way to get around as on our guide below, you’ll be taken to numerous sites and attractions in the city. Alternatively, Uber and Lyft are available as well but it is the more costly option there is.
A popular way to get around Savannah is by cycling. Savannah is considered as a Bronze Level Bicycle-Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Although the nation is still working towards improving its bike-friendliness to locals in tourists, there are already countless bike dedicated roads around the city.
What makes biking the best option is the state’s own CAT Bike system. If you become a CAT Bike member, you can easily pick up a bike at any station and have it returned to any other once you’re done. If you don’t have the time to become a CAT Bike member, you can head to the numerous bike rentals around the city.
There are also buses that go around the city. These can cost you around $1.50 for a one-way trip to a single destination. The good side to this transportation method is that you’ll be able to directly get to the major spots in the city.
Best Time to Visit Savannah, Georgia
Savannah is well-known for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration in March. This is the best time to visit Savannah as you’ll be able to partake in the parties and the festivities. Do keep in mind as it is the peak season for tourism, the hotel rates will be a lot higher. To avoid the peak prices, book your hotels several weeks ahead, particularly, during December. While you’re there in March, be sure to catch the Savannah Music Festival.
If you want to avoid the influx of tourists, take your trip during the months of August and December. Tourism is rather weak at the city during these months so it will be the perfect time to catch some huge discounts on hotels and accommodation. You’ll also be able to take more relaxing trips on less congested roads and attractions.
Best Free Things to Do in Savannah GA
Whenever we hear the word Savannah, we often imagine a large flat area that is dry and treeless. But Georgia’s Savannah is the opposite. In fact, it is much livelier and lovelier than the treeless plain in Africa and there are so many things to do and see that exploring the city in a day or two isn’t enough to try them all. And for that reason, it is one of the places that we highly recommend for you to visit too. And the best part of it is that a lot of those activities and attractions can be enjoyed for free. In case you’re wondering what awaits you there, here are some of the best free things to do in Savannah GA that we’re sure you will love.
1Spend time in parks and squares
Savannah is filled with parks and squares. And what sets the city apart from a lot of Southern cities is the way its layout was made. If you will look closely in maps, you’ll see that Savannah’s streets are in a grid format and it has surrounding small parks that are also called squares are often centered on a statue of a notable citizen from the city. There’s so many of them that exploring them all in a day is already a memorable travel experience. Doing this will not just let you get to know the city, as well as its notable citizens, but you can also get to enjoy the atmosphere and unique views of Savannah too. And what’s even better is that you won’t have to pay even a cent as exploring the city’s squares and parks is one of the top free things to do in Savannah GA.
One of the well-known and loved parks is the Chippewa Square as this is one of the filming locations of the popular 1994 American comedy-drama movie, Forrest Gump. Johnson Square is also frequently visited by many because of the history that it holds as it is the first to be established in the city. Forsyth Park is also one of the popular park in the city as well because of its iconic white fountain and picturesque overall look.
2Take a look at the statues around
Savannah has no shortage of statues too and getting a closer look at them is, needless to say, one of the nicest free things to do in Savannah GA. Again, Savannah’s streets’ layout is uniquely designed and for nearly every park and square, you will definitely see a statue or two and you should never miss a chance to see them as it is where you can also gain more knowledge about the city’s colorful past, This is because, again, the city’s parks and squares also often center on a statue of celebrated individuals who are from the city. Ellis Square, for instance, has a statue of Johnny Mercer, a notable lyricists, songwriter, and singer from the 30s to 70s. Chippewa Square, on the other hand, has James Oglethorpe’s, a philanthropist and the founder of the colony of Georgia. There is also a statue of Nathanael Greene in Johnson Square, Jon Wesley in Reynolds Square, and Sergeant William Jasper in Madison Square, among many others.
3Go on a walking tour
If you really want to delve deeper into the colorful history of the city of Savannah, a walking tour is one of the activities that we highly recommend. But unlike in other cities, going on a walking tour is one of the unique and free things to do in Savannah GA. This is because it is not just like the other cities’ walking tour wherein you need to download a free app or whatnot as your guide as you walk its streets. Rather, this kind of activity is led by the city’s local historians. They will take you to the top landmarks in the city on a 90-minute tour as they share their knowledge and other stories with you that will surely pique your interest. While their assistance is for free, you can give them tips to support them more. However, note that you need to book for a tour first and you can do that here.
4Explore the city’s final resting places
At first, you might think that it’s weird to add a cemetery to your travel itinerary because even if it is one of the free things to do in Savannah GA, why would you visit it? But don’t pass on the idea of exploring a cemetery in Savannah just yet.
Apparently, Savannah’s cemeteries are also filled with a good portion of its history and it’s one of the perfect places to be if you also want to learn more about the history of the city for free. One of the famous cemeteries that Savannah has is the Bonaventure Cemetery. Established in 1907, this Victorian-styled cemetery is where you can get to see the graves of Conrad Aiken and Johnny Mercer.
Also one of the historic cemeteries in town is the Colonial Park Cemetery located downtown. Established in 1789, here, you can find the graves of the plague victims and kind of get a glimpse of the city’s history as well. Apart from the Bonaventure and Colonial Park Cemeteries, there is also Laurel Grove Cemetery where the founder of the Girl Scouts, Juliette Gordon Low, the slaves, and the free people of color’s graves can be found.
But what makes these cemeteries even more remarkable is not just the notable people who were buried here but the style and atmosphere that it has too. Bonaventure Cemetery, for instance, has moss-draped oak trees and beautiful flowers that are also good to the eyes.
5Re-enact your favorite Forrest Gump scenes
If you are a fan of the movie Forrest Gump, you can actually re-enact your favorite scenes in Savannah and it’s one of the free things to do in Savannah GA too. This is because this is where the popular American series filmed many of their scenes. Aside from Chippewa Square, you can visit the Forrest Gump also used the Independent Presbyterian Church as a location for their opening scenes where a feather floats past the steeple. The movie also filmed in restaurants Debi’s restaurant and Love’s Seafood. However, needless to say, this is not one of the free things to do in Savannah but if you have some spare cash, these restaurants are worth the try as well.
6Visit some churches
Savannah also has some churches for you to visit and they are mostly historical ones and visiting them is also counts as one of the best free things to do in Savannah GA. But what’s in a church, you say? Apparently, these churches in Savannah aren’t merely places to connect with God but its structure is also worth talking about. The Cathedral of St, John the Baptist, for instance, is mostly known for its beautiful white exteriors and equally gorgeous stained glass windows. What’s even better is that there are free self-guided tours being offered on most days of the week that you shouldn’t miss signing up for.
The Independent Presbyterian Church, the place where Forrest Gump scenes were also shot, is one of the churches that is also worth visiting not just because it is where the famous comedy-drama movie was filmed but because it has nice exteriors too. And its structure has even more become gorgeous after it was rebuilt in 1891 after a devastating fire.
The Christ Church is also worth visiting because of its beautiful exteriors too that kind of resembles a Greek structure. Savannah also has The Historic First African Baptist Church and it has an interesting history that is not to be missed as well.
7Spend more time on Tybee Island
If you want to have some more fun and enjoy the beach, head to the Tybee Island. Here, you can find a lot of cafes and seafood restaurants that will fill you with the most delicious food in town. You can also explore the city’s famous pier and enjoy the sunset plus admire the lighthouse nearby. However, some of these activities may require you to spend some dollars and you also need to pay a parking fee of about $2. While some of these are not for free, one thing is for sure, though, enjoying the waters of Tybee Island is one of the best free things to do in Savannah GA.
8Tour the city on a ferry
Another one of the unique and free things to do in Savannah GA is to ride a ferry. Yes you read it right, the city offer free ferry rides to anyone and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to try it out. It will take you to some of the best attractions in town that are, of course, nearby the waters where the ferry passes through such as the Savannah Marriot riverfront where you can also see the famous “Waving Girl” statue. If you are planning to try this out on your visit on a particular time, note that it the ferry operates from 7 AM until midnight. Don’t worry, there’s no shortage of boats as the city has four boats to offer to anyone who wants to try out this tour; and what’s even more impressive is that the boats are all named after the significant women in the city’s history: Susie King Taylor, Juliette Gordon Low, Mary Musgrove, and Florence Martus. Also, whether you try the ferry tour in the morning, evening, or whatnot, you will still surely see amazing sights to see on your visit.
Needless to say, window shopping is one of the free things to do in Savannah GA and anywhere in the world. However, this type of activity is much different in Savannah. Even if you’re short on cash, you will still be able to enjoy it as every boutique here has beautiful items on display that are nice to the eyes. The Paris Market and Brocante alone has countless fashionable items that you will enjoy to look at even if you’re short on cash.
10Wander and/or relax at the Savannah Botanical Gardens
Wandering around Savannah Botanical Gardens is also one of the free things to do in Savannah GA that is not to be missed. This is because the place boasts of beautiful trees and flowers on its gardens. In fact, it is divided into several gardens – a rose garden, camellia and azalea garden, herb garden, beehive, a pond and nature trails. You will definitely feel more relaxed here as you connect to nature more. What’s even better is that it is the place where you can find the historic Reinhard House, a farmhouse that dates back to 1840s that will surely take you back in time and learn more about the city, as well as the place’s rich past.
11Join the fun or witness the city’s festivals and other special events
There is no shortage of lively festivals and events in Savannah too and seeing them in person is one of the best free things to do in Savannah GA. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade alone draws flocks of locals and tourists alike. In fact, approximately 400,000 visitors from around the world often join this event where you can see bands and marching groups from across the country plus live music and lots of food and cold beverages to enjoy. But what makes it more unique is that everything is green during this event. You’ll see people wearing green shirts and even the fountain at Forsyth Park is dyed green.
RELATED: Saint Patrick’s Day March 2018
The city also holds a Publix Savannah Women’s Half Marathon and 5K every April. There is also the SCAD Sidewalk Arts Festival where you can see countless artworks on the sidewalks of Forsyth Park, to name a few.
12Explore the nature trails
The city also has a number of nature preserves where you can disconnect from the hustle and bustle and connect more with nature and you can do it all for free. In fact, it is known as one of the top free things to do in Savannah GA too. Here in the city, you can hit the McQueen’s Island Trail where you can have six miles of trail filled with native plants, as well as bobcats, pelicans, and turtles.
You can also explore the Skidaway Island State Park where you can camp and enjoy boardwalks. The best part of it is that it has an interpretive center and you have more opportunity to spot countless species.
13Tour the historic homes
Touring historic homes is also one of the free things to do in Savannah GA. Yes, they are free and there are a number of historic houses in the city. One of which is the Mercer Williams and it is also known as the setting for “The Book,” also known as the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You can also tour the Flannery O’Connor House, the writer of the said book for free. There is also Juliette Gordon Low House which was once the home of the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. But aside from the stories that these houses hold, they are all worth visiting because of the beautiful architectural work done. What’s even better is that all of them have nice exteriors for you to enjoy with your eyes too.
14Tour the Ghost Coast Distillery
Touring the Ghost Coast Distillery is one activity that you shouldn’t miss as well. Don’t be fooled by its name, though. You will not hunt for ghosts here, rather you can get to take a closer look at how the distillery makes good rum, vodka, and whiskey through the 40-minute tours that they offer. On top of that, you can also sample some of them plus get more information about the city’s history with spirits (not the spooky ones, though, but the alcoholic kind).
15Explore art galleries
There also several art galleries in Savannah. The well-known ones can be seen at the Telfair and SCAD museums. But if you want to see the works of up-and-coming artists, visiting the City Market is what we highly recommend. Aside from the fact that you can get to see amazing artworks by newbies, you can also get to enjoy seeing them for free. You can also visit Sue Gouse Inspirations, Oksana Fine art, and Gutstein Gallery for more.
RELATED: Art Basel Miami Beach, FL