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Self guided walking tour of Savannah

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We recently returned from a trip to Savannah, and it was a city that totally surprised me. While it does still have that city feel, it’s on a much smaller scale and the city is absolutely walkable; you could easily take yourself on a self guided walking tour of Savannah and see the sights in one day. I’ve put together a small tour with some of the most popular attractions and how I think it’s best to tackle how and when to see them on a walking tour.

I’ve included some of Savannah’s famous squares, museums and places of historic recognition, and other places that we just thought were perfect places to take a stroll. It’s not a comprehensive list, and of course there are more things to do, but I’ve just included our favorites. Take a look!

Overview of Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is located in North East Georgia, not far from the coast and just a few miles from the South Carolina border. It has its own regional airport, Savannah International Airport, which is serviced by all major airlines like Delta, United, Southwest, etc. It’s also not far from I-95 if you’re driving. For us, it was about a four and a half hour drive from Orlando.

Savannah was founded as a new colony in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe, who was sent to create a military buffer between the wealthy English colony in South Carolina and the Spanish Colonies in Florida. It’s the oldest city in Georgia, and was dubbed America’s first planned city, since it was the first to be organized into grids.

Savannah is a very walkable city. It’s small and well laid out, with plenty of amazing places to see. We visited in November and temperatures were chilly, but it can be very hot and humid in the summer so I would definitely suggest walking with a bottle of water, and maybe planning some stops for ice cream along the way!

How to best get around Savannah

Since this guide is a self guided walking tour of Savannah, I would obviously recommend walking around this beautiful city. If you’d prefer a different option however, then we used Old Town Trolley Tours during some of our trip. We’ve used them in various cities, including a weekend in Key West and visiting Boston with kids, and not only do they provide a great commentary on the history of the city, but they’re a good option for if your feet start to get tired.

Self guided walking tour of Savannah

Forsyth Park

Forsyth Park is a great place to start your walking tour. It sits at around 30 acres and dates back to the 1950s. Here you can find the Garden of Fragrance (a small garden containing a selection of scented plants), a playground, a café, and public bathrooms. There is plenty of green space to walk around, or just pick up a coffee to start your walking tour.

Forsyth Park also contains a beautiful fountain at the very North of the park that you see in a lot of photos of Savannah. The fountain actually came from a mail order catalogue (seriously!) and is over 150 years old. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture, and a great place to take photos.

Also to the North of the park is the Armstrong Kessler Mansion (sometimes called the Armstrong House), which you really can’t miss. It’s a huge white building that used to house Armstrong College, and is a great example of Italian Renaissance architecture. Pay special attention to the wrought iron fence surrounding the building; it was built as an exact replica to that outside Buckingham Palace in London!

Temple Mickve Israel and Monterey Square

Walking North from the park, you come to Monterey Square and the Temple Mickve Israel. This temple houses the third oldest Jewish congregation in America, and was the first synagogue built in Georgia. It’s a unique example of Gothic architecture, and was voted one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world by Conde Nast.

Monterey Square is also where you can find the Mercer-Williams House, famous for the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the movie was also partially filmed in the house.)

Massie Heritage Center and Calhoun Square

Next up you’ll come to the Massie Heritage Center and Calhoun Square. Calhoun Square is the only square with all of its original buildings intact, and underneath the square is actually an old cemetery built as a burial ground for slaves (those buried here were mostly moved to Laurel Grove Cemetery). Not surprisingly, it’s considered Savannah’s most haunted square.

The Massie Heritage Center was designed to build citizenship through learning about local history. The building was built in the 1850s and was originally used as a public school. A wide array of exhibits are featured, including on the history of slavery in Savannah. It’s a fascinating place to learn about the history of the city.

Whitefield Square, Troup Square, and Jones Street

Next up is Whitefield Square, which I thought was one of the prettiest squares in the city. In the middle of the square is a gazebo that was donated by Burt Reynolds after he filmed the movie Gator in Savannah in 1975. It’s a beautiful location, and very peaceful.

Also in Whitefield Square is The First Congregational Church, which was built in 1869. It was the first institute in Savannah for newly freed slaves, and now serves as the African American Cultural Center.

Walking towards the next sight on this walking tour, you’ll pass by Troup Square. In the middle of the square you’ll see the Armillary Sphere, which is a beautiful Victorian-era bronze sculpture. At the base of the sculpture are little bronze turtles, and someone who lives in the square dresses them up for holidays; we were there over Thanksgiving and the turtles wore little pilgrim hats!

Also on the way to the next stop you’ll pass over Jones Street. This was voted one of the most beautiful streets in America thanks to the red brick streets, stunning historic houses, and the abundance of trees and gardens. We thought it would have looked a lot more beautiful without the cars parked all along the street, but it certainly was very pretty.

Cathedral of St John the Baptiste and the Colonial Park Cemetery

The Cathedral of St John the Baptiste is a a neo-gothic Catholic Cathedral that is open to the public. The Cathedral is beautiful, both inside and out, and it’s definitely worth a visit. The Cathedral is free to enter, but a cash donation is suggested.

Across the street from the Cathedral is the Colonial Park Cemetery, which has served as the cemetery in Savannah for over 100 years. There are over 9,000 graves located here, and covers over six acres. Many of the headstones in the cemetery are extremely weathered and the inscriptions are hard to read, but there are signs throughout featuring the stories of some of the more interesting people buried there.

Chippewa Square

To the West of the cemetery is Chippewa Square. Although this square isn’t exactly on the walking tour headed North, it’s worth taking a little detour here to see this square.

Chippewa Square is where Tom Hanks filmed the bench scenes in Forrest Gump (the ones where he sits on the bench telling his story to various people over the course of the movie). Although the bench has since been removed from the square (it’s now in a museum), you can still see where it sat in the square, which is pretty cool for movie fans.

In Chippewa Square you can also find the monument to General James Oglethorpe, the founder of Savannah.

Owens-Thomas House

Next up we have Oglethorpe Square (named for General Oglethorpe but oddly, not where his statue stands) and the Owens-Thomas House. This house was built in 1819 and is considered to be one of the finest examples of Regency Style architecture. It was built with mostly local materials and marries Greek, Roman, and Georgian styles.

You can book a guided tour of this house (it’s recommended to book online in advance) to walk through the house, gardens, carriage house, and slave quarters; previous owners of the house had a very dark history of slave ownership and 15 enslaved men, women, and children lived here over the years. While it’s not comfortable viewing, I felt this was an important part of Savannah’s history.

On your way from this spot to the next one, you have to stop in at Leopold’s Ice Cream. Established over 100 years ago, this ice cream is some of the best I’ve ever had – the lemon custard was amazing, even on a cold day! The ice cream parlor is incredible to look at too; one of the owners is Stratton Leopold, son of the original owner, and Hollywood movie producer – his movie posters line the walls!

River Street

From Ogelthorpe Square, it’s a short walk to River Street which is – as the name suggests – along the riverfront in Savannah. This was one of our favorite places to walk; not only are there some wonderful shops and restaurants along here, but you can watch the huge (and I really mean huge!) container ships headed out to sea.

We found some great places to eat along River Street. We loved The Shrimp Factory for shrimp and grits (they also made the amazing homemade peach cobbler!) and I loved the pralines at River Street Sweets. We also heard really good things about the breakfast at Two Cracked Eggs. There were plenty of places with outdoor dining and lots of balconies with gorgeous views over the water.

We walked along River Street multiple times over the few days we were there. We would usually start at the Waving Girl Statue (a tribute to Florence Martus, who waved at ships in the ocean hoping that one would bring her sweetheart home again) and walk along to the JW Marriott, before turning and heading back up the main streets.

Ellis Square

From River Street, I’d suggest walking to Ellis Square. This square is one of two that was initially sacrificed to create more space in the city, and was built over as a parking garage. Thankfully, the square was later restored and the parking garage was moved underground, but the square is a lot more modern than any of the other squares in the city.

While you’re in the square, look for the statue of Johnny Mercer. He was born and raised in Savannah, and grew up to be a famous composer, responsible for such songs as Moon River and Hooray for Hollywood. His statue is fairly easy to spot to one side of the square, and it’s a great selfie opportunity!

City Market and the American Prohibition Museum

Our last stop on this self guided walking tour of Savannah is City Market, which houses some great places to shop and eat, as well as the American Prohibition Museum.

The American Prohibition Museum is the only one of its kind in the US, and tells the story of the history of prohibition. It features cool displays and exhibits, and even has an authentic speakeasy you need to find out the password to!

City Market has shops, bars, restaurants, art galleries, and is a great place to sit and people watch. Since it sits between Ellis Square and the neighboring Franklin Square, you can also grab food from here and go and sit in one of the squares.

This is a great last stop on the walking tour because you can finally sit and grab some food and rest those weary feet! By this point you’ll have seen many of the best sights the city has to offer, but if you do want to keep exploring, you’re in a great location to keep going.