Museums and Art Galleries Self-guided Tour (Self Guided), Savannah

Savannah is filled with southern charm and has a delightful combination of natural and man-made beauty. Explore some of these treasures by visiting some of Savannah's impressive museums. Check out the following self-guided tour for some of the most interesting museums and art galleries Savannah has to offer!
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Museums and Art Galleries Self-guided Tour Map

Guide Name: Museums and Art Galleries Self-guided Tour
Guide Location: USA » Savannah (See other walking tours in Savannah)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.0 Km or 1.9 Miles
Author: hollyg
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • The Pirate's House
  • Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters
  • Telfair Museums
  • Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
  • SCAD Museum of Art
  • Savannah History Museum
  • Georgia State Railroad Museum
  • Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum
The Pirate's House

1) The Pirate's House

The Pirate's House is a tavern and restaurant thought to be the oldest building still standing in all of Georgia. It wasn't always a tavern, though- the building was originally created to house the gardener that worked on Savannah's botanical garden in 1734. When the botanical garden was deemed unnecessary by 1754, the gardener's building (dubbed the Herb House) was reinvented as an inn for visiting seamen and traders.

Over time, the building attracted the criminal element, as more and more pirates, smugglers, thieves, and criminals visited it. Sailors would be kidnapped from their beds by sea captains in need of men. Since The Pirate's House is the entrance to one of Savannah's underground escape tunnels, the sailors were usually drunk, and many of them were from foreign ports, it wasn't easy to try to track down someone who went missing from the inn. Captain Flint, mentioned in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, is rumored to have died in one of the bedrooms of the house.

Today, The Pirate's House functions as a restaurant, tavern, and historical house museum. It's also a host for the Savannah Community Theatre on weekend evenings, where the troupe provides a murder mystery dinner theater for visitors.

Hours: Sunday- Thursday: 11 am- 9:30 pm; Friday- Saturday: 11 am- 10 pm.
Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

2) Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters (must see)

The Owens-Thomas house is, like the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Jepson Center for the Arts, a museum building operated by the Telfair Museums. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, as one of the nation's finest examples of English Regency architecture.

The building itself was designed by William Jay, an English architect who was among the first professionally-trained architects working in the U.S. The residence was finished in 1819 for Richard Richardson and his family, who earned their money as cotton merchants and bankers. Unfortunately, their prosperity was short-lived: three years after the house was completed, the Richardsons lost their fortune and the house was sold. After being sold, it became a lodging house that saw several famous visitors, including the Marquis de Lafayette, until it was purchased again in 1830 by the mayor of Savannah. In 1951, the former mayor's granddaughter donated the building to the Telfair Museum.

The house has remained in excellent condition. Many of the exhibits feature the Owens family's former belongings, as well as antiques and curiosities dating back to the 1750s. The carriage house is the original carriage house that came with the residence. Inside, visitors can see one of the earliest urban slave quarters in existence. One notable feature of the house's construction is the use of Bath stone. This was to give it a sophisticated appeal that made it on par with the houses in Bath, England.

Why You Should Visit:
Beautiful home and furnishings, plus very knowledgeable tour guides; the history, culture, and social components are very well summarized/transmitted.
The juxtaposition between the slave quarters and the home is truly staggering and you leave with a better understanding of urban slavery.
You can get a pass to also see the Jepson Art Center and the Telfair Musem of Art for one price of around $20 in the space of a week.

Tours go off every 15 minutes – try to go with a small group!

Opening Hours:
Sun, Mon: 12-5pm; Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm
Telfair Museums

3) Telfair Museums (must see)

Opened in 1886 at the bequest of Mary Telfair, the Telfair Museums has the distinction of being the South's first public art museum. It has grown from a renovated family mansion into a distinguished cultural institution boasting three architecturally-significant buildings; a permanent collection of approximately 4,000 works of art from America and Europe, dating primarily from the 18th-21st centuries; and a history of dynamic educational programming, community outreach, and exciting exhibitions.

Among the works exhibited in the museum are Sylvia Judson Shaw's famous 'Bird Girl' sculpture (formerly from Bonaventure Cemetery), the largest public exhibition of the works of Khalil Gibran, the 'Black Prince of Crécy' by Julian Story, and several other paintings by the likes of Childe Hassam, Frederick Frieseke, Gari Melchers, and other notable visual artists.

Located in Savannah’s vibrant historic district, the museum consists of the Telfair Academy and the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters two circa 1819 National Historic Landmark buildings—and the contemporary Jepson Center, an ultra-modern building that contains late 20th and 21st-century artwork, including paintings, sculpture, and digital installations.

Why You Should Visit:
The artwork from the 19th, 20th, and 21st century, the majesty of the homes, the 'Bird Girl', the history (albeit disturbing) of enslaved people (guides are good in telling extras and interesting stories)...

Tickets are good for a week and the $20 admission gets you into all three Telfair properties.
If you visit the Academy, wait for a docent to guide you so you'll have a much more informed experience.
The "Zeum" café at the Jepson provides fresh and fairly light fare; a good place to sit and discuss what you've seen.

Opening Hours:
Sun, Mon: 12-5pm; Tue-Sat: 10am-5pm
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

4) Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum (must see)

Savannah's Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum is housed in the historic Scarborough House. This nautical-themed residence was built in 1819 for William Scarborough, president of the Savannah Steamship Company. His company was the builder of the SS Savannah, the first steamship to travel the Atlantic Ocean.

The Scarborough House was built in a Greek Revival style and served as a school between 1870 and 1950. In 1997, it was fully restored and the Museum now houses a large number of model ships, including the SS Savannah, commemorating the first steamship to cross the Atlantic; the City of Savannah, commemorating the part sail, part steamship that sailed between Savannah, New York, and Boston; and one of the Titanic, the famously “unsinkable” ship that sank in 1912 after striking an iceberg. The place also houses nautical themed artwork, including carvings, paintings, knotwork, and scrimshaw.

In addition to its maritime art and antiques, the Museum possesses the largest garden in the Savannah Historic District. This garden features only plants that are native to the Savannah area, or that have been historically available since the 1800s, including magnolia trees, boxwood hedges, and azalea bushes.

Why You Should Visit:
The beautiful ship models and art, the environmental display (temporary), Civil War history, plus the gorgeous old mansion where the museum is housed make for a satisfying time.

Catch a concert in the garden here! This is a very nice venue for the Savannah Music Festival because it is small and intimate. Drinks are available. Very nice and convenient restrooms.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 10am–5pm
SCAD Museum of Art

5) SCAD Museum of Art

The SCAD Museum of Art is part of the Savannah College of Art and Design. It serves as a teaching museum for Savannah College of Art and Design students, but is still open to visitors.

The Museum is home to nearly five thousand pieces of art, ranging from haute couture fashion design, to photography, to sculpture. One key feature of the SCAD Museum of Art is the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Studies, a center for appreciating African American culture, art, and literature. This center houses one of the largest collections of African American art in the country, including work by Romare Bearden, Jacob Lawrence, and Elizabeth Catlett. Another focal point of the Museum is the André Leon Talley Gallery, named for SCAD Board of Trustees member and Vogue editor André Leon Talley. The remainder of the Museum houses work by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, and others. In the haute couture section, work by Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and other couturiers can be seen.

The SCAD Museum of Art houses a very impressive collection of virtually every type of artwork, from artists from every school, as well as rare books and antiques. No visit to Savannah should be complete without viewing the Museum's carefully curated collection.

Operation hours: Tuesday - Wednesday: 10 am – 5 pm; Thursday: 10 am-8 pm; Friday- Saturday: 10 am- 5 pm; Sunday: 12 pm- 5 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Savannah History Museum

6) Savannah History Museum (must see)

The Savannah History Museum is dedicated to the rich, dramatic history of the city, from its early establishment to today. It is located inside Savannah Visitor's Information Center, which is in turn housed in the passenger train shed of the old Savannah railway. The Museum holds a wide variety of exhibits about all of the people, places, things, and events that have shaped Savannah from 1733 onward.

Some of the exhibits include displays of antique and vintage evening gowns from the 1800s to the 1960s, an antique steam locomotive from the Central of Georgia Railway, a Revolutionary War exhibit, a carriage owned by the founder of the Girl Scouts, an 1830s cotton gin, Revolutionary War uniforms and weaponry, and props from some of the movies set in Savannah, like the bench from Forrest Gump.

At the far end of the building is the Whistle Stop Cafe, which is a breakfast and lunch cafe set inside of a railroad car. One block from the Savannah History Museum is the Roundhouse Railroad Museum, dedicated to Savannah's railway history. Both of these buildings are situated on top of the site of the Revolutionary era Battle of Savannah, fought in 1779, where American troops attempted to break the occupation of Savannah by the British.

Why You Should Visit:
Family-friendly with a few exhibits that will appeal to adults. The tour is one of the most in-depth and interesting – and completely free with admission as well!

Watch the video in the Visitor's Center first to give you context for the displays, but make sure that you stick around for the Revolutionary War tour.
They run it on Thursdays to Sundays 3 times a day and you would know that one is about to start once you see a gentleman dressed as a militia soldier beating a drum.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
Georgia State Railroad Museum

7) Georgia State Railroad Museum (must see)

The Georgia State Railroad Museum (formerly the Roundhouse Railroad Museum), is located one block away from the passenger train shed of Savannah's old railway, where the Savannah History Museum is contained. This building is set right on the grounds of the Second Battle of Savannah, where American Revolutionary War troops fought to end Britain's occupation of the city. The attack ultimately failed, leaving Savannah in Britain's hands.

The Historic Railroad Shops complex is among the finest remaining examples of Victorian railroad architecture and design and is the most intact antebellum railroad repair complex in the country. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. On-site displays include antique shaft driven machinery, locomotives and railroad stock, model train layouts, an operating turntable, and the oldest portable steam engine in the United States. The Historic Railroad Shops offers a valuable educational experience for students and has also become a popular local tourist attraction.

Why You Should Visit:
Amazing for photography and general roaming around a landscape as much as it is for families, children, and general train knowledge geeking out.
You can join any of the tours given in different areas or just walk around freely; the entry fee also allows taking a ride on a steam-powered train.
There are also a Children’s Museum and the Savannah History Museum on site which you can group together for a discount.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–5pm
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum

8) Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum (must see)

Savannah, Georgia, is an area with a rich and fascinating history in the civil rights movement. This museum is named after Dr. Ralph Mark Gilbert, a major figure in Georgia's civil rights history, and pastor of the First African Baptist Church. In the year 1942, Gilbert organized Savannah's branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and has been referred to as the “father of Savannah's modern day Civil Rights Movement.”

The museum itself was built in 1914, and once served as the largest bank for African-Americans in its county, back when segregation governed virtually every public and private place in the deep South. After being a bank, it became the headquarters for Savannah's branch of the NAACP. Today, the museum houses historic photographs, art, and archives relating to Georgia's civil rights history. The first floor is created to be a replica of the luncheon in Levy's Department Store, a segregated lunch counter where one of the most famous sit-ins of the civil rights era occurred. In addition to the museum, the building also houses lecture halls, classrooms, and a library of African-American and civil rights books.

Consider taking the guided as it gives better insight in less time than trying to read through everything on your own.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sat: 10am–4pm

Walking Tours in Savannah, Georgia

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.5 Km or 1.6 Miles
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Travel Distance: 3.4 Km or 2.1 Miles
Specialty Shops Self-Guided Tour

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.5 Km or 2.8 Miles
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Travel Distance: 5.1 Km or 3.2 Miles
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Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 Km or 3.4 Miles
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River Street Shopping Self-Guided Tour

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.5 Km or 0.3 Miles