Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee!

Savannah Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Savannah

Savannah may not be the whole of Sweet Georgia, but no Georgia is complete without Savannah. This coastal city, named after the Savannah River upon which it stands, is the epitome of the South, renowned for its antebellum architecture. The city's historic part is filled with cobble-stoned squares and manicured parks, such as Forsyth Park, and holds one of the main local landmarks, the Gothic-Revival Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. To explore these and other attractions of Savannah, follow our orientation walk and get an ultimate experience of the American South!
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Savannah Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Savannah Introduction Walk
Guide Location: USA » Savannah (See other walking tours in Savannah)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.7 Km or 2.3 Miles
Author: hollyg
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Forsyth Park
  • Bull Street
  • Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
  • Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters
  • Telfair Academy
  • Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
  • First African Baptist Church
  • City Market
  • City Hall
  • River Street
  • River Street Market Place
1
Forsyth Park

1) Forsyth Park (must see)

Forsyth Park is to Savannah, Georgia, what Central Park is to New York City and Lincoln Park is to Chicago. Occupying 30 acres of land in the city's Historic District, the park was laid out in 1851 and named for the Georgia Governor at the time, John Forsyth. It contains walking paths, a children's play area, a fragrant "Garden for the Blind" (where all of the plantings are chosen for their scent, rather than their appearance), a large fountain, tennis/basketball courts, areas for soccer and frisbee, a half-shell theater, a cafe, a home field for the Savannah Shamrocks Rugby Club, and a number of monuments to historical figures, including one created for those killed during the Civil War, the bloodiest war in America's history.

The park's most significant feature is its most famous asset: the Forsyth Fountain. Modeled after the fountains found in Place de la Concorde in Cuzco, Peru, it was added in 1858 and has been featured in movies like 'Cape Fear', 'Forrest Gump', and 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'. Concerts are frequently held and there's a Farmers Market every Saturday.

Why You Should Visit:
To enjoy the Savannah Symphony, Jazz Festival, Farmers Market on Saturdays, free movies every few months, or to simply relax with a picnic and blanket under the shade of an oak tree. Areas to throw a football, kick a soccer ball, basketball and tennis courts are at the south end. Very family friendly; kids have a few playgrounds to wander around.

Tip:
Be sure to walk on the sidewalk along the park to view the architecture of the homes across from it.
Like all parks in the USA, this one is great for visiting from sunrise to sunset. Please stay away at night.
2
Bull Street

2) Bull Street (must see)

Savannah' Bull Street is the centerpiece of the historic downtown. From Forsyth Park to City Hall, a walk down this street captures the history and beauty of the city and takes you through five of Savannah's iconic squares, each exactly two blocks from the next. As you stroll under moss and oaks past shops, bars, restaurants, and historic homes (all the same size), watch out for plaques in the squares recounting Savannah's rich history. You'll surely feel like you're in the Old South.

Tip:
Don't miss the BULL STREET TACO (Mon-Sat: 11am–10pm), a hip artsy spot with lots of contemporary artwork and vintage photos on the walls. There are a few tables inside, a bar, and a nice patio outside, where many people dine in the warmer months. Most of the drinks at the bar are tequila-based; however, the street tacos are the main event!
3
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

3) Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (must see)

In the early days of America, Roman Catholics were prohibited from settling in the South, out of fear that they would become more loyal to the Spanish southern colonies, and move away from the English northern colonies. As a result, Savannah had no Catholic church until 1799, when French migrants from Haiti who were fleeing the French Revolution established their first. In 1873, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built and completed with the addition of the majestic twin spires in 1896, when the brick structure also received a coating of stucco and whitewash.

The Cathedral has several notable artistic and architectural features. These include the Great Rose Window, a Gothic quatrefoil with St. Cecilia in the center, while the windows radiating from the center contain figures playing musical instruments. The Original Window of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the few to survive the great fire that ravaged Savannah in 1898. The Transept Windows feature the assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven surrounded by angels and saints, reminiscent of Murillo's painting of the Immaculate Conception. Lastly, the church houses several murals dating back to 1912, depicting saints and other religious figures with encoded symbols indicating their lives and deaths.

Why You Should Visit:
Lovely experience from an artistic point of view. Many locals refer to the Cathedral as "America's Sistine Chapel"; amazing stained glass work, ceiling paintings, and altar.
The exterior French Gothic architecture is a free 'trip' to Europe; you will be most impressed if you have not traveled extensively outside of the U.S.

Tip:
Take time to sit with the docent and listen to his tour of the building – you'll be glad you did.
The donation box as you exit is unique, so be sure to drop in a few bills and turn the handle.

Mon-Sat: 9–11:45am / 12:45–5pm
4
Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters

4) Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters (must see)

Built in 1819 to the design of William Jay, an Englishman counted among the first professionally-trained architects working in the US, it is considered the nation's preeminent example of English Regency architecture and was to be aesthetically compatible to Bath, England. This is evident in the Bath stone of the construction as well as the sophisticated architectural detail that added a gentrifying physical ornament to the then-newly successful Southern port. Although the old original Slave Quarters have little in them, one may see how the slaves tried to bring their culture/craft from Africa, in the blue paint they made for the ceiling, to represent water.

Finished in 1819 for Richard Richardson and his family, who earned their money as cotton merchants and bankers, the house is notable for its early cast iron side veranda with elaborate acanthus scroll supports on which the Marquis de Lafayette addressed the citizens of Savannah on his visit in 1825. The collection contains furnishings and decorative artwork from the English Regency period, including possessions of the Owens family that date from 1790 to 1840. It also includes English Georgian and American Federal period furniture, early Savannah textiles, silver, Chinese export porcelain and 18th- and 19th-century art. Apart from the main houses there is a carriage house, which also functioned as slave quarters – one of the earliest in existence – and feature slave artifacts of the period.

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 may leave with a better understanding of urban slavery. Plus, 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.

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

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

5) Telfair Academy (must see)

One of three sites operated by Telfair Museums (along with the Owens-Thomas House and the new modern-art focused Jepson Center; a ticket provides admission to all three sites), the Telfair Academy contains two 19th-century period rooms and houses 19th- and 20th-century American and European art from the Telfair Museum's permanent collection, including paintings, works on paper, sculptures and decorative arts. Among the ongoing exhibits is "Mansion to Museum", which highlights the incredible story of the transformation of the site from a home to an Academy of Arts and Sciences, but the most famous attraction is the Bird Girl statue (relocated here from Bonaventure Cemetery) which was made famous by the John Berendt novel, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".

The neoclassical Regency-style mansion was built in the late 1810s and is the former home of Alexander Telfair, the son of Revolutionary War patriot and Georgia governor Edward Telfair. In 1875, Alexander's sister Mary, heir to the family fortune and last to bear the Telfair name, bequeathed the house and its furnishings to the Georgia Historical Society to be opened as a museum. After significant renovations, which included the addition of the Sculpture Gallery and the Rotunda, the building opened to the public in 1886 as the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Why You Should Visit:
A great introduction to Savannah by way of city scenes that depict life from the early 20th century (many of which were signed by local artists), complemented by a broader selection of American impressionism, American portraiture, and the Ashcan school. Additional exhibits focus on decorative arts and rooms with period furniture.

Tip:
Don't miss the impressive room upstairs, especially for the art pieces on display, including paintings you'd otherwise only find in Chicago or New York due to size.

Opening Hours:
Sun, Mon: 12–5pm; Tue-Sat: 10am–5pm
6
Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

6) Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum

Housed in the magnificent William Scarborough mansion and founded in 1966, this museum features nine galleries of ship models, maritime paintings and artifacts that reflect Savannah's maritime heritage. It also boasts the largest gardens in the Savannah Historic District – spread over two acres and derived from a typical 19th-century parlor garden design – and a gift shop containing a large collection of books and gifts related to the maritime theme.

Ship models include the SS Savannah, which was owned by William Scarborough; the HMS Anne, which carried Georgia founder James Oglethorpe and the first settlers of Georgia in 1732; RMS Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage in 1912; and The Wanderer, the last documented ship to bring a cargo of slaves from Africa to the US in 1858. In addition to these, the place houses nautical-themed artwork, including carvings, paintings, knotwork, and scrimshaw.

In many ways, however, the museum is overshadowed by the William Scarborough mansion, which was built in 1819 and became a center of Savannah social life and the focal point of colorful festivities during President James Monroe's visit. One of the earliest examples of Greek Revival style in the city, it was designed by famed English architect William Jay and built for Scarborough, president of the Savannah Steamship Company and one of the principal owners of the USS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic Ocean. The mansion features Roman-style windows that flank the entrance and a monumental Doric portico with a fanlight overhead. The two-story house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. In 1994, it was turned over to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum and has been largely restored to its early 19th century appearance.

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

Tip:
Catch a concert in the gardens 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
7
First African Baptist Church

7) First African Baptist Church (must see)

The First African Baptist Church of Savannah was a haven for runaway slaves during the turbulent years of the Civil War. The runaways were hidden in a four-foot high space between the basement and foundation below, with 'air holes' still visible in the basement floor – in lack of better knowledge, some might assume the holes are part of an artistic design.

During the 1960s, the church served as a base for the Civil Rights movement. Such is its glorious history, which dates to 1774 when George Liele – the first black man to be ordained by Baptists to preach in Georgia – began making missionary visits to plantations up and down the Savannah River. Formed by Liele in 1778, the First Colored Church of Savannah (renamed the First African Baptist Church in 1882) is the oldest continuously active African-American congregation in North America.

Located in Franklin Square, the present church was built by members of the congregation – among which many slaves who would make the bricks, lay the mortar, and carve the pews (still in use today) after laboring the fields all day. Note the beautiful stained glass windows depicting Liele and other early church leaders, installed in 1885. Today, the church houses a museum containing archives and memorabilia that date to the 18th century.

Why You Should Visit:
If you don't take the guided tour, you will be missing out on a huge core of Savannah's history. A tour here takes you through the main church, the upstairs, and the basement where you will learn about the role of the Underground Railroad.

Guided Tours:
Tue-Sat: 11am, 2pm, 4pm; Sun: 1pm
8
City Market

8) City Market (must see)

Savannah's City Market dates back to 1755 when it was a center of commerce and hub of all activity downtown; a place for fishermen and farmers to bring their goods to sell. It has gone through some tough times – two markets were destroyed by fires, a third was torn down shortly after the Civil War, another closed in 1954 – but today it is thriving once again.

Located at the corner of Jefferson and West Saint Julian Streets, the City Market stretches a full block in each direction. Old cotton warehouses that had fallen into disrepair were restored and renovated and have been converted into bistros, art galleries, casual and upscale restaurants, antique stores, jewelry shops, bakeries, sweets and candy stores, retail shops, museums and specialty shops, even a daiquiri dispensary and a specialty coffee store. The newest attraction is the American Prohibition Museum, which has 6,000 square feet of exhibition space that houses 13 galleries, including vintage cars. Visitors are serenaded by local musicians, enjoy jazz at nightclubs and discover the "art and soul" of Savannah.

Tip:
Be sure to visit during the day and at night as they are two completely different experiences. Live music each night!
9
City Hall

9) City Hall

Dominating Bay Street is the unique City Hall, with its pretty gold-leaf dome slightly reminiscent of the one towering over Charleston, WV's Capitol. The early 1900s Renaissance Revival building was designed by acclaimed architect Hyman Witcover and erected on the site of Savannah's first town hall. Though there is not much to see on the inside, it has kept both its elevators and the historic steps going down the old River Street, which are interesting in themselves.

Directly adjacent is a small canopy sheltering two cannons, which together compose the city's oldest monument. These are the Chatham Artillery Guns, presented to the local militia group of the same name by President George Washington during his one and only visit to town in 1791. Today, locals use the phrase "Chatham Artillery" differently, to refer to a particularly potent local punch recipe that mixes several hard liquors.

The large gray Greek Revival building right across from City Hall is the U.S. Custom House – Georgia's first federal building and the first local commission for renowned NY architect John Norris, who went on to design 22 other Savannah buildings.
10
River Street

10) River Street (must see)

The historic River Street, paved with 200-year-old cobblestones, runs along the length of the Savannah River. It once was lined with cotton warehouses, but the neighborhood saw a slow recovery from the 1818 yellow fever epidemic. Abandoned for over a century, the street was rediscovered in the 1970s by local landowners, urban planners and preservationists determined to revive its history and glory. At a cost of $7 million, a new waterfront was unveiled in 1977 by converting some 80,000 square feet of empty warehouse space into a colorful array of restaurants, boutiques, pubs, and art galleries. The ambitious urban renewal project stabilized downtown Savannah and revitalized the city's Historic District.

Since then, the Riverfront Plaza, as it is known today, has developed into a popular destination for locals and tourists who come to buy souvenirs, contemplate the huge ships cruising on the river, or attend the numerous events/festivities throughout the year, including St. Patrick's Day, and fireworks on July 4th and New Year's Eve. Families are safe and welcome here, but energetic pub crawling remains a favorite pastime for most.

Tip:
Take a leisurely stroll along the landscaped river walk, observe the Waving Girl and Olympic Cauldron statues, then explore the bluffs along the river on the old passageway of alleys, cobblestone walkways and bridges known today as Factor's Walk. You could also stop at the River Street Hospitality Center, which is adjacent to the Hyatt Regency hotel (at the foot of City Hall) or spend some time looking at local vendors selling their wares in the Market Place.
11
River Street Market Place

11) River Street Market Place

The River Street Market is worth wandering through when enjoying the Savannah riverfront, especially if you want to kill time while waiting on your table at any nearby restaurant. It sits right in the popular area of the downtown river walk, with the river on one side and the cobblestone street on the other. There is a coffee, drinks and smoothies food cart right outside with picnic tables to lounge on, as well, should you be so inclined.

Pretty much every booth has a vendor in it, and there is a ceiling overhead so rain is not an issue when deciding whether to visit or not. Among the most interesting things to check out are the wood burning and carved home décor designs, as well as the candles you could use as lotion, made out of essential oils. There are tons of other random, unique items, some handmade (jewelry, carvings, wind chimes) and some pricey, but it's fine to walk through and see all the local culture.

Tip:
Check out the delicious praline/candy shops and the honey store, as they are among the highlights.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Wed: 10am–7pm; Thu-Sun: 10am–8pm

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