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 historic part of the city is filled with cobblestoned 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 this 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: 14
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.1 Km or 3.2 Miles
Author: hollyg
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
  • Bull Street
  • Forsyth Park
  • Green-Meldrim House
  • Historic District
  • Jepson Center for the Arts
  • Chippewa Square
  • Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace
  • Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters
  • Telfair Museums
  • Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
  • First African Baptist Church
  • City Hall
  • River Street Market Place
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

1) 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 the Revolution. The city's first Catholic church was established in 1799 by French migrants from Haiti who were fleeing the French Revolution, and various local uprisings. In 1873, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was built to house Savannah's swelling Catholic population.

The Cathedral has several notable artistic and architectural features. These include the Great Rose Window, a Gothic quatrefoil with St. Cecilia in the center. 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, spiritually and from an artistic point of view. Many locals refer to the Cathedral as “America’s Sixtine Chapel”; amazing stained glass work, ceiling paintings, and altar.
The outside 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.

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
Sight description based on wikipedia
Bull Street

2) Bull Street

From City Hall to Forsyth Park, a walk down Bull Street captures the history and beauty of city. Bull Street, the main north-south street downtown, offers a showcase of what makes this part of the city special.
Forsyth Park

3) Forsyth Park (must see)

Created in the mid-19th century and now covering an area of over 30 acres, Forsyth Park has become Savannah's largest and most active park. While many other areas of Savannah have seen heavy development and urbanization, Savannah's people have worked hard to maintain this historic park.

Forsyth Park is best known for its number of monuments to historical figures, including a monument created for the people killed during the Civil War, the bloodiest war in America's history. The park also houses a fragrant “Garden for the Blind,” an area where all of the plantings are chosen for their scent, rather than their appearance. The result is an amazingly scented area that anyone can enjoy.

Many Civil War re-enactors stage their events in Forsyth Park, too. The park's size and age make it the ideal area for mock battles and other re-enactment events. For people who aren't history buffs, the park is also a great place to walk, sunbathe, enjoy the plantings, and skateboard. Forsyth Park is home to the famous Forsyth Fountain, which has been featured in movies like 'Cape Fear', 'Forrest Gump', and 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'.

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.
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.

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.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Green-Meldrim House

4) Green-Meldrim House (must see)

Savannah's Green-Meldrim House is one of many historic houses in the city. Built circa 1853 for cotton merchant Charles Green, the Gothic revival style mansion is notable for being beautifully restored and for playing a key part in Civil War history. Originally, it was the most expensive 19th-century house in Savannah. Much of its original interior survives, including the marble mantles, black walnut woodwork on the first floor, crown moldings, chandeliers, and gilded-frame mirrors imported from Austria. Unfortunately, none of the original furniture from the early days of the Green-Meldrim House has survived to this day.

The house was used as a headquarters for Union troops after being captured by General Sherman in 1864. In December of that year, Sherman sat down in the Green-Meldrim House to write his telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, where he expressed his desire to present the city of Savannah to him as a Christmas present. After the War, in 1892, Judge Peter Meldrim purchased the house. Decades later, in 1943, his heirs sold it to a neighboring church. Today, the house is maintained as a historical museum and is used as a setting for wedding receptions and other events.

Why You Should Visit:
What makes this delightful mansion, with its large and ornate rooms, so worth visiting is the charm and expertise of the 'docents' - the guides whose knowledge is encyclopedic.
The history of General Sherman's stay and his relationship with the owner of the house alone are worth the trip through the house. The tri-fold front doors are another standout.

In addition to the Green-Meldrim House, you may visit St. John's Church (open each weekday, 11am-1pm) with guided tours available.

Opening Hours:
Tue, Thu, Fri: 10am–4pm, Sat: 10am–1pm (last tour begins 30 mins before closing time)
Historic District

5) Historic District

The Savannah Historic District is a large urban U.S. historic district that roughly corresponds to the city limits of Savannah, Georgia, prior to the American Civil War. The area was declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1966, and is one of the largest districts of its kind in the United States.

Each year, the Savannah Historic District attracts millions of visitors, who enjoy its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century architecture and green spaces. The district includes the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low (founder of the Girl Scouts of the United States of America, see Juliette Gordon Low Historic District), the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences (one of the South's first public museums), the First African Baptist Church (the oldest African American Baptist congregation in the United States), Temple Mickve Israel (the third-oldest synagogue in America), the Central of Georgia Railway roundhouse complex (the oldest standing antebellum rail facility in America), the old Colonial Cemetery, Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and Old Harbor Light.[4][5]

Other buildings in the district include the Isaiah Davenport House, the Green-Meldrim House, the Owens-Thomas House, the William Scarbrough House, and the United States Customhouse. Notable green spaces in the district include Savannah's 22 shaded squares, the 30-acre Forsyth Park (at the southern limit of the district), and Emmet Park (near the city's riverfront).
Sight description based on wikipedia
Jepson Center for the Arts

6) Jepson Center for the Arts

Jepson Center for the Arts is one of three buildings that comprise the Telfair Museum of Art. This building marked the first expansion of the Telfair's nearly one hundred and twenty year history, and added more than 50% more exhibition and education space to the complex.

The Center for the Arts is housed in an ultramodern building designed by Moshe Safide. Initially, critics were skeptical about how well the new center would fit in with the surrounding buildings. The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Owens-Thomas House are two National Historic Landmark buildings, and were built circa 1819. Fortunately, after the Jepson Center for the Arts' unveiling, public reception of the new facility has been warm.

The building itself is actually two separate entities, connected by glass bridges that pass over a protected walkway that was part of Savannah's original 1733 town plan. The center has two large galleries for traveling exhibitions. Permanent galleries include one for African-American artwork, one for Southern art, one for photography, and one for works on paper, a community gallery, a “hands on” gallery for kids and classroom groups, outdoor sculpture areas, educational art studios, a large auditorium, and more.

Hours: Sunday-Monday 12:00 – 5:00 pm; Tuesday-Saturday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
Chippewa Square

7) Chippewa Square

Chippewa Square is one of Savannah's most popular Squares, for tourists and locals alike. On any given day you can sit on one of the stone benches and watch hundreds of people walking by, half of them looking for the infamous Forrest Gump bench.
Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

8) Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace (must see)

Juliette Gordon Low is best known as the woman who first organized the Girl Scouts in 1912, after meeting war hero Robert Baden-Powell. Always an energetic, happy woman, Low was known for jumping headfirst into new hobbies and interests. After her historic meeting with Baden-Powell, where she learned about the Girl Guides in England, Low returned inspired to bring the girl's scouting movement to Savannah, Georgia, and America beyond.

The building itself is a blend of Regency and Victorian designs. Like many other Savannah houses from the 1800s, it has a basic floor plan known as a “Savannah box.” In this particular house, the basic floor plan was expanded upon to create a grander house. The house is considered a National Historic Landmark, both for its age and excellent preservation, and for being the site of Juliette Gordon Low's birth. It had several different owners until it was purchased by the Girl Scouts of America in 1953. Its last private owner was an older woman who had had difficulty maintaining the house. After its purchase, the property was extensively restored and turned into an educational center and historical museum, as it remains to this day. Restoration efforts continue, to help restore and maintain the beauty of the old building.

Why You Should Visit:
Nice tour, reasonably priced, and there are many interesting things about the house and the lives of the people that lived there, not just Juliette.
The gift shop offers a nice variety of Girl Scout memorabilia along with local souvenirs, and you get to go into the gardens without paying.

You have to book a tour; there is no self-guided option. They rarely book same day tours, however, so best to go online and get advance tickets.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 10am–5pm
Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters

9) 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

10) 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

11) 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
First African Baptist Church

12) First African Baptist Church (must see)

The First African Baptist Church has the distinction of being descended from the first black Baptist congregation in N America, stemming from a church founded in 1773. A slave, George Leile, was the first black man to be ordained by Baptists to preach in Georgia. He originally preached to slaves on plantations in the area, until he fled to a British-controlled area of the colonies during the Revolutionary War to secure his freedom. He was joined by another man, Andrew Bryan, and his wife. Bryan eventually became a preacher in Leile's congregation and became one of the very few black Baptist preachers to remain in Georgia. Bryan was the official founder of the First African Baptist Church.

The building itself was built by slaves, who would make the bricks, lay the mortar, and carve the pews after laboring the fields all day. It used to operate as a stop on the Underground Railroad when slavery was still rampant. Holes in the floor seem to be part of an artistic design– in reality, these were cleverly concealed air holes for slaves that would hide under the church. Later, during the Civil Rights Movement, regular meetings were held in the church.

Why You Should Visit:
If you don't take the guided tour inside of this church, you'll be missing out on a huge core of Savannah's history.
You get to see 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
City Hall

13) City Hall

City Hall is the first building constructed by the citizens of Savannah expressly and exclusively to serve as the seat of municipal government. Opened on January 2, 1906, it has served continuously in this role since that date. City Hall was preceded on this site by the City Exchange, built in 1799 and razed in 1904.
River Street Market Place

14) River Street Market Place (must see)

Home of Savannah's riverfront district, this street, which meanders along the scenic Savannah River, is the heart of Savannah's vibrant nightlife, with an exciting assortment of bars, restaurants, & nightclubs. The beautifully preserved historic riverwalk boasts colonial architecture, stunning views of the river and historic landmarks and monuments. During the day, you can stroll along the riverfront, enjoying shops and eateries, wander through the open-air market or check out the indoor market, with lots of artisan stalls. Definitely, a nice area to spend time during the day or evening.

Why You Should Visit:
There is a food or snack selection for everybody and if you’re in the market for affordable souvenirs, this is the place.

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

Walking Tours in Savannah, Georgia

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