Savannah can be a great budget-friendly destination. The city’s main attraction is the Historic District, its downtown landscape of squares, parks and 19th-century architecture, and consequently, many of its best things to see and do are free.
While Savannah has many tourist sites that charge admission, it is possible to spend the day, or even a weekend or longer sightseeing without having to pay to get into places.
Most of the attractions and activities below are entirely free, but a few (as noted) may require the payment of a parking fee or may request a small, optional donation.
River Street is Savannah’s tourist center, with lots of shops, bars and restaurants, but it also has a lot of historic appeal. Don’t miss Factor’s Walk, an unusual architectural feature consisting of a series of footbridges, constructed in the 19th century to link bluff-top Bay Street to the upper stories of the River Street warehouses. Read more about River Street
If you want a better look at the street and its historic buildings, you can take a (brief) ride on the free ferry that connects River Street to Hutchinson Island. Embark near City Hall or near the Waving Girl Monument in Morrell Park. Free ferry info
If you want to see some of the best of Savannah’s architecture, but don’t know where to start, you can’t go far wrong with Bull Street. Savannah’s most important boulevard since the 19th century, the five squares along the street are home to its oldest monuments and surrounded by its grandest antebellum mansions.
Historic places of worship along the way include neoclassical Christ Church, the oldest congregation in Georgia; the imposing Independent Presbyterian Church; and Congregation Mickve Israel, one of the oldest surviving synagogues in the United States and home to Georgia’s earliest Jewish congregation.
One of Savannah’s prettiest streets and another of the best places to appreciate the city’s 19th-century architecture is Jones Street. Lined with arching oaks draped in swathes of Spanish moss, the street was one of Savannah’s most successful restoration projects. Start walking (heading east) at the very western end, between Chatham and Pulaski Squares.
One of Savannah’s highlights is the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, its whitewashed spires reaching above Savannah’s low rise buildings and visible from all around.
The outside of the Cathedral is impressive enough, but if you arrive outside of mass times, you can also go inside. There you will find an equally outstanding interior, with dozens of stained glass windows and one of the best collections of religious murals in the South. Donations of $2 per adult are welcomed, but optional.
Savannah offers free monthly tours of City Hall, the first Tuesday of every month at 12pm. Reservations are required, see details.
Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5pm you can also make a self-guided visit to City Hall and its rotunda, complete with stained glass dome. You can pick up a booklet on the history of City Hall at the security guard station. Inside the rotunda, there is usually an exhibit of art by local artists.
In the City Council Chamber on the second floor of City Hall are additional rotating history exhibits displaying local artifacts and documents. The exhibits can be seen as part of the free tours, as above, or on every other Thursday, when the Chamber is opened for Council meetings.
Battlefield Park, right next to the Visitors Information Center, is worth a quick stop if you are interested in Savannah’s Revolutionary War history.
The park is a recreated site commemorating the bloody and unsuccessful Siege of Savannah of 1779, in which combined American and French forces (including a large contingent of black Haitian soldiers) attempted to recapture the city from the British.
The Spring Hill redoubt, part of defensive fortifications constructed to encircle Savannah, was discovered on the Battlefield Park site during recent archaeological investigations. A replica of the redoubt and informational signs explain the history of the site and the Siege.
Colonial Park Cemetery is Savannah’s oldest surviving cemetery. Only a few minutes walk from downtown Savannah, the graveyard holds the tombs of several of Georgia’s most distinguished colonial-era citizens.
Many of the graves are unmarked or illegible, but along the eastern boundary wall is a row of relocated headstones that can still, mostly, be read.
Examine them carefully, and you will discover that several of the deceased appear to have lived astonishingly long lives: this was the work of unknown vandals, sometimes (but without evidence) attributed to the Union soldiers who occupied Savannah during the Civil War.
Forsyth Park, created in the 1850s, is one of the highlights of Savannah. The park is most famous for its beautiful white fountain, but it also has several other sights within the park itself, including a fragrant garden and several military monuments, plus several other things to see along the streets that border it. A farmers market is held in the park every Saturday.
Savannah’s squares – of which there are presently 22 – are one of the defining characteristics of the city. The squares were laid out from Savannah’s founding through into the mid-19th century. You could try to see them all, which will be a walk of about 3.5-4 miles by the most direct route, or just select a few. Probably the prettiest (taking their architectural surroundings too into account) are those along Bull Street, and the later squares laid out in the 19th century.
Savannah’s several art museums all charge admission, but you can see art and sometimes speak with local artists themselves at any of Savannah’s dozens of commercial galleries, many of which also participate in the city’s free monthly art walks.
Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by its role in John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is one of Savannah’s top-rated attractions. Admission is free, but access is difficult unless you have your own transport (paid transport options are available).
Once you have got there, however, you will find one of the most charmingly beautiful cemeteries in the South, filled with oak and other trees and in season, blossoming azaleas, and an enormous selection of elaborate funerary statuary and monuments.
A guide map, available from the cemetery office located just inside the gates, outlines the cemetery’s highlights and the location of famous graves. Alternatively, if your visit to Savannah coincides with the second Sunday of the month (or the Saturday before it), you can enjoy a free historical guided tour of Bonaventure, provided by the Bonaventure Historical Society. See details
Less well-known than Bonaventure but laid out and beautified along similar lines, and also easier to get to, are Savannah’s other 19th-century cemeteries, Laurel Grove North and Laurel Grove South.
These two, segregated, cemeteries were created in the 1850s. Laurel Grove North was the white portion, and was the main burial place for Savannah’s white citizens for much of the 19th century, with many famous individuals buried there.
Laurel Grove South was the black portion of the cemetery. In its earliest years it was a burial place for the city’s slaves; after emancipation, most of Savannah’s African-American citizens continued to be interred here, including several influential religious and Civil Rights leaders.
Nearby Tybee Island is an easy day trip out of Savannah. Georgia’s most northerly barrier island, Tybee has miles of beaches and a pier, and the ocean should be warm enough for swimming from May through September. Dogs are not allowed at any of the beaches.
Please note, however, that there is no free parking on Tybee Island, and you will have to pay around $2 per hour at most lots and on-street meters. More about getting to Tybee
If you want to enjoy some local nature, Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, just a few miles north of the city, is totally free to visit, with no parking charges. Please note that dogs and other pets are not allowed. More info
If you don’t mind a small parking charge, or you want to bring a pet, Skidaway Island State Park, a few miles southeast of Savannah, is a beautiful alternative, with boardwalks over the marsh, and historic sights along its nature trails. Other than the parking fee ($5 per vehicle), admission is free. More information about visiting Skidaway Island State Park
The McQueens Island Trail, eastwards out of Savannah between it and Tybee Island, offers scenic views over the Savannah River and adjacent marshes, and plenty of opportunities for wildlife watching.
The trail is open for hiking or biking, but dogs are not allowed. Free parking is available at the Cockspur Island bridge at the eastern end of the trail, and at the midpoint of the trail, both off US Highway 80.
Savannah Botanical Gardens, a few miles south of downtown, is a 10-acre, volunteer-run botanical garden with rose, herb, flower and vegetable gardens and naturalistic areas, a small pond and the historic Reinhard House, an 1840s German-style farmhouse. Admission is free, and the garden is open daily. See website