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If there is one thing that makes Savannah truly unique it is its system of 20+ squares, laid out in a centuries-old plan that has never been replicated on the same scale anywhere else in the world.
These little parks offer a beautiful respite from the city, filled with monuments, moss-hung live oaks, and benches where you can rest and admire some of the best of Savannah’s architecture.
The most well known squares – Johnson, Wright, Chippewa, Madison and Monterey – are along Bull Street, which is also where you will find Savannah’s oldest and biggest monuments, erected in the 19th century to its founders and military heroes.
Many of the squares further off the beaten path are worth a visit too, pretty and peaceful amidst the more heavily residential setting of the eastern and southwestern Historic District.
No visit to Savannah is complete without seeing Forsyth Park and its famous fountain. The park, established in the 1850s, is one of the oldest and most charming in the country, with mossy oaks and flowering shrubs arranged around its very distinctive central fountain, Savannah’s signature landmark.
If you want to take the best pictures, visit early or late in the day, when the light is softer and the risk of the bright white fountain appearing overexposed in your image is lessened.
History in Savannah is everywhere, but until recently there were few visible representations of the Black side of the city’s story. Now, two major monuments in downtown Savannah commemorate the substantial role played by people of African descent in the history of the city and the nation.
On River Street, just behind City Hall, the African-American Monument recognizes Savannah’s history of slavery and the role of its Black inhabitants in its history and culture.
A few blocks away in Franklin Square you can also see the Haitian Monument, which commemorates the hundreds of Black soldiers from the former French colony of Saint-Domingue who fought in the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War.
While you are at the Haitian Monument, don’t miss the First African Baptist Church, also on Franklin Square. This church was built entirely with African-American labor in the years before the Civil War, and is a National Historic Landmark. Tours of the church’s history and its role in the Underground Railroad are available most days each week (tours are currently suspended due to coronavirus).
This striking cathedral is one of the most recognizable features of Savannah’s skyline, its twin 200-foot white spires rising above neighboring Lafayette Square.
The cathedral, which is one of the largest in the southern states, is among the Historic District’s most visited attractions and landmarks, and a must-see even if you just want to admire its external architecture.
For a small donation, however, you can also go inside to better appreciate the cathedral’s beautiful stained glass windows and its outstanding collection of murals, the latter a comparatively rare feature of American places of worship.
This architectural peculiarity is probably more intriguing than it is impressive, but the series of structures, spanning several blocks to either side of City Hall, is well worth a look if you have any interest in history and the urban landscape.
Factors Walk – so-called because it was used primarily by the cotton factors who worked on Savannah’s 19th-century riverfront – is a series of split-level streets and footbridges made necessary by Savannah’s geography.
While the city proper sits atop a 40-foot high sandy bluff, the warehouses and offices that processed the cotton and other goods that passed through the port of Savannah were built down at the river level.
The people working on Bay Street needed a quick way to get to the buildings fronting on River Street — and the city needed a way to stop the bluff sliding into the river.
The solution to both these problems, constructed over a period of several years in the mid-19th century, was a series of retaining walls to contain the bluff, with the reinforced embankment on the riverward side of Bay Street connected to the upper levels of River Street’s warehouses by a network of iron bridges and walkways.
Savannah’s port trade was long ago moved up the river, and today Factors Walk is a quaint and often-photographed attraction, its picturesque ironwork bridges now leading to tourist shops and small boutiques, restaurants and hotels.
One of Savannah’s most hauntingly beautiful landscapes is the historic Bonaventure Cemetery. Located a few miles from downtown, this 19th-century burial spot is home to the graves of many of the city’s best known individuals as well as thousands of ordinary citizens, memorialized by an enormous collection of diverse and impressive funerary art.
What really makes this cemetery special, though, is its forest-like canopy of live oaks and their Gothic drapes of moss, complemented in spring by a profusion of flowering azaleas.
Bonaventure frequently makes it onto best-10-cemeteries-in-America type lists, and featured prominently in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the widely-read true crime book set in 1980s Savannah.
The statue had to be removed from the cemetery after the book and movie came out, on account of the enormous numbers of people who came to see, touch and photograph it and their impact on both the statue itself and the surrounding graves.
→ See also: Bonaventure Cemetery tours
When you’re visiting Savannah, it’s easy to get caught up in the sights and attractions of the Historic District and forget that the beautiful marsh scenery of the Georgia lowcountry is only minutes away.
For an immersive trip out into the lowcountry and the best opportunities for getting close up to the local birds and wildlife (and maybe an alligator!) you can take a kayak tour into the marsh, most conveniently from either Tybee Island or the Skidaway River. If you don’t feel like paddling, boat tours are also available.
Another, easier way to enjoy views of the marsh and vicariously experience the lowcountry riverside lifestyle is to take a stroll along Bluff Drive at Isle of Hope, a pretty suburb alongside the Skidaway River, a few miles from downtown Savannah. Sunset is an especially good time to visit.
Or, go to Skidaway Island State Park, which offers hiking trails through maritime forest and a boardwalk across the marsh.
You can also combine marsh views with a visit to the Pin Point Heritage Museum, (currently closed due to coronavirus) which explores the history of the local Gullah-Geechee community at Pin Point and its role in the area’s seafood industry.
River Street is best known for its wide selection of bars, restaurants and tourist shops but it is also home to a long stretch of historic former warehouse buildings, one of the most photographed scenes in the city.
For the views of the full length of River Street, take the little free ferry across to Hutchinson Island, from either the landing behind City Hall or past the Waving Girl Monument at the far east of River Street.
The ride across the river only takes a few minutes. For the best views and pictures, get one of the outdoor seats, but you will also have the opportunity to take pictures of River Street and the Savannah River Bridge (and sometimes, one of the massive container ships coming into the port) once you get to Hutchinson Island.
There isn’t anywhere in Savannah where you can visit a restored plantation mansion and learn about the lives of enslaved people and the families who profited from their labor.
Savannah does, however, have an example of one of the most iconic (albeit historically problematic) scenes of the plantation landscape – a live oak avenue, one mile long – at the nearby Wormsloe Historic Site, operated by the state to preserve the colonial-era ruins of one of Georgia’s oldest plantations and earliest sites of enslavement.
→ See also: Black history tours of Savannah
Jones Street is widely considered to be one of the prettiest streets in the United States. Lined with beautiful arching oaks draped with Spanish moss and home to dozens of excellent examples of the sedate, high-stooped Greek Revival architecture that is so typical of 19th-century Savannah, this is a great spot for a shaded stroll and to take a picture or two.
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