The Savannah of years past conjures up images of high society and tradition, with grand homes and dramatic oak trees like those featured in the famous book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
But these days, it’s a welcoming and eclectic place where you’ll find locals, art students and visitors all enjoying the same spaces. The city draws in history lovers to admire the carefully preserved historic homes and museums, and foodies for the restaurant scene influenced by a wide variety of cultures. It’s easy to get around and relatively safe, making it a popular escape for many travelers.
Here’s what you need to know about the Hostess City before you go.
1. Spend at least three days in Savannah
If it’s your first time visiting, you’ll need to spend at least three days in Savannah to even scratch the surface. Most travelers choose the weekend, arriving mid-day on Friday. This is a great time to get your bearings and explore without an agenda. Saturday is when you’ll see most of the attractions and museums. Don’t expect many places to be open on Sunday until late, so get one last meal in before hitting the road.
If you have longer to spend in Savannah, plan on exploring beyond the historic district – spend some time in the Starland District, Tybee Island and the Isle of Hope.
2. Use rideshare apps from the airport to maximize time
If you’re arriving by plane, it will be at Savannah/Hilton-Head International Airport, which serves the coastal areas in both Georgia and South Carolina. Depending on what time you land, it should take anywhere from 20-40 minutes to get to the heart of downtown, varying wildly based on traffic.
Rideshare companies are available, including Lyft and Uber. You can pick them up from the north entrance of baggage claim. Taxis can also be hailed from outside of the airport.
The city’s local bus system, Chatham Area Transit or CAT, also stops at the airport on the West Chatham Route 3. It’s not the fastest option, but definitely the cheapest, with rates starting at $1.50 per ride.
3. You probably don’t need a car to get around Savannah
Just about every car rental company has a presence in Savannah, but for the most part, you won’t need your own vehicle to get around the city. Savannah’s historic district is walkable, with most destinations no more than a 15-20 minute stroll through the tree-lined squares. Having a car can be a hassle, especially when it comes to finding metered parking spots or decks.
The DOT bus is a free shuttle that visits all of the city’s top landmarks, including the Downtown Loop from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to the Eastern Wharf and the Forsyth Loop, which goes from Johnson Square to Victory Drive. The Savannah Belles ferry is also free, with a triangular route to the Westin hotel across the river, City Hall Landing at the eastern side of River Street, and the Waving Girl statue on the east side of River Street. If you want to go further, the Token Transit app is an easy way to purchase a ticket in advance. All you have to do is show it to the driver when you board.
The only exception is if you want to visit Tybee Island and the outer areas of the city. In that case, renting a car for a day might be prudent as it can take around 25 minutes to get there, and the island is big enough that you’ll want a way to get around. Just keep in mind that in many places, including the beach access points, you’ll have to pay to park.
4. Reservations are essential for the best restaurants
There are plenty of great restaurants in Savannah, including award-winners from celebrity chefs, but you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to go – especially during high season and events like St. Patrick’s Day or SCAD graduation.
The Grey, Husk and Common Thread are among the most sought-after tables that you can book in advance online. There’s also greater availability at more casual restaurants, which you can make a reservation for if you’re traveling with a group. Alternatively, go during happy hour or sit at the bar.
5. Yes, you can walk around Savannah with alcohol (with exceptions)
Visitors to Savannah tend to be surprised that the city’s alcohol laws that allow you to legally take your drink with you, but there are exceptions to this rule. First and foremost, the drinking age in the United States is 21, which is absolutely enforced in Savannah. You must have a legal ID that is up-to-date, including a driver’s license or passport.
The open container policy applies to the historic district, from River Street to Jones Street. You can only carry a drink in a plastic 16-ounce cup or can, so ask for a “go cup” from a bar. You can only have one drink at a time, and you can’t have a drink in a motor vehicle. If you don’t follow the rules, you may get arrested!
6. The best neighborhood to stay in depends on what you’re interested in
River Street and the historic district are the most popular places to stay, especially for first-time visitors. There’s been a recent hotel boom, including the openings of the JW Marriott Plant Riverside District and the Thompson Savannah. But things can get rowdy on weekends and the incoming ships sound their horns at all hours – if sleep is what you’re after, you might want to look elsewhere.
The Ellis Square and Madison Square areas are a nice alternative because you can still walk to River Street, as well as the most beautiful areas in Savannah. The DeSoto Hotel and the Andaz Savannah are well-located with great amenities.
7. Pack light layers to handle the heat
While you might expect Savannah to be a very dressy city, most places you go will actually be casual. The only dress codes are in fine dining restaurants, but otherwise, comfort is key. Light colors and layers are best, especially during the summer months when the humidity is in full force.
Comfortable shoes are also important, especially if you’re walking all over town. Bringing a hand fan can help you cool off if you’re waiting in line to get into restaurants like Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House or just relaxing in one of the squares.
8. Savannah is a safe city
For the most part, Savannah is safer than other major cities. According to the latest crime statistics, the majority of crimes are car break-ins and petty theft. With that said, use common sense as you would anywhere else.
Walking alone at night is usually fine, but if you’re feeling nervous, opt for a taxi or pedicab. Drink responsibly and watch where you walk, especially on River Street, where the uneven bricks make it easy to trip. During the day, drink plenty of water to avoid overheating.