If you’re looking for historical things to do in Savannah, GA then this is the post you want to read. We have collected the top things to do that are not only fun, but are also educational.
Your Guide to Historical Things to Do in Savannah
Visit the Squares of Savannah
When General James Oglethrope landed in Savannah in 1733, he was the architect of the city streets and planned out the squares. The 22 squares are all free to visit of course and provide lush greenery and interesting history. Here are our top squares to visit:
- Forsyth Park: This is where the famous fountain that’s used to represent Savannah is located and is the perfect photo location for your group. There’s also a public playground and large expanse of space to have a picnic as well.
- Chippewa Square: was made famous by the film Forrest Gump and is where Actor Tom Hanks sat on the bench. The bench is no longer there and can be viewd in the Savannah History Museum (included with TourPass).
- Monterey Square: A large statue of Native American Chief Tomochichi and his grave site are located here as well.
River Street and Factors Row
To be transported back in time, simply look beneath your feet. The cobblestones used to pave the street itself and the ramps connecting Bay Street to River Street were initially brought to Savannah as ballast. The stones were loaded aboard ships on distant shores hundreds of years ago as place-holders for the bales of cotton that would fill the ship’s hold on the return voyage. These stones, brought here from all over the world, were usually just tossed overboard, and for years during the city’s early days they simply sat in huge piles along the riverbanks. By the mid-1800s, city engineers had devised plans to use the stones to pave the streets and build retaining walls to prevent erosion of the white sand that covered the riverfront.
FACTORS ROW OR FACTORS WALK
The large brick buildings that rise two and three stories above the riverfront now house many of the businesses that attract visitors to River Street. What many people don’t realize is that these buildings were initially large cotton warehouses, with offices for the cotton brokers or “factors” taking up the upper levels along Bay Street in an area known as Factors Row, with a series of iron walkways connecting these offices to the warehouses that lined the wharf. This series of iron bridges, walkways and staircases is known as the Factors Walk. “Factors” were the cotton brokers who set prices worldwide.
Today you can stroll River Street and enjoy the many merchant shops, restaurants, bars and take a Savannah Riverboat Cruise (included on TourPass).
Want to save money and visit all that Savannah has to offer? If so, then we recommend purchasing TourPass Savannah. You can purchase a 1-day pass which will more than pay for itself by visiting only 3 attractions.
City Hall & Oglethorpe’s Bench
The gold dome of Savannah’s imposing City Hall is one of the most prominent features of the city’s skyline. Today’s building marks the spot where Gen. Oglethorpe and the city’s earliest settlers made their first camp. The four-story limestone and brick structure was designed by architect Hyman Wallace Witcover in 1906. On the West side of City Hall, you will find Oglethorpe’s Bench, which marks the approximate location of the general’s humble field tent, where he envisioned and planned Georgia’s first city in 1733.
Tybee Island Beach
Once known as the “playground of the southeast,” this quirky beach town on the Atlantic coast some 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, offers the perfect beach escape. South Beach – the busiest area – extends south from 14th St and features soft sands, mild waves and rotating lifeguards making it an ideal spot for families and light swimmers. Restaurants, shops, bars, hotels and motels are just a few steps away, providing a perfect family experience. North Beach – the closest to Savannah – presents a quieter scene. The sand here is peppered with shells may not be as soft, but the view of Tybee Lighthouse across the road is an added bonus. Access to restaurants, public restrooms and shops is easy at the beach near the Tybee Pier and Pavilion. Attractions on the island include the Tybee Marine Science Center and the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum. Several festivals throughout the year draw lively crowds, among them the Beach Bum Parade in the spring and the Pirates Fest in the fall.
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Dating back to 1799, this is the oldest Catholic Church in Georgia and is the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Savannah. Its current Victorian Gothic form with its imposing twin spires is the result of being rebuilt and reformed to its former glory in 1900 after a devastating fire ravaged it. The building was renovated again between 1998 and 2000. During that time, the 24 distinctive Renaissance-style murals were restored, a new altar and baptismal font crafted from Carrara marble were added, as was a new pulpit with engravings of the four evangelists. Inside, you’ll also find 1904 stained-glass windows from Austria, large carved wooden Stations of the Cross (created in Munich, Germany, and installed in 1900), and a 2,081-lb Noack pipe organ. Visitors are welcome to tour the cathedral daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. The public may attend noon mass Monday through Saturday, however, no pictures are allowed during the service.
A visit to a cemetery might not immediately come to mind as a romantic outing, but Bonaventure is no ordinary cemetery. The storied 150-year-old resting place of many of Savannah’s glitterati, perched on a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River was once the site of Bonaventure Plantation. Striking sculptures, monuments and elaborate burial vaults adorn the 160-acres dotted by graceful, moss-draped live oak trees. Visitors can explore mid-19th century gravesites with breathtaking views of the nearby river, or venture further to the Greenwich section and hike the area with its reflection pond, river and marsh. The newer Greenwich section was once the scene of early 20th-century silent films.
Although not free (small entrance fee), The Oatland Island Wildlife Center of Savannah is home to more than 150 animals from 50 different species. The animals are exhibited in large natural habitats along a rustic trail through forest and marsh lands. The “Wolf Wilderness” exhibit features gray wolves, armadillos, flying squirrels, screech owls and a selection of reptiles. Along the trail are cougars, bobcats, bison, alligators, red fox and birds of prey. Cows, sheep, goats and rabbits can be viewed in the “Georgia Farm” area. The center is a unit of the Savannah-Chatham County Board of Education and is open daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The center is located 5 miles east of Historic Downtown Savannah on President Street (Islands Expressway).
Owned and operated by the Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs, this beautiful botanical garden features an array of diverse plant life, including a rose garden, perennial garden, camellia collection, fern garden, herb parterre, vegetable garden and children’s garden, along with a native plant collection and more. The sprawling green space also features a two-acre pond, peaceful walking trails, an amphitheater and the historic Reinhard House, a 19th-century vernacular farmhouse. The garden is open every day during daylight hours throughout the year. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. The garden’s walkways are largely wheelchair accessible, and benches are located throughout.
Colonial Park Cemetery
Colonial Park Cemetery was established in 1750. Having served as Savannah’s only cemetery for more than a century, the six-acre tract is the final resting place for more than 9,000 Savannah residents who died between 1750 and 1853. Like many cemeteries of the same age, Colonial Park has separate areas for the graves of Jews, Negroes and “strangers.” Many graves are distinguished by special markers placed by the Georgia Historical Commission, highlighting an individual who had special historic significance:
- Button Gwinnet Grave – Perhaps the most famous
person to be interred in Colonial Park is Button
Gwinnet. A signer of the Declaration of
Independence, he was killed in a duel with Gen.
Lachlan McIntosh, who also is buried here.
- Yellow Fever Epidemic – It is estimated that more
than 700 people who lost their lives in the tragic days
of the yellow fever epidemic were laid to rest here,
many in unmarked graves.
- Gravestone Wall – Many of Colonial Park’s graves
are unmarked. Visitors often comment about the
headstones propped up against the cemetery walls.
They were cleared by Union soldiers when Gen.
Sherman used the cemetery as an army camp, and
their original location was lost to history.
Buy a Savannah TourPass
Visiting free attractions is great, however you won’t get a real feel for the city and learn it’s history without taking a few guided tours. TourPass includes all of the top attractions and museums and by visiting just 3 attractions it will more than pay for itself. View Savannah TourPass info