Savannah's Haunting Beauty, Haunted Hideaways and Favorite Haunts
By Amy Pine
Savannah is all about attitude and atmosphere. Slow, sultry and steeped in history, the city is a visual feast, with storybook live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, magnificent 18th- and 19th-century architecture and miles of untouched marshland. The Historic District’s 22 squares are the perfect place to learn about Savannah’s past and experience the historic beauty that has made the city world famous. Visitors looking for a good scare will have plenty to do in what many call America’s most haunted city. Savannah’s numerous historic cemeteries and buildings claim frequent ghost sightings, and there are even haunted ghost tours for those who want a full-on ghoulish adventure. But whether you’re interested in Savannah’s spirits or not, the haunted destinations, among them Bonaventure Cemetery, Colonial Park Cemetery and the Mercer House, are well worth a visit. Visitors who are more interested in the spiritual realm will enjoy the city's many historic sanctuaries, among them the visually stunning Cathedral of St. John the Baptist Church and Congregation Mickve Israel, the third oldest Jewish congregation in the country. Those seeking a cultural experience will find a variety of museums, from the contemporary Jepson Center to the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Right’s Museum to the Ships of the Sea Museum. Several historic forts give visitors an idea of what the city was like during the Civil War and feature magnificent views of Savannah’s many rivers. Tybee Island, which is just a 20-minute drive from Downtown Savannah, is the perfect destination for an afternoon frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean surf.
10 Savannah Riverfront
River Street, Factors Walk, Bay Street and Hutchinson Island comprise the Savannah Riverfront, one of the city's most popular tourist destinations. River Street's cobblestone- and brick-lined streets offer a unique glimpse into Savannah's past, from the Oglethorpe Landing monument, which marks the exact spot where General James Edward Oglethorpe landed in the port of Savannah in 1733, to the Steamship Savannah Marker, which recognizes the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. Nearby Factor's Walk, a renovated 19th-century cotton exchange, is a stark reminder of the city's history of slave trade. Hutchinson Island, which is accessible via the city's $1 ferry service (free for kids under 10) or by car, is home to the Westin Harbor Golf Resort and Spa and the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. Both Bay and River streets have plenty of restaurants and shops, making them the ideal place to spend the better part of a day. ((912) 234-0295)
9 Savannah Foody Tour
With so many great options for dining in Savannah, it's almost impossible to decide where to indulge your taste buds. Thanks to the Foody Tour, you no longer have to make that agonizing decision. Guests hop on board a climate-controlled bus and spend two hours touring the Historic District, stopping at various eateries along the way to sample some of the city's most delectable bites. Restaurants and food items may vary, but past guests have been treated to shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, handmade gourmet chocolates, barbeque pork sliders, homemade cupcakes and more. Favorite stops on the tour include Sisters of the New South, which serves up hearty portions of Southern-style home cooking, and The Lady & Sons, Paula Deen's world-famous restaurant. ((912) 234-3440)
8 Telfair Museums
A grand 19th-century mansion, a contemporary architectural wonder and an English Regency-style 195-year-old home make up the Telfair Museums, three unique art venues in Downtown Savannah. The Telfair Academy, the oldest public art museum in the South, houses 19th- and 20th-century paintings, works on paper, decorative arts and sculptures from the museum's permanent collection. Across the street is the impressive Jepson Center, a modern art museum that features a permanent collection of paintings by renowned artists such as Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. The Jepson Center also boasts a 3,500-square-foot interactive gallery for children and families called ArtZeum. Several blocks east is the Owens-Thomas House, an early 19th-century historic house museum with an impressive decorative arts collection. Admission to the Telfair Academy/Jepson Center and the Owens-Thomas House may be purchased individually or together for a better deal. (912-790-8800, 912-232-1177)
7 Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Without a doubt one of the most visually stunning pieces of architecture in the city, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was dedicated in 1876 and today serves as Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Savannah. Though it was almost entirely destroyed by a fire in 1898, it was rebuilt the next year and restored to its former glory. The inside of the cathedral features dramatic stained glass windows, renaissance-style murals, a 9,000 pound altar made of carved Carrar marble and a Noack pipe organ with 34 ranks and 2,308 pipes. Visitors are welcome to tour the cathedral daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The public may attend noon mass Monday through Saturday, however, no pictures are allowed during the service. It's always a good idea to call in advance to make sure there are no private events preventing the public from touring the cathedral before making plans to visit. ((912) 233-4709)
6 Carriage Tours of Savannah
There's no better way to experience the old South than by horse-drawn carriage. Carriage Tours of Savannah, the city's first carriage tour company, offers 50-minute general tours of the Historic District, as well as evening ghost tours. Each carriage can comfortably hold six adults and is pulled by two well cared-for horses. Tours depart from the gazebo in the center of City Market at Jefferson and West St. Julian streets. Reservations can be made ahead of time online or by phone; the company suggests making reservations 48 hours in advance if you are booking online. If you are planning your carriage ride sooner than that, call for a reservation. (912-236-6756)
5 Bonaventure Cemetery
This storied 150-year-old cemetery, perched on the bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, is at once beautiful and haunting. The final resting place for may famous Savannahians, among them lyricist Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, the 160-acre cemetery features striking monuments, elaborate burial vaults and grand live oak trees. Visitors will enjoy exploring the gravesites, many of which date back to the mid-19th century, and taking in the breathtaking view of the nearby river. While visitors will have plenty to keep them occupied in the main section of the cemetery, those who want the full Bonaventure experience should also visit the cemetery's Greenwich section, which requires a drive or hike around neighboring Forest Lawn Cemetery. The journey is well worth it: among the treasures in the Greenwich section are a reflection pond that was used in several early 20th-century silent films and a scenic view of the river and marsh. (912-651-6843)
4 Fort Pulaski National Monument
This 19th-century fort, which was occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War, is a must-see for history buffs. Only a 15-minute drive from Downtown Savannah, Fort Pulaski was designed by Napoleon's engineer, and though it fell during the Civil War, it still remains intact, with moats, drawbridges, enormous ramparts and mysterious tunnels. After learning about the Fort's fascinating history, visitors can access one of the historic site's many walking trails, which feature magnificent views of the marsh and Savannah River. Be sure to keep your eyes out for one of the Fort's 11 protected species, including bald eagles, manatees, loggerhead sea turtles and peregrine falcons. (912-786-5787)
3 Tybee Island Beach
Tybee Island, a quirky beach town on the Atlantic Ocean about 20 minutes from Downtown Savannah, is the perfect place for a laid back day at the beach. Those wanting a quieter afternoon at the shore should head to the North Beach, a serene section of the island with a lovely view of the Tybee Lighthouse. Visitors seeking a more social experience and access to restaurants, public restrooms and shops will enjoy 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. Annual festivals, among them the Beach Bum Parade in the spring and the Pirates Fest in the fall, draw lively crowds and are a sure bet to entertain both young and old.
2 Forsyth Park
This 30-acre park at the southern edge of the Historic District has a little bit of something for everyone. The park's magnificent two-tiered, white cast-iron fountain, which was made famous in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, is a visual masterpiece and probably the most photographed attraction in all of Savannah. Two large expanses of grass, separated by a walkway, are perfect for throwing a disc, sunbathing or having a picnic. Two playgrounds, one for younger kids and one for older ones, give children an opportunity to burn off steam while adults can relax and keep an eye on them in the nearby shade. The park café serves breakfast and lunch items, along with an array of beverages including Starbucks coffee, beer and wine. (912-651-6610)
1 Savannah's Squares
When James Edward Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733, he planned the city around four open squares. His master plan, based on a series of grids, allowed for the addition of more squares, and today the city's 22 public squares are one of Savannah's defining features. The squares, many of which are surrounded by dramatic 19th-century mansions, feature plenty of green space, benches and oak trees. Some of the city's most famous monuments are found in the squares, among them the magnificent bronze statue of Oglethorpe in Chippewa Square and the grand 55-foot Italian marble monument of General Count Casimir Pulaski in Monterey Square. The squares not only celebrate Savannah's past, but they also play an important role in the future of many brides and grooms, who have made the squares one of the most popular destination wedding spots in the country. ((912) 651-6610)
About Amy Pine
Amy's thrilled to have the opportunity to share her love of Savannah with the world. A Savannah native, Amy has more than 15 years of experience as a writer and editor, and her work has appeared in numerous local, regional and national publications. Prior to launching a freelance career, she was executive editor at the Savannah College of Art and Design, where she served as editor of the college’s alumni magazine. Amy received a B.A. in English and communications from the University of Pennsylvania. She's currently putting the finishing touches on her young adult novel, The Girl in a Picture Frame.
Read more about Amy Pine here.