The 8 Best Things to Do in Savannah

Restaurants, festivals, and hotels are flocking to the city—here’s what to put on the must-visit list.

People walking in front of a fountain in Forsyth Park.

New dining and lodging options are drawing visitors to the Hostess City of the South.

Photo by Ron Dylewski/Unsplash

Even if you didn’t grow up remotely close to Georgia, it’s hard not to feel immersed in a world of debutante balls and slow living when walking through Savannah. The Hostess City of the South’s historical architecture and attractive live oaks mean it’s often compared to such southern cities as Charleston and New Orleans. However, its unique artistic influences (namely, through the influence of Savannah College of Art and Design) make this coastal city a background to all sorts of characters—be it as the setting of Forrest Gump or the birthplace of real-life heroes like Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon.

Whether you’re on a road trip through the South or dedicating a week to the city, here are the eight best things to do on your next trip to Savannah.

1. Tour Savannah’s 22 squares

Savannah’s 22 historic squares, each of which you can easily cross in one minute, share insights into Savannah’s story: The marble monument in Pulaski Square sheds light on Savannah’s bloody involvement in the American Revolution, while the boulder honoring Native American chief Tomochichi in Wright Square shares the long history of Indigenous people in the area. Tour these squares all at once, or intersperse them throughout your time in Savannah as you weave through the city. Although the plaque descriptions provide enough information for a self-guided tour, guided excursions (like those offered by Free Savannah Walking Tours) put these events in context.

2. Visit the Starland Yard food truck park

Drive about 10 minutes (or walk about 45 minutes) south of Savannah’s historic district and you’ll find the less spotlighted—but nonetheless worthwhile—Starland District. While the city’s downtown is packed with storied establishments such as Goose Feathers Cafe and the Olde Pink House, this neighborhood is home to renovated digs like reclaimed art store Starlandia and hangouts like the Wormhole.

At the heart of this innovative spirit is Starland Yard, which debuted in 2019. The outdoor food destination is an amalgamation of 20 or so shipping containers, which include the unfussy Yard Bar, Neapolitan-style Pizzeria Vittoria, and a rotating selection of food trucks parked inside the complex. Open a tab upon entry to the property and embrace the residential side of Savannah.

This October, the SCAD Film Festival comes back to town.

This October, the SCAD Film Festival comes back to town.

Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock

3. Make an artistic pilgrimage to the Savannah Jazz Festival and SCAD Film Festival

This fall sees the annual return of both the Savannah Jazz Festival and SCAD Film Festival. The jazz festival celebrates Savannah’s rich history with the genre and supports Savannah’s Jazz Orchestra. In October, the eight-day SCAD Film Festival hosts special screenings, workshops, and lectures. The festival’s 2022 iteration brought big names such as The Banshees of Inisherin actor Kerry Condon and Academy Award–winning director Ron Howard to town.

Learn about Savannah’s history on an architectural tour with Jonathan Stalcup, a SCAD alumnus, who runs 90-minute guided walks through the city. Sharing stories about famous residents and pointing out design details along the way, Stalcup brings color and context to several of the city’s Georgian-, federal-, and regency-style homes.

4. Grab a cone at Leopold’s Ice Cream

Between the large, neon-lit sign in front of Leopold’s Ice Cream and the line outside the door, it’s hard to miss the shop on Broughton Street. Don’t worry, the service is speedy and the establishment isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Leopold’s has been a mainstay in the city for more than a century, since its founding by three brothers—George, Peter, and Basil Leopold—and the family still runs the shop.

Choose the acclaimed favorite, lemon custard, or sink your teeth into a simple butter pecan. Just don’t be too set on your decision beforehand, as you may find off-menu flavors at the counter. Sit and enjoy your cone after putting a quarter in the jukebox, and admire the movie posters on the wall—they’re the films that Stratton Leopold, Peter’s youngest child, has produced as a Hollywood hotshot.

Get an understanding of Savannah's complicated history with a visit to the Owens-Thomas house.

Get an understanding of Savannah’s complicated history with a visit to the Owens-Thomas house.

Photo by Chris Allan/Shutterstock

5. Learn about Southern history in places like the Davenport House Museum

Spring 2022 brought an expansion to the Davenport House Museum. Through daily tours and scheduled programming, the 19th-century home tells the untold story of urban enslaved workers who resided on the premises.

First-timers will also want to walk a couple of minutes to visit the Owens-Thomas House & Slave Quarters on East State Street for a somber glimpse into the relationships between the wealthy masters and enslaved people who once lived within the walls of the 1819 mansion.

How to visit

Tours occur every half hour 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m.–4 p.m.; $10 for an adult ticket.

6. Stroll through Forsyth Park

Butting against the southern boundary of Savannah’s historic district, Forsyth Park is 30 acres of green space serving as the hub of leisure: You’ll see people playing the saxophone, walking their dogs, or gathering on Saturdays for the weekly farmers’ market. With neatly paved paths and manicured grass making it hard to stray, the serene park is only a two-minute walk from the bustle of historic downtown.

Make sure to check out the park’s symbolic fountain near its northern edge; its waters turn green every St. Patrick’s Day. In the middle of Forsyth, there’s also a section called the Garden of Fragrance, where you can smell the likes of Meyer lemon trees and cape jasmines. The garden also offers elements like braille plaques for those who are visually impaired.

Diners eating outdoors at Ardsley Station

Ardsley Station has proved its staying power with approachable, flavorful dishes.

Photo by A Different Light Photography

7. Get a taste of Savannah’s restaurant vanguard

In a historic Queen Anne house off of Thomas Square, Common Thread is the reason to beeline it to Savannah, setting itself apart thanks to its marriage of the region’s bounty and global flavors. The 2019-born restaurant, helmed by chef Brandon Carter of beloved Farm in Bluffton, South Carolina, is an absolute standout. Tuck into dishes such as tempura sweet potato with Singaporean black pepper sauce and candied kumquats, grilled cabbage with coconut and turmeric broth, and chicken with strawberry harissa yogurt and farro tabbouleh.

Keep an eye out for Flock to the Wok, a 2019 addition to the foodie empire of Ele Tran and her husband Sean. It dishes out Chinese classics such as Shanghai fried rice, braised spicy tofu, and sautéed green beans. The couple’s Little Duck Diner, a modern twist on an all-day diner, is a longtime local favorite.

Ardsley Station had big shoes to fill when it opened in 2021 when it opened in the space formerly occupied by beloved New American restaurant Atlantic. By all accounts, the newcomer is winning over locals and visitors alike with approachable, flavorful dishes such as pork tacos, chilaquiles, and pecan pesto linguine. Go for brunch, lunch, or dinner . . . just go!

Want wine? No problem. Close to the river and opened in 2021, 208 Wine Bar aims to up the wine game in Savannah, with nightly live music, wine flights paired with treats from local Byrd Cookie Company, and charcuterie and crudité boards. Owners James Divine and Christina Pirovitz worked with Repurpose Savannah to reclaim old pieces to use as part of the interior, including paneling salvaged from the Mercer Family cottage on Moon River.

8. Take a walk down Savannah’s waterfront

The waterfront of the Savannah River has been a center for the city since English settlers came upon it more than 300 years ago. Today, it brims with the energy of well-established shops (peruse the jewelry, handmade coffee mugs, and other trinkets sold at the River Street Marketplace) and restaurants (Olympia Cafe is a staple for its Greek dishes) along River Street’s cobblestone path.

The street has been especially lively as of late, with new additions cropping up on the east and west sides facing the river. The Plant Riverside District opened in 2020 on its western side—anchored by a power plant turned JW Marriott—and brings a host of upscale boutiques including J. Parker LTD and Reubel Fine Jewelry, as well as swanky rooftop bars like Myrtle & Rose.

Along the waterfront’s eastern side, old buildings have been given new lives as the River Street East development brings the construction of hotels like the AC Hotel by Marriott.

Where to stay in Savannah

Perry Lane takes an artfully minded and elegant approach to Southern aesthetic.

Perry Lane takes an artfully minded and elegant approach to Southern aesthetic.

Courtesy of Perry Lane Hotel

Perry Lane Hotel

Comprising two five-story towers, the Perry Lane, opened in 2018 as part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, feels elegant and cool all at once, and sits within blocks of museums and restaurants. Details such as midnight blue walls, velvet banquettes, and leather chairs add to the property’s moody, intimate vibe. Cozy rooms, 167 in total, are outfitted with writing desks, tiled showers, and pieces from the hotel’s extensive art collection, which includes more than 3,600 objects and antiques, and 1,200 pieces of art, including an original Paul Gauguin as well as works by alumni of and students at SCAD.

Thompson Savannah

The arrival of the 193-room Thompson Savannah in 2021 brought fresh energy to the city’s riverfront. Picture the brand’s usual sleek aesthetic married with jewel tones and greenery for a Southern touch. Rooms feel spacious, so take advantage of the riverfront perch with sweeping views. Even if you don’t stay, hit the rooftop bar, Bar Julian, the highest rooftop in the city, for the panorama and cocktails, such as the Sugarplum, laced with tequila, plum, and coriander.

Read before you go

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

A requisite and colorful primer, nonfiction Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, tells the story of art dealer James Williams’s murder trials and eventual acquittal. See the famous Bird Girl statue, immortalized on the book’s cover, at the Telfair Academy.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly mentioned guests from the SCAD Film Festival’s 2023 iteration instead of 2022.

Chloe Arrojado is the associate editor of destinations at AFAR. She’s a big fan of cafés, dancing, and asking people on the street for restaurant recommendations.
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