It’s tough to beat Savannah for a genuine dose of Southern hospitality. Georgia’s oldest city is a year-round haven for visitors seeking rich American history, world-class dining and beautiful public spaces. For value seekers, 2018 brings even bigger travel incentives, thanks to a bevy of new airline routes and hotels. If you’re planning your first Savannah trip, these experiences won’t disappoint.
Skip the car, catch the 'dot'
Getting around Savannah and taking in all the sights, is best by foot or bike. If you need a ride, though, it’s free aboard “the dot.” These colorful express shuttles serve 24 stops throughout the Historic District and run two different routes, keeping wait times to less than 10 minutes. The stops bring you to dozens of cultural landmarks, including the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum and the Savannah Theatre. Savannah Mobility Management also runs the Belles Ferries, classic passenger boats that make stops at three landings throughout the city’s harbor.
Skip the shopping, get squared
Savannah’s squares are iconic. Originally developed as a fire prevention method, there are 22 in all, each named to honor a famous figure or milestone from the city’s past. Many feature important landmarks, and all offer a perfect spot for a midday respite. Calhoun Square is the only square where all original buildings remain; Monterey Square is home to the Mercer House, made famous in the film, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” You’ll find gorgeous parks in Savannah, too, including popular Forsyth Park; at 30 acres, it offers jogger-friendly sidewalks, a fragrant garden for the blind, a Saturday farmers’ market, and a landmark fountain that’s definitely selfie-worthy.
Hunt for ghosts, bring the kids
Ghost tours are a must here -- Savannah, after all, is considered the country’s most haunted city. Guided and themed tour options abound, but the Savannah Ghost Show may be the most kid-friendly. More of a traveling theater than just a tour, it combines magic tricks with spooky tales of pirates and ghosts from Savannah’s past. Guests visit several squares and at least one graveyard. The “Catch a Ghost Tour” meets at 7:30 p.m. on select days each week and seasonally. The tour covers a mile, lasts 75 minutes and is good for kids of all ages.
Skip the walk, hop on
Cool Savannah Tours offer adventure tours throughout the city by horse-drawn carriage. Private tours last about 45 minutes and are fully customized, from where you’re picked up and dropped off to the attractions you visit along the way. Offered year-round, the cost is $120 for two adults, and you can add up to six additional passengers for $15 each.
Skip the sweet tea, sip on martinis
Sipping that famous sweet tea on a lovely Savannah afternoon is a must. But if you want to give your taste buds a jolt, consider the Martini Tour. Put on by the folks at Savannah Movie Tours (which, naturally, is popular for its twice-a-day treks to local sights that have been featured on the silver screen), this 90-minute libation adventure explores the cocktail that became a popular local sipper during Prohibition. The colorful tour is intimate -- limited to 10 people -- and includes plenty of sipping throughout Savannah’s Historic District. This tour costs $40; reserve in advance.
Skip the restaurant, go fancy
Corner gas station convenience stores are a dime a dozen in any town, but the Savannah locals will tell you -- Parker’s Market Urban Gourmet (they’ll call it “Fancy Parker’s”) is one of a kind. Stop by for gourmet hot meals-to-go 24 hours a day, from breakfast items to house-made fried chicken. Imported cheeses and specialty sauces? Check. Fine wine and craft beer? Check. Decadent pastries with your morning coffee? Check. Stop by for fresh-cut flowers or fresh-made bread and desserts. They stock more than 5000 specialty food products, plus essentials like batteries and pet food. And you can gas up your rental car here, too!
Skip the museum, head to college
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) produces the artists of tomorrow. More than 11,000 students from more than 100 countries are enrolled here, and the SCAD Museum of Art features a rotating array of their work. Take a guided tour to check out emerging trends in painting, textiles, photography and jewelry; admission is $10, or $20 for groups of three or more, and kids under 14 are free. SCAD also runs several galleries throughout the Historic District and a retail shop on Madison Square.
Skip the mall, visit the market
City Market is a cultural epicenter in this city that’s been a hub of social activity for 300 years. This is a four-block area, adjacent to Ellis Square, that features beautifully restored storefronts and warehouses; shop at Silver Silk & Beads, Savannah Cigars and Christmas in the Market. There are some great eats here, too, like the loaded pizzas at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s and the made-from-scratch quiches at Pie Society, a traditional British bakery. City Market is also home to late-night bars (The Bar Bar stays open ‘til 3 a.m.) and art galleries.
After River Street, stroll Broughton
River Street is a famous bustling hot spot and a glittering array of coastal-inspired culinary options along the sweeping Savannah River; the views and the winding cobblestone streets offer a classic Savannah experience. For more great strolling, head to Broughton Street, where you can browse through unique international gifts at Paris Market, shop for snazzy recycled jewelry and clothes at Civvies and indulge on gourmet ice cream at Leopold’s. Even if you’re not catching a show, pop into the Lucas Theatre and check out the mesmerizing architecture.
Skip the gym, swing a club
Golf is alive and well throughout Georgia. The Georgia Golf Trail links close to 20 championship golf courses throughout the state and two of the best are based in Savannah. The Club at Savannah Harbor and Savannah Quarters Country Club, both feature sweeping views and 18 challenging holes.
Skip Downtown, Hit the Beach
Tybee Island is just 20 minutes from downtown Savannah, and it’s a quintessential beach escape. Take in the laid-back vibe by lounging on the sand, taking a surfing lesson and foraging through the various seafood shacks. There’s a museum here, with artifacts spanning more than 400 years, a wonderful marine science center and a light station you can climb -- the first lighthouse ever built on the south Atlantic coast. And if you take a sunset cruise or go kayaking, look out for bottlenose dolphins.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features exclusive deals in Savannah. Got your own favorite Savannah experience? Let him know on Twitter or Instagram: @gabesaglie.