One of the oldest and most historical cities in the United States, Savannah inevitably has played important roles in American history and has captured the hearts of many who have visited. It is not hard to see why so many people fall hard and fast for Savannah, Americans treasure it as one of their most beautiful cities and international visitors are quick to appreciate the history surrounding it. Once gifted to Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War by William Sherman after he was sent to take control of it, but instead was one of many who fell in love with Savannah and didn’t want to see it destroyed by the war, and so saved it by presenting it to the President for Christmas. The charm that General Sherman saw in Savannah is captivating to everyone fortunate to visit the heart of the South, and to truly understand what this city has to offer you need only wander around and follow this walking guide to Savannah.
Starting down in Forsyth Park take some time to wander around, admire the fountain, and dwell under those beautiful live oak trees. At the edge of the park, just past the fountain, turn left before making a right down Barnard Street, soon you’ll come upon your first Savannah Square, Chatham Square. One of my favoured squares, it feels a little more secluded and private compared to the others, perhaps because it is surrounded my mostly residential houses and is frequented mostly by locals and their adorable doggy companions.
Exit out of the middle street leading east until you reach Monterey Square, one of the most well-known squares due to its affiliation with “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. The Mercer Williams House, the setting of the event in both novel and film, overlooks Monterey Square and is open to the public for tours. From here continue east to Calhoun Square. This square is the only one in Savannah that has all of its original buildings surrounding it, one of which is the Massie School, the first public school in Savannah. However, it is also one of the saddest squares. Calhoun Square is the site of the largest un-exhumed slave graveyard in Savannah, with an estimated count of over 1000 bodies buried beneath.
After, you will head to Whitefield Square by continuing east out of Calhoun Square. Whitefield Square is probably my favourite square in the city with its charming Victorian homes, its overhanging oaks and mostly because of the beautiful white gazebo standing at its centre. This is the site of many weddings and ceremonies due to its picturesque setting. On the edge of this square, also sits a pretty white church that just adds to the attractiveness.
Leaving Whitefield Square behind you cross over Taylor Street and keep walking until you reach Jones Street, which in my opinion is the prettiest street in the entire city. Once you’ve meandered up and down Jones street admiring the many brownstones and town houses, then head up Bull until you stumble upon the next square, Madison Square, most famous for St John’s Episcopal Church and the Green-Meldrim House. St John’s is a charming church that has a peaceful courtyard and covered walkway that is overlooked by its neighbour the Green-Meldrim House. This house is one the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the city, with an interesting tale that you can read here.
Continuing east out of Madison, make your way onto Lafayette Square. On the corner of Abercorn and Charlton Streets is the Andrew Low House, husband to Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of America. The house is now arranged as a somewhat Girl Scout museum, with a copious amount of memorabilia. On the edge of Lafayette Square you will also find the most beautiful church in Savannah, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, with a stunning façade but an even more stunning interior, so make sure to stop inside for a quick look.
Head up Abercorn Street via Harris until you come to Colonial Park Cemetery. A peaceful cemetery during the day, a night the graveyard is frequented by ghost tours as it is considered to be one of the most haunted sites in Savannah. One popular tale is that of Rene Asche Rondolier, an orphan boy who was accused of murdering two girls in the cemetery before being killed himself. Though in the days that followed his death more and more dead bodies would turn up in the cemetery, which lead to townspeople calling the yard Rene’s playground. But if you can get past that feeling of something tickling the back of your neck the Colonial Park Cemetery is a nice escape from the southern heat.
Out of the centre of the park, go down West Hull to Chippewa Square, what is probably the most famous square in all of Savannah. Chippewa Square is where a few scenes were filmed in a little movie that you may have heard of before… Forrest Gump… sound familiar? This square was I guess the entire centre of the film; it is where Forrest’s’ bench was where he told his story to whoever was lucky enough to be sitting next to him at the time. Although the bench was only placed there for the movie people are still quick to flock here for a picture. You can see his bench in the Savannah History Museum.
As you leave Chippewa go west on Hull then turn right up Barnard Street. After a few blocks you should reach Telfair Square. Here you’ll find the Telfair Museum of Arts and Sciences that houses relics from the Telfair family as well as numerous paintings and antiques. On the outskirts of Telfair Square there are two buildings that have been a controversial development amongst Savannahians. The buildings are federal government buildings that have been decorated with white tiles on the outside, and so have been come to be known as the ‘bathroom buildings’. As you’ll see for yourself they are not very attractive buildings, so it is understandable that most locals are not too thrilled with them.
Heading on towards Wright Square, leaving Telfair by going east, Wright is commonly referred to as “Court House Square” or “Post Office Square” due to the longstanding buildings that have dotted the corners of the square. Moving onto Oglethorpe Square, still going east, a site that is beloved by the people of Savannah lies within this Square, the Owens-Thomas home. This is considered to be Savannah’s most sophisticated house, with its regal exterior and elaborate interior.
Exit via the top of Oglethorpe Square walking up Abercorn until you reach Broughton Street. On the corner here you will find the best ice cream in Savannah at Leopold’s, which you will be able to tell by the massive line that is out the front. But it is well worth the wait to get some of this world famous ice cream. The staple Tutti Fruiti flavour is a must try! If you continue on East Broughton Street, you’ll then make a left on Broad Street where you will eventually find the Pirates House. This is one of the most popular restaurants for visitors, especially if you are travelling with kids. Offering traditional southern food (think fried chicken and gumbo), with pirate waiters ready to claim all your treasure.
From here it is an easy walk straight on Julian Street to Washington Square where almost every house has been owned by a person or family of historical significance. Venturing through Warren Square until you reach Reynolds Square, you’ll pass countless charming southern homes. Once you get to Reynolds Square take notice of the pink building in the corner. This is coincidentally named The Olde Pink House, and is one of the finest restaurants in Savannah serving southern cuisine and offers live music nightly. Even if you don’t plan to eat here, I would highly suggest a peek inside because it really is gorgeous.
Leaving Reynolds Square by passing the Olde Pink House, you’ll find Johnson Square after crossing a few streets. Johnson is the largest square in Savannah and one of the oldest. This was where the settlers would gather for community events, or to attend to daily needs including checking the time of day, collecting water, and seeing public notices. This was once the most important square and meeting place in the city, and as such was the chosen place to build the first ‘skyscrapers’ of Savannah around. Although the buildings may not be considered skyscrapers in other more metropolitan cities, they were built at the tallest height allowed to help Savannah remain its charming self.
Heading west out of Johnson Square, you’ll near the beginning of City Market in Ellis Square. This is definitely the newest looking square, having been completely redone on the top of the underground car park. City Market is the centre of the historical district, with restaurants, shops, and galleries offering a thriving cultural atmosphere, with live music performances every night and horse and carriages roaming by during the day.
If you leave the squares behind you and head towards the water you will soon reach Factors Walk. This was once the site of the original Cotton Exchange and the cotton warehouses, now cafes and boutiques line the iron walkways. Down below lies the historic River Street. Upscale and casual eateries offering views over the Savannah River and specialty stores call this street home and are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. River Street is where you can also board a boat trip down the Savannah River, a favourite attraction, especially at sunset.
Savannah is truly one of America’s greatest treasures that deserves a few good days of exploring, and depending on your style this walking guide will approximately take you two days at a leisurely pace to complete. Full of so much history and charm, this city will leave you in amazement as you wander from square to square relaxing under the oaks and enjoying the southern sun. From Savannah there are also many day trips of interest including Beaufort, South Carolina, Hilton Head, and Tybee Island.