Picking the right tour in Savannah, Georgia

There are at least 97 options for tours in Savannah. That’s not a random, making-a-point number. It’s the number of tours reviewed on TripAdvisor. How do you choose from a number like that?

First, the best way to see Historic Downtown Savannah is on your feet. It’s a town built for walking. (Although a private, horse-drawn carriage tour at night is hard to beat too. More on that later.)

Second, consider what you are interested in. History? Architecture? Ghosts? Literature? African-American history? Pirates? You name it, you can find a tour to fit it.

Third, find a knowledgeable tour guide. Tours are BIG business in Savannah and they don’t let just anyone walk of the street and give them. You have to go through training, take a test and be licensed. And you have to retake the test every year.

That explains why we had so many impressive tour guides when I was there last month. But some stood out as better than others.

Of the eight house, museum or city tours I took during my week in Savannah, my favorite guides were Jack Wray at the Green-Meldrim House, Joyce at the Juliette Gordon Low House, Cindy Cantrell on the Old Town Trolley and Andrew of Historic Savannah Carriage Tours.

Based on that experience and some research online, here are tours I recommend and would like to take (or take again):

Architecture

There is no shortage of architecture tours in Savannah. Jonathan Stalcup is a well-known tour guide and I’ll talk about him a bit later. But here are a couple architecture tours that go beyond the typical “this is a Greek Revival home …”

Bobby Davis: Davis has an “ornamental ironwork & hidden fountains” tour that sounds fascinating. There is a lot of intricate ironwork — once an indication of wealth — in Savannah, similar to that of New Orleans and Charleston.
Cost: $35 for 2 hours.

Dirk Hardison: Hardison, who has extensive preservation experience in Savannah, is one of a few people who do preservation-focused tours. The history of preservation in Savannah, which began at the Davenport House pictured at right, is quite interesting.
Cost: $20 for two hours.

Ghosts & Graves

Although architecture is well represented on the tour circuit, it’s nothing compared to ghosts and the paranormal. You will see these tours everywhere. I was looking forward to the ghost tour included in the  Girl Scout program that brought me to Savannah. But it turned out to be not-so-spooky and not-so-interesting. So here are a couple that I would like to try next time:

Shannon Scott: You can get an after-hours tour of Bonaventure Cemetery! HOW COOL IS THAT? I can’t think of a better way to talk up this tour than the website does itself: “Stories stretching from present day, all the way back to Bonaventure’s plantation beginnings in 1754! Ranging from the funny & uplifting, to macabre at its most morbid! ”
Cost: $35 for 2.5 hours.

Tobias McGriff: Reviews of McGriff’s company’s  three ghostly tour options and his book, “Savannah Shadows,” indicate that McGriff has done a lot of research, meaning you get more than urban legends and questionable history, which is what I’ve seen in numerous books in Savannah gift shops and heard on some of the tours we took. He also has a blog and podcast if you want to check out his style ahead of time.
Cost: $30 for 2 hours.

History

When I thought of Georgia history, I thought of cotton, slaves and “Gone with the Wind.” But Savannah’s history is much more rich. It was founded in 1733 as a buffer between English and Spanish colonies and became America’s first planned city. Many know that the city escaped Sherman’s March to the Sea but don’t know that it was the site of one of the American Revolution’s bloodiest battles. Cotton and slaves were important to the city, as a major port, but nearby plantations actually grew rice. It is, of course, also the Birthplace of the Girl Scouts.

Jack Wray: Wray led the downstairs portion of the tour we took at the Green-Meldrim House, which served as Sherman’s headquarters during his time in Savannah. Wray knows a lot of history and, just as important, knows how to tell a story. He offers Civil War and Colonial Times walking tours and I would love to take both.
Cost: $25 for two hours or $40 for 3.5 hours.

Phil Sellers: Do you want some history beyond the typical white-male-in-war stories you get in text books? Sellers does a tour about Savannah women, who are often touted around town as being a force to reckon with.
Cost: $30 for 2 hours.

Self-guided

Sometimes you just want to explore at your own pace. But how do you know what to look at or what you are looking at? Try a self-guided tour. Here are two that we bought.

“Savannah Safari”: This tour is aimed kids, but it’s also fun for adults who want to poke around town on their own. You walk around town looking for animals, like the dolphinfish downspouts at left.
Cost: $6 for the book. It takes about 1.5 hours to walk the whole route.

“Savannah Architectural Tours”: This book by Johnathan Stalcup is nicely structured and gives you basic information about many buildings and architectural styles along three different tour routes, each moving further from the river and further in time. (He also offers  guided tours.)
Cost: $15 for the book. Following these routes could take you anywhere from an hour to an entire day, depending on what you stop to explore on the way.

Not walking

They aren’t up my alley, but you can also take tours by  Segway and  bicycle. But if I’m not walking, I’m probably going to be sitting. And these are two that I think are worth sitting through:

Historic Savannah Carriage: A horse-drawn carriage ride, though marketed as romantic, is not  just for couples. I took a Historic Savannah Carriage tour with four other women. We had a great driver/guide named Andrew. I think he is the company’s manager, but I didn’t get his last name, unfortunately. He was wonderfully witty and informative. When we took this tour, we had already spent six days full of tours and museums and I was concerned we’d hear nothing new but I was very wrong.
Cost: $95 for the first two people and $15 for each additional for about an hour.

Angela Sergi: If you’re really into “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” or want in a peek into the city’s strange side, take this tour,  which includes many sites featured in the book, including Bonaventure Cemetery.
Cost:$38 for two hours

If you’re interested in more about Savannah attractions, check out my Next Trip to Savannah Pinterest board.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *