- By April Hunt For the AJC
The best thing about visiting Savannah is its densely packed history as a city founded in 1733 along with Georgia's birth as the last of the original 13 colonies.
Historic Savannah features carefully designed parks, cobblestone streets and 18th-century homes, all accessible by walking or, if the dripping Spanish moss so moves you, strolling.
Our recommendations for the seven best tours that capture Georgia's oldest city:
Footprints of Savannah Walking Tour. Operator Vaughnette Goode-Walker, a one-time journalist and history teacher, leads a three-hour tour along the footpaths of City Market Square. As you meander, you'll hear stories about all of Savannah's ancestors, from the designer of the city itself to slave traders that turned the city into an integral part of the Atlantic slave trade.
Old Savannah Tour. If you need a full day to orient yourself to the city, you have your pick of trolleys that offer sightseeing with live guides. The locally owned Old Savannah Tour's most popular option is a hop-on, hop-off trolley ride that is among the most extensive in the city. Ride straight through in about 90 minutes or hop off all day at popular shops and restaurants, the Gothic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the Temple Mickve Israel, one of the oldest synagogues in the United States, and the home where Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low was born. Pro-tip: Get discounted tickets by buying online before you arrive.
Savannah Canoe and Kayak. Some of Savannah's best-kept secrets are just a short drive over the Moon River: the essentially wild barrier islands that sit in the shadow of the better-known Tybee Island. To fully appreciate the subtropical sights, take a half-day paddle of the Skidaway Narrows, a brackish section of the Skidaway River populated with osprey, cormorants and even some bald eagles. The marshland tour starts at $65 for three hours, but discount sites such as Groupon offer regular deals.
Wormsloe Historic Site. If you're up for staying in the Moon River District for a film-set worthy stroll, make sure to save time for a self-guided visit to Wormsloe. Hundreds of majestic live oaks line the mile-long avenue, the image of a sleepy southern lane that ends at a gated entrance of Georgia's oldest plantation. Slavery was outlawed in the state charter when Noble Jones arrived as one of the original British settlers, but that charter was revoked shortly after Wormsloe was built. Jones' descendants maintained the property until Georgia acquired most of it in 1973. For $10, visitors can explore the tabby ruins of the original fortified house as well as a small visitor center and museum.
Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure, another former plantation that went on to become public, is Savannah's largest municipal cemetery. It became a must-see for tourists after one of its statues graced the cover of the popular, atmospheric 1994 book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The iconic Bird Girl sculpture on the cover is now housed in the Jepson Center for the Arts, out of fear for the statue's integrity. But decaying monuments and shrouded trees still dot the 160-acre site, home to the graves of poet Conrad Aiken and songwriter Johnny Mercer. Visitors can explore Bonaventure on their own, with an optional donation for a cemetery map. Or you can take in a free tour with the Bonaventure Historical Society on the second Sunday of every month.
Ghost tours. With all its history, Savannah is best known in some circles as one of the country's most haunted cities. The Sorrel-Weed House embraces both the beauty and the creepy aspects of the city's charm: By day, it offers tours of the Greek Revival style mansion and the antiques within. At night, a "paranormal guide" explains the findings from an investigation by The Atlantic Paranormal Society, complete with images captured for an episode of "Ghost Hunters" as well as those from previous tourists. If the $20-night tour isn't enough, visitors can pay $50 for a two-hour session that begins at 11:30 p.m. and provides ghost hunting gear to help them investigate the home.
Take it all in. Once you've learned your way around and tackled the big bucket list items, soak in the unique blend of elegance and spookiness that is Savannah by selecting your favorite of the city's 22 historic squares for a long lunch. Best bets: ordering a pimiento cheese sandwich; Gryphon allows you to simultaneously enjoy views of Madison Square and feel good supporting students at the Savannah Art & Design Institute. Forsyth Square, with its picture-perfect fountain and whispering Spanish moss, is suited for for a quiet outdoor picnic.