Our campground in Yemassee was situated between Charleston and Savannah, so it was always our plan to visit both cities by car on this trip. Because Charleston was 1½ hours away, we chose to stay there overnight. But Savannah was only 45 minutes away, so we decided to make it a day trip. Looking back, we wish we had stayed overnight in Savannah as well, because we enjoyed it even more than Charleston.
In many ways, the two cities share a similar history. They were founded during the colonial period, Charleston in 1670 and Savannah in 1733. Both are peninsular cities that became major seaports for plantation crops during the slavery period. Charleston shipped rice and Savannah cotton. Both were important Southern cities during the Civil War. And both survived the war fairly intact.
The most notable difference between the two cities as we experienced them was that Charleston seems much more formal and rooted in its Antebellum past, even to the point of being especially proud of its role in the Civil War. Savannah on the other hand is more modern and casual. It seems to highlight the way it adapted after the war and to embrace its multi-racial and multi-religious heritage.
Another difference is that Savannah is built on a high bluff overlooking the Savannah River. The streets are wide and shaded with huge live oak trees. The original layout of the city included 24 park-like squares, of which 22 still exist. Even though we took an Old Town Trolley Tour, we found ourselves retracing the route on foot to get the full effect. Savannah is arguably one of the most walkable cities we’ve visited, with the exception of Colonial Williamsburg.
Charleston’s streets on the other hand were more narrow and clogged with people and automobiles. Charleston also hosts cruise ships, which can overwhelm the historic area. That said, Charleston has done a wonderful job preserving its historic area, and provided a model for Savannah to follow.
Our favorite locations in Savannah were the wonderful Forsythe Park, the beautiful city squares, the historic churches where John Wesley and M.L. King Jr preached, the oldest Reform synagogue in the United States, the festive City Market, and even the touristy East River Street.
We came away from Savannah with a strong desire to visit again. We’ve even added it to our short list of permanent locations to live after we give up being full time nomads. Who knows?