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Best Things To Do in Savannah

AOL PICK from our Editors

Winsomely, lovely Savannah has plenty of sights—museums, historic mansions, interesting old cemeteries—but its best feature is simply its streets. You could wander its cobblestone lanes and oak-shaded side streets for hours without getting bored. When your feet tire, just find a bench in one of the city's many public parks and do a bit of people-watching. The vast majority of the best Savannah things to do can be found in the 2.5-square-mile Historic District. This walkable area, chockablock with stunning 19th-century mansions, museums and lush public parks, offers Old South charm at its most concentrated. You can see a lot by strolling or taking a horse-drawn carriage, but you'll need a vehicle to visit some of Savannah's other iconic sights, including Bonaventure Cemetery.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Neighborhood: Historic District

Founded in the late-1700s by Haitian French immigrants, this soaring Gothic cathedral will strike awe into the hearts of even the least-religious visitors. The 207-foot-high twin steeples pierce the air, topping a vast white building with 81 stained-glass windows. The impressive 20-foot-wide rose window features St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music. Inside, the cream-and-blue interior is decorated with murals of various biblical scenes painted by a local artist in the early-20th century. Check out the 9,000-pound Italian marble altar. Note the pineapples on top of the carved wooden bishop's chair; they're a Southern symbol of welcome, often seen on stair railings and porch flags.

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Cathedral of St. John the Baptist  

City Market

Neighborhood: Historic District

The four-block area around Ellis Square has been Savannah's beating heart since the early-1700s. Back then, farmers hawked sweet corn, watermelon and bags of tobacco from the backs of wagons, while fishermen offloaded buckets of fresh shrimp and crabs, barbers gave haircuts, tinkers sold pots and pans, and women offered fresh biscuits and sausages to hungry shoppers. While the former market building itself is no longer standing, the City Market now consists of a number of renovated warehouses with dozens of boutiques, gift shops, restaurants and bars. While many of these are of a distinctly middlebrow variety (a Thomas Kinkaide gallery, a buffalo wings restaurant), it's still a fun place to browse.

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Old Town Trolley Tours

Neighborhood: Historic District

Getting the full Savannah experience is really less about seeing any one specific attraction and more about simply wandering and taking in the atmosphere. Hop aboard this old-fashioned orange-and-green trolley to do just that. The trolley meanders through Savannah's most lovely historic neighborhoods while guides amuse riders with a steady patter of facts and anecdotes (if it gets too stand-up comedy-like for you, feel free to tune out and simply stare at the scenery). The day tour shows you most of the classic sites—River Street, City Market, etc.—while the Paula Deen Tour offers a peek into the Food Network star's history, and the evening Ghosts and Gravestones Tour takes you to a "haunted" ship chandlery.

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River Street

Neighborhood: Historic District

Sure, Savannah's most famously picturesque neighborhood can be crowded, especially on spring and summer weekends. But missing a stroll along the banks of the Savannah River would be a big mistake. The city's at its sweetest here, all cobblestone streets, stately oak trees and 18th-century row houses containing modern restaurants, bars and boutiques. Wander off River Street proper to see the ornate merchant's mansions and flowering hidden gardens of Savannah's most elite citizens. And don't turn up your nose at a horse-and-carriage ride—if there's any place to do such a thing, it's here.

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The Mercer Williams House Museum

Neighborhood: Historic District

Built in the 1860s by the great-grandfather of singer and Capitol Records co-founder Johnny Mercer, this splendid Italianate mansion is one of Savannah's most notorious buildings. In 1981, renowned Savannah antiques dealer Jim Williams allegedly shot and killed his assistant, Danny Lewis Hansford, in the house. Williams was declared not guilty after four trials, an ordeal that became the basis for the non-fiction bestseller "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." Today the house is impeccably restored and filled with 18th- and 19th-century antiques from Williams' private collection. Note that you can only visit the house by tour and you can reserve your slot online.

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Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace

Neighborhood: Historic District

At first blush, visiting the birthplace of the founder of the Girl Scouts may not appeal to those outside the 10-year-old girl demographic. But don't judge too soon. The Regency-style house, fully restored and furnished to look as it did in its 19th-century heyday, is fascinating in its own right. Plus, Ms. Low's life is interesting even to those not interested in badge-earning or cookie-selling. Born in 1860, the spunky Southern belle traveled the world despite being nearly deaf, and founded the Girl Scouts on a whim in 1912. The organization now counts more than 2.5 million members. Sorry, the museum does not sell Thin Mints.

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Tybee Island

Neighborhood: Tybee Island

Half an hour from downtown Savannah, this sandy Sea Island has long been the retreat of choice for city-dwellers looking to escape sticky, sweltering summers. Today, sleepy Tybee still has a laid-back vibe, with miles of wide white beaches, rustling salt marshes and stroll-worthy wooden boardwalks. It's a popular place to eat crab, with several notable crab shacks. The intrepid can try their luck at crabbing—just tie some raw chicken from a string and dangle it in the surf. (Yeah, it actually works and they'll hang onto the chicken until you pull it in--but don't get pinched!) The pier and pavilion on the island's south end are good for people-watching. Don't miss the black-and-white Tybee Island Light Station, built in 1736 and still going strong.

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Tybee Island  

Bonaventure Cemetery

Neighborhood: East Savannah

On a bluff overlooking the Wilmington River, this 19th-century cemetery is renowned for its otherworldly loveliness. Visitors stroll its oak-lined paths, stopping to photograph spooky stone angels and lavish mausoleums dripping with Spanish moss. The cemetery gained national attention in 1994, where a sculpture known as the Bird Girl became the cover image of the bestselling book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The Bird Girl was removed from the cemetery due to high traffic and is now in the Telfair Museum of Art. Don't worry, though, Bonaventure's 160 acres offer plenty of other scenic vistas.

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Telfair Museum of Art

Neighborhood: Historic District

The oldest public art museum in the South, the Telfair consists of three separate spaces. Telfair Academy, a 19th-century Regency-style building, houses 19th- and 20th-century American and European Art. The Owens-Thomas House, also in the Regency style, is a furnished house museum with a collection of 18th- and 19th-century decorative art. Don't miss the preserved slave quarters, which give a peek into the lives of urban African-American slaves of the period. The gleaming white tile Jepson Center, designed by renowned Canadian-Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, houses the museum's contemporary art collection. Highlights include works by Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella and Jeff Koons.

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Forsyth Park

Neighborhood: Historic District

In the middle of Savannah's historic downtown, this 10-acre public park offers some classic Lowcountry scenes. Imagine oaks hung with gray veils of Spanish moss, palm tree-lined walking paths, a tiered wrought-iron fountain capped with a classical statue of a woman. Savannah's first park, Forsyth was created to resemble the grand urban parks of 19th-century Paris. Today, camera-toting tour groups, amorous young couples and gaggles of teenagers vie for space on the park's benches. Which is exactly how a city park should be, no? Getting your picture snapped in front of the fountain is a definite must-do.

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