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14 Free Things to Do in Savannah, GA

Learn how to save money with these free things to do in Savannah.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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Savannah is a delightful place to visit on a moderate budget. Book a comfortable downtown hotel within walking distance of things to do. Take advantage of the hotel’s complimentary breakfast and then dine out for dinner at a local restaurant. Visit one of the city’s insightful museums. Hop on and hop off the Old Town Trolley.

But after paying for the hotel, parking, and restaurants, your moderate budget might be stretched to the limit. There’s no need to break the piggy bank, though. Plenty of free things to do in Savannah are more exciting and rewarding than some paid sights.

Browse this list and see if any of these might knock a paid attraction off your Top Ten list for planning a trip to Savannah. And if you have any other free things to do that I didn’t include, leave a comment below and tell me about it.

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Map of Free Things to Do in Savannah

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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Parking and Getting Around Savannah

One of the most surprising things about the Savannah Historic District is that it only covers about two square miles. It’s only one mile from River Street to Forsyth Park. Savannah is a very walkable city.

But it’s also possible to spend too much time walking. So, there are plenty of great places to find convenient parking for a museum visit or local shopping. You can easily find these places with the ParkSavannah app available on iOS and Android – the app uses your geolocation to find nearby parking and prevents tickets from expired meters.

Here are a few of the best places to park in the Savannah Historic District:

  • Whitaker Street Parking Garage
  • Bryan Street Parking Garage
  • State Street Parking Garage
  • Liberty Street Parking Garage
  • Visitor Center Parking Lot

The best way to quickly and easily get around Savannah is with Old Town Trolley Tours. You can hop on and hop off the open-air tour bus as often as you like at dozens of locations. And the bus drivers are trained docents with an impressive knowledge of Savannah’s historical facts and quirky trivia.

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No. 1

River Street

In the 1700s, River Street was the main thoroughfare for the bustling Savannah trade industry. By the mid-1800s, the street was lined with five-story cotton warehouses – Savannah was the leading exporter of cotton in the world. But nothing lasts forever, and by the early 1900s, most of the warehouses were empty.

In the 1970s, the waterfront area was redeveloped. A gorgeous waterfront plaza was built from Bull Street to the end of River Street. Buildings were renovated into antique stores, retail shops, and restaurants. River Street became a destination – a free place to enjoy the spectacular sights along the river.

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One of the free things to do on River Street is Factors Walk. A series of steel and concrete footbridges connect the upper levels of the former riverfront warehouses with Bay Street on the bluff. Factors were people who set the price of cotton. During the heyday of the industry in the 1800s, giant bales of cotton were rolled along the cobblestone street beneath the bridges to the docked ships.

Another intriguing free thing to do is walk the Stone Stairs of Death. The foreboding name was given to a particularly steep set of stone stairs built in the 1800s. The 33 historic steps at the western end of River Street are infamously tall and difficult to climb. It might be best to admire the steps and warning signs from the bottom.

The Waving Girl Statue occupies the center of a small grassy square near the east end of River Street. The statue is a tribute to the local legend of Florence Martus. In her teens, Martus fell in love with a sailor. She wanted to be the first to welcome him home, so for 44 years, from 1887 to 1931, she stood at the Cockspur Island Lighthouse and waved a cloth at every passing vessel.

Sculptor Felix de Weldon, who famously sculpted the United States Marine Corps Memorial for Arlington National Cemetery, created a 9-foot-tall statue of a teenage Martus waving a cloth. The statue was dedicated in 1972 and remains one of Savannah’s most iconic sites.

Where to Park

The Bryan Street Parking Garage and Whitaker Street Parking Garage are two blocks from River Street.

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No. 2

Jones Street

Southern Living and Business Insider listed Savannah’s Jones Street as one of the most charming streets in America. The residents agree – an unofficial competition has continued for decades for the prettiest façade. And visitors get to enjoy the results.

Jones Street was named after Major John Jones, the aide-de-camp to General Lachlan McIntosh at the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. The street stretches nine blocks between Tattnall and East Broad. The western half of the street between Tattnall and Drayton Streets still features the original bricks.

Many of the homes were completed in the mid-1850s. Featuring Colonial and Georgian styles, the homes include gorgeous flower beds, hanging planters, and front porch décor. Viewing the homes is easy, with wide brick sidewalks in the shade of giant oak trees.

Where to Park

The Liberty Street Parking Garage is four blocks away.

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No. 3

Forsyth Park

William Brown Hodgon conceived of an urban park in the growing city and set aside 10 acres of woodland at the southern edge of Savannah. Forsyth Park was built in 1851, making it older than New York City’s Central Park.

In March 1858, the city appointed a committee to purchase and install a decorative fountain. Inspired by French garden design, the committee chose a cast iron fountain from a catalog. In July, just ten months after the committee first met, the fountain by Janes, Beebe & Co. was completed. At a grand opening ceremony on August 1, the fountain was turned on to thunderous applause from drenched attendees.

Bull Street was home to the wealthiest residents in the late 1800s and early 1900s. City Hall anchored the north end of the street, and the new Forsyth Park Fountain was on the south end, creating decorative bookends to the fabulous street. The fountain has changed little today – restorations have replaced the top, and several supports, and the cast iron is now painted a brilliant white.

Some other free things to see in Forsyth Park are the Garden of Fragrance, a sensory garden for blind people, and the Forsyth Park Band Shell, where concerts entertain crowds. The original 10 acres in the north part of the park are forested with lots of welcome shade in the summer, while the remainder of the park – initially a muster field – are open grassy areas.

Where to Park

Streetside parking south of Gaston Street, the north end of Forsyth Park, is free, but limited because of the neighborhoods. Liberty Street Parking Garage is the best place to park eight blocks north along Bull Street.

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The James Oglethorpe Statue in Chippewa Square honors Savannah’s founder. (Top)
The fascinating Armillary Sphere in Troup Square. (Bottom)
The James Oglethorpe Statue in Chippewa Square honors Savannah’s founder. (Top)
The fascinating Armillary Sphere in Troup Square. (Bottom)

No. 4

Historic Savannah Squares

When James Oglethorpe founded the Georgia Colony in 1733, he developed a master plan for the settlement layout, leading many to claim Savannah as “America’s oldest planned city.” The plan featured four public squares for cooking, markets, and militia drills surrounded by private homes.

As the city grew, so did the number of squares. By 1856, Savannah boasted 24 squares throughout the city. But today, only 22 remain as two were sacrificed to urban expansion.

Chippewa Square is the most popular thanks to a scene from the 1994 film Forest Gump in which Tom Hanks was filmed on a park bench that is no longer in the square. Laid out in 1841, the square features the Oglethorpe Statue, dedicated to the city’s founder.

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READ MORE: Visiting the 22 Historic Squares of Savannah – Tips, History, and Beautiful Photos

Franklin Square was named after Benjamin Franklin. At the center of the square, the Haitian Monument is dedicated to the Chasseurs-Volontaires de Saint-Dominigue, a group of formerly enslaved people who fought for the Patriots at the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War.

Johnson Square, one of the original four, features the 50-foot-tall Nathaniel Greene Monument. After the disastrous Battle of Camden in 1780, Greene took command of the Southern Theater of the Revolutionary War and forced the British to retreat from their stranglehold on South Carolina back to Charleston. When the monument was built in 1825, Greene and his son were buried beneath it.

Reynolds Square is another popular place to visit. The John Wesley Statue honors the founder of the Methodist church he helped establish after he arrived in the Georgia Colony in 1736.

Did You Know?

None of Savannah’s historic squares are actually square. Each square is approximately 200 feet long on two sides and between 100-300 feet long on the adjacent sides.

All of the historic squares of Savannah are free to explore, including benches for enjoying the sights and sounds of the intriguing places, and most are covered by the shade of giant trees.

Where to Park

The Liberty Street Parking Garage or State Street Parking Garage are the best places to park for exploring the squares.

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A demonstration of Revolutionary War-era weapons. (Top)
800 granite stones honor the Americans and French soldiers killed during the Siege of Savannah. (Bottom)
A demonstration of Revolutionary War-era weapons. (Top)
800 granite stones honor the Americans and French soldiers killed during the Siege of Savannah. (Bottom)

No. 5

Battlefield Memorial Park

After failing to capture George Washington during the first years of the American Revolution, the British developed a new tactic. Called the Southern Strategy, they would capture the southern colonies prosperous with indigo and rice, sue for peace, and let the fledgling American nation keep the northern colonies.

In December 1778, the British captured Savannah with very little resistance. General Benjamin Lincoln mustered 7,000 soldiers in the Continental Army in Charleston to counter the threat and marched south. At the same time, French Admiral Comte d’Estaing sailed to Savannah with 25 ships of the line and 4,000 soldiers.

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In mid-September, the combined American and French forces laid siege to Savannah. On October 9, they launched an all-out assault on the city. But, poor coordination and horrid weather conditions led to disarray, and the British easily repelled the invasion. Among the French, Haitian, and American soldiers who fought at the Battle of Savannah were two men whose names you may recognize – Casimir Pulaski, the namesake of nearby Fort Pulaski National Monument, and Pierre L’Enfant, the designer of Washington, D.C.’s layout.

In 2003, the city of Savannah purchased a lot believed to be part of British fortifications. During a 2005 archaeological dig, the remains of the Spring Hill Redoubt were discovered. The earthen redoubt was recreated, and the lot was named Battlefield Memorial Park.

800 Georgia granite stones laid at the center of the park represent the American and French soldiers killed, wounded, or captured during the battle.

Battlefield Memorial Park is part of a complex of attractions, including the Savannah Visitor Center, Savannah History Museum, and Georgia State Railroad Museum. Visiting the park is free of charge.

Where to Park

The Visitor Center Parking Lot is less than one block away.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 6

Colonial Park Cemetery

Colonial Park Cemetery is the oldest burying ground in Savannah, established in 1750. It was originally a burial ground strictly for members of Christ Church Parish, but after the city purchased it in 1789, it was open to any burials. The 6-acre cemetery contains over 9,000 graves, with the last interment in 1853.

The cemetery is a popular, and free, attraction in Savannah’s Historic District. Visitors can roam among the gravesites from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the off-season and as late as 8 p.m. from March through October. A few historical markers display information about the cemetery and some of its notable residents.

One of the most notable is Button Gwinnett, one of Savannah’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, Gwinnett was killed during a duel in 1777 after arguing about the potential invasion of British-controlled West Florida by General Lachlan McIntosh, another of the cemetery’s residents.

Where to Park

The State Street Parking Garage is about three blocks away, and the Liberty Street Parking Garage is four blocks away.

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No. 7

Bonaventure Cemetery

In 1846, John Mullryne purchased the Bonaventure Plantation on a bluff over the Wilmington River as a private cemetery. In 1907, the city of Savannah bought the cemetery and opened it to public burials, making it the city’s fourth of five cemeteries.

The cemetery features a Victorian design with grassy areas, shady trees, and curving paths. Families would frequently spend afternoons picnicking in the cemetery. The cemetery has become a popular wedding venue with beautiful moss-draped oak trees and blooming bushes with vibrant colors.

The Bonaventure Historical Society Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The cemetery is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Visitors can join a free guided tour on the second weekend of every month or freely explore the cemetery during normal hours.

Some notable gravesites to visit include Johnny Mercer at H-48 and veterans killed in the Spanish-American War in Section K. The Bonaventure Cemetery Tours app makes searching for a gravesite and getting walking directions easy. The app is available for iOS and Android.

How to Get There

Bonaventure Cemetery is 4 miles from the Savannah Historic District. It takes about 10-15 minutes to drive. Parking is available at the visitor center.

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No. 8

Savannah Botanical Gardens

The Reinhard Farmhouse was built in 1840 near downtown Savannah. When threatened with demolition in 1990, the farmhouse was moved to its present location at the Savannah Botanical Gardens. After an extensive renovation, the house is now the headquarters of the Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs.

The 10-acre botanical gardens feature a garden specifically for each season, the Rose Garden with a beautiful water fountain, and the Compassionate Friends of Savannah Memorial. Admission to the gardens is free.

How to Get There

The Savannah Botanical Gardens is about 8 miles from the Savannah Historic District. It takes about 15-20 minutes to drive there. Parking is available at the Reinhard Farmhouse.

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No. 9

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge

Savannah National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge. At the time, the refuge encompassed a mere 2,352 acres along the Savannah River near downtown. Today, the refuge has grown to over 30,000 acres and is one of the largest wildlife refuges in the south.

The 4-mile Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive is the most popular place in the refuge. The one-way scenic loop connects several hiking trails and wildlife viewing areas. The American alligator and dozens of coastal and migratory birds are common in the refuge. There are dozens of trails ranging from .1-mile to the 4-mile Little Black River Trail. You can find a list of best trails at Savannah National Wildlife Refuge at AllTrails.

The Savannah Coastal Refuge Visitor Center on Highway 17 is about twenty minutes from downtown Savannah. Admission is free at the refuge. Laurel Hill Wildlife Drive is open during daylight hours.

How to Get There

Drive across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on U.S. Highway 17 into South Carolina. The visitor center is on the left, about 7 miles from the bridge.

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No. 10

Tybee Island

Tybee Island is one of the few developed beaches in Georgia. It’s a popular day trip destination for Savannah folk and an annual trip for the mountain folk. And the island has a long history before it became a popular tourist destination.

In the prelude to the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War, French Admiral Comte d’Estaing landed his troops on Tybee Island before marching to Savannah for the ill-fated attack. In 1862, Union forces pummeled nearby Fort Pulaski from several positions on the island’s north end with their new rifled canons. But when the Central of Georgia Railroad was completed to the island in 1887, history shifted to tourism.

There are 5 public beaches on Tybee Island, but only two include visitor parking. The beaches are free, but parking is not, making this a quasi-free thing to do in Savannah. The easiest way to pay for parking is with the Park TYB app on iOS and Android.

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The North Beach is the best public beach access on Tybee Island. It’s near the Tybee Island Light Station & Museum – a great place to visit, but it’s not free. The new facility at the beach access features restrooms, changing rooms, and showers. Go for a 20-minute walk north on the beach to round the corner of the island and find a patch of sand near Fort Screven.

The South Beach is the only other public beach access with parking. The parking lot stretches from the Tybee Pier & Pavilion for a few blocks along Strand Avenue. There are restrooms, showers, and picnic tables at the beach access.

The Tybee Pier & Pavilion is another free thing to do on Tybee Island. After the Central of Georgia Railroad built a line to the island, the company built the Tybrisa Pavilion in 1891. But in 1967, a fire destroyed the wooden pavilion. It took almost three decades for a replacement.

On the eve of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the Tybee Pier & Pavilion opened to the public. There is no charge to walk the concrete pier to the end and enjoy time at the covered shelter with spectacular views.

How to Get There

Begin on East Presidents Street and continue onto the Island Expressway. Tybee Island is 18 miles from downtown Savannah and takes about thirty minutes to drive.

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No. 11

Savannah Belles Ferry

The Chatham Area Transit operates the Savannah Belles Ferry, a fleet of four enclosed ferry boats offering free passage for pedestrians crossing the Savannah River between downtown and the convention center. Sightseeing is permitted on the ferry if all you want is to enjoy the view of the city from the river.

The boats are named after Savannah’s belles – strong women who shaped the city’s history. The Juliette Gordon Low is named after the woman who founded the first American Girl Scouts troop in Savannah in 1912. The Susie King Taylor is named after a woman born into slavery who worked as an army nurse during the Civil War and later established the first African-American schools in the city. The Florence Martus is named after the famous “waving girl” who spent most of her life as the unofficial greeter of ships passing into Savannah. And the Mary Musgrove is named after the Native American interpreter who helped James Oglethorpe negotiate a land treaty with Tomochichi, leading to the establishment of Savannah.

The ferry operates seven days a week from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Riding the ferry is always free. The most scenic times to ride the ferry are first thing in the morning in August and September and mid-day the rest of the year.

Where to Park

The Bryan Street Parking Garage and Whitaker Street Parking Garage are two blocks from River Street.

Did You Know?

In 2021, the Savannah City Council voted to remove the name of Calhoun Square, named after John C. Calhoun, a strong supporter of slavery. In 2023, the council finally agreed on a replacement name. It was renamed Taylor Square in honor of Susie King Taylor. The city plans to install interpretive signs about Taylor’s life and work in the square.

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No. 12

Savannah African Art Museum

Savannah has many great museums where you could spend days exploring the city’s history and culture. But, the Savannah African Art Museum is the only one in the city without an admission fee.

Opened in 2017, the museum explores the cultural and spiritual history of West and Central Africa, the region where many of the enslaved were captured. You’ll find a lot to see, with over 1,000 artifacts in the museum’s collection. Daily guided tours are offered of the museum.

How to Get There

The Savannah African Art Museum is less than two miles from the Savannah Historic District. There is free on-site parking during museum hours.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 13

The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist

Catholicism was banned in the American Colonies, the only exception being Maryland for a short time. But, after the Revolutionary War, the new United States of America took a position of religious freedom. Following on the heels of the revolution, a congregation of St. John the Baptist was established in 1796 by fleeing Haitian refugees and French immigrants.

The congregation built several structures in the city over the next century. In 1850, Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Savannah. Then, in 1873, construction began on the church that exists today.

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Dedicated in 1876, it was Georgia’s first brick building. Built in the French-Gothic style, the building features 81 stained glass windows, 16 gargoyles, and stands 214 feet tall with a 96-foot interior ceiling. The 9,000-pound Main Altar was carved in Italy from Carrara marble. 34 murals were painted in oil on canvas by muralist Paul Gutsche and later hung in the church.

The towering twin steeples are an icon of Savannah. Inside and out, the building is a work of art with intricate handcrafted details, gorgeous murals, and colorful stained-glass windows. It’s the most gorgeous building in Savannah and the one thing everyone must do.

In 2020, Pope Francis promoted the church to Minor Basilica. As a cathedral, it is the highest-ranking church in the Diocese of Savannah.

The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 11:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. until 5 p.m. Self-guided tours inside the church are free, but a $3 donation is requested. Docents are usually available to answer questions about the architecture and history of the church.

Where to Park

The Liberty Parking Garage is 4 blocks away.

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No. 14

Free Savannah Walking Tours

Free Savannah Walking Tours makes a good point. Everyone needs a walking tour of Savannah. But how will you know if you’re paying for a good tour or booking a boring chunk of your valuable time?

Did you know James Oglethorpe established the Georgia Colony to escape debt? Did you know attorneys, Catholics, hard liquor, and slavery were initially banned in the colony? Did you know the ornate downspouts at the bottom of gutter pipes are called Dolphin Spouts and look like fish?

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These are the things you can learn on a guided tour in Savannah. But how do you know you’re booking a good tour? It’s like a restaurant asking for tips when you order your meal. How will you know if the food and service are any good?

That’s why Free Savannah Walking Tours doesn’t charge anything for their tours. Expert guides lead 90-minute walking tours around the historic squares and buildings in the Savannah Historic District. Each tour takes a different shape but features many interesting trivia facts.

Free walking tours are not a novel idea. The premise behind the apparently complimentary service is that people are more willing to leave a large tip after receiving outstanding service than pay upfront for something unknown. And the guides are very welcoming to tips.

But there’s a catch to this free thing to do in Savannah. The city requires a $2.85 tax for each tour guest, whether or not the tour is free. To counter that fee, bookings cost $2.85 for each group member.

Where to Park

Each tour is given at a different spot in the Savannah Historic District. But it’s a small district, so any parking garage will be convenient for one of these tours.

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Where to Stay

The Savannah Historic District has no shortage of comfortable places to stay. Like most cities, you’ll need to pay extra to park a car – the fees range from $15 to $45 per night.

Hotel Indigo is a comfortable place to stay in an 1851 historic building on West Bay Street. Rooms feature city views and comfortable furnishings. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

The Bohemian Hotel is on the waterfront, one block from the River Street retail shops and restaurants. The hotel features garden tubs in the uniquely designed rooms and exquisite common areas throughout the historic building. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

The Drayton Hotel features a rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the Savannah Historic District. It’s within walking distance of almost everything. Guests are treated to a complimentary hot breakfast. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

The Marshall House is a boutique hotel in an 1851 historic building. The hotel features an on-site restaurant and bar. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

Hampton Inn features an outdoor swimming pool on the roof, but you’ll have to stand at the wall to enjoy the spectacular views of the city. Rooms feature comfortable furnishings, and the complimentary hot breakfast in the morning can’t be beaten at any hotel chain. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

Built in 1964 as a roadside motel, The Thunderbird Inn is a nostalgic place to stay in Savannah. The renovated rooms feature comfortable furnishings. Book with Booking.com or Expedia.com

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main strip in downtown Savannah?

Bay Street, River Street, and Bull Street are the main strips through Downtown Savannah. Bay Street is the quickest way to get from one side of downtown to the other. River Street features local retail shops and restaurants along a waterfront promenade. And Bull Street runs roughly north-south through downtown between City Hall and Forsyth Park.

Where is the Forest Gump Bench in Savannah?

The Forest Gump Bench was in Chippewa Square in Savannah. However, the bench was frequently damaged by thousands of selfie-takers. The bench was eventually removed and displayed at the Savannah Welcome Center on Interstate 95 and then at the Savannah History Museum.

How much is parking in downtown Savannah?

Street parking and city-owned parking garages charge between $1 and $2 per hour for parking, with a maximum fee of $16 per day. Privately owned parking lots and garages can range from $10-$20 per day, but the fee varies with special events and seasons.

When was Savannah founded?

Savannah was founded in 1732 by James Oglethorpe.

How many historic squares are in Savannah?

There are 22 historic squares in Savannah.

Who won the Siege of Savannah in the Revolutionary War?

The Siege of Savannah was fought between September 16 and October 18, 1779. The Continental Army was led by General Benjamin Lincoln, and the French by Admiral Comte d’Estaing. On October 9, the combined American and French forces launched an assault on British-held Savannah. The British won the Siege of Savannah and continued to hold the city until the end of the Revolutionary War.

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