The most surprising things I found in Savannah were the historic squares. From the comfort of an open-air tour bus, I learned each square’s interesting identities and history. By foot, I explored the statues and monuments beneath the shade of gargantuan oak trees. There was no doubt about it – the historic squares of Savannah were the city’s best feature.
Savannah isn’t exactly the oldest city in the country – that title is held by St. Augustine about 150 miles further south – but Savannah claims to be the oldest planned city in the country. An interesting distinction – and one I have not been able to verify or debunk yet.
When James Oglethorpe founded Savannah in 1733, he had a master plan. The city would be built around a series of public squares. The squares would be used for community kitchens, markets, and military drills. Private homes, businesses, government buildings, and churches would be built around the squares.
Six squares were initially laid out in 1733 with the city’s founding. An additional nine were added in 1796. By 1856, twenty-four squares were laid throughout the city – but by 1985, only twenty-two remained. Whatever happened to the lost squares of Savannah?
Getting Around the Squares
Wanna know the second-most surprising thing I found in Savannah? Free public parking. It’s not often I find free public parking in big cities or popular tourism destinations.
However, free public parking was scarce, especially after 5 p.m. and on weekends. If you are an early rise – which I am not – you can probably get a parking space beside one of the squares. Otherwise, you’re left to the numerous parking garages just north of the squares – and potentially long walks to reach them all.
The best way to get around the squares is with the Old Town Trolley tours. Purchase a ticket for the open-air tour bus with the option to hop on and off all day long. The tour company features a dozen stops throughout Savannah, with many of them located at the best squares.
Standing in this peaceful square at the western edge of downtown Savannah it’s hard to imagine it was once dissected by a busy highway. But in the 1980s, the square – named after Benjamin Franklin – was restored to its original layout from 1790.
Trees line the perimeter of a large brick plaza and interconnected sidewalks. At the center, the Haitian Monument dominates visitors’ attention. The monument is dedicated to the Freedom Fighters – a group of Haitians who fought for the Patriots at the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War. One of the fighters depicted in the monument is Henri Christophe – just 12 years old at the time – who would later become King of Haiti.
Nearby attractions: The City Market covers two blocks along the pedestrian-only West St. Julian Street, where you’ll find lots of retail shops, local dining, and the American Prohibition Museum. Along Montgomery Street, you’ll find even more dining options, including Pounce Cat Café – a coffee shop filled with cats for a different kind of caffeinated experience.
Ellis Square was one of the original squares laid out in 1733 – and one of the first destroyed in the name of progress. In 1954, the trees were cut down, and the grass was pulled up to make way for a parking garage. It took nearly fifty years, but in 2004 the city demolished the parking garage and restored the square.
The sparsely decorated square is ringed by a row of trees and left with patches of grass between concrete plazas. There is no monument displayed in the center of this square, but you can visit the Johnny Mercer Statue at the west end. Mercer’s fame in Savannah is tied to his hit single “Moon River,” a song that is still celebrated throughout the city.
Nearby attractions: The City Market covers two blocks along the pedestrian-only West St. Julian Street, where you’ll find lots of retail shops, local dining, and the American Prohibition Museum. Surrounding the other sides of the square are some great restaurants like B&D Burgers, Goose Feathers, and Mabel’s Cupcake Emporium.
Of the original six squares laid out in 1733, Johnson Square is the oldest. Named after a royal governor of South Carolina, the square is covered in shade from a thick canopy of oak trees. Despite being near the center of downtown, it’s often a peaceful place to spend an afternoon.
The center of the square is dominated by the 50-foot-tall Nathaniel Green Monument. Built in 1825, the monument is dedicated to the second in command of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. Greene and his son are buried beneath the monument.
Nearby attractions: Take a look up Bull Street from the edge of Johnson Square for a view of the spectacular City Hall with a gilded dome. Most of the businesses surrounding the square are banks, but on the corner of East Congress and Bull Streets, you’ll find Jen’s & Friends – a nice local bar where everyone wants to learn your name.
You won’t regret a morning spent on a park bench in Reynolds Square. Laid out in 1733, the square features oak trees and manicured flower gardens between the crisscrossing brick pedestrian paths.
At the center of the square – beneath an opening in the canopy of oak trees – is the John Wesley Statue. Wesley arrived in the Georgia colony in 1736 and founded the Methodist church.
Nearby attractions: The Lucas Theatre for the Arts is owned by the Savannah College of Art and Design – locally called SCAD. It’s an excellent place for performing arts and special events in the city. The Olde Pink House Restaurant is located inside the Habersham House. Built in 1771, it’s one of the oldest homes in Savannah and listed as a National Landmark.
Tucked away behind a three-story parking garage, Warren Square is a beautiful place to visit – but not many tourists ever venture there. It’s one of the few squares in the city that does not feature a statue, monument, or water fountain of any kind. The large patch of grass in the middle is frequently used by locals to read a book or have a picnic.
Nearby attractions: There are no attractions to visit surrounding this square.
Located at the eastern edge of downtown Savannah, Washington Square was named after George Washington. In 1791, Washington embarked on the Southern Tour – a grande adventure to thank everyone in the south for voting him as the United States’ first president. The square was laid out just a year before he arrived in the city and named in his honor.
Similar to Warren Square, Washington square does not feature any statues, monuments, or water fountains.
Nearby attractions: There are no attractions to visit surrounding this square.
Originally called St. James Square when it was laid out in 1733, by 1883, it had been renamed in honor of Edward Telfair – a three-time governor of Georgia. Since that time, the Telfair family has had a significant impact on Savannah with the creation of the Telfair Museums.
Although the square features no statues or monuments, it is a gorgeous example of a public park space. Flower gardens line the perimeter and fill the brick streets with color. The corners are reserved for a small garden surrounded by benches to enjoy the scenery. The grassy field in the middle is the perfect play date with your furry friend.
Nearby attractions: The Jepson Center for the Arts and Telfair Academy are two components of the Telfair Museums located around the square. Trinity United Methodist Church – built in 1848 – is the oldest Methodist church in Savannah.
When this square was laid out in 1733, it was initially called Percival Square. In 1763, it was renamed Wright Square. It’s one of the most visited squares in Savannah, with numerous monuments and nearby attractions to visit.
The center of the square is dominated by the William Gordon Monument. Built in 1883, it is dedicated to the founder of the Central of Georgia Railroad. But the most interesting monument is a giant boulder sitting in the corner of the square – the Tomochichi Monument. The monument is dedicated to the Yamacraw chief who helped Oglethorpe acquire the land for Savannah.
Nearby attractions: Soda Pop Shoppe is a great local restaurant designed like a classic diner – and serving some of the best hot dogs in the city. Lutheran Church of The Ascension is one of the most gorgeous churches in Savannah – founded in 1741. This church was built in 1843. Take a walk down Bull Street to find the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace. Born in 1860, Juliette Low gathered 18 girls from a local school and founded the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Laid out in 1742, this was the last square James Oglethorpe developed before leaving the Georgia colony. No monuments or statues adorn this square, however, there is the interesting Moravian Pedestal. Commemorating missionaries who visited the city in 1735, the pedestal was erected in 1933.
Although the square is sparsely populated with historical markers or statues, it is still a pleasant place to sit on a bench and enjoy the city.
Nearby attractions: The Owens-Thomas House was built in 1819 and features some of the most stunning architecture in Savannah. The President’s Quarters Inn is not only one of the most comfortable places to spend a night in the city – it’s also a deeply historic place. Each of the 16 rooms is named after a president who has visited Savannah!
Columbia Square – laid out in 1799 – is devoid of any towering monuments. However, at the center of this modest square is the Wormsloe Fountain. It was initially located at Wormsloe Plantation – the estate for Noble Jones, one of Savannah’s first settlers. In 1970, the fountain was moved to the square to become its only feature.
Nearby attractions: The Davenport House Museum offers tours of the historic home. Built in 1820, it was the first home restored by the Historic Savannah Foundation. The Kehoe House is one of the best bed and breakfast in downtown Savannah, located inside a historic home built in 1893.
At the eastern edge of downtown, Greene Square – laid out in 1799 – is one of the least decorated squares in Savannah. A few trees provide a smattering of shade in the summer, and about a dozen benches offer a respite from the long walk to get there.
Laid out in 1799, Orleans Square is named after the Battle of New Orleans fought during the War of 1812. It’s one of the few squares in Savannah that features a water fountain in the center – this particular fountain is dedicated to German immigrants.
Nearby attractions: The Harper-Fowlkes House is one of the house museums operated by the Coastal Heritage Society in Savannah.
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Savannah’s popularity rose to new heights when Forrest Gump became one of the most beloved movies of all time. Scenes throughout the movie were shot on location at Chippewa Square with Gump – played by Tom Hanks – sitting on a bench at the edge of the square. The famous bench is no longer there, but people still visit the square for the chance to see the filming location.
Laid out in 1841, the square was named after the Battle of Chippewa. At the center of the square is the towering Oglethorpe Statue, dedicated to Savannah’s founder, James Oglethorpe.
Nearby attractions: The Savannah Theatre – opened in 1818 – is the oldest continually running performance theater in the country. The Gallery Espresso sits on the corner of Perry and Bull Streets – it’s a wonderful coffee shop with comfortable seating and large picture windows.
Crawford Square is very different from the other historic squares of Savannah – it features a basketball court and gazebo in the center. It’s a favorite for the local teens to shoot hoops but one of the least-visited by tourists.
Laid out in 1841, the square is named after William Crawford – governor, judge, senator, Secretary of War, and Secretary of the Treasury.
Pulaski Square is a large, gorgeous square that does not feature a single statue, monument, or water fountain. Despite the lack of historical markers, the square is a wonderful place to visit for relaxation.
Laid out in 1837, the square is named after General Casimir Pulaski. The Polish nobleman fought for the Patriots during the Revolutionary War, dying during the Siege of Savannah.
Laid out in 1839, this square was named after President James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. The large brick plaza and interconnecting pedestrian paths beneath giant oak trees make this a remarkable square to visit.
At the center, the Sergeant William Jasper Statue depicts the young soldier raising a flag on the battlefield. Jasper died during the ill-fated Siege of Savannah when Patriot forces attempted to retake Savannah from British control.
Nearby attractions: The Green-Meldrim House – built in the 1850s for Charles Green – is one of the greatest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Savannah. Gryphon is one of the restaurants operated by the Savannah College of Art and Design – and happens to be one of the best brunch spots in the city. ShopSCAD is a beautiful building to explore even if you don’t plan to buy anything – but be warned, the gift shop features lots of stunning artwork that will undoubtedly tempt you!
Despite the relative plainness of Lafayette Square, it is one of the most-visited historic squares in Savannah. At the center, a gorgeous water fountain draws attention – it marks the 250th anniversary of the Georgia colony’s founding.
Named after the Marquis de Lafayette – a French aristocrat who served under General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
Nearby attractions: The biggest draw for visitors to the square is the view of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Founded in the 1700s, the current building was started in 1873 and finished three years later. The Andrew Low House was built for Juliette Gordon Low’s father – and was the house where she died in 1927.
Laid out in 1851, this square was named after George Michael Troup – a governor of Georgia. The square is simplistic at best with a variety of trees and little else, but it does feature the Armillary Sphere. The interesting device – made of sculpted bronze – is used for locating astronomical objects in the night sky.
Chatham Square – laid out in 1847 – is a gorgeous public park with a thick canopy over crisscrossing brick pedestrian paths. However, with no statues or monuments to explore, there is little reason to visit other than to say you have been there. The square was named after William Pitt, the First Earl of Chatham.
Laid out in 1847, this square was named after the Battle of Monterey during the Mexican-American War. It’s a beautiful square with towering trees, patches of manicured grass, and flower gardens.
The center of the square is wrapped in a black wrought iron fence around the Casimir Pulaski Monument. The monument is dedicated to General Pulaski, a Polish nobleman who fought with the Patriots during the Revolutionary War.
Nearby attractions: Like many people, I fell in love with Savannah after reading John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The most pivotal location in the book and subsequent film was the Mercer-Williams House. Built from 1860-1871, the house was purchased by Jim Williams in the 1950s and restored as his private residence. The Congregation Mickve Israel – consecrated in 1878 – is descended from the largest group of Jewish immigrants ever to reach Colonial America.
Of all the squares in Savannah, I find this one to have the most ironic name. Laid out in 1851, the square was originally a burial ground for slaves. It was named after John C. Calhoun – the vice president under two presidents and staunch defender of the right to own slaves.
It’s not an unattractive square – there is no such thing in Savannah – but without any statues or monuments to explore, there isn’t much of a reason to visit.
Named after Reverend George Whitefield – founder of Bethesda Orphanage – this square is not only the last on this list, it was also the last square laid out in Savannah in 1851. Whitefield arrived from England in 1738 and was one of the founding members of the Methodist church. The orphanage he created in 1740 is the oldest in the United States.
The only thing to visit in Whitefield Square is a gorgeous gazebo at the very center. Despite the square’s location at the edge of downtown and lack of a bus stop along the Old Town Trolley Tour, it is worth visiting for the peaceful opportunity to sit in a kind of urban silence.
Where to Stay in Savannah
Savannah has no shortage of fantastic overnight accommodations ranging from budget-friendly hotels to swanky B&Bs. Here are a few options to help you choose where to stay.
The Hyatt Regency is one of a few riverfront hotels in Savannah. The spacious lobby is a great place for large traveling groups to mingle. The exquisite rooms offer the best in privacy while also providing a stellar view of the city skyline.
Hotel Indigo is a modern chic hotel chain, but it’s clean and comfortable and located in the heart of the historic district. Choose from rooms with one or two beds or go for a suite with one or two beds and sleeper sofa.
The Marshall House is one of the most popular historic inns in Savannah – and for good reason. Rooms in the boutique hotel come with one or two beds and a various array of other amenities like fireplace, real wood furniture, and a gorgeous balcony.
Hampton Inn & Suites is my favorite hotel chain and this one is a great choice. Choose from rooms with one or two beds or opt for the studio suite with additional sleeper sofa. Amenities include free on-site parking and a fantastic free breakfast.
The Thunderbird Inn looks like a classic 1960s-era motel on the outside, but the inside has been completely renovated with modern furniture and amenities. Rooms include one kind bed or two queens, hardwood floors, and mini fridge.