The Best of Charleston and Savannah in 10 Days

Both Charleston and Savannah share an abiding respect for social manners and mores, for history, for making money, and for good food and strong drink. They differ in outlook: Charleston has one well-shod foot firmly in the global future, whereas Savannah tends to be more insular. The difference is also one of scale: Savannah’s downtown is bigger and has more room to breathe and stretch out, whereas Charleston’s charms are more compact and serendipitous. This “Best of” tour will allow you to come to your own conclusions.

sunset over the city of charleston
Charleston Skyline. Photo © Sapavo/Dreamstime.

Day 1

Begin your journey in Charleston, the Holy City, named not for its piety but for the steeples in its skyline. First, feel the pulse of the city by going to its bustling heart, Marion Square. Maybe do a little shopping on King Street and at Old City Market afterward. Take a sunset stroll around the Battery and admire Rainbow Row before diving right into a great meal at one of the city’s fine restaurants.

Day 2

Today you put your historian’s hat on and visit one of Charleston’s great house museums, such as the Aiken-Rhett House or the Edmondston-Alston House. Have a hearty Southern-style lunch, then take an afternoon trip to Fort Sumter National Monument. After another fantastic Charleston dinner, take a stroll or carriage ride through the French Quarter to close the evening.

Day 3

Charleston to Beaufort
After a hearty breakfast, make the 20-minute drive over the Ashley River to gorgeous Middleton Place, where you’ll tour the gardens. Then stop at adjacent Drayton Hall to see one of the oldest and best-preserved plantation homes in the nation and learn about the enslaved people forced to work here.

Make the hour-long drive into Beaufort and spend the afternoon walking around the beautifully preserved historic district. If you have time, go over the bridge to St. Helena Island and visit historic Penn Center.

Day 4

Hilton Head to Savannah
From Beaufort, drive to Hilton Head Island, where you can spend a few hours sunning or biking on the family-friendly beach, shop, or visit the free and informative Coastal Discovery Museum. A half hour away, make a late afternoon stop in Old Town Bluffton to shop for art, see the beautiful Church of the Cross on the May River, and have a light dinner. Another half hour’s drive puts you into a cute B&B in Savannah to relax for the night, maybe stopping in a pub for a pint or two.

paved road through oak trees in savannah
Savannah oaks. Photo © Sean Pavone/123rf.

Day 5

Hit downtown Savannah hard today, starting with a walk down River Street. Then enjoy the aesthetic charms of the two adjacent museums, one traditional and one modern, comprising the Telfair Museums. Tour the exquisite Owens-Thomas House and Slave Quarters and then take a walk through the squares, visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Lafayette Square and the Mercer-Williams House on Monterey Square.

Day 6

On your way out to Tybee Island, stop for a walk through amazing Bonaventure Cemetery and pay your respects to native son Johnny Mercer. Then hit scenic and historically important Fort Pulaski National Monument. Scoot on into Tybee another 10 minutes and climb to the top of the lighthouse at the Tybee Island Light Station and Museum before dinner.

Day 7

The Golden Isles
Drive down scenic U.S. 17 through the Altamaha River estuary, about an hour and a half south of Savannah, and wander down Newcastle Street in the Brunswick Historic District. Make the five-minute trip over the causeway and enjoy the afternoon at The Village on St. Simons Island, with a visit to historic Fort Frederica National Monument.

Day 8

This morning, a 20-minute drive takes you into the Jekyll Island Historic District. Tour the grounds and have lunch at any of the great restaurants on-site. Rent a bike and pedal up to the Horton House tabby ruins. Ride on the sand to Driftwood Beach and relax awhile.

Day 9

a wild horse near the ruins on Cumberland Island
Ruins dot the landscape of Cumberland Island. Photo © Brian Lasenby/iStock.

This morning, drive an hour south to St. Marys and have a walk around the cute little downtown area before heading out on the ferry to Cumberland Island National Seashore. The 45-minute ferry ride takes you to a full day of biking or hiking the many trails among the ruins and dunes.

Day 10

Make the half-hour drive into Folkston and the Suwanee Canal Recreation Area at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Take a guided tour up and down the blackwater canal or walk the trails out to the swamp’s prairie vistas and drink in this unique natural beauty.

Jim Morekis

About the Author

Maybe its because he was born in the same hospital as Flannery O'Connor, but there's no doubt that Jim Morekis has writing in his blood. As longtime editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Connect Savannah, the University of Georgia graduate has written about and experienced pretty much every cultural happening in the area. He credits his love of travel to his mother, Elizabeth, who was John Berendt's travel agent during his stint in Savannah while writing Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

As for the ongoing debate over which city is better, Charleston or Savannah, Jim calls it a tie: Charleston has better long-term planning, but Savannah has to-go cups (allowing anyone to explore the Historic District with a beer or cocktail in hand).

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