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If you had asked the two of us about city tours a few years ago, we would have rolled our eyes at you. Tours are for package tourists, we would have told you, followed by: Travel is about soaking up local culture, not going on tours. Fast-forward to the present day, to a couple that now lives and breathes travel, and our opinion has changed a bit with experience.
Do not misunderstand – we would never advocate organized tours as the principal way to see a city (that is just lazy!). There are, however, definite advantages, especially for time-starved visitors. Certain tours make finding out more details/facts about the city, seeing more neighborhoods and getting your bearings in a city much easier.
When we arrived in Savannah for our five-day stay, we were shocked at just how many tours this small Southern city of just 137,000 has on offer – a number easily on par with New York, Paris or London. Alarm bells sounded, red flags were raised…Savannah’s breezy city center is compact and can be explored on foot in a day or two.
Do you really need to take a tour in Savannah at all?
We say yes…Savannah has one of the most unique, interesting stories of all U.S. cities, most of which would go overlooked on a series of leisurely strolls across the famous squares and Forsyth Park without a guide. Taking one of the hop-on, hop-off tours (we liked the Savannah Trolley Tours) can be a good way to dip into a quick history lesson and get a sense of the size of the city center.
The two of us are absolute movie geeks and Savannah, known as the Hollywood of the South, has starred next to Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks as a key film location in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Forrest Gump – among many, many other films. And so it was that, with limited time to see city between our stints both judging and partaking in the Savannah Craft Brew Festival over Labor Day Weekend, we chose to take a movie tour over the Black History Tour, which ran at the same time.
The truth is, Savannah Movie Tours was actually the most disappointing tour we have ever taken.
Tricked by the shiny wrapping, this was an utter disappointment – what we would have given for a ‘Do Over’. The 90-minute outing, which costs $25 per person, stops at various movie locations and flat screen TVs inside the bus show clips of the movie set in the location. Much of the information given was the same as the hop-on, hop-off tours, plus the clips were too short and paying attention to the clip and the boring guide (we kept track of his ums and uhs until we lost count) at the same time was too hard. Maybe we couldn’t keep up because the air-conditioning was cranked up so high in the bus that it actually froze our brains. Everyone on board was shivering (outside, a 100 degree southern summer heat), and Jess nearly lost it when, at the end, the guide had the nerve to ask if we wanted to stop at the famous Leopold’s ice cream. Were the 12 of us freezey-pops not enough?!Pick a tour – just not any tour
So how to know which Savannah tours to book? Check reviews and recommendations on sites like TripAdvisor before you book, plain and simple. Below is a listing of the types of tours available in Savannah. Each type often has 2-5 tour companies offering the same thing:
- Savannah trolley tours
- Savannah hop 0n, hop off tours
- Savannah walking tours
- Savannah haunted walking tours
- Savannah foodie tours
- Savannah movie tours
- Savannah horse carriage tours
- Savannah ghost tours
- Savannah riverboat tours
- Savannah historic homes & gardens tours
- Savannah black history tours
- Savannah pub crawls and martini tours
For history buffs, several historic homes offer tours of the house and gardens. These shine a personal light on history as you catch a frozen moment of a bygone era – how the bedrooms looked, the history of the house, what the customs were. We especially loved the tour of the Mercer Wiliams House, the home of the flamboyant Savannah playboy Jim Williams, familiar to some as the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Having never heard of Savannah icon and Food Network cooking star Paula Deen, we couldn’t miss learning about her in Savannah. Fans line up to eat at her Lady and Sons restaurant (get there early, the lines are looooong) and there are also Paula Deen foodie tour around town. True foodies might best enjoy the Savannah food tour – a great introduction to Southern cuisine with strong reviews on Trip Advisor and this USA Today article.
For people who are interested in African American history in the South, the Black History Tour includes remnants of the Underground Railroad, Old Black Communities and slave burial grounds. We are still kicking ourselves about choosing the movie tour over this highly rated tour.
Savannah is also known as one of the most haunted cities in America. The city’s history is filled with plagues, wars, duels, and murders and every cemetery and Gothic mansion has a ghost story of some type to tell. Not surprisingly there are 31 ghost tours: A Savannah sixth sense tour, a Ghosts & Gravestones tour, a creepy pub crawl, a Savannah Hearse tour (check out Amanda’s coverage of the Savannah hearse tour over at A Dangerous Business), to name only a few.
With a late evening free, we opted for a simple walking ghost tour. It was not electrifying and more like a non-ghost walking tour, until we toured the Juliette Gordon Low birth house (founder of the Girl Scouts), whose ghost stories were creepy enough to get the hair on the back of our necks standing on end.
Whether you are immune to tours or addicted to them, Savannah confronts you with a seemingly infinite amount of shiny packaging… just make sure to do your own research before choosing a tour. Most importantly, sit down on a bench like Forrest Gump in each of Savannah’s 24 breezy squares and take in the mingling of the city’s eccentrics, its visitors and the daily life of the Savannah locals. It is free and the best entertainment of all!
Have you been to Savannah? Would recommend any Savannah tours? In general, how do you feel about taking tours while visiting a city?