If you've been to both Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia, then you've likely picked up on a few similarities: the cobbled downtown streets, perfect for carriage rides and walking tours; the neighboring beaches and Civil War forts and cemeteries; the almost identical praline-boasting candy shops; and, finally, the rumors of ghosts lurking about the towns, making for equally excellent ghost tours and stories.
These similarities are not entirely by accident. The port cities are two of the oldest in the U.S., only about 100 miles apart from each other. They are referred to as "sister cities," but it is clear that Charleston came first and Savannah was built intentionally in Charleston's likeness.
But if you haven't been to either and are having trouble deciding (quite fairly) between the two for your next weekend getaway, you've come to the perfect spot to figure out which locale will serve you and your co-wanderers best.
Savannah is for you if…
- You're travelling with a romantic partner. Perhaps because Savannah is influenced by its art school, Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), the entire town feels a bit more bohemian than the classy city of Charleston. There is less pressure in Savannah to "dress to the nines" as there is in Charleston, so you can throw on just about anything and enjoy a laid-back day hopping from one romantic park to the next.
- You prefer busy beaches. Tybee Island is just a 30 minute drive outside of Savannah, and offers paid parking (quarters only!) for public beach access, great for a day trip to sunbathe or play in the waves. But don't expect your public beach experience to be a relaxing one: Tybee is usually crowded with plenty to do: food and drink vendors, volleyball tournaments, and sunset dances.
- You love to party. Savannah is one of the few cities in the U.S. where there are no open container laws, so you are free to take your alcoholic drinks to go as you stroll through the centuries-old streets. This law extends to Tybee Island, as well. Because there are no strict open container laws, you can enjoy unique excursions such as the Savannah Slow Ride, a hilarious bicycle booze cruise through downtown.
- You appreciate contemporary art. The art scene is huge in Savannah, thanks again to SCAD's influence. Here you can enjoy art in virtually every form, from street art to artisan food and drink shops (check out Jenny's for some fun and creative drinks like rice crispy martinis).
- You're on a budget. Affordable Air BnBs are abundant for a weekend in Savannah's historic district, allowing for walkable access to all tourist attractions. Popular restaurants are also affordable in Savannah; for example, Paula Deen's restaurant, The Lady & Son's, is under $20 for an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch feast – and trust me, it is worth the wait!
Consider Charleston if…
- You're planning a family vacation. The party scene is not as prominent in Charleston, making this city more family friendly. You will want to make your plans in advance, though; most rentals are booked months ahead, so Charleston is not the destination for you if you are looking for a quick weekend getaway. And if your family's favorite pasttime is shopping, King Street offers a selection of stores fit for an upscale mall.
- You want to relax on a beach or resort. Unlike the bustle of Tybee Island, Folly Beach is a much more peaceful Atlantic beach characterized by calm waters and white sand. Though it is possible to find some stretches of public beach here, the majority of these beaches are private. You may want to consider booking a spot on one of the beaches and travelling into Charleston by day to make the most out of your southern family vacation.
- You consider yourself a fine dining foodie. While there are good restaurants in Savannah, you never run out of food possibilities in Charleston. Fleet Landing and Hominy Grill are just two southern/seafood restaurants popular in the city, but the choices are not limited to regional fare. From Creole cuisine to dimly lit Italian spots and Thai food, Charleston is the destination for you if fine food is your priority.
- You prefer traditional art. With endless art galleries in Charleston, you will be able to find local landscapes suitable to add to your home's collection. If portraiture is what you want, plenty of artists around town will be willing to oblige your needs on the spot – for a price, of course.
- You don't mind spending a little extra (on just about everything). Though both Savannah and Charleston are tourist hubs, Charleston's prices are higher than those in Savannah. Even Air BnBs run at least a hundred more for a spot in the historic part of the city. Charleston caters more to wealth, but not for naught; Charleston does have a slightly cleaner, more kept and open appearance than that of its more "lived in" sister, Savannah.
Though similar, Savannah and Charleston have different personalities that might better suit your particular vacation goals. Whichever city you choose to explore first, I can guarantee you will be captivated by its idyllic southern charm.