Savannah’s tourist boom has resulted in a similar explosion of well over 50 separate tour services, ranging from simple guided trolley journeys to horse-drawn carriage rides to specialty tours to ecotourism adventures. There’s even an MP3-player walking tour. Fair warning: Although local tour guides technically must pass a competency test demonstrating their knowledge of Savannah history, in practice whatever they learned is often thrown out the window in favor of whatever sounds good to them at the time. I’ve heard the craziest, most untrue things said from passing trolleys and horse carriages. By all means go on a tour, but do so with the knowledge that much of what you’re likely to hear won’t be true at all.
Here’s a listing of the key categories with the most notable offerings in each. Don’t forget to tip your guide if you were satisfied with the tour.
Trolley Tours in Savannah
The vehicle of choice for the bulk of the masses visiting Savannah, trolley tours allow you to sit back and enjoy the views in reasonable comfort. As in other cities, the guides provide commentary while attempting, with various degrees of success, to navigate the cramped downtown traffic environment. The main trolley companies in town are Old Savannah Tours (912/234-8128, basic on-off tour $25 adults, $11 children), Old Town Trolleys (800/213-2474, basic on-off tour $23 adults, $10 children), Oglethorpe Trolley Tours (912/233-8380, basic on-off tour $22.50 adults, $10 children), and Gray Line Tours (912/234-8687, basic on-off tour $15). All embark from the Savannah Visitors Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard about every 20-30 minutes on the same schedule, daily 9am-4:30pm.
Frankly there’s not much difference between them, as they all offer a very similar range of services for similar prices, with most offering pickup at your downtown hotel. While the common “on-off privileges” allow trolley riders to disembark for a while and pick up another of the same company’s trolleys at marked stops, be aware there’s no guarantee the next trolley will have enough room to take you on board. Or the one after that.
Specialty Tours in Savannah
Besides the standard narrated Historic District tours, all the above companies also offer a number of spin-off tours. Samples include the Pirate’s House Dinner & Ghost Tour, Belles of Savannah, the Evening Haunted Trolley, and multiple Paula Deen tours.
The copious ghost tours, offered by all the companies, can be fun for the casual visitor who wants entertainment rather than actual history. Students of the paranormal are likely to be disappointed by the cartoonish, Halloween aspect of some of the tours. A standout in the ghost field is the Hearse Ghost Tours (912/695-1578), a unique company that also operates tours in New Orleans and St. Augustine, Florida. Up to eight guests at a time ride around in the open top of a converted hearse, painted all black, of course, and get a 90-minute, suitably over-the-top narration from the driver-guide. It’s still pretty cheesy, but a hip kind of cheesy. Two very popular ghostly walking tours are found with Cobblestone Tours (912/604-3007, $20), a “Haunted History” tour and a “Haunted Pub Crawl.” Another fun paranormal/ghost tour is at Blue Orb Tours (912/665-4258, $25-50), which offers a—you guessed it—“Zombie Tour.”
Storyteller and author Ted Eldridge leads A Walk Through Savannah Tours (912/921-4455, $15 adults, $5 6-12, free under age 6) and offers all kinds of specialty walking tours. To learn about Savannah’s history of filmmaking and to enjoy the best of local cuisine, try a Savannah Movie Tour (912/234-3440, $25 adults, $15 children), taking you to various film locations in town, and a newer Savannah Foody Tour (912/234-3440, $48) featuring 6-9 local eateries.
For a more enlightened take than you’ll usually get on a local tour, contact licensed guide Orlando Montoya (912/308-2952, $20) for a personalized walking tour. His regular job is as a journalist with Georgia Public Radio, so expect a higher level of taste and information with this journey. Another offbeat tour option is Savannah’s Uncommon Walk (912/358-0700, $20), a two-hour exploration of little-known Savannah leaving at 9:30am and 1:30pm daily from Chippewa Square.
To see downtown Savannah by bicycle—quite a refreshing experience—try Savannah Bike Tours (41 Habersham St., 912/704-4043, $15 adults, $10 under age 12), two-hour trips through all 19 squares and Forsyth Park with your “rolling concierge.” They leave daily at 9:30am, 12:30pm, and 4pm Rent bikes from them or ride your own.
The unique Negro Heritage Trail Tour (912/234-8000, $19 adults, $10 children) takes you on a 90-minute air-conditioned bus tour of over 30 of Savannah’s key African American history sites. Pick up the Negro Heritage Tour at the Visitors Center downtown (301 MLK Jr. Blvd.) Tuesday-Saturday at 10am and noon.
Carriage Tours in Savannah
Ah, yes—what could be more romantic and more traditional than enjoying downtown Savannah the way it was originally intended to be traveled, by horse-drawn carriage? Indeed, this is one of the most fun ways to see the city, for couples as well as for those with horse-enamored children. Yes, the horses sometimes look tired, but the tour operators generally take great care to keep the horses hydrated and out of the worst of the heat. There are three main purveyors of equine tourism in town: Carriage Tours of Savannah (912/236-6756, pickup in City Market), Historic Savannah Carriage Tours (888/837-1011, pickup at the Hampton Inn), and Plantation Carriage Company (912/201-0001, pickup in City Market). As with the trolleys, the length of the basic tour and the price is about the same for all—45-60 minutes, about $20 adults and $10 children. All offer specialty tours as well, from ghost tours to evening romantic rides with champagne. Some will pick you up at your hotel.
The heavy industrial buildup on the Savannah River means that the main river tours, all departing from the docks in front of the Hyatt Regency hotel, tend to be disappointing in their unrelenting views of cranes, docks, storage tanks, and smokestacks. Still, for those into that kind of thing, narrated trips up and down the river on the Georgia Queen and the Savannah River Queen are offered by Savannah Riverboat Cruises (912/232-6404, $19 adults, $10 ages 4-12).
If you’ve just got to get out on the river for a short time, by far the best bargain is to take one of the three little Savannah Belles (daily 7:30am-10:30pm, free) water ferries, which shuttle passengers from River Street to Hutchinson Island and back every 15-20 minutes. Pick up one of them on River Street in front of City Hall or at the Waving Girl landing a few blocks east.
The 35-year-old nonprofit Wilderness Southeast (912/897-5108, $10-35) offers guided trips, including paddles to historic Mulberry Grove, birding trips, and beach explorations. Regularly scheduled “Walks on the Wild Side” run the gamut from “Alligators to Anhingas” to the “Urban Forest” to “Explore the Night Sky” to the “Blackwater River Float.” Custom tours are also available.
The most highly-regarded local canoe and kayak tour operator and rental house is Savannah Canoe & Kayak (912/341-9502), run by the husband-wife team of Nigel and Kristin Law. They offer several kayak trips, including a short jaunt to Little Tybee Island. On U.S. 80 just as you get on Tybee is another quality tour service, Sea Kayak Georgia (1102 U.S. 80, 888/529-2542, half-day tour $55). Run by locals Marsha Henson and Ronnie Kemp, Sea Kayak offers many different types of kayak tours. Run by Captain Mike Neal, an experienced local boatman and conservationist, Moon River Kayak Tours (912/898-1800, $50) focuses on 2.5-hour tours of the Skidaway Narrows and scenic Moon River, departing from the public boat ramp at the foot of the bridge to Skidaway Island. No kayaking experience required.
Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Georgia.