Located on the vast Savannah River, Savannah’s River Street neighbourhood is rich in southern charm and culture. With history dating back to 1733, when General James Oglethorpe and colonists settled along the Savannah River, it’s no wonder that this cobblestone street, lined with quaint, inviting shops and restaurants, is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations in North America.
Although River Street has millions of visitors each year, the history of River Street has not always been so enchanting. This historic neighbourhood had been neglected for nearly a century when local officials decided to introduce the Riverfront Urban Renewal Project in the late 1970s. Thanks to their efforts, River Street was reborn and buildings that were once cotton warehouses were converted into contemporary shops, hotels and restaurants. With so much on offer on this one stretch of road, explore the best of Savannah’s River Street with the help of our neighbourhood guide.
What to see on River Street
For drinks served up with an elevated view of River Street – with large cargo ships forming an attractive backdrop as they drift under the Talmadge Bridge (en route to the Port of Savannah) – head up to Top Deck, on the roof of The Cotton Sail Hotel. Walk east along the expansive River Walk to pass many monuments and read about their history including the African-American Monument, and The Waving Girl. If you can, plan your stay on River Street to coincide with “First Saturday on the River”, a monthly event that includes arts and crafts on the River Walk and live music from 9am-6pm, with a firework display at night.
Where to rest your head
From sleek modern retreats to historic boltholes, there are plenty of places to stay on Savannah’s River Street. A former cotton warehouse converted into an elegant hotel, The Cotton Sail Hotel opened in 2014 and offers 56 newly renovated guestrooms, each with 200-year old hard wood floors that were salvaged from the roof of the old warehouse. For something a little more traditional, head next door to The Bohemian Hotel, a Marriot Autograph Collection luxury hotel adorned in 18th century maritime accents. It also offers many modern amenities as well as access to the Poseidon Spa and 700 Kitchen Cooking School at their sister hotel, The Mansion on Forsyth Park. For the historian, opt to stay at the River Street Inn, centrally located in the River Street neighbourhood, with a romantic ambiance and river views.
River Street for foodies
Much of the culinary scene on Savannah’s River Street is fresh local seafood and classic southern fare, from crispy scoured Flounder to shrimp and grits. Offering a wide array of fresh local seafood and classic Greek dishes, Olympia Café is a must when on River Street. Co-owned by two Greek men, the restaurant interior is casual but the flavours speak volumes; try the out-of-this-world lamb chops, or opt for traditional Greek dishes like the delicious Spanakotiropita.
For Antebellum history and deep southern cuisine, wander over to Vic’s on the River. Vic’s occupies a former warehouse that once housed Union soldiers during the Civil War. Come here to get a taste of the Old South, not to count your calories. Popular menu items include the fried green tomatoes, award-winning crawfish beignets, jumbo lump crab cakes, and crispy fried wild Georgia shrimp.
For a bit more Cajun and Creole fare, dine at Huey’s on the River. From beignets to eggs benedict, you can order breakfast and brunch items every day of the week until 3pm. If southern fried food is not your thing, hop across Bay Street to the newly opened CO Savannah, which offers an abundance of mouth-watering Asian-fusion from fresh sushi to wok noodles and rice dishes.
Where to go for evening drinks
One of the most popular pastimes on River Street is enjoying a cocktail with a view out over the water. Both The Cotton Sail Hotel and The Bohemian Hotel offer high-end rooftop bars with scenic views. The Cotton Sail’s Top Deck offers cocktails, local craft beers, small plates and charcuterie, while Rocks on the Roof, the rooftop bar at The Bohemian, has a tapas-style menu, an abundance of spirits and live music Wednesday through Sunday.
Looking for something a little more exclusive? The House of Mata Hari is a secret Savannah speakeasy that only allows entry with a key. If you don’t have a key, you either have to know someone who knows someone, or be very nice to the guy on the door. Once you are in, the prohibition-style cocktails, 1920s singers and late night burlesque show will not disappoint.
River Street shopping
River Street is filled with quaint storefronts – including art galleries, boutiques, and independent shops. If you’re looking to bring home a little piece of Savannah, head down to Savannah Bee Company for gourmet honey and health and beauty items. Their raw honeycomb makes a great Savannah souvenir, and the Royal Jelly Body Butter is heavenly.
If your sweet tooth is calling you, the Savannah Candy Kitchen is the perfect place to satisfy your craving, or pick up a gift. If you don’t have room in your suitcase for all those tasty treats, don’t worry, you can order their pralines and many other candies online with free standard shipping.
For the more artistic type, visit Gallery 209, which displays artwork from more than 40 local artists. You’re sure to find a beautiful painting, sculpture, or print that captures your time in Savannah.
Header Image: Savannh River © Natalia Bratslavsky/Thinkstock/iStock
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Have you visited Savannah’s River Street? Where are your favourite places to go? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written by Stefanie Dasher