Charleston and Savannah-a tale of two cities
As I’ve already done a Southern cities smackdown post between Savannah and New Orleans which you can access by clicking here, I’m not going to do a new one for Charleston and Savannah now that I’ve been to the former. However, I did want to write a comparison post for the two cities since I saw so many similarities but also supreme differences. They’re a popular choice to combine visits since they’re only a little more than 100 miles apart (172 kilometers).
Of the two cities, I had always wanted to visit Charleston more. It’s not that Savannah didn’t sound or look beautiful because it did. But Charleston’s history seemed more fascinating and from the pictures I had seen, its buildings looked straight out of the 18th century, early 19th century, periods of American history that I adore. However, I made it to Savannah first due to the fact that hotels were somewhat cheaper overall, as was airfare (for whatever reason, Charleston is quite pricey for visitors).
Both cities’ historic districts give you the impression that you’re in another era, and while modern inventions like cars and smart phones are readily visible, it’s also quite easy to imagine women in hoop skirts strolling down the streets with their arms interlocked with a gentleman suitor. It should come as no surprise that when historical films are made, Charleston and Savannah are two of the most popular choices due to their well-preserved historical sections. In cities like Philadelphia and Boston, you can still see traces of times past, but seeing as how these are two quite large metropolitan areas, the historical sections have become almost dwarfed by the 21st century. Not so for Savannah and Charleston, whose populations are both less than 150,000.
I’m not quite sure why this is considering that Savannah was founded in 1733 and was not destroyed during the American Civil War, but to me, many of Savannah’s buildings looked more to be from the Victorian era, as in the setting for a Henry James or Edith Wharton novel. Whereas in a place like Charleston, the buildings appeared older, resembling more the colonial and antebellum eras. Charleston was a major player in both the Revolutionary War (when the colonies fought for their independence from Great Britain) and the Civil War, and so I saw vestiges of both of these time periods in the architecture of its houses.
You may laugh but another reason I preferred Charleston was that unlike in Savannah, it is not an open container city (Charleston is known as the “Holy City” and all). If you’re not familiar with this, open container means you can legally walk around and drink alcohol on the street. And so, Savannah’s popular River Street was just teeming with people toting their plastic cups full of alcohol. When you let people become openly intoxicated on the streets, well, that’s a new level of “fun.”
I also thought there was more to see and do in Charleston, although this is not overly surprising since Charleston always enjoyed greater importance during its days under British dominion and also due to its strategic port location. Savannah is known for being an arts city, something I didn’t really have the time to pursue due to my incredibly short visit, so I’m sure that’s part of it. But if you’re a history lover like me, there’s a dazzling array of places to visit (Fort Sumter, the Old Slave Mart, Aiken-Rhett House, historic churches of all denominations).
While Charleston is known as being more of a foodie city, honestly, I had better meals overall in Savannah (this is attributed to not having enough time and missing out on a special final night meal due to a power outage). It may not have the world famous restaurants that Charleston does, but it has choices you’ll be wowed by too.
Charleston and Savannah are two cities I would love to return to, the first so I can permanently erase all lingering bad memories of getting food poisoning there, the second because my visit was much too short. These are two cities that time had forgotten about and wasn’t kind to in the decades following the Civil War and the economic collapse of the American South, and yet thanks to caring individuals then and continuing on today, visitors like you and me can enjoy these stunning historical gems.