While nearly 700 miles separate the two cities of Savannah, Georgia and New Orleans, Louisiana, in many ways they are quite similar. They are both found in what’s commonly referred to as America’s “Deep South,” and have rich, incredible histories dating back hundreds of years. But for as much as they are alike, they’re also quite different, each in possession of its own unique identity, and story. So if you only have time to visit one city (although hopefully you’ll eventually make it to both), find out which spot is right for you by reading all about the Southern City Smackdown New Orleans vs. Savannah.
Savannah, Georgia (the slumbering Southern belle)
Best for couples seeking a romantic getaway, families wanting to add on some beach time, road trip enthusiasts, travelers wanting a more sedate visit.
Couples seeking a romantic getaway: There’s no denying that Savannah just oozes the romance. Turn down any street in its historic district and between its gorgeous buildings and the ever seductive Spanish moss, you will have the perfect romantic setting. I also found that unlike in bigger cities, both in the United States and abroad, many areas of Savannah were pleasantly deserted (and I was there over a holiday weekend in the summer!), so if you want a quiet moment to sit with your partner in one of the city’s many squares, you’ll probably have it to yourself. If you want to keep the romance going, just avoid the crowded and romance buzz kill Bay Street which is chock full of individuals toting their plastic cups since Savannah is an open container city.
Families wanting some beach time: Okay, while most kids will probably not be too entranced with Savannah’s history and its buildings, they will be happy to hear that it’s less than an hour’s drive from the popular and well-known Hilton Head beach. Too often, city trips are never logistically convenient to pair with beach time, but that’s not the case with Savannah. And being so close to the Georgia coast, there are obviously other beaches too, I’m just not as familiar.
Travelers in search of a sedate visit: In Savannah, you get the feeling that time has stood still. Sure, you see signs of the 21st century everywhere-cars, individuals too busy to look up from their cell phones, women showing enough skin than would have been simply unfathomable for 19th century society-and yet, you can also easily picture Savannah from the Civil War era, the Savannah during the 1920s, and so forth. I still remember my parents saying that when they visited there in the 1983, my dad came across a man who was driving a horse drawn wagon down a dirt road! Now granted, that was a bit of time ago, but Savannah is a city that truly cares about preserving its past, not just rushing ahead. So if not rushing ahead meshes with your own personal travel style, Savannah is probably the place for you.
New Orleans (let the good times roll)
Best for families, travelers short on time, nightlife lovers, day tripper enthusiasts.
Families: Being a major city, New Orleans literally has something to offer for everyone, but especially children. Typical New Orleans favorites like the famous beignets from Cafe du Monde, swamp tours, and riding on a streetcar will entrance children but so will the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Zoo, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. New Orleans is definitely the perfect city where both the parents and kids are happy. Just avoid going in the summer months when the heat and humidity are utterly oppressive.
Travelers short on time: Unlike Savannah, which is home to a small (but very charming) airport, New Orleans Louis Armstrong airport is huge, with direct flights to countless American cities and even a few international destinations. So if you only have a weekend to work with in terms of how long you can visit and you want to maximize your time as much as possible (i.e. not having to connect and put up with potential delays), and you can fly direct, New Orleans is definitely the way to go.
Nightlife lovers: New Orleans’ nightlife is world famous; I mean its Mardi Gras celebration is America’s answer to Brazil’s carnaval. Because honestly, the good times seem to be rolling 365 days there. Whether you’re looking for a classy, nightlife experience, or are content with getting your fill of hurricanes from the legendary Pat O’Briens, you will find it all there. And let’s not forget about jazz music. While walking through the French Quarter will undoubtedly uncover random music being performed on the streets, try to get tickets to hear some live at Preservation Hall too. It will definitely be worth it.
Day tripper enthusiasts: Some of the most famous antebellum plantations in the United States are within an easy driving distance from New Orleans. Oak Alley, which has been featured in more Hollywood films than one can count, and Laura, which is a prime examples of a Louisiana Creole plantation, are less than an hour from the Big Easy and only a couple of miles apart from each other. There are numerous other day trips to spark just about anyone’s fancy including the Bayou Teche Experience, which allows you to become immersed in the heart of Cajun country.
My final thoughts?
I preferred Savannah to New Orleans namely due to its smaller size, its better preserved historic district, and its overall look. I’m also not a nightlife person at all so that just doesn’t really interest me. However, with that said, I did visit New Orleans almost a decade ago and now being older with other interests (namely food), I would love to return and also rent a car to see Laura Plantation (when I visited Oak Alley, I was on a guided tour).
In short, I feel it all boils down to where you’re coming from, how much time you have to work with, and what things interest you the most.
Author’s note: While I know that the cities of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina are commonly “pitted” against each other due to their close proximity, since I haven’t been to the latter, I’m writing about New Orleans instead. I never write about or offer my opinions on places I haven’t been although Charleston is high on my list of places I would love to see.
Update: I did visit Charleston in 2016 and loved it (minus the food poisoning). I never wrote a smackdown post but I did write more of a fun-loving, relaxed comparison post which you can access here.
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