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Charleston vs. Savannah: A Charming Southern Showdown

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Charleston and Savannah are two cities that truly highlight the beauty of the South. Both cities are always a terrific choice for a family vacation, honeymoon, destination wedding, or even a corporate retreat. Beaches, historic attractions, local seafood, outdoor recreation, fun tours, and unique activities are easy to come by anywhere near Charleston or Savannah. Horse and carriage ride, anyone?

Whether it’s the Palmetto State or the Peach State, both Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, offer waterfront views and gorgeous oak trees dripping with Spanish moss. Truly, that’s all I really need in life.

For those wondering whether you should go to the Holy City (Charleston) or the Hostess City of the South (Savannah) for your next getaway, I’ve compiled a list of ideas to help you decide. Charleston vs. Savannah is a battle of southern charm and history – so who comes out on top?

If you can’t decide, it’s not hard to take on both Charleston and Savannah in one visit. At about two hours of driving between the two cities, they’re close enough together for a day trip from Charleston to Savannah, or vice-versa.

Charleston vs. Savannah At A Glance

Category Charleston Savannah
Size and Population 156.6 mi², Approx. 153,040 113.3 mi², Approx. 147,088
Attractions Charleston City Market, Fort Sumter, Rainbow Row Forsyth Park, Fort Pulaski
Day Trips Folly Beach, Sullivans Island, Savannah Tybee Island, Hilton Head, Charleston
Cuisine Shrimp and Grits, Seafood Boil, BBQ Ribs Southern fried chicken, Pralines, Red Rice
Types of Travelers Foodies, Architecture Fans History Enthusiasts, Nature Lovers

All About Charleston, South Carolina

Sunset view in Charleston, South Carolina
jdross75 / Adobe Stock

Located on waterfront property between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, Charleston is one of my personal favorite Atlantic Coast cities. It’s near Mt. Pleasant, Isle of Palms, Sullivan’s Island, Folly Beach, and some of the best beaches on the East Coast.

This makes it a wonderful destination to take in soft sandy beaches, natural attractions, maritime and American history, and amazing Lowcountry cuisine. The city was founded in 1670, which means unique architecture can be found throughout the city.

Charleston is historically known as the place where the first shots of the Civil War were fired from secessionists at Fort Sumter in 1861. Today, it mixes a historic aesthetic of centuries-old structures and interesting architecture with modern joys. The main drag, King Street, is known for shopping, boutique hotels, art galleries, local cuisine, and waterfront parks.  

Charleston International Airport (CHS) is located in North Charleston and is served by a wide array of airlines such as Delta, Breeze, JetBlue, Southwest, and American Airlines. The city offers a variety of rental car options. For a place to stay, there are a number of fabulous hotels in town and options for a charming Charleston vacation rental.

Attractions in Charleston

  • Pastel Colored Houses of Rainbow Row
  • Fort Sumter National Monument (the site where the Civil War officially began)
  • Joe Riley Waterfront Park
  • South Carolina Aquarium
  • Charleston City Market
  • H.L. Hunley Submarine
  • Charleston Museum
  • Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum
  • Charleston Tea Garden
  • Gibbes Museum of Art

See Related: Day Trips from Charleston, South Carolina

All About Savannah, Georgia

Savannah Cruise
f11photo / Adobe Stock

Savannah is a coastal city on the Savannah River near Tybee Island and a bit south of Hilton Head Island. Founded in 1733, it was one of the first planned cities in the US and is one of the best spring break destinations. Anyone seeking beaches, history, ghost tours, Lowcountry cuisine, and Southern hospitality will enjoy a trip here.

Hilton Head Island is about a 45-minute drive from Savannah. It makes a great day trip from the rich history and culture of the Savannah historic district, with a blend of southern charm and island vibes.

Savannah’s natural beauty and historical significance have given it a top spot in Hollywood with movies such as Forrest Gump, Glory, Roots, and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. You can even sit on the famous Forrest Gump bench downtown.

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) is your magic carpet ride into the southern history and charm of Savannah. Southwest, JetBlue, Allegiant, and Delta are just a few of the airlines servicing the Savannah area. It’s about 25 minutes to downtown Savannah from the airport.

Attractions in Savannah

  • Forsyth Park
  • Savannah Botanical Garden
  • Bonaventure Cemetery
  • Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum
  • Fort Pulaski National Monument
  • Wormsloe Historic Site
  • American Prohibition Museum
  • Fort McAllister State Park
  • Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
  • Chippewa Square

How Are Charleston And Savannah Different?

There are a few distinct differences when comparing Charleston and Savannah. Charleston has a larger overall footprint, but it has a compact downtown historic district that’s perfectly walkable.

Meanwhile, Savannah is smaller in scale. The Georgia city has a more nature-related vibe with lots of squares and parks (22, in fact). Charleston has an urban aesthetic going on, though, I adore the window boxes and tiny courtyard gardens found around Charleston.

Along with cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Las Vegas, and Sonoma, Savannah has an open container law allowing you to carry a drink out in public. Whoohooo! Charleston does not. Boooo!

Now, we’re not saying you should go all out with the alcohol, but it’s a nice option. If you haven’t finished a drink and need to make it to another reservation you’re good to go.

Charleston has way more craft breweries than Savannah, which makes it a wonderful destination for a craft beer tour. On the other hand, Savannah has the only prohibition museum in the US. It even has a speakeasy bar on site!

Proximity-wise, Savannah is much closer to Interstate 95 for those traveling by car – just about fifteen minutes. To get to Charleston, it’s about an hour’s drive from I-95.

How Are Charleston And Savannah Similar?

The similarities between Charleston and Savannah are part of a much longer list. Both coastal seaport cities are close in population, have historic districts with gorgeous architecture, offer notable restaurants, deliver luxury hotels, and make terrific East Coast vacation spots for any type of travel.

Georgia and South Carolina have similar climates, though Savannah is muggier and hotter in the summer, and milder in the winter. The difference isn’t too significant.

The two cities have a French feel, and both cities fought for the Confederacy to preserve and expand the institution of slavery. Their status as major seaports makes both cities well-known for Civil War history.

The first shots of the war were fired from Charleston’s Fort Sumter, and Savannah was one of the only cities left after Union General Sherman’s “March to the Sea” in 1864. Some accounts say he thought the city was too beautiful to burn.

Reality probably runs closer to the fact that it was a valuable seaport and that Sherman himself only ordered the burning of properties that showed military resistance. The same can’t be said for some of Sherman’s Bummers. But hey, the beauty theory makes a more compelling story, so we’ll go with that.

The harborfront locations provide space for lovely parks and cool sea breezes. Stroll along the Savannah River or Charleston’s Cooper and Ashley Rivers while enjoying the historic architecture.

Charleston Pineapple Fountain Joe Riley Park
Sandy Allen / Via Travelers

Speaking of parks, both have a popular park with an iconic fountain: Charleston’s Joe Riley Waterfront Park has the pineapple fountain pictured above, and Savannah’s Forsyth Park features an equally ornate and widely photographed fountain.

Forsyth Park Savannah fountain
SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

Both Charleston and Savannah have a local market scene where vendors sell art, crafts, jewelry, apparel, and more. Head to the City Market in Savannah or the historic Charleston City Market for everything you never knew you needed.

Like many cities in the South, Savannah and Charleston have a haunted past and offer historic ghost tours. Book a Real Hauntings of Charleston or a Savannah Ghosts & Gravestones Tour to get a look at the spectral side of popular places in either city.

Artsy sides are evident in these two cities. Savannah offers the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and the Telfair Museums. Charleston features the College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Gibbes Museum of Art, plus art galleries, murals, and other fascinating Charleston museums.

Whether visiting Charleston or visiting Savannah on your next trip, you’ll find that both feature mild winters and hot and muggy summers. Visit either city in the winter for crisp weather that’s far from freezing cold.

Head to either in the summer if you enjoy the full heat of the Southern sun. Spring and Fall are lovely and offer a more middle-of-the-road meteorological outlook.

What’s Better About Charleston, South Carolina?

Charleston Old South Carriage Rainbow Row Experience
Sandy Allen / ViaTravelers

As previously mentioned, Charleston is bigger than Savannah, but downtown Charleston is incredibly walkable. Several parking decks around the historic area make it convenient to park and walk to craft breweries, restaurants, bars, museums, historic churches, music festivals, and military history attractions.  

Charleston offers gorgeous historic neighborhoods that feature fine dining and casual eateries. Some of the best hotels in Charleston are complete with rooftop bars, on-site bars and restaurants, and artsy interiors. Charleston is known as one of the top foodie destinations in the country.

Being situated along the coast, the two cities offer nearby barrier islands and beaches. For quick beach access, Charleston wins, but not by a lot.

Sullivan’s Island is about 10 miles from downtown Charleston, and Folly Beach is about 11.5 miles. Tybee Island is about 18 miles from downtown Savannah, and Jekyll Island is approximately an hour and a half.

Charleston also has the impressive 400-year-old Angel Oak Tree, which is located on nearby Johns Island. It is definitely worth a visit.

See Related: Best Walking Tours in Charleston, South Carolina

What’s Better About Savannah, Georgia?

Savannah Botanical Garden in Savannah , Georgia
SACGC, Inc. Botanical Garden / Facebook

Savannah is another walkable city decorated in live oaks draped in Spanish moss, accompanied by the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages. According to some reports and hotel websites, Savannah does offer more reasonable hotel rates than Charleston.

The hotels in downtown Charleston are more along the lines of upscale and boutique in variety and can cost a pretty (or not-so-pretty) penny. For a convenient and comfortable Savannah stay, the Marriott Savannah Riverfront offers a beautiful waterfront setting with an on-site restaurant.

The Marshall House, located in the historic district, is another great choice for a Savannah visit. It was built in 1851 and offers an on-site restaurant, nightly wine receptions, and easy access to the best tourist sites in the historic city.

Who Should Visit Charleston?

Charleston Angel Oak Tree
Sandy Allen / Via Travelers

Charleston is a terrific destination to visit for history buffs, foodies, and brewery enthusiasts who might want to spend a day at the beach. It’s one of the best places for a honeymoon or romantic getaway if you’re looking for a laid-back but energetic vibe, Southern charm, and easy access to beaches like Isle of Palms Beach and Sullivan’s Island Beach.

Foodies looking for the best there is in this major port city’s food scene will not have a hard time finding it. Head to places like Church and Union Charleston, Fleet Landing Restaurant & Bar, Delaney Oyster House, and Lewis Barbecue.

You’ll also find several live music venues among the beautiful architecture of Charleston’s downtown area. Take in live music at the Bay Street Biergarten, The Rooftop at the Vendue, the Charleston Grill, and the Sunday Gospel Brunch at Halls Chophouse.

Hotels in Charleston

Insider Tip: I enjoy staying across the Ashley River at a budget-friendly hotel and then taking advantage of those parking decks in downtown Charleston. The La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Riverview is a convenient option.

It’s beside a marina, so you can get in the boat gazing. It’s also within walking distance of the California Dreaming restaurant, which offers wonderful waterfront dining.

See Related: Is Charleston Safe To Visit? Things To Know

Who Should Visit Savannah?

Moss filled tree arches in Savannah
Ashley Knedler aknedler / Wikimedia Commons, CC0

With a small-town feel and a landscape of stately mansions and natural beauty blooming all over, Savannah wins as a wonderful destination for families, groups, or couples. Really, anyone looking to get their art, culture, and history vibes going in a relaxed atmosphere will enjoy this city.

Savannah feels more “hipster” with its thrift shops, independent bookstores, and cozy coffee shops. The Starland District is the place to go for street art and murals. Check out architecture in the Victorian District and rooftop bars at the Plant Riverside District. Head to the Paris Market on Broughton Street for antiques, unique gifts, jewelry, accessories, and home decor.

Families will enjoy the super fun spectator sport of a Savannah Bananas baseball game. This yellow-clad team breaks into circus acts and other antics during the game. They dance to the likes of Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, and more. Think of it like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball.

Be aware that the Bananas games sell out far in advance and tickets are distributed through a lottery system. For the foodies, be sure to make reservations at Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons, the Olde Pink House Restaurant & Tavern, Vic’s on the River, Husk, and The Pirate’s House.

Hotels in Savannah

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