By Allison Arteaga
Eclectic Pairing of Irish Heritage and Southern Charm Make Savannah
Just four-and-a-half hours north of Florida’s Space Coast, there’s a famous riverside city in the low country of coastal Georgia where history hangs in the air as thick as the sweet scent of jasmine and magnolia in the early summer. Savannah, a bastion of southern architectural, cultural and military history dating back to the colonial period, draws more than 12 million tourists each year. Visitors walk the city’s worn cobblestone streets beneath ancient live oaks dripping in Spanish moss, in hopes of feeling a sense of connection to the past.
But it’s not just southern heritage that’s waiting to be uncovered amongst Savannah’s historic buildings and azalea-filled city squares. The town also has Irish roots dating back as far as 1736, and each year during the month of March, Savannah puts on a spectacular display of Irish pride unparalleled in magnitude by any other American city besides The Big Apple. Up to half a million people converge on Savannah each year for St. Patrick’s Day, filling the streets with a green sea of revelry. Even the city’s fountains run green, as part of a ceremony dating back 100 years.
But on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, following a special Catholic mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, the main attraction is Savannah’s massive parade, which weaves its way through the colonial, antebellum and Victorian-era homes and storefronts of the historic district over the course of several hours, providing a family-friendly spectacle complete with floats, costumed leprechauns, bagpipes, marching bands, horse-drawn carriages, antique cars, traditional Irish dancing, civil war reenactments and just about anything else you can imagine.
Afterwards, the extensive River Street and City Market sections of the Historic District become one oversized street party. Beer vendors line the sidewalks, and stages in the streets feature a variety of live music all day and night. But, of course, the city’s award-winning Irish bars, like Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub, overlooking the swift-flowing Savannah River, are the true center of the universe, as they dish out corned beef and cabbage and Guinness by the pint.
Those who grow weary of the bagpipes and green beer can always enjoy some more traditional Savannah experiences too, like a stroll through Forsyth Park, a historical tour in a trolley or horse-drawn carriage, or a ghost tour complete with a visit to the old Colonial Park Cemetery. There’s also shopping at the Habersham Antiques Market or local boutiques on Broughton Street and Abercorn Walk. The Jepson Center for the Arts and the fine art galleries in City Market are also well worth a look, and the mouthwatering tastes of pecan pralines from Savannah’s Candy Kitchen and soul food from Mrs. Wilkes’ Boarding House are simply irresistible.
While you’re in town, also be sure to visit Savannah’s beach at Tybee Island, just a quick 18-mile drive across beautiful coastal
salt marsh brimming with wildlife. Sink your toes in the sand out in front of the towering Tybee Island lighthouse, one of the oldest working lighthouses on the Atlantic Coast, or cast a line at the Tybee Pier while shrimping boats bob in the surf offshore. And before you head back home, enjoy a sunset across the salt marsh at The Crab Shack restaurant, where you’ll sit nestled beneath low hanging lighted oaks as you sample the finest in fresh local seafood. It’s the perfect ending to a St. Patrick’s Day memory you’re sure to cherish for years to come.
- To avoid parking issues on St. Patrick’s Day, plan to walk or utilize city buses and shuttles.
- The parade starts promptly at 10:15 a.m, but arrive a few hours early with foldable chairs to stake out a spot along the route.
- Open containers are allowed within the festival zone on St. Patrick’s Day, but don’t be caught without the required $5 wristband.
- Hotels in Savannah book up quickly around St. Patrick’s day, and two-night minimums or higher rates may apply.
- Luxury historic hotels, like the River Street Inn or the Kehoe House, are well worth a splurge. Expect stunning views, lavish antique furnishings and plenty of character.
- For travelers on a budget, Skidaway Island State Park, to the South of Savannah, and Riversend Campground, on Tybee Island, provide tent and RV camping with shuttle services into the city.