For many years, Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia have been pitted against each other as rivals. Both have similar histories, founded in the early days of America, and architecture that has been preserved thanks to forward-thinking locals. Both cities are also known for their food scenes and nearby beaches. Both have charming tree-lined streets and cobblestones.
But the cities aren’t rivals as much as they are sisters. It’s like how you might compare London and Paris. Both are beautiful but different. If you only have time for one, we’ll help you determine which one is right for you. But to be honest, we think you should see both!
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Decide for yourself which city is better by traveling the two hours between them. You can fly into either airport and rent a car to make the drive.
Savannah and Charleston both have an emphasis on the arts. Savannah is home to the Savannah College of Art and Design, one of the nation’s foremost arts education institutions. It’s also where you’ll find the Telfair Museums, which date back over 200 years.
Charleston also has an arts culture with the galleries in the galleries east of Meeting Street and the modern Redux arts center. The College of Charleston’s Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art and the Gibbes Museum of Art are two places to see this work displayed. Charleston also has a number of murals, including some by local artist Shepherd Fairey.
Both also excel in the performing arts, with venues for music, dance, and theater.
Charleston and Savannah tie when it comes to the arts.
There are countless attractions in both cities to keep you informed and entertained. Charleston has The Charleston Museum, the oldest museum in America, along with many historic homes and plantations. The South Carolina Aquarium and Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry are favorites of families.
Wormsloe Historic Site sits on the grounds of a former plantation on the Isle of Hope. Pin Point Heritage Museum covers the Gullah and Geechee culture of the Sea Islands and the freedmen that lived in the area.
I’m calling a tie in terms of Charleston and Savannah attractions. There’s a little bit of everything, from museums to historic landmarks to activities.
Both Savannah and Charleston are coastal cities, so both have nearby barrier islands with beaches that are a short drive away. Savannah has Tybee Island while Charleston has Folly Beach, Sullivan’s Island, and Isle of Palms.
For the abundance of beaches alone, Charleston wins in this category.
Sometimes the best thing about Charleston and Savannah is getting outside of both. The cities are well located as bases for day trips to other areas.
Charleston is two hours drive from the capital city of Columbia and coastal areas like Myrtle Beach, Georgetown, Beaufort, and Hilton Head. If you have enough time, you can go on one of the Gullah tours of Daufuskie Island.
Savannah is an easy trip down the Georgia coast to the towns of Darien and Brunswick. You can also see the charming Golden Isles of St. Simon’s Island and Jekyll Island. It would be a long day trip to Cumberland Island but it is doable.
This one is another tie in terms of Charleston and Savannah day trips. Both have plentiful and unique options!
Drinking and Nightlife
Charleston and Savannah are both fun-loving cities where you’re never far from a drink. But each excels in different areas. Savannah is one of the few cities where you can have an open container on the street, specifically around River Street.
Charleston also has an abundance of rooftop cocktail bars and a handful of dive bars. But where it really stands above Savannah is in craft breweries. Savannah has five, while Charleston has at least 20 and counting, spread throughout the Peninsula and beyond.
Charleston wins for craft beer while Savannah wins for coffee shops and nightlife.
Saying that one city has better food than the other is a good way to find yourself in an argument. Both Charleston and Savannah have incredible restaurants featuring both traditional Southern food and modern interpretations as well as delicious seafood.
In the last five years, Savannah’s Mashama Bailey of The Grey is the only chef in the city to win a James Beard award. But in Charleston, it seems that at least one restaurant wins a James Beard award every year.
Bowen’s Island Restaurant was named one of America’s Classics. Rodney Scott of Rodney Scott’s BBQ and Jason Stanhope of FIG have both won Best Chef: Southeast. FIG also won for its outstanding wine program.
We love both cities for their restaurants and couldn’t choose one. But if you’re going by the awards, the winner of the best food scene is Charleston.
When in search of parks and green spaces for a picnic or place to read, you’ll find plenty in both Charleston and Savannah. In Charleston, Marion Square is the main green space, which was formerly the parade grounds for The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. But there are also smaller or lesser-known parks like Hampton Park and Washington Square Park.
Savannah, however, has dozens of parks because of how the city is laid out. Set on a grid, streets converge in these squares, each named for a historical figure. Chippewa Square is known as a filming location for Forrest Gump, while Forsyth Park has a large white fountain. You’re never far from a park.
Savannah wins in terms of the number of parks and green spaces around the city.
Hotels and Accommodation
Charleston and Savannah have plentiful accommodations ranging from campgrounds to luxury hotels. Both cities also have boutique brands as well as big-name properties. You’ll also find inns and bed and breakfasts.
Charleston is known for its high level of service at places like Charleston Place, The Mills House, and the Market Pavilion Hotel. The Dewberry and The Spectator Hotel are two new, stylish options. Charleston’s NotSo Hostel is one of a handful of budget options.
Savannah, on the other hand, has the Mansion on Forsyth, one of the top hotels in the country. Newer boutique hotels like The Alida Hotel, Andaz Savannah, the Perry Lane Hotel, and the Kimpton Brice Hotel are popular. The Thunderbird Inn is an affordable option, inspired by vintage motor inns.
There are great hotels and accommodations in each city, but Charleston lacks affordable ones. It’s rare to find a hotel for under $200 per night. For this reason, our pick is Savannah.
Charleston and Savannah have their own shopping districts for convenient access to each city’s best shopping. In Savannah, it’s Broughton Street, which has The Paris Market, an incredible gift and home decor store, and Chocolat by Adam Turoni, an artisan chocolatier.
King Street in Charleston has block upon block of stores ranging from big-name brands like Urban Outfitters to shops you’ll only find here. They continue to Market Street where you can take a left to visit the high-end shops at Charleston Place or browse for crafts at the City Market.
Both cities have great shopping, so it really depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s trendy clothing and high-end brands, it’s Charleston. If you like funky and vintage stores, your best bet is Savannah.
The best thing about both Charleston and Savannah is their walkability. It’s entirely possible to leave your car behind while visiting. Most attractions are clustered together and the bus systems and rideshare apps make it easy to reach the ones that aren’t. But watch out for those cobblestones!
It’s a tie! Both cities are easy to get around on foot. In fact, it’s the best way to see them. You never know what you might discover!
At the end of the day, Charleston and Savannah tie in the important areas. No matter which city you decide to visit, you’re sure to enjoy yourself.
Do you prefer Charleston or Savannah? Let us know in the comments!