Sibling Rivalry: Savannah vs. Charleston

Deal Expert, Chicago
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When I first booked my trip to Savannah and Charleston, the response was pretty canned, “I can’t wait to hear which one you like better. I’M partial to ….” I hadn’t realized exploring a new part of the country would come with such pressure!

Then I came across article after article chronicling the competitive nature between the two sisters of the south. But things really came into focus when talking to a local about it at Charleston’s Spoleto Festival (one of the biggest performing arts festivals in the country). “Savannah is the ugly sister that wants to be just like us, but she’ll just never be able to achieve it.” How’s that for sibling rivalry?

So I put on my judgmental glasses and let the sisters duke it out for the title of “Most Southern Charm.”

Round One: Food

Clary's Cafe in Savannah
Clary’s Cafe in Savannah

Photo from Flickr by Jeff Turner

A breakfast of grits, sausage and eggs at Clary’s Café (of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” fame) was the quintessential way to start my day in Savannah. And with its original stained-glass and mahogany bookcases, lunch at the artfully restored 1926 Gryphon Tea Room was more than memorable. But a week later, I’m still thinking about the honking lump crab and jarlsberg cheese sandwich I ate at the cafe/laundry mat at Charleston’s Persimmon Café; to say nothing of the incredible dinner at the recent James Beard winning FIG restaurant. Dining in Charleston is on another level, the clear winner.

Round Two: Drinking

Husk Restaurant in Charleston
Husk Restaurant in Charleston

Photo from Flickr by Ewen Roberts

Sipping a Brandy punch concocted from a 1783 recipe at Husk Restaurant’s late 19th century carriage house was a true Charleston treat, not to mention the extensive wine lists of the city’s fine dining establishments. On the other hand, the Savannah tea spiked with sweet tea vodka at Rocks on the River was the most refreshing cocktail I’ve tasted in a long time. Ultimately, thanks to Savannah’s outdoor drinking laws, it was sipping “traveler” to-go cocktails while sitting in historic squares under the Spanish moss at night that seals the deal for me. Cheers to Savannah for round two.

Round Three: Shopping


Photo from Flickr by Sali Sasaki

Charleston has its famous antique stores and high-end King Street boutiques, but Savannah offers some great bohemian experiences. From the sculptor’s easel circa 1890 I found (and purchased) rummaging through the maze of hidden gems at Alex Raskin Antiques; to the fun and functional reclaimed pieces at 24e Design Co.; to the one-of-a-kind artwork created by Savannah College of Art and Design students and faculty at ShopSCAD. For its sheer uniqueness, this one goes to Savannah.

Round Four: History

Drayton Hall
Drayton Hall

Photo from Flickr by Matt Howry

Savannah might be the oldest city in Georgia, with a history dating back to 1733 and well-preserved historic district, but Charleston’s got the leg up here. Fort Sumter saw the first shots of the Civil War; America’s oldest landscaped garden at Middleton Place rivals Versailles; and the 18th century plantation Drayton Hall earns is its place as a National Historic Landmark. Round four to Charleston.

Knockout Round

So which city takes the belt for the “Most Southern Charm?” Who cares? Both feel like they were created on a Hollywood set with locals that invented the word charming. I’ve ultimately decided these cities offer totally unique experiences that shouldn’t be compared.

With less than a two-hour drive between the two, instead of pitting them against one another travelers should pair them together for a true southern experience. I mean deep down we may resent our siblings at times, but aren’t we the fantastic people we are now because of them?

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Show 1 Comments
  • Larry Dunn

    I’ve been all over the world — Asia, South America, Central America, Europe, Middle East. I’ve never encountered a city that seems to have been designed for walking around IN SHADE OF TREES, and relaxing while enjoying architecture and natural beauty.

    That’s it. Savannah is unique. Nothing like New Orleans French Quarter, nothing like Charleston historic district. Recently also been Savannah in comparison to those two is far better for walking around, with drink in hand, in natural beauty IN SHADE. You can eat modern food anywhere. You can visit antique shops anywhere. You can go dancing at night anywhere. Where else can you stroll sidewalks that are 15′ wide, and sit on shaded benches, uncrowded, in the midst of architectural and botanical beauty? Where else can you be transported back in time 100 years?

    I found Charleston and New Orleans French Quarter to be too cramped. Sidewalks are very narrow — too narrow to handle the tourist foot traffic. I kept bumping into, or paying attention to not bumping into, other people on the sidewalk. Really? If I want to avoid bumping into people, I’ll go to Manhattan. I kept needing to walk in the actual street ad made sure a car wasn’t coming by. Nor is Charleston or French Quarter NOLA nearly as shaded. You can’t walk around with a drink in your hand in Charleston. I found one fenced in park area in the historic district of Charleston, but not really a place to sit down and relax.