River Street in Savannah is by far the most well known street in the city! It’s adjacent to the Savannah River, where it’s fun to sit and watch massive cargo ships sail into one of the busiest ports along the East Coast. The area is also famous for hosting one of the largest St. Patrick's Day celebrations in the country. If you're headed to the waterfront and wondering what to do on River Street, don't worry — I've got you covered with the most comprehensive guide on the web.
NOTE: I've written additional posts about other areas within the city of Savannah that are just as fun to explore. To keep this (reasonably) short, this guide is for the River Street area only and therefore only references restaurants and shops found within a 5-minute walk of that particular street.
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River Street Savannah
River Street is always bustling with activity, and the cobblestone streets are lined with beautiful architecture and centuries-old buildings.
Although some locals might tell you it's a touristy area that you should avoid, I live in Savannah and I happen to think it's fascinating! You can find lots of hidden gems if you know where to look.
Here are a few suggestions to get you started…
⭐ Insider Tip: Pack comfortable shoes, because you’ll do a LOT of walking along the river. The cobblestone streets, narrow alleyways, trolley tracks, and steep stairways are not high heel friendly! Bandaids and sunscreen are also a good idea.
1. Head To River Street Sweets First!
My first and favorite stop along the riverfront is to River Street Sweets. The smell of fudge is irresistible, and it's what lured me in the first time I ever wandered down River Street as a little kid. My friends and family always make a beeline for this old-fashioned candy shop whenever they're in town!
There are two doorways into the store, but if you walk into the one on the right-hand side you'll be greeted with free praline samples as soon as you enter. Their pralines are the best I've ever had! (No worries, calories don't count when you're on vacation!)
The store employees are very friendly, and some have been with River Street Sweets for more than 20 years! You can watch them make candies on huge marble slabs, ask questions about the process, and try samples.
These are just a few of the treats you can buy:
- Ice Cream
- Old-Fashioned Candies (anyone remember candy cigarettes?)
- Southern “Bear Claws” (pecans topped with caramel and chocolate)
- Flavored Popcorn
- Fresh Fudge
- Candy-Coated Pecans
- Salt Water Taffy
- River Street Pralines (a MUST! They're the #1 supplier of pralines in the world!)
Related Reading: River Street Sweets: Savannah's Can't-Miss Candy Shop
2. Explore Factor's Walk
It may sound odd to some, but one of my favorite things to do on River Street is to explore the mysterious nooks and crannies that showcase the hidden layers of the city. Savannah seems to be a place where nothing was ever torn down, and nowhere is that more apparent than along the river.
Buildings appear stacked atop older buildings, narrow alleyways lead to dead ends, and shadowy doorways beckon curious visitors to see what lies beyond…even though common sense (and warning signs) typically caution otherwise!
I can’t help it; I’m drawn to the unknown, and Savannah offers that in spades.
The Factor's Walk area is one of my favorite places to explore! It's located along the back side of all the buildings facing the river on River Street, and it looks particularly beautiful at sunset.
The area was once a hub of activity where cotton brokers or “factors” set the prices for cotton worldwide.
I like this view from the side, because it shows the many levels of the buildings along Factor's Walk. Pay attention when you walk, though! It's nearly a 40-foot drop from the 3rd level to the cobblestone street below.
The street level is made from a combination of ballast stones and reproduction (stamped) cobblestones. It includes parking for nearby businesses, and you'll find local workers hanging out on this level while enjoying a smoke break.
The second level (if you were to climb those brick stairs in the foreground) has wooden ramps with private entrances to businesses. This level usually has very little foot traffic.
⭐ Insider Tip: Obviously you should use common sense when exploring the back alleys along the river. Although the area is crowded with tourists and a few locals, sometimes troublemakers come around — particularly late at night. Click here to view a current Savannah Crime Map.
The third level is where you'll find shops, restaurants, and the public entrances for the many businesses located along Factor's Walk. It's also where you can take the best photos of the Cotton Exchange building and where you'll find the winged lion statue that so many people associate with River Street.
The upper levels are used primarily as housing. The people living in those apartments have fantastic views of the river from the opposite side of the building!
3. Peek Inside the Cluskey Vaults
The Cluskey Vaults are one of the more interesting lesser-known landmarks in Savannah. There are markers in the entryway to each vault explaining their history, and you're able to walk inside four of them to explore them fully.
The ever-mysterious fifth vault is bricked over and sealed off. SCMPD's forensics unit investigated it in 2013 by inserting a camera into a small opening. They determined it was filled with dirt and warranted no further investigation.
Savannah is situated in the heart of the Deep South, which means it has a very complex racial history. Some claim these vaults were used as holding pens for enslaved men, women, and children before they were taken to auction. Others disagree and say that can't be proven.
I encourage you to visit for yourself, read the markers, take a look around, and then form your own opinion. The vault's markers note it's an urban legend that any humans were ever held in the vaults, but I feel differently and treat the area with the utmost respect.
4. Climb the Stone Stairs of Death
So many of the stairs to River Street are steep, old, and marked with yellow caution signs. Still, I hope the city never revamps them, because they add to the charm and character of Savannah.
While nearly all the steps to River Street are unique, few are as well-known as the infamous Stone Stairs of Death. Why the nickname? Because treacherous stairs + drunk tourists = bad combo.
The stairs make great photo ops and have ideal lighting. They're also good for building up calf muscles if you're a runner.
They're not the only scary steps on River Street, either. I'm also a big fan of these moss-covered beauties that lead to Ms. Sylvia's Aura Shop on Factor's Walk.
The old bricks peeking through are my favorite part. The junky plywood door and suspended air conditioner simply add to Savannah's “pieced together over time” ambiance.
5. Check Out the Restaurants on River Street
I tend to work up a hearty appetite when I’m strolling along the river, but there’s no fear of going hungry on River Street! It’s packed with great restaurants that are perfect for taking a leisurely break to unwind and recharge.
Many have balconies on the second level, offering a pretty view of the river and the street below (as well as a breeze, if you’re lucky).
- Huey's on the River tops my list for a filling brunch. They serve New Orleans style food, and their beignets are addicting! Huey's faces the river and is approximately at the mid-point along River Street.
- Cafe M is my top spot for a light lunch. The Parisian style cafe is beautifully decorated, and you can't go wrong with any of their sandwich offerings! It's on the street level of the Factor's Walk side.
- Olympia Cafe serves Greek-style food so tasty and reasonably priced that even locals are willing to deal with the River Street parking situation in order to grab a bite there.
- Vic's on the River is my top choice for a date night spot along the river. The restaurant serves some of the better steaks in town, and you'll be in a white tablecloth setting.
- Treylor Park is a great choice if fancy isn't your thing. Their menu is filled with Southern comfort food with a unique twist. For example, instead of chicken and waffles (a Southern staple), they serve chicken and pancake tacos covered in strawberries!
- Tubby's Seafood is on the second level (above Huey's) and it catches a great breeze from the river. It's a good spot for casual dining or if you have kids in tow. A lot of the food is fried, but there are salad options for the health conscious. The seared ahi tuna salad appetizer is filling enough to serve as a full meal and is my usual choice.
If you're a true foodie, look into doing the Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour. It's in the Historic District and isn't too far from River Street.
⭐ Insider Tip: If you're not from the area and want to try traditional Southern style dishes, opt for fried okra, shrimp & grits, she-crab soup, pecan pie, fried green tomatoes, or mashed potatoes with gravy. Top everything off with a glass of sweet tea to quench your thirst, but make note: if you aren't accustomed to real Southern sweet tea, it's loaded with sugar.Headed to River Street in Savannah, GA? Here's the ultimate list of what to see and do! #savannah #riverstreet Click To Tweet
6. Have Drinks Overlooking The River
- Wet Willie's is the perfect place to cool off after wandering around in the hot sun all day. (Think slushies for adults and that's pretty much all you need to know!) Their bartenders come up with some really fun combos if you're willing to let them select the ingredients.
- Top Deck is a rooftop bar on the top level of the Cotton Sail Hotel. It's a sweet spot to catch a sunset and some of the best views of the Talmadge Bridge.
- Rocks on the Roof is on the top level of the Bohemian Hotel and is another good spot for (slightly pricy) drinks and a great view of the river. Food is tapas style, but you can visit Rocks on the River in the same building for a heartier meal.
If you prefer the speakeasy vibe, try Mata Hari's on Lower Factor's Walk. Like any authentic speakeasy, you'll have to ask around to find a key or uncover a password to gain entry. The hunt is the fun part!
⭐ Insider Tip: If you don't mind venturing away from River Street, there are better bars further into town. W. Congress Street is a good place to start.
7. Buy Souvenirs at Savannah's River Street Shops
If you’re into shopping, the river area is a great place to find t-shirt shops, hats, bookstores, handmade jewelry, local art, photographs…and even a seashell shop!
Save the higher-end boutique shopping for Broughton Street, which is located within walking distance a few blocks away.
Related Reading: Savannah Shopping: The Essential Guide to Broughton Street
While River Street is primarily a touristy area as far as shopping goes, there are a few boutiques along the Factor's Walk side that have cute outfits, accessories, and home decor.
If you're a book lover, there's a cute little vintage bookstore called Books on Bay that's worth checking out. There are also some unique antique stores on River Street, so pop into a couple of those to see if anything strikes your fancy.
8. See River Street From The Water
If you prefer to view Savannah from the water, opt for an approximate 45-minute ride on either the Georgia Queen or the Savannah River Queen steamboat.
- Perks: The views of Savannah from the water are really pretty — especially at night when all the lights are reflecting off the water. You'll learn about the history of river commerce from a narrated tour given by the boat's captain. This is especially fun for kids who want to learn more about the tugboats, barges, and container vessels that constantly cruise down the Savannah River.
- Drawbacks: Skip the buffet options, since the cost for those is rather high and you'll find better meals elsewhere in town. Exception: The Holiday Gospel Dinner Cruise during December is worth the money!
⭐ Insider Tip: On a budget? Take the Savannah Belles Ferry for free to get some amazing shots of Savannah from the water. It departs every 20 to 30 minutes from 3 boarding docks on River Street. View the locations and times here.
9. Visit the Waving Girl Statue
Local legend Florence Martus was fascinated with passing ships. She welcomed an estimated 50,000 ships into Savannah by waving a handkerchief or a lantern (at night). Kids find her story captivating.
Sailors often returned her greeting with a quick blast of the ship’s horn. The majority of the ships entering Savannah's port still honk to this day!
Another statue that warrants a visit on River Street is the African-American Monument. It shows a family of four gathered together and hugging, with shackles at their feet. A Maya Angelou quote at the base of the statue provides the realest depiction of the suffering enslaved families endured as you'll find on any public monument in the city.
10. Check Out The Cotton Exchange Building
Finally, a day on River Street wouldn't be complete without a visit to the historic Cotton Exchange building.
The façade of the building is stunning! I stand in awe each time I stare up at the details above the grand entryway. It looks like a scene straight from a movie set.
Planning Your Trip
Here are a few helpful tips to make planning your trip as effortless as possible…
Before You Go: Get the Guide!
If you need help planning the perfect trip, my ebook, the Savannah First-Timer's Guide, is full of insider tips. I tell you which tourist traps to avoid, where to take the best photos, and let you know how to save money on everything from parking to tours to food!
Savannah Airport Information
When traveling to Savannah, you'll fly into the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport. The airport code is SAV.
If you're on a budget, you can “Catch at CAT” (Chatham Area Transit bus line) for less than $5 from the airport to Oglethorpe Street, which is 2 blocks from the Savannah Visitor Center.
Safest Area to Stay in Savannah GA
Hey Erin, where are the safest places to stay in Savannah?
I can't tell you how often I hear this question. If I had to guess, it probably ranks as one of the top 5 questions I get about Savannah.
The truth is, if you're staying anywhere within the boundaries of the Landmark Historic District, you should be fairly safe.
I recommend taking all the usual safety precautions: Keep an eye on your possessions, lock your doors, and don't wander around alone at night.
Hotels on Bay Street Savannah GA
These hotel options are located on Bay Street, which is the closest street to the river along the upper level of the river bluff. (River Street sits on the lower level of the river bluff and has direct views of the river.)
Hotels on River Street Savannah GA
These hotels face the river and many of the rooms have direct views of the water.
Related Reading: The Best Places to Stay in Savannah Near River Street
Where to Park on River Street
My first parking suggestion is…don't. Savannah is a city made for walking, so it's best to take a leisurely stroll to River Street from your hotel or home rental. If that's not an option, pedicabs offer another great way to leisurely check out the sights. Uber and Lyft also blanket the Historic District and can be at your door in minutes.
If you must drive, download the free ParkSavannah mobile app from iTunes or Google Play. It allows you to pay your meter fee from anywhere so you won't have to interrupt lunch to run outside and feed the meter!
You can also visit the City of Savannah's Mobility & Parking Services website to purchase a 1 or 2 day parking pass for $15 or $24 respectively. The pass allows parking in any city garage or metered parking space with a limit of 1 hour or more for the full day.
My favorite place to park when driving to River Street is in Emmet Park off E. Bay Street. It's lined with pretty oak trees that provide a good amount of shade, it's inexpensive, and it's really close to the river.
If you're driving a camper, U-Haul, or towing a boat, park in the gated lot at the Visitor's Center on MLK Jr. Blvd. (There aren't any spots large enough for boats in the Landmark Historic District.)
⭐ Insider Tip: Metered parking spaces are free every day after 8:00 p.m. and all day on Sunday, as well as on all government authorized holidays.
Savannah Riverwalk Map
I created this handy map to help you find your way around River Street. Download the Alpaca Travel app to be able to save and view it even when you're offline.Things to do on River Street in Savannah, GA | #savannah #vacationguide Click To Tweet
Pin It for Later: The Ultimate Guide to River Street in Savannah, GA