Updated: Jul 25, 2020
In John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Savannahians take pains to explain the differences between the “Hostess City” of Savannah and the “Holy City” of Charleston, so named because of the plethora of churches. Savannah has streetscapes, but Charleston finer interiors; Savannah is English in style, but Charleston adds French and Spanish influences; Savannah has been discovered by tourists, but Charleston is overrun by them; and Savannah prefers parties, while Charleston favors intellectual pursuits. Having visited both cities back to back, there are indeed differences, and yes, Charleston certainly has a lot of churches and tourists.
Taking a carriage tour around Charleston is the ideal means of getting an introduction to the city. It was on one of these that we learned that a legacy of religious tolerance attracted thousands seeking to escape religious persecution in Europe, including Protestants, Anglicans and French Huguenots. The first Jewish congregation in the United States also was established in Charleston. Church spires as a feature of the skyline have become so treasured that laws were enacted preventing downtown construction from obscuring the views of these steeples.
A tour of another sort that is a great introduction to Charleston is one of the many culinary tours offered by Downtown Charleston Culinary Tours. Ours encompassed restaurants in the French Quarter offering traditional low country staples of shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, fried pimento cheese and low country boil. The latter is a hearty dish of shrimp, corn, sausage, potatoes and old bay served in a metal steaming pot. The highlight of the culinary tour was the offering at Eli's Table, which included fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits and a bacon bloody mary that has been voted among the best in Charleston.
The sampling of the best of low country cuisine did not stop with the culinary tour as we delighted in the menus at both Darling Oyster House on upper High Street and Amen Street near to the historic city market. Both visits were preceded by multiple stops to sample cocktails – one of our favorite stops was to 5 Church, which is a former place of worship whose congregation is now a lively bar crowd! After dinner music venues were plentiful as well with live music options at Republic and Prohibition along upper High Street and at High Cotton near to the historic city market. In fact, it was surprising that we found more live music venues in Charleston than we did in Savannah.
And while the sleepy, serene squares of Savannah were an attractive feature to us, Charleston has its own distinctive city-scape along the Ashley and Cooper rivers. The graceful mansions along the Battery portray a unique architectural style that is distinct from those of Savannah. The waterfront is also quite different.
The giant container ships cruising the Savannah river are a reminder that the city has a very busy port industry, whereas the Cooper river appears more relaxed, especially using Shem Creek Park as a vantage point to view downtown Charleston from across the channel.
Note: I am not being compensated for my mention in this post of the various dining establishments. I am simply a satisfied customer.