There’s a bazillion family-friendly things to do and see in the charm-ing old seaport city of Savannah, Georgia. Make that two-and-a-half bazil-lion. But there’s only one reason to go there around the third week of March: St. Patrick’s Day! On that day, the world stops. Schools, museums, and many attractions are closed, and 400,000 or so spectators line the streets for the third largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world. Every Irish person in town – which means the entire population of Savannah over the age of one week, including pets – flaunts the “wearin’ o’ the green,” including plenty of emerald green hair.
Every fountain in the old city sparkles with flumes and sprays of emerald green water. With the campus of the prestigious Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) spread all over the Historic District, impromptu pre-parade performances and shenanigans pop up in the squares and on the sidewalks. If you forgot to pack your emerald green feathered tiara or plastic derby, no worries; washable shamrock tattoos, shamrock buttons, and everything else Irish (and kitschy) is for sale from vendors lining the route.
It takes almost five hours for the Confederate soldiers, cavalry on horseback, endless super-energy marching bands, jug-glers, dancers, and clowns to parade past the fficial viewing stand at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. There are creatures of all kinds, like my favorites, the green goats and green horses. Don’t worry; it’s just harm-less tempera paint. And oh, those elaborate floats! Even “UGA”, the live mascot of the University of Georgia Bulldogs, has had his very own float. Restaurants serve green grits and eggs, green candy apples, green ice cream, and other emerald green treats, and green beverages of the adult and kid kind.
If Mother Nature’s Irish eyes are smiling on Savannah, a showy display of white dogwoods and massive hedges of azaleas (some taller than the bands marching by) will be in full bloom as the parade winds around the historic squares. With its backdrop of historic mansions and churches, the parade route is a breathtaking Southern movie set.
By the 10 a.m. parade start time, fam-ily picnics and garden breakfasts have been going on in the lush green squares for hours. If you haven’t already booked a downtown hotel, you’ll want to headquarter in a motel outside of town and grab early transportation into the city.
Psst! Inside tip
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the main event, of course. It’s truly a bucket list event, but here’s an inside tip: Family-friendly festivities start as much as a week before parade day, including the Greening of the Fountains kickoff ceremony at the spectacular Parisian-style fountain in Forsyth Park.
Tara Feis is a free outdoor festival of Irish food, arts and crafts, games, music, and dance in a downtown square near the Riverfront. At the Civic Center, there’s a huge weekend-long indoor celebration with performances on four stages. And all month long, the shops down on River Street are re-plete with Irish gifts, souvenirs, and clothing.
If you can’t make it for St. Patrick’s Day this year, book right now for next March! Meanwhile, in late March or April you can go to ooh and aah over the world famous spring blooms. Spring is a great time to visit the cool family museums and attractions. You can take a trolley tour or horse and carriage ride, bicycle or kayak through the salt marshes, visit old pirate hangouts, go for a musket firing ceremony at one of the old forts, and definitely take a spooky ghost tour. Visit savannahsaintpatricksday.com or visitsavannah.com, and watch this space for lots more later!