Food & Drink

The Ultimate Guide to Savannah's St Paddy's Day Parade

The fountains have been dyed green since the anniversary of Biggie Smalls’ death. They’ve had pre-game pub crawls called St. Practice Day. Weekend lodging at such resorts as Quality Inn Midtown reign in at almost $300 a night. Yes, Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend is a very, very big deal -- and it’s only growing. By some counts, it’s the second biggest in America (beaten only by NYC), maybe even third in the world. Whatever the number is, it’s almost 200 years old and has attracted more than a million people to the city for the event.

Why though? Well, Irish-Americans played a big part in the founding of Savannah, and in the early 1800s a group of Protestants called the Hibernian Society (the oldest Irish society in the U.S.) started making a private procession to church, eventually inviting all Irishmen to join their pedestrian journey through the city. That was 1824, and since then, populations have increased, Prohibition came and went, and Savannah got this pretty amazing to-go cup ordinance that allows you to drink publicly. Starting to make sense?

Good, but you still need some info before you go. This year’s parade will feature 15,000 or so people, split into 350 marching organizations. The entire downtown -- specifically the area of City Market and River Street -- will be frothing with green-beered revelers insisting you pay homage to their heritage (but without judging them for what they do to their livers). Make your way to the pot of gold, or at least the pint of green, using this can’t-fail guide.

What time does the parade start?

The festival begins Friday, but the actual parade kicks off at exactly 10:15am on Saturday, March 17, immediately following Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. This year’s weekend timing is merely a coincidence -- Savannah famously holds the parade exclusively on the actual day, while pretty much every other city moves the party to the weekend (for reasons you might be able to guess). But yes, it goes up on a Tuesday in Savannah if necessary, as it was in 2015. Rumor has it, work sucked on Wednesday.

What’s the route?

The Savannah St. Paddy’s parade route looks like someone drew a hockey stick on a map of the Historic District, moving down along Abercorn Street, starting where it meets Gwinnett Street, turns on Broughton Street, then cruises East Broad Street until Bull Street, where it turns and heads toward Madison Square.

Also, please don’t kiss the soldiers this year during the parade. They finally made that illegal, and let’s be honest; health-wise, it’s probably the right call. It’s also particularly good practice when you’re in a crowd of more than a million thirsty people draped in excessive green.

Will there be parking?

Yes, but you’ll want to arrive early. There are five public garages in the area of the parade and three within view of it. Two are along Drayton Street (one at the corner of State Street; the other at Bryan Street), and another is where Bryan and Whitaker Street meet. Expect to pay $20 or so.

The smart parking is near the parade’s end, between Jefferson and Montgomery Streets -- there’s a deck a few blocks east of the stopping point on Harris Street, and additional parking further on Harris, across Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Any of those three put you near the entrance to I-16. Not that you need to leave town just yet, unless that was you streaking in green paint across Oglethorpe.   

There’ll also be $5 CAT (Chatham Area Transit) shuttles with round-trip service that head to the parade between 7am and 11am, and return between noon and 4pm.

Who’s performing?

The music part of the festival is kept local and regional, and although you can bet Ludacris is trying to find a way to get that Savannah St. Paddy’s show money, the artist lineup is much more organic. Starting at noon on Friday and Saturday and continuing until around midnight, you can see rock bands like Love Sick Radio or even reggae (that most Irish of music genres) from Mystic Vibrations. Shows will be split between four stages: the Craic Stage, the Slainte Stage, Rousakis Plaza, and Morrell Park.  

How can I watch it all?

You’re going to need a $10 wristband for each day of the festival you want to drink. Yes, the price doubled since last year, and yes, the festival includes the parade route. The good news is that they’re available all around the area in booths. So yes, the taxman cometh for your outdoor drinking entertainment, and local media is ripping into city government about it, but this year that’s the size of things.

What are the best bars for post-parade drinking?

Outside the festival grounds, you can still take your cups outside for a boozy downtown stroll. This is good, because there’s plenty of celebrating to join at places in City Market and along River Street. That includes Wet Willies, which will be jumping, but this is clearly the time to pub it, and you’ve got lots of options in the immediate area. The Six Pence Pub, The Rail Pub, Molly MacPherson’s and Kevin Barry’s are the old-school standards, but you can go “nerdy pub” and add cornhole, giant Jenga, and board, console, and arcade games at Chromatic Dragon.

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Mike Jordan is about as Irish as a bottle of Tennessee whiskey but still enjoys partying with friends and strangers of non-color, especially when the dress code calls for green. He Twitters from @michaelbjordan and Instagrams from @mikejordanatl.
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